Sunil Kant Munjal has been involved with policy making for many years. To bring his experience to use, he constituted a think-tank, Mindmine Institute, which is now going a step further with closed-door, free dialogues among leaders on issues concerning India, through Mindmine conversations. In Mumbai for one such session, following a breakfast meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, the chairman of Hero Enterprise spoke to FE on a wide range of issues, including a new-found Indian ambition, the bankruptcy code, the rise of vigilantism and the impending mass migration to cities. Excerpts:
What is the purpose behind Mindmine?
If you look at where India is today and where it was 20-30 years ago, it is a completely different world. A lot of this has happened because there is now a much greater alignment of interest between the government, industry and the civil society. In fact, if you look at it, the actual winds of change started blowing before 1991. My father was the president of the CII, and I followed him; so, our involvement and interest in development and policy making has always been high. The Mindmine Institute was set up to deepen and widen our involvement in thought leadership aimed at a better India. The institute has been conceived as an independent platform, without any bias or any political or other philosophy. Our purpose is also to continually inject fresh ideas and insights, because thought leadership and policy inputs are not a one-off, and it is certainly not the sole responsibility of the government.
What made you initiate Mindmine Conversations?
We have an annual thought leadership event, called the Mindmine Summit, which takes place in Delhi every year. Over time, we realised that the summit needs its own intellectual input. We also needed to carry our brand of thought leadership to other cities. So, last year, we started Mindmine conversations with closed groups in Mumbai and Hyderabad; Chatham House Rules applied, meaning that everything was off the record — allowing people to speak freely. These conversations provide us more material for the summit, it also strengthens the quality of research we do as a think-tank, which in turn helps us funnel back better policy inputs into the government ecosystem. The current year’s theme is India@75, and we are asking the question: Is this the New India? My own belief is 10 years from today you will not recognise this country, and I mean it in a positive way.
Today 68% of the population is in rural India. And since agriculture is contributing less to the economy with each passing year, the mathematical outcome is poverty. Because of lack of opportunities, people have started to move to urban areas. We will have the largest migration of population on this planet in the next 25 years. So our purpose is to get business leaders and academics together in a room, raise some of these flashpoints and offer a few possible solutions.
India has clearly evolved. What do you like about today’s India?
What I like is that we are involving people more than ever before. To give you a very simple example, in Delhi, people voluntarily decided not to burst crackers so as not to add to pollution. This would have been impossible even a decade ago.
Did you know in Japan, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, when the country’s power output went down, all that policy makers flagged was the need to reduce consumption. So people raised the air-conditioning temperature in all the buildings to 27 degrees. Nobody had to be told. It was just a suggestion. People stopped wearing jackets to office. Short sleeve shirts became the new office-wear. The national conservation effort reduced demand by as much as 15%. Collective consciousness is a critical building block for nation building. The second thing I like about India today is the growing ambition and aspiration. We want to be ranked among the best. Ease of doing business is a good example of this growing aspiration.
Another significant positive is the focus on doing away with archaic laws. Most of our laws date back to the British era, when a small minority needed to control a vast majority. Today, why do we need such laws in a democracy? We need laws that are based on trust, and not mistrust. Another big positive has been the new bankruptcy code. Finally, assets that were lying shackled, can be unlocked for development. Entrepreneurial spirit being unleashed is another big positive. Also, unlike in the past, decisions are not being taken by government with a 5-year electoral perspective. In many of the recent measures taken, the benefits will really accrue in 5-10 years.
What don’t you like…
What I don’t like is vigilantism. I also don’t like all this continuous talk of uncertainty all the time. I also think we aren’t pitching ourselves higher. Why should we want to be anything but the best?
I am also disappointed by the poor implementation of government schemes. Everything is in place, we are only lacking in implementation ability. Take education for instance, even 20 years after an overhaul was suggested, reforms have not been implemented.
What is your view on the start-ups segment?
I think we are going through a transitory phase. It is encouraging that people are coming up with new ideas and open to taking up entrepreneurship. But an important thing we need to do as a society is not to look down on failure. In Silicon Valley, failure is celebrated. We must learn to do so too.
You met the Israeli premier when he was in Mumbai. Any interesting takeaways?
A select group of business leaders met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for breakfast. He pointed out that Israel had to cope with issues such as lack of manpower, but in the case of India we have everything — a billion people, vast natural resources, knowledge and entrepreneurship. He strongly believed that nothing should be holding India back. The one thing he felt strongly about was setting higher aspirations. In the case of ease of doing business, he wants to see Israel in the top 10, up from a rank of 15 at present. He described the economy as a spring, weighed down by different factors. Once you take the hindrances away, the economy will spring up.