The launch of Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) comes weeks after India allowed the export of COVID-19 vaccine to Brazil, as part of its “vaccine maitri” diplomacy. Taken together, these two examples of technological and scientific cooperation draw attention to the diplomatic potential of India’s knowledge economy. India’s current global diplomacy in the fields of space and pharmaceuticals, engaging several countries around the world, is the fruit of 50 years of sustained state support for “atmanirbharta” in both fields.
The credit for India’s competitive pricing of satellite launches and pharmaceuticals exports goes entirely to Indian engineering, scientific and technological talent that has pursued world-class standards at a fraction of the cost incurred in developed economies. The willingness of high-quality Indian scientists, engineers, biotechnologists, pharmacologists and such like to work in India at Indian rates of compensation, not tempted by better paying jobs abroad, has allowed organisations like ISRO and Serum Institute of India to do the work they now do.
India’s demonstrated potential to be a low-cost global provider of knowledge-based products had prompted the developed West, especially the US, to deploy policies aimed at curbing the development of Indian capabilities. Unilateral sanctions were imposed to deny Indian industry access to technology and markets and a multilateral regime for intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection was created, under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation to thwart indigenous technology development. Indian capabilities in space and pharma grew in the face of such constraints.
Indeed, given the competition from China, the ability of Indian space and pharma to offer much-needed products to other developing countries goes to the credit of the people who serve in these industries. The Indian familiarity with the English language and the still good quality of teaching in mathematics and statistics has enabled Indian firms to remain competitive in data processing, business process outsourcing and software services. Here too, the competitive edge is beginning to blunt.