During the 1962 Indo-China war, India, a young and economically weak democracy, had to divert its limited resources from welfare-oriented measures to sponsor overpriced foreign-manufactured arms purchase.
The year 1991 witnessed an economic crisis when India’s forex reserves fell down to alarmingly low levels, just enough for merely three weeks of essential imports for the nation. IMF came to the rescue but India was arm-twisted into adopting (for good or bad) economic policies dictated by foreigners.
It’s a widely known fact that during the 1999 Kargil war, global positioning system (GPS) data was denied to Indian armed forces. Its availability could have helped prevent the loss of many lives.
Instances like the ones mentioned above aren’t scarce through our nation’s history. Such incidents are scattered through the political, economic and strategic spectrum of India and continue to happen in one manifestation or the other- cyber-attacks, oil diplomacy, border skirmishes, unfair trade restrictions and lobbying, state-sponsored terrorism etc. This is a cause of worry, especially in the current scenario wherein India is being surrounded by increasingly hostile neighbours, economic protectionism is on the rise globally, the threat of a war of disastrous proportions looms due to the increasing Sino-US (or rather Sino-Quad) rivalry and the global economy has been dealt a deathly blow due to Chinese Originated Virus in December 2019 – COVID19.
We prioritised Atmanirbhar before it was cool
Let me clarify at this point that I am merely stating my opinion backed with whatever little facts I possess and with as little bias as possible. For those of you who associate self-reliance with the current government’s agenda or associate it with the ruling party, let me tell you self-reliance is an integral part of Gandhian economics and was accorded utmost priority by our first PM, Pt. Nehru. For those of you who support it by associating it as an agenda of the ruling party, I would request you to read the same reason cited above for your politically antagonistic counterparts. For my apolitical and “neutral” readers (if it is humanly possible!), I would just mention that Swadeshi in Indian polity and society has its origin in 1850, much before any political ideology decided to make a claim for it. It does not take a visionary Nehru or charismatic Modi to understand that self-reliance makes sense, politically, economically, socially- holistically.
The Concept underlying Atmanirbharta
To understand the economics behind self-reliance, let us first understand how self-reliance is different from self-sufficiency. Self-reliance, from the perspective of the Indian economy, implies not depending excessively on others for what can be indigenously produced, completely or partially. Self-sufficiency, on the other hand, implies that a country possesses all the resources it needs and does not have to depend on anyone else. The former is a desirable goal while the latter is “ache din”, i.e. impossible to attain (Disclaimer: kindly appreciate the wit and don’t take it personally. A taunt on the other end of the political spectrum will soon follow). So, by Atmanirbharta, the government is trying to promote self-reliance, something it has already (and rightly) been promoting through Make in India, Skill India, Startup India etc. Not that it was not being done before, but the political will seemed to be lacking and the government seemed to be often easily perturbed by pressure from the public, business lobbies, alliance partners and policy paralysis. After all, it was a time when the then ruling party’s Vice-president termed poverty as a “state of mind” (Scores settled!).
Atmanirbharta ki Mahatvapoornta (Importance!)
Coming back to the agenda, it needs to be understood why self-reliance matters. Absence of self-reliance can jeopardise the political and economic independence of a nation. It can lead to economic colonialism, the manifestations of which can result into excessive dependence on one or a few nations, who would, in turn, dictate the policy landscape of the country akin to what is being done by China all across the world. This structure wreaks havoc for the stability and the very survivability of the nation, which risks losing its sovereignty (or whatever is left of it) sooner or later.
It has a detrimental impact on economic growth as the nation is not catering to its own economy and citizens but acting as a conduit for someone else’s prosperity. The vicious tentacles of economic colonialism bind a country into such a toxic spiral of debt and vassalism that it is coerced to seek refuge from the very nation that put it in such a position in the first place. Of course, on even worse terms and conditions (a sadistic version of Stockholm Syndrome perhaps?).
The most visible impact also manifests as lack of diversity in the economy, degrading democratic credentials of the polity, increasing corruption in the administrative system, lack of high skilled jobs, all of which dovetail into a crisis for the subjugated nation.
Challenges to becoming Atmanirbhar
While we perceive instances of it all around us, its majorly post facto in nature. The superficial sops offered by the agents of such expansionist policies create a veil for the citizens in general and short-sighted policymakers in particular. Till the curtain is lifted, its already too late, as can be seen in the case of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or Hambanthota Port in Sri Lanka or Ecuador Mining Sector.
Secondly, self-reliance is not an easy path, especially for nations which face a resource crunch. Rather than the painstaking long-term growth plans, like Nehru-Mahalanobis Model of growth or the Rao-Manmohan Model, nations, especially the smaller ones, opt for a quick fix, which the proponents of economic colonialism seemingly offer.
Merely starting right does not suffice as we can see in the case of India. Making the right choices from the perspective of self-reliance should be a natural way of conduct, whether in terms of policy decisions or as consumer choices. Sadly, this has been our biggest failure, where we have increasingly opted for external dependence due to quality constraints in local manufacturing, lack of political will, poor policy landscape, challenges in ease of doing business, cost competence issues and behavioural preference for imported goods (imported = superior). The anglicised branding landscape in India, wherein all business houses resort to English names to appeal to customers, is a testimony to the humorous yet thought-provoking reality of India’s taste and preference (no wonder the British thought of us as apt pupils, eager to adapt whatever was thrown to them by their English masters). Although I must admit that in a globalised scenario, wherein big businesses have manufacturing units all across the world, such dilution and diversity in choices is inevitable, wherein people would increasingly opt for what they find to be genuinely better (or do they? Fact check- a rational consumer is a myth!).
Making the right choices from the perspective of self-reliance should be a natural way of conduct, whether in terms of policy decisions or as consumer choices.
Why choose Atmanirbhar?
All facts ignored, why should we be vocal for local? Simply because it’s in our own interest (irrespective of your political ideology or economic strata). It will ensure our money remains in our country. It will ensure more jobs for our citizens. It will incentivise competition and improve the quality of manufacturing and services. It will help us make decisions that will increasingly be less and less prone to foreign lobbying and more in the interest of our people. It will boost R&D which will help us be militarily stronger and scientifically developed. It will help transform India into a knowledge economy, the dream of former President. Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. It will create a healthy and educated society which will in-turn address our societal issues arising out of ignorance. It will help us create a sustainable India, as dreamt by our founding fathers. Most of all, it will ensure prosperity spreads beyond the cities and help eliminate the difference between India and Bharat.
“Into that heaven of freedom my father, let my country awake.”
Article by Haresh, Team ulaunch.