THE GEOPOLITICS of a post-Covid world is likely to be very different and new. Companies and countries across the world are looking to diversify their supply chains to avoid disruptions. This diversification, especially in the electronics manufacturing segment, provides India with a unique opportunity that must be capitalised on, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR said in an interview with AASHISH ARYAN. Edited excerpts:
The government has set an ambitious goal of exporting electronics good worth $120 billion over the next few years. How will that be achieved?
Till now, we just had a goal in mind that we have to export, as an industry and the government. There were no concrete goals and most of it was just talking on paper. Now, we have a more focussed approach, wherein we have laid out year-, segment-wise goals. I had been pushing the industry to do this, so that we have an idea of what we are trying to achieve.
Simply putting up a number of achieving certain export does not work. The new targets have been set after a series of very deep and rigorous engagement with various stakeholders. So, this might be a new benchmark for goal-setting in governance.
Of the $5-trillion dollar economy plan, $1 trillion is the digital economy goal. Now, of this, $300 billion is the electronics manufacturing target and, then, comes our export target. The way we have set our strategies and goals this time is so that the entire government functionary is aligned to it.
The period between 2014 and 2021 marked phase one of electronics manufacturing. That was driven predominantly by domestic consumption of domestic production. When there was a deficit, it was met by imports. That changes now. What the new goal is that there will be domestic consumption of domestic production. But apart from that, there will be $120 billion worth of exports.
We have very little experience in electronics exports. Entering the global value and export value chain is a totally different ball game. We are at an inflection point of a materially different character from the last five years. Export intensity will be significantly higher in the second phase of electronic manufacturing than the first phase. That will be key.
Are there any specific geographies that will be targeted for the exports plans?
That will be decided by the brands. We do not decide that. Samsung and Apple have their markets in North America, Western Europe and a little bit in the African continent. These brands have set up bases in India and are investing and manufacturing from here. And, they have a significant market presence globally. So, now, whatever is manufactured here will reach global markets and highly developed economies. We have reached the base camp of Everest and now are climbing the sharp peak of the global markets. That requires serious government rigour, approach and support to the industry. The industry too must take its task of working with the government serious and not just flay around with demands. We cannot suddenly become Japan, China. We are India and we have all of these issues. Wherever there are infirmities and disadvantages, we minimise them. Wherever there are significant strengths and advantages, we maximise them.
Whenever someone has floated the idea that technology can be exported from India, there has been a crinkling of nose by Western countries. How do you plan to tackle that?
It puts on table one of the most important issues that we have to tackle as government and industry. ‘Made in India’ is working as a brand in many other sections. With time, it should also be something that is a powerful advertising brand associated with the electronics value chain.
We have the ‘Designed in India’ branding capability. Technology wise, we have tremendous capacity. There is coming together of all these things, which is offering India an unprecedented opportunity because the world’s awareness of digital and digital technology is at an all-time high. India is now increasingly seen as, if not the top, in the leadership bracket of digital. So, there are two tailwinds behind us. One is that digital adoption domestically is increasing and that the global supply and value chains are diversifying. It represents the opportunity for Make In India electronics to be received by these global markets. It requires effort. So we will do road shows and global conference on electronics. We have to ensure that Make in India electronics is as admired and accepted as designed in India technology. We need to address it and we will address it.
All the industry leaders in the tech world have said that with Web 3.0 or the next transition in technology, India will lead. But when that comes to translating into investment for masses, that has not been the case.
Over the last few years, there has been a definite focus on elements in an ecosystem that have innovation. When we talk about electronics and semiconductors, we also talk about their design. We have, in MeitY, completely re-organised the way we handle startups and are funneling into the design and innovation side of the electronics and semiconductor ecosystem. For example, let us take mobile phones. Why are there no Indian brands? The most propriety thing about a device is its operating system. That is an area we should focus on. Is there a possibility of an iOS or Android India? It may be a corner of the operating systems that are there but at least here the intellectual property rights will remain with India.
If you look at Web 3.0 and distributed ledger etc, most companies that have come in are happy to outsource design to India but they do not do IPR and design work here. The entire policy is to focus on design and innovation in India. The next generation of computing performance is going to be driven by software optimisation and design innovation, whether it is on system, semiconductor or software. That is our strength.
The government of India is now not satisfied with being just the fuel for global software companies of the world. We also want to have the IPR and platforms here, which use Indian artificial intelligence and distributed ledger or the cryptocurrency ecosystem to build our own products.