Making a Self Reliant India
By Vijaya Pushkarna
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speeches are a lot like governance and economics –they seem simple and straight forward, but never are when it comes to implementation.
In his broadcast to the nation on May 12, the prime minister spoke about turning the Covid 19 crisis into an opportunity, and gave the example of PPE kits and N-95 masks, whose production in India has gone up from almost negligible to 2 lakh each, on a daily basis.
While there would be many interpretations and nitpicking and number crunching over the Rs 20 lakh crores he announced as a package that will provide “a much needed boost towards achieving ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’”, it is the idea of self-reliance that millions of Indians have been waiting to hear, for quite some time now.
In the early years of economic liberalization, there was euphoria of the “phoren” –pen, dress, mixer-grinder, tv, shoes, perfume, car, and even the pizza and doughnut. But as Chinese goods swamped our markets, it did not take long for it to dawn on the manufacturing sector that it was “economic terrorism”. To make matters worse, the Chinese CFL or Led bulb packed up in no time, the hair drier burnt out, the candy tasted extremely synthetic, and the synthetic silks were nowhere near our pure silks, by now hit on account of price as well as dwindling home grown raw material.
There was not an industry or sector that was not hit, and many discerning shoppers looked at product labels, and asked, “Kahin yeh Chinese to nahin hai?” The clamour for a made in India product began way before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India”. But one had to look high and low to find a 100 % made in India product – the result of globalization.
An experience in Johannesburg, South Africa, comes to mind. Barring the beautifully painted , huge ostrich eggs, everything looked like what we would see on the pavements in Janpath, New Delhi !I commented on that similarity to the Indian diplomat posted there. His reply was telling! “Every country outsources the manufacture of everything, including their handicrafts to China. So, the similarity is because the products you see here and in Delhi are both made in China”. There was no reason not to believe that. A couple of years earlier, there was fury in Maharashtra and some other parts of India, as Archie’s—the chain of gift and greeting cards stores --- sold an idol of a Ganesh that was sitting on a donkey! Of course, it had been made in China, possibly by a factory that had been “making” the party symbols --elephants for the Republicans and donkeys for their Democrats, in the USA!
The importing of Chinese goods over the last few years has impacted our economy more seriously and hurting us in a palpable way. Delegations after delegations of the MSMEs have met those in power seeking a ban on Chinese products.
The anti-Chinese whispers turned into a stark and shrill slap on the fact of the Indian economy immediately after the Wuhan lockdown followed by the Covid19 spread in China threatened the world that had just celebrated the arrival of 2020. Supply chains were disrupted, hurting some industries more than others.
The Indian pharmaceuticals that depend on China for some “Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients” were most hit. “There is no quick way of producing that. About 8 or 9 are produced in Wuhan itself and there is no second source. Contamination is not an issue because they are produced in factories with very few people. But the factories have shut down” said a government source adding there was no easy way of landing a plane or two and pulling out the stuff we need –there are a large number of suppliers in China, and coordinating with them such that they can come to the airport or seaport is a huge exercise.
There were similar problems for the Indian automobile and electronics industry.
“Corona virus is about a highly targeted supply chain breakdown, this is not about a macro response. This is a supply chain problem, and what is needed is a targeted response to that breakdown. Because we may produce 99 %, but not the other 1%” explained the government source, three months ago.
‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is about making that 1 % at home in India, and reviving the idea given up in our enthusiasm for globalisation. As author and socio-political activist Sudheendra Kulkarni tweeted, “We must, as a nation, and with utmost unity, harmony, hardwork and determination, strive for #Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.
Kulkarni also pointed out that there was another prime minister the soul of whose political philosophy was “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”– Jawahar Lal Nehru.
As we cheer Air India that rescued tens of thousands of Indians, the government hospitals and doctors for being the brave hearts in these difficult times, the next action should be –making a list of things that we would have had to pick up from Wuhan and elsewhere, and have them made in India. Like the PPE kits the Prime Minister spoke about.
And no, it should not be about making at home more toothpastes and talcum powders the way yoga guru Ramdev and other Swadeshis would want.