OWe would like India to not only be a fuel for global tech companies but also to lead the global tech movement,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Union Minister of State for Entrepreneurship , skills development, electronics and technology.
The quest for leadership is natural. There is an Indian model of digital infrastructure waiting to be evangelized beyond its borders.
India’s digital public goods, such as the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) that powers digital transactions, are designed to be shared across borders. Nepal and Bhutan have adopted UPI. Service providers in France are doing this. India has a suite of homegrown and highly scalable digital public goods.
Furthermore, technological partnerships are increasingly at the center of India’s diplomatic choices. Whether it’s the Quad or the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), the focus on technology cooperation, data sharing and interoperability of digital services is more broadly at the heart of these new minilateral agreements.
Yet to effectively lead “the global technology movement”, India urgently needs to invest in an office of what might be called a National Technology Coordinator (NTC). There are at least four reasons to do so.
First of all, no government ministry or department is structured to take the lead or invest one hundred percent of its capacity to monitor, coordinate and, above all, focus its efforts on the strategic exploitation of all that is happening in India and around the world. Moreover, it is impossible for already overstretched ministries to appreciate the frenzy of activity across India. From the creation of innovative digital products in Bangalore, to the multifaceted debates over the deregulation of space, and from the formation of a new “health stack” or Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) to the advantages of India in biotechnology – there’s just too much going on at any given time.
Second, an NTC should ideally be located within the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS). Not least because any aspect of emerging technologies has security implications. Equally important, the NSCS is perhaps best placed to decouple the development of national rules and regulations from India’s position in the mini side structures that promise to define the future of security and safety. cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, for example. The Department of External Affairs (MEA) is, of course, at the forefront of global negotiations. It has invested knowledge and created new structures for international technology negotiations. Several MEA territorial divisions have built their own technology policy capabilities. India’s new Foreign Service Undersecretary is already a strategic asset, well-versed in deep technology. In short, they understand. The combination of the mastery of technology in this rank combined with the experience and wisdom of those in higher positions adds incredible strength to shape the cutting-edge debates of our time.
What India lacks is a chain of administrative linkages between what the MEA does for India beyond its borders and the making of technology rules in India. Take, for example, the case of data. One of the four pillars of IPEF — “the connected economy” — is centered on trade. Specifically, it aims to “pursue high-level rules of conduct in the digital economy, including standards on cross-border data flows and data localization”. India rightly has a vision for data and data localization. There is a clear need for a national personal data law, which can provide the national framework to more clearly shape an Indian position on the future of global data governance and cross-border data flows. This will no doubt become more urgent when India takes over the presidency of the G20 on December 1, 2022.
Also read: India is building the future it wants with its own digital infrastructure. The EU can learn
Coordination is crucial
Third, the Indian government is on an impressive path to build self-reliance in significant parts of the semiconductor supply chain. There is a clear policy architecture, led by Chandrasekhar, to firmly position India as a “global hub for electronics design and manufacturing”. One of the Quad working groups is at an advanced stage of semiconductor discussions, where India can make the most of its partnerships with Australia, the United States and Japan. This is also expected to be discussed as part of a dynamic new bilateral process between the United States and India known as (ICET) – an initiative on critical and emerging technologies between the NSCs of the two countries. An NTC office can ensure that what is done internally is operated externally, and vice versa.
Fourth, back to the Indian tech model – it’s not just about India creating digital public goods that can be exported beyond its borders, but about better defining India’s global tech path. . As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar firmly established, there is an “Indian way” in foreign policy. Likewise, what seems to be evolving is “India’s Digital Way”.
India has built a unique digital infrastructure. It has transformed the very meaning of financial inclusion. The statistics speak for themselves. This infrastructure can, with greater force, serve as a model for development throughout the world. To this end, much is being done within the MEA Development Partnerships Administration.
In short, there are multiple lines of investments, innovations, rules and expansions underway. What India needs to make the most of this electrifying time of change is the grammar that gives firm meaning to India’s digital path. The office of a CNT would work actively alongside the MEA, MEITY, G20 coordination team; the engineers and talents of Bengaluru, the innovators of Pune, Gurugram and Hyderabad; and more generally the dynamic ecosystem of Indian start-ups; among many other departments and agencies.
In doing so, it could take a closer look at India’s choices and strategically alter India’s digital story into a distinct script that provides the language needed to effectively shape “the global tech movement.”
The author is the director of Carnegie India. He tweets @Rudra_81. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)