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[India] Jugaad’s dark side: Why it needs to be eliminated quickly


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We often hear that India is a country of jugaad. There is no English equivalent of the word. Economists have hailed our spirit of jugaad and corporate India has deemed it as our secret weapon. They have celebrated it and tried to explain it to the world. They have tried to equate it with frugal innovation and sought to make the most of the branding exercise.


But jugaad is not just innovation of things or ideas despite the lack of resources; it is a way of life for most Indians. It is something that people use in everyday life to beat the system or to beat the queue to gain access to resources and power. You want to book a ticket in the Indian railways and get an ensured seat, try some jugaad. You want to get an urgent appointment with the doctor at AIIMS, try jugaad. You want to get a driver’s license or a disability certificate, ask the broker nearby, he will tell you how he can get it done without you learning to drive or being disabled.


There are many shades of jugaad, some lead to innovation while others are just means to get by in this country. Living in India is no easy task. The government machinery is seldom as efficient as it claims to be. The rules and procedures are elaborate. The resources are scant. And there are just too many people competing for the same thing. Be it something as basic as ration or as aspirational as a medical seat.


Some suggest that our spirit of jugaad really evolved during the License Raj of the seventies, when everything from running a business to getting basic supplies required a nod from the government. For middle and upper class Indians, there were restrictions on what they could buy, what they could get from abroad and the lifestyle choices available for them in India. So they more often than not, used jugaad and got what they wanted. In rural India, where agricultural productivity was stagnant and agricultural costs increased, people were forced to make frugal innovations to make their lives better.


Decades later, the business of jugaad still thrives in India. Although the market has opened up and government regulations have been eased, the lack of resources and opportunities still make it impossible to get through the day without using some kind of a jugaad.


Take the Indian railways for example. Back in the day, the best jugaad to get a confirmed seat if you were not able to book months before was to know someone who was powerful, a civil servant, an MLA, a minister or a railway employee. Then, as incomes increased, there was no need to know someone powerful. All you had to do was to find an agent who would block your seat at an extra price. Then came the internet and people thought, yes, we won’t need jugaad now. But the smart guys in the business got some software to book tickets before anyone else could. So instead of wasting your time trying desperately to get a ticket and failing, it became a much more convenient thing to just pay the cyber cafe wallah some extra money. The entire idea works on the claim that the system can be rigged.


A rigged system is hardly a moral system. But we live in a system where keeping one’s morality can cost lives. But one can hardly boast about immoral things in public, considering that we are all children of Gandhi’s India. So most forms of jugaad are under the table; hush hush; deemed invisible by the system itself. And since no one can see (or wants to see), the system is rigged and/or flawed, the system still works and most Indians don’t want to even complain about it.


What is then left to be talked about and celebrated and showcased is any kind of jugaad which is done independent of the system or with at least minimum negative connotations on the system. But even these are more of a cry for desperation than anything else. One wonders what the result would have been if the system had worked positively for them. If they had access to education, information, capital, patenting, what could have happened then?


One could only fantasise that one day, India could have a new class of innovators and capitalists across the country who would create jobs and bring much happiness to a job deprived country.


For now, all we can do is hope that there is more of an efficient system and less jugaad in our lives. There are many aspects of our life where it is already happening. You don’t have to get in a queue for a gas cylinder now. In most places, you don’t have to bribe anyone to get a passport. You don’t even need to get all your documents attested at each and every step of your life. Technology has helped. Some decisions from the government too have helped. But there’s still a lot of it left that showcases the failures of our system more than our penchant for jugaad. One can only hope that as we move forward, we have only the brighter side of jugaad left, that of innovation and entrepreneurship.


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Thats why there's a song 


"krle jugaad krle ,krle koi jugaad".

it cannot be eliminated.


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