Avik Chattopadhyay: What makes us proud?

18 Feb,2021

By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik Chattopadhyay“Pride” – a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc. / a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.


This is how ‘pride’ is defined in an online dictionary. Certain expressions are important – dignity, merit, superiority, conduct, self-respect, and self-esteem. They are possibly the best barometers or measures of pride.


The nation is right now gaga over Tesla entering the Indian market. Excitement is at a level as if economic emancipation is on the way and this is a validation of India’s global standing! The same happened when Apple decided to set up manufacturing in India. These are all approvals of our “Make in India” initiative. And they help position us vis-à-vis China as a destination to operate out of. these are occasions that make us “proud”.


Tesla coming to India.

Apple manufacturing in India.

The tallest statue.

The largest vaccination exercise.

The biggest cricket stadium.

The largest temple.

The largest democracy.


The measures are simple – quantitative. Be they units, feet, metres, kgs, population or donations.


Interestingly, there are very few measures that are qualitative -most reliable, best designed, latest technology, highest quality, best service etc.


We make the most feature films, but it has been years since an Indian feature film has won an internationally acclaimed award. [A few documentaries have.]


We have the largest number of post offices but not a postal system that had set any global benchmarks.


We have one of the largest network of roads, but some of the worst maintained and unsafe leading to the maximum of deaths from accidents in the world.


We have some of the largest IT firms in the world but not one software that is globally regarded as a gold standard.


The land of Taxila, Vikramshila and Nalanda does not have a single educational institution in the Top 25 in any discipline globally. We feel elated when one features even in the top 100!


There are many Indians heading global corporations but hardly any Indian brand leading in any global market.


It sure does make us feel happy to find Haldiram’s products in London or Paris or New York. But they are only in the “Indian” stores. Just like the Martin Luther King Street in each US city typically happens to be in the areas that aren’t exactly inhabited by a very diverse populace.


We are over the top with Tesla but forget that we had the Reva way back in 1994 which, with sufficient government support, could have challenged Tesla across the world. China has brands like Nio and Xpeng that give the Tesla a run for its money. That is possibly what makes China proud. There is a OnePlus and Huawei that challenge Apple in many markets. That is possibly what makes China proud.


When working on a project for the state of West Bengal ten years ago, we had recommended to the administration that the focus should not be on quantity but quality. The state should target for the most respected medical college and hospital in South Asia, the best managed public transport system, the most profitable Self Help Group network and world-class seats of education. That is how the state could have built true pride and self-esteem.


I remember the Paris Motor Show of 2004 when the Tata Indica was displayed as a City Rover to hide the fact that it was from India. The official there insisted that the vehicle came from Birmingham!!


Tata Motors may have the financial muscle to buy a Jaguar-Land Rover but it can never match the pride of seeing an Altroz on the streets of London. Money can buy you goods, not love!


But there are a few beacons of hope too in the global market when you see an Apollo tyre saying “Made in India” selling in Frankfurt or Parisians lining up in front of Saravana Bhawan on a Saturday afternoon.


As a nation, we unfortunately take recourse to our population to justify the numbers while excusing ourselves of the lack of quality. Therefore, the focus on being better rather than bigger is lost on us. A largely impoverished nation is sold the measure of quantity at every stage of our lives right since independence, as if we do not deserve any better. We accept a meal a day without bothering on its nutrition and manner of serving.


And that leads both how we run our nation and our most of our brands. The obsession with market share is a prime manifestation of the same. Rarely have we heard from a brand that it wants to be the ‘most respected’ or ‘most aspirational’ in the market.


If we are truly to be Atmanirbhar, then we need to focus on self-reliance rather than self-sufficiency. While the former focuses on capability, the latter is all about capacity. I do not imply that capacity is not required for a country of our scale, but that should be a table-stake while capability becomes the true differentiator.


In the Hindi movie “Anand”, Rajesh Khanna famously says, “Babumoshai, zindagi badi honi chahiye, lambi nahi.” [Dear Sir, life should be big and not long!]



Avik Chattopadyay is a senior brand and strategy consultant based in Gurugram. He writes for MxMIndia every other Thursday. His views here are personal



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