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Time To Step Up: Gateway House Director Manjeet Kripalani On India-US Ties

From affordable generic medicines, and innovative medtech, to technology transfer, Manjeet Kripalani explains how Indian companies can leverage the ‘new bonhomie’ with the United States.

By The Core Team
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Time To Step Up: Gateway House Director Manjeet Kripalani On India-US Ties

The address of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the joint session of the US Congress touched upon various economic aspects, including supply chain, semiconductors, finance, and partnerships among others. Several deals were announced and some of the significant ones include the F414 Military Aircraft Jet Engine deal between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics or HAL (HAL), the NASA- ISRO collaboration for human space flight, and a global fintech operation centre to be set up by Google in GIFT city, Gandhinagar. 

Given this context, here are a few questions or probabilities to ponder—what did India derive the most benefit from here—the hard or the soft power? Which of these factors powered this series of new partnerships including the presence of a highly influential diaspora in business and public life? This is particularly interesting as partnerships or bilateral business engagements occur when the underlying attraction of a particular market is strong and not necessarily in the backdrop of a meeting of the heads of state. 

Business Standard’s TN Ninan has argued that what is working in the bilateral relationship is hard power—India’s growing economic and military clout and the potential of its market. Case in point, India has ordered almost 1000 aircraft in six months, which serves as the biggest manifestation of India’s presence at the global economic table in 2023. 

However, as TN Ninan also points out, it would truly be an Indian soft power if the best and brightest Americans came to study at Indian universities and then sought Indian passports. Today, it is the other way around, he says, with the most privileged Indians being sold in US universities, the opportunities in America’s tech companies, the might of its financial system, and the appeal of popular culture. 

The Core editor Govindraj Ethiraj, caught up with Manjeet Kripalani, executive director, Gateway House, and former India bureau chief, BusinessWeek to understand how this scenario can be changed.

What is your view on the Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to the United States and its outcomes?

If India is saying it is a rising nation, then we have to stop acting like a poor developing country. We are a country on the move. The rest of the world, including the developed world, is changing because countries like ours are rising. Other parts of the world are in transition as well. We do not know how or where they would land, but here are a couple of aspects to mull over. First is the high cost, of almost everything, in developed countries such as the US and the European Union. So, while they have a high standard of living, the cost of living is also high. This is where India has an advantage because we are known for affordable, accessible, adaptable, and appropriate .That is what India does. We have a large population and everything has to be appropriate, accessible, and affordable for them. 

Let us start with healthcare. We have the world’s largest generic industry. Medication is affordable. We did not fall in with the IPR regime until much later. However, we now understand through the vaccine experience that affordable medication worked. Today, I believe India accounts for almost 60% of the generic medicines in the US. The rest of it is heavy IPR-driven medication. 

The second aspect is technology. Indian technology companies are embedded into US insurance, and pharmaceutical companies and they know where the fat is, and where it can be trimmed. They just need to be told that instead of working for their clients they can work bilaterally and clean up the system from the inside. Further, this has also made US healthcare unaffordable for most people. The highest level of US healthcare looks at how the individual can be served. It should be about how society needs to be served, is it not? And that is what India does.

Lastly, there is the medical technology aspect. You may recall that many years ago there was a start-up in Bengaluru that tried to create in one instrument six methods of testing—they could test a person’s blood pressure, temperature, do an ECG, and could also collect blood, etc using one instrument. And it was priced at just only $200. What then happened was General Electric bought out that startup and created for mass use a product exactly like this for a slightly higher price. 

These are the sectors—medtech, pharmaceuticals through low-cost generic medicines, and technology—for good bilateral engagement. 

The next is digitisation. The India Stack is an open source, open network—we are aware of what has been done for financial inclusion and it enabled India to be a highly digitised country. I think after China we are the second most digitised nation in the world and this needs to be taken across the world to countries like the US. However, this should not be just a G to G (Government to Government). This is where we get the Silicon Valley-Bangalore connections, Mumbai and New York connections, and government sectors and NGOs to work together. So together with that we can also then parlay this into the 2-3 unilateral engagements that we have specifically with the US.

The first is the QUAD, the second is I2U2 (India, Israel, US, and UAE). The UAE and India are already putting this to work, so there is no reason why the US cannot.

How could Indian companies take advantage of this ‘new bonhomie’ if you were to call it that? 

The Indian companies are going to have a wonderful time; billions of dollars worth of deals have taken place. It means that they can up their technology and their capacity levels. They have to start training their people because we have taken so much from the US that we also should develop the ability to receive it. See, my opinion is, in the 7-10 years or less, Indian companies have been resting on their laurels a little bit. Given that Indian companies are present in almost all the 50 states of the US, this is their time to step up for the bilateral and start participating. 

So, capacity building, encouraging their people to learn new technologies, and most importantly helping with education. There are almost no chairs that Indian companies have for any kind of technology. This is something that they can learn from their counterparts in the US—How to endow chairs for specific technologies. They must bring US expertise to India, learn about them and also {teach} and also the society around them. 

Look at the list of billionaires in the Forbes list—the US is at the top with 735, China has around 495, and India is next best at 169. We have almost 170 billionaires and these are the people that need investing in the ecosystem to pull India up to the level it belongs to and so does everybody else. 


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