Tablet of Chindia

Aakash 2 was recently displayed at the United Nations as an example of Indian frugal innovation. Back home, it became slightly mired in claims that it was actually a “made in China” product.

This is nationalism out of tune with the rise of the modern supply chain. As long as the idea came from India, where its components are sourced from hardly matters. And since the prime goal of Aakash was to produce a workable tablet at the lowest possible price, getting motherboards and the like from China was almost inevitable.

The days when a manufactured product (and increasingly intangible products like music et cetera) could claim to have originated from a country on the grounds all its components were from there are long gone. Even by the 1990s, studies would show that the most “American” car based on percentage of parts made in the US was a South Korean marque and, later, a Honda.

Aakash 2 has 60 different vendors providing some 800 components so the likelihood that these would all or even mostly Indian was in the realm of fantasy. And especially so if keeping the tablet at a low price was the main criteria.

Of course, it would be nice if something like the Aakash was both ideated and manufactured in India. This would mean more of the value-addition and more of the jobs spun off from the computer project would stay in India.

But for that to happen, India would need to reform its labour laws, build up its infrastructure and cut a lot of red tape so that it could be genuinely competitive in manufacturing electronic components and other widgets. As a UBS study noted, as wages rise light manufacturing is fleeing China. But it is going to Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. It is not going to India because of the problems listed above.

Which is why, for the time being, many Indian innovations will continue to made in China for years to come.

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