The urge to make in India

D. N. Bezboruah

Over the years, I have come across the "Made in India" inscription on manufactured items, but rarely with the boldness and clarity that one would have expected. It has been there in rather faded and apologetic form as though the manufacturers of the items concerned were rather hesitant to accept responsibility for what they had made. This was not so difficult to explain. The manufacturers of goods were painfully aware of two facts of life. The first was that quite often they were producing things that they were not proud of. In fact, they were somewhat ashamed of what they had manufactured and were looking out for shelters under which they could hide. The sign “Made in India” has been around for quite a few decades. It is in the past tense and indicates what has been done whether incompetently, shoddily, or not so very badly after all. “Make in India” is something yet to be done and is in the future tense, though the English language does not have a future tense. It has only different ways of referring to what will get done in future time. In English, we use the will-shall device for taking about future time or use the present continuous tense, the simple indefinite tense and others to talk about what will get done in the future. So “Make in India” is a sort of imperative that indicates that something that has not yet got started in right earnest will have to be accomplished in future time. It is also an invitation to foreign investors to come and start manufacturing in India. In fact, there could even be a word of caution to many Indian manufacturers who have discovered that it is much cheaper to get things manufactured in Chi and merely put the Indian brand label on the product to put an end to such easy ways of evading competition. The discovery that it was much cheaper to get things  manufactured in Chi and to just put on the brand label was made by American companies decades ago. Companies like Sears Roebuck and Black & Decker started getting tools manufactured to rigid specifications by Chinese companies and merely put their brand labels on them with the words “Made in Chi” in very small type somewhere on the product. In fact, there are two (or more) qualities of goods that Chi manufactures for export. One is of a high quality (with rigid specifications furnished by the target country) for export to countries like the United States or Britain, and the other shoddy products manufactured for export to countries like India. I have had persol experience of both kinds of goods manufactured by Chi from what was bought in the United States and what was bought directly in India.

The very culture of manufacturing indicates what respect the manufacturer has for his own people. Unfortutely, the Indian manufacturer has scant respect for his own people, and will take them for a ride every time the opportunity presents itself. Take, for example, the biscuit manufacturer. Over the years, biscuit manufacturers have reduced the size of biscuits without informing the buyer of what has been happening. Or take, for instance, the manufacturer of mosquito repellent coils that have to be burnt. Over the years, the coils have become so thin that once they are lit and placed on their mounts they promptly sag, touch the floor and get extinguished. The Indian manufacturer has a kck of cutting corners with the customer. If a bedspread is claimed to be 60” x 90” you can bet your last shirt that it will not be anything more than 58” x 88”—something quite idequate for a single bed. And it is not uncommon to find the ends of such products left unstitched. If you buy two such bedspreads because you happen to have trusted what the manufacturer said, you have on your hand two items you will never be able to use. Should you take a measuring tape with you to demonstrate to the shopkeeper that the bedspreads are shorter and rrower than what is claimed, he will try to defend the manufacturer’s dishonesty by saying that the missing inches have gone in the hems. At that point there is no use telling the shopkeeper that any honest manufacturer would at least have indicated that the size mentioned was before the stitching had been done. He is on the side of the manufacturer. He cannot afford to be on your side. The swindling of the customer extends also to the quality of manufactured items. A country that can put seven communication satellites in space on a single day is somehow uble to manufacture a decent il clipper or a good pair of scissors. There are probably more than a million offset printing machines operating in India. Yet the rubber blankets for them have to come either from Britain or Germany. We have so far failed to manufacture any acceptable rubber blankets for offset printing machines even though there is no dearth of rubber in this country.

What has always made me angry about our manufacturers is the way they treat the more vulnerable sections of our society who are in no position to protest. I have said this before and I have no hesitation about repeating myself that manufacturers invariably exploit children, no matter what they may be manufacturing for them. Whether it is school uniforms, tiffin boxes, water bottles or instrument boxes, anything manufactured for children are substandard and with no regard for their safety. Anything manufactured mainly for the poorer sections of society can generally be expected to be of less than the printed weight and of inferior quality. BPL citizens and children are very unlikely to take matters of fraud on consumers to the Consumer Protection Forum. So Indian manufacturers let their greed have full play in dealing with the vulnerable sections of society. And this is just one manifestation of the Indian manufacturer’s dishonesty that has cost the country dear in intertiol markets. Apart from an ibility to deliver goods according to stipulated specifications, there are times when the characteristic dishonesty of our manufacturers takes the form of an ibility to honour delivery schedules. The Indian manufacturer can argue that he never cheated anyone. The only problem was a delay in delivery schedules. What he is missing out completely in today’s world of trade is that time is money, and that the other party to the agreement has other no-nonsense customers down the line who are bound to pelize him for someone else’s failure to honour a delivery schedule. In the first few decades of export trade, Indian manufacturers doggedly pursued their belief that they could trade in the world market on the same easy terms of live-and-let-live prevalent in India. As a consequence, they did untold harm to India’s export potential. It has taken India quite a few decades to get out of its poor image in the world market.

One is not very sure whether the “make in India” mantra is going to result in a stronger, better developed and more powerful India or whether it is a better developed India that alone can induce more foreign investment and enterprise in India and fuel our “make in India” objective. As our former President APJ Abdul Kalam often said, much of our troubles arise from the fact that we have such a low opinion of ourselves and our country. It is this attitude that is likely to stand in the way of our being able to create the kind of developed and powerful India where manufacturing in the tion’s interest becomes a healthy and attractive challenge.

The aforesaid is not to suggest that some welcome changes in our attitudes have not been taking place. Our missiles programme and our communications satellite launch programmes have been tremendous successes and we are now in a position to take on any country in these two highly sophisticated fields. Our automobile manufacture too has been highly successful. Here is one field where there is no visible attempt to short-change the consumer. Besides, most of the major automobile manufacturers have evinced enough confidence in our manufacturing culture to set up assembly plants in India. They are the outsiders who are making in India and have done so for quite some time now.

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