The last few days saw onions touch a price of INR 80/kg, which actually brought tears to the eyes of commoners and added enough oniony spice to the jokes spreading on all social media platforms. The most common of all commodities went out of bounds for the common man against the backdrop of a sudden plunge last month by the India Rupee (INR) to the US Dollar (USD) to about INR 69 per USD. Here, our old friend Japan became a Good Samaritan and decided to more than triple the existing bilateral currency swap agreement to USD 50 billion.

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The intent of the entire proposal was to bring stability to financial markets, and it seems somewhat successful in contributing towards the same.  India was in need, and Japan came to its rescue like a good friend. The next important task though is to tackle the underlying causes for the rupee depreciation and one of them is the current account deficit. The Economist stated in one its articles on August 24, 2013 that “the longer-term solution to the balance-of-payments problem may be to ramp up India’s manufacturing sector, and thus its industrial exports. But that will take a big improvement in the business climate, not just a cheap currency. Despite the rupee’s 27% tumble in the past three years there is scant sign of global manufacturers shifting production to India.”

The Government of India desires to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from the current 15% to 25% by 2022. However, we have certain well recognized factors that are limiting manufacturing, viz; infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, high cost of capital, land and labor, which are pushing even our local businessmen to go abroad rather than strengthen a manufacturing base at home.

Here again our old friend Japan is quite keen to address our infrastructure issues, where it’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Infrastructure (METI) has adopted infrastructure systems exports as a thrust area with the help of Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, which are leading world class machinery manufacturers. The capital hurdle could also be resolved provided an acceptable Public Private Partnership policy is brought in. the Japanese banks are looking for promising projects to finance.

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I believe, India’s excessive bureaucracy and the labor issue are quite interlinked but the point is that the centuries old caste system has ingrained a preference for thinking rather than doing. Those who can, “think”, prefer not to get their hands dirty with implementation because their belief lies in the fact that getting hands dirty is for the lower castes.

Thus, the brainiest of engineers eschew production and manufacturing related work, preferring jobs in finance, consulting or even software development – work that can be done from comfortable environs. Those who can’t – get stuck in labor but because there is no pride in being at the bottom of society, the labor is just not willing. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is trying to bring in pride to India’s manufacturing and is supporting a leading management program at India’s premier Indian Institute of Management Calcutta called VLFM (Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing).

Alas, Japan cannot yet offer solutions to our land ownership and transfer complexities that perplex even the longest serving businesses such as the Tatas. Neither do they have a solution to our British inherited legacy of excessive bureaucracy. The politician and the bureaucrats – the two pillars of government need to address these. Centuries old problems cannot be swapped in a jiffy; hopefully they won’t take a century to resolve.