Sunday, March 11, 2007

Obit of the enterprise

Lack of opportunities is stiffling grass root entrepreneurs

Not a single student would have graduated from our institute without sipping Diwan’s tea. Diwan has a small dilapidated stall outside our building for the past one decade. What is astounding is the fact that in these past ten years everything around Diwan has changed, but for he himself, and his stall. In these ten years Indian economy has shone twice (!), growth rates almost touched the double digit, forex reserves swelled and stock market indices shot the roof. But Diwan has remained where he was. It is not that he didn’t grow; he did, in fact, but at best at the rate of inflation, completely nullifying his net growth.

It is not that Diwan is incompetent. While chatting with him over time I realised that even if he wants to, but is not permitted to grow. According to him, the system does not permit him to expand and grow. Whenever in the past, he says, he made any attempt of expanding, he and his shop were reduced to dirt by the Municipal Authorities. So much so that an erstwhile enterprising Diwan today survives under constant fear that his small shop would be reduced to a rubble any point of time. His crime? He is running his shop illegally. And why is it illegal? Well, that is beyond Diwan’s comprehension and to conduct his business in a legal framework is beyond his affordability as the legal framework in our country is a rich man’s domain. A poor has no place in it.

I don’t feel that Diwan’s business conduct is illegal in any way, but then, for a minute let us assume it is. If the government then ever permits Diwan and the likes to continue, it would become an administrative nightmare. But then in the most ideal situation, the government should have made provisions whereby he could run and grow his business, legally. And if that was not feasible, then the government should have at least guaranteed an employment for him, for his mere survival. And for him and for millions like him, if the government has failed in that too, then at least it should have guaranteed some kind of unemployment allowance. When it has failed in everything then the government has no business to stop Diwan. On the contrary, the government should be gratified that without burdening it for employment, people like him have decided to be on their own and earn a dignified livelihood. And it is not that they are just earning a livelihood for themselves. In the process people like him are generating employment for millions of minions (chotus) too.

In a country like ours where there are millions of such Diwans in every corner, had they been given an opportunity, we would have been a different nation. It is so unfortunate that we are so content and take pride in the one Infosys, one Biotech, one Wipro and one Reliance etc. that we have. What we fail to realise is that this country has the potential for hundreds of such Infosys, Wipros and Biotechs, provided they are given an opportunity.

It is nothing less than an unprecedented economic loss that every moment, every day, day after day, many potential Narayan Murthys or Azim Premjis are reduced to dirt by the sticks of some myopic municipal administration. What’s more, even if they have it in them, all our Diwans can never be Sam Waltons of India.


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