Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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How Modi is repeating Nehru’s mistake by evoking self-sufficiency

The more Modi tries to relegate Nehru to the back pages of history, the more the first prime minister leaps out. But Modi needs to learn that self-sufficiency won’t put food on the table.

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A critical component of the myth-making around Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to minimize the contribution of the country’s foundational figures. None has suffered more than Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who laid down the rails on which the republic has run for 74 years. Which makes it surprising that Modi is emulating a signature Nehru policy and, paradoxically, one that failed: self-sufficiency. Why is a 21st-century leader borrowing a discredited 1940s idea that was given up in the 1990s?

The Harrow and Cambridge-educated Nehru, son of a wealthy lawyer, was an internationalist. But when it came to picking a developmental strategy, he never had much of a choice. Taking charge in 1947 of a newly independent nation ravaged by two centuries of British colonial plunder, he was forced to follow a closed-economy approach. For one thing, World War II had caused a huge global shortage in capital goods. The steel that could go into tractors had ended up in tanks. How to import any machines, or pay for them? Especially when India’s export advantage in cotton and jute was lost after partition, to West and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Nehru’s other problem was the Soviets. By the mid-1950s, they had infiltrated the Indian planning process with their model of rapid, heavy industrialization. The idea of producing one’s own steel to make machines to then manufacture bicycles was seductive, even if it meant not having enough trousers and toys, or shirts and shoes, to sell cheaply at home and globally and absorb surplus farm labor. This put India on a path of slower urbanization and growth than in East Asia’s tiger economies.

Modi is approaching the problem from a different angle. A popular leader who came to politics on a platform of muscular nationalism, he dismantled Nehru’s planning apparatus shortly after becoming prime minister in 2014. Modi had none of Nehru’s class privileges. As a young boy, he helped his father sell tea at a small railway station in Gujarat, according to a 2013 biography. In his second five-year term as prime minister, Modi is relying on the same formula that won him success as chief minister of of Gujarat state: highly capital-intensive industrialization, supported by infrastructure and investor-friendly policies.

To turn India into a factory to the world, Modi has put together a five-year infrastructure project pipeline worth 111 trillion rupees ($1.5 trillion), more than what the country has invested in almost the previous two decades. He has slashed corporate tax rates, merged 29 labor codes into four, and announced $28 billion in production-linked fiscal incentives. The money is earmarked for firms that put up factories making everything from mobile phones and auto parts to solar panels and sportswear. If things go according to plan, this could bring investment worth as much as $37 billion over two to three years and boost wages by $55 billion annually, according to Crisil, an affiliate of S&P Global Inc.

That’s the good part, one that has a shot at success in the current climate. Rising U.S.-China tensions are forcing global firms to broaden their supply chains. Where Modi is going wrong — and repeating Nehru’s mistake — is in choosing self-sufficiency over openness.

East Asian countries like Taiwan and South Korea recognized fairly early that labor-intensive manufacturing was their natural advantage. They played to it. India didn’t. Nehru’s heavy-industry approach failed to create employment for the huddled masses. Perhaps the Soviets wanted the consequences of their model to creep up on India and lead to collectivization of farming under pressure from a growing, restive population that wasn’t really needed on the land but had few factory jobs to go to. Luckily for India, Nehru never went that far.

Also read: It isn’t the economy, genius. India proves it by voting for Modi again and again


The economy started opening up in the 1990s. Industrial licensing went away, tariffs began to fall. Led by computer software, skills-based exports grew rapidly, Yet the blunder of not exploiting cheap, unskilled labor never really stopped mattering. India was teeming with 500 million people at the time of Nehru’s death in 1964. Modi has to create jobs for a population of more than 1.3 billion that’s bulging with young people — and youth underemployment.

The era of Covid-19 has spilled the long-festering problem, masked in recent years by the rise of an urban gig economy, into the open. With 75 million people pushed back into poverty, the middle class hollowed out and less than 6% employment for women in cities, there’s no point in pretending that India has somehow made a giant leap from agriculture to software, and that it won’t need to make shirts and shoes.

But to manufacture anything for the world, something needs to be imported. Take windbreakers. Indian suppliers appealed to the government for more than four years to remove the anti-dumping duty on purified terephthalic acid, a key raw material. It was pushing up costs across the value chain and making India uncompetitive in synthetic textiles. Finally, the duty went away last year.

Other industries are less lucky. Even prominent trade economists like Arvind Panagariya, who served in the early years of the Modi regime and is sympathetic to its zeal to reform a few things, are dismayed by creeping protectionism. As the Columbia University professor noted in a recent lecture, the proportion of import tariff lines in India with rates exceeding 15% went past the one-quarter mark last year, more than double from a decade earlier.

With tariffs on inputs being higher in many cases than the customs duty on finished goods, researchers ask if India will be able to replicate China’s success with global assembly lines.
There is an opportunity for India to compete. Chinese manufacturers are raising prices, stoking global inflation fears. Washington wants a prosperous security partner in Asia to contain China’s influence. No Soviet Gosplan experts are breathing down Modi’s neck like they did in Nehru’s days. So why is the current prime minister choosing autarky, and turning away from trade liberalization?

Maybe the domestic political economy is forcing Modi’s hand. From steel to cement and autos, and from telecommunications to airports and seaports, economic power in India has concentrated sharply over the past several years. A monopolist likes the protection of tall import barriers. Modi is increasingly obliging. Yet if anything, now is the time India should be doubling down on the successes of the 1990s by broadening skills-heavy exports to include labor-intensive goods. On this measure, Vietnam and Bangladesh are doing better.

Modi may also evoke self-sufficiency to stave off India’s over-dependence on China. The industries India is betting on, from telecom gear to photovoltaic cells and active pharmaceutical ingredients, all import heavily from the People’s Republic. It’s a vulnerability. Territorial tensions dating from Nehru’s time remain a thorn in Modi’s side even now.

The more Modi tries to relegate Nehru to the back pages of history, the more the first prime minister leaps out. That import substitution is the common ground between two such vastly different leaders and regimes is disturbing. By the late 1950s, Nehru had turned critical of the “disease of giganticism” unleashed by planning. Modi, too, needs to learn that self-sufficiency won’t put food on the table. Only jobs will. – Bloomberg

Also read: Has India become China’s colony? Seems like, going by what we import and what we export


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  1. Mukherjee writes a confused article . Mukherjee knows Modi is unqualified, and his power is based on demagoguery and communalism, and he has messed up the economy irretrievably. But before he can explain that, he has to malign Nehru first ! You should have the courage of your convictions and say Modi is unfit to be a PM – although many adore him.

    Nehru set up India’s space programme and nuclear programme – thereby securing India’s future military security. One has to admire his foresight. Nehru set up the IITs which have generated the graduates who benefited and became rich in America – and now despise him. If the RSS had been in power from the start, we would be a gobar and gomutra centred society (we can see that now). The RSS had no concept of modernity, then and now.

    Nehru had no choice about the economic model. After just emerging out of the grip of the East India Company, he could not go and invite multinationals. In any case, western multi nationals only started looking for overseas production some 30-40 years after the end of the colonial period, that is from the 1970s or 1980s. That is when they could not grow by selling their goods within their home markets, and the newly emerging countries could not afford to buy goods made in the west. Then the western companies started to localise production in developing countries. Korea and Taiwan are exceptions and not all the countries who played host to western countries did well – American companies assassinated and overthrew govts. in S. America just like the East India Company. The British East India Company would have been replaced by American ones. It is only because Nehru made India strong with nuclear and space that they cannot play those games now (of course even with space and nuclear power, India may self destruct due to communalism, but that is another story).

    Also the author trivialises about the Soviet Union. Nehru went and asked the west to set up a steel factory. They told India to concentrate on agriculture, and they would sell the steel. The Soviet Union set up India’s first steel factory. Hence, don’t be an ingrate and malign the Soviet Union and Nehru. You are viewing with hindsight now because some Indians have migrated to the US, and imagine India could have become like the US if Nehru had gone with the US than the Soviet Union. At that time, the west was willing to sell products, but not the technology to make the products.

    Modi is an intellectual pygmy, a demagogue and fascist brought up in the Sangh’s imitative Nazi culture. Nehru was a democrat through and through. He laid the democratic foundations of India – which are crumbling and which the Sanghis wish to finish off in favour of a Hindu Nazi state. Nehru was clear minded about Hindutva – he had said it was fascism, Hindu style.

    Where Nehru missed out was he did not set up a universal primary education system, which worked to erase the caste system from childhood itself. He set up IITs, and IISc., which is a top down instead of bottom up approach. It was an elitist oversight. It is the caste system (that Ambedkar denounced as a system of graded inequality), that has made Indian uncompetitive with the rest of the world. Nehru could have a taken a decision to erase this through education (and not by force), just as he decided India must have nuclear and space power. However, religion is difficult to deal with and Nehru was too soft to work out how India could escape from the caste system. That is the only thing I would say he missed out.

    With the decay of secular democracy and the rise of a party that wants to model India according to Vedic times with the caste system of Manusmriti, and people’s enthusiasm for it, India has blown its chances. There will be three super powers : US, Russia and China. India will be an also-ran. Neither will it reach the standard of living of the small EU countries nor have their democratic values, or have the wealth of the new countries like Singapore, Korea, Tawian, UAE etc. India will have a large population and poor governance, with frustrations that will break out into civil war. India is now driven by the reactionary forces of historical revanchism, instigated by the new RSS-affiliated political class.

    Does Mukherjee not know this ?

  2. Fuck off.
    What a duffer the guy is who wrote such an idiotic article. Spreading fake news in the name of opinions. I am a economist. I very know what’s wrong and what’s right. The person is denying basic facts and economic principles by saying self sufficient donot put food on table. This isn’t 1975-2014 (a socialist country)

  3. Good to see that someone finally acknowledges that nehru made “mistakes” even if so offhandedly. And another someone asks why people kept voting the Congress to power… laughable question. We have lost 3 generations of capability and high intelligence (my grandfather’s father’s and mine) to petty… uncreative… rote learning… education for job and finally doing a mundane job just to get on with life… what all could our nation have become… just if a good indiacentric education was in place… a good futuristic and punctual transport system was set up in every city/ big town… but no… from day 1 only one family had to be made happy… and the rest kept as poor and uneducated as possible… and as divided as possible along so many lines…so much so it seems like a lost game… one person or a few nation minded people cannot do much imo…

  4. Time is time not about to seek pleasure for The past. They did about the situation, so you are here we need to praise the past.

  5. Time is time not about to seek pleasure for The past. They did about the situation, so you are here we need to praise the past

  6. Mr Andy Mukherjee,
    Please come out of your Pseudo Communist mindset. we are not in 1950s , this is a new age of digitization and information. India being a resource hub will need to realize by atmanirbhar ta means India can drive not only demand but also supply, manufacturing, output and production. Also the immense service industry potential that India has is evident that it is a foremost country in IT/ IT enabled industry all over the world. Under able guidance of Honorable PM Mr. Narendra Modi, India will soon achieve the most developed nation status. You commies can sit out this one and lick China products.

  7. Andy Mukharee is turning out to be first pappu putting pappu rahul in second position and pappi priyanka vadra in third position.Why this first pappu is quite when in 2013 antonio mario called modi maut kaa saudagar and in 2014 pappu rahul tore the page of PM Man Mohan Singh in presence of PM.Why this pappu Mukharjee quite that in Patan pappu rahul said asee machine banaungaa ek jagaha sey aloo dalungaa doosree jagaha sey sona niklega.Why this pappu is quite that pre 1962 when China took over AKSAICHIN Nehru said not a blade of grass grows there.Why this pappu Mukharjee is quite that how badly the Shias,Sufis andAhmedias are mistreted in Porkistan. Why this pappu quite that the katwas and Kashmir killed the Kashmiri Bhramins and they had to leave Srinagar.The worst was 1921 Malabar riots when the Katwas killed the Hindus,Mahatma gandhi supported the katwas. Read the book by Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar on Malabar riots blaming Mahatma Gandhi.

  8. Nehru tried to establish self sufficiency agenda during the era when British have looted us and left us as two divided nations.
    That’s why it was a flop show….

    NaMo is implying this thought during an era, when we have developed ISRO……

    Please don’t show your callous mindset by comparing them.

    PS : This kind of article will definitely not benifit Congress. If they really want to come as a true opposition, then they have to leave the Nehru-Gandhi family and accept a true leader from the common people of India.

  9. 3. Some guys always think that,they have the only perfect idea,policies etc. Ridiculous!  Perfectness always vary from frame to frame. Different persons draw their co-ordinates depending on their situations. These guys use to forget that, these PMOs formed by majority.Means,mejority hope that,its better. Who does not hope for better results,they should invest themselves to make a better opponent,rather thn criticizing the majority. Though I love to read these comics,headed by RAGA. lol !
    4. Just to remind, we all are lucky that, we are from India,incuding team RAGA. There are very few places in this world like here, that is why it is very easy to sustain for a pappu opponent. Better you guys should invest your positive energies to get a better opponent,rather thn a pappu opponent.
    Carry on guys! Better luck next time! Be happy, what ever may be.

  10. 1. India, an unique country. We can not compare us with other countries.Results got from any implemented policies are different for India with others.Same things happened in different countries also.Communism is the best example for Chaina ,North Korea and Soviet Union. I think, it is better not to compair with other countries, rather then finding what are the wrong things we did in past for not getting the expected results from implemented policies. Just like unique India , another unique thing hidden behind all failures is Corruption. Is not it !
    All countries are in top of the list, which are in bottom of the corruption index. Generally start and end of corruption happen from top,not from bottom.Ideology may be different but this is the universal fact that, just like we got most corrupted PMs and ministers under them,rather thn less corrupted PMs and ministers,in past. I always hope for positive results , when a less corrupted PMO sitting there.
    2.  We should always engage in any work, rather thn sitting idle. This is universal truth. Present PMOs are much better un implementing this universal truth, rather thn earliers.In addition, Gujrat is an example of smart work,not a shoddy work at all.

  11. Protectionism ,self reliance and ‘swadeshi’ model/concepts work
    only when a country has made sufficient economic progress to
    reach ‘middle class’economy status.local industry is then sustained by adequate local demand.
    Till that time,we will have to depend upon FDI inflows.Protectionism
    will completely derail the process
    Of wealth creation of necessary levels.

  12. Nehru deserves to be praised
    for his contributions but also
    Has to shoulder blame for many
    of his negative inputs .
    Typical is bending over backwards
    To accommodate minorities at cost
    of majority . He had the opportunity to create equality but miserably failed .
    Its a long list but these selfopinionated brats should study the facts prevailing at that time .
    Also imprint and wire and ndtv are only encouraging antimajority elements when democracy is only about majority in elections .
    Secularism means neutral . It also means nationalism in our context .
    You would do well to
    confine yourself to good of country instead of cofusing people wth nonsense . If u don’t want Modi , oppose him . But dont let the hatred blinker you from serving the country with unadulterated news . Abd please no Andy pandy type of cockeyed opinions . Last but not the least do not succumb to ” modern western economy “. This is how East India Co. enslaved us . Let us not be tools again like Andy wants .
    I am fairly well educated science student and good knowledge of our history . There is not much difference between a globalist and a fifth columnist.
    I’d rather be poor Swadeshi rather then Globalised Businessman .
    So set your sights straight.
    Thank you .

    • If you will be a poor Swadeshi then you will not pay taxes and will be a burden on country only..I don’t think any nationalist want to be a burden on his nation

    • You accuse Nehru thus :

      ‘Typical is bending over backwards To accommodate minorities at cost of majority . He had the opportunity to create equality but miserably failed .’

      In what way did the majority suffer ? Give some explicit examples. Look at the 25 top defaulters. No minorities. Look at all the ones who instigate riots – RSS. Look at the gang rapists – no minorities. Look at the vigilantes and law breakers – no minorities.

      ‘He had the opportunity to create equality but miserably failed’. Ambedkar held that Indian society was a system of graded inequality. I agree that Nehru did not take sufficient steps to correct it. But then, is the RSS-BJP taking the steps to create equality ? They say the system of graded inequality, according to Manu, is the ideal model of development. What is your view on this ? What proposal do you have to end this system of graded inequality ? Do you realise that to create equality, you have to transform Hinduism radically ?

      The concepts of liberte, egailite and fraternite are from the French revolution, and these were brought to us through the British. Neither Hindus nor Muslims had these notions. Hindu concepts are diametrically opposite on this.

  13. If nehru was not good for the country then why Indians time and again voted for Congress for so many years. Please clarify.

    India respects Sardar jis for the be a Very and, I bet there will be no future primeministers like Manmohan and Indira.

    Dividing the country on religious line did happen in Pakistan by making it Islamic some 30 yrs back and the result is in open about that countries state of affairs now. Hope we too dont make the same mistake in this era.

    • Rahi you are turning out to be first pappu putting pappu rahul in second position . Indira Gandhi imposed emergency for twenty one months and surprisingly President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed signed the letter of Indira Gandhi.See put
      many opposition leaders in prison Why are you quite that in 2013 pappi 1 antonio mario called modi maut kaa saudagar and jn 2014 pappu rahul tore the page of PM Man mohan singh in presence of PM.Why are you quite that pre 1962 when China occupied AKSAI CHIN Nehru said not a blade of grass grows there.Why are you quite that in Porkistan how the Shias,Sufus and Ahmedias are mist reated.See how the Kashmiri pundits were killed by the katwas and they had to leave Kashmir

  14. Nehru took over as PM of devastated India after British rule of 200 years , his immediate challenges were different, today the challenges are different. It is extremely easy to criticize people. I remember a story wherein a painter displayed his painting and ask people to point out the mistakes and the entire canvas was full of crosses indicating the mistakes, the next day he put up the painting asking people to point out the good things but there were hardly any pointers. Human tendency is to find mistakes . It is easy to say Nehru did this and Gandhi did that but what ever has happened cannot be undone by criticism, every one makes mistakes , no human being is perfect. We need to discard the bad things and adapt the good things and move ahead. It’s not that as we move forward there will not be any mistakes committed, a regular and close review should be done so that wrong doings can be immediately corrected and for this strong opposition is required in a democracy for healthy progress. Ask what have I contributed for the progress of the nation and not what the country has done for me.

  15. As very said above its clearly evident that above analogy given is baseless. Self sufficiency in 1950s only with public sector without any foreign investors, but Modi Sufficiency is Establishing Indian companies along with foreign investors. It creates healthy competition and its creates lot of revenue generation. Its good for india as whole.

  16. The major point ignored by this author is that foreign capital, technology and international collaboration is driving the “self sufficiency” this time, as against a “closed economy” then. Public enterprises then and privatization now is another big change.

    I don’t understand this article. India can never duplicate or emulate. As many “experts” have suggested it has to follow its own course to meet with the promised tryst with destiny.

    Tail piece: Stop comparing

  17. He knows well about keral peoples voteing pattern..but taken pot shots by highlighting weaknesses of pinayari… Kerala voters R VERY clever n not let BJP make inroads in State.

  18. Stop telling half truth
    India is not,Nehru did not lay the rails of democracy
    His hunger and ambitions to be prime minister got us partition
    If he was secular and ready to accept Jinnah as prime minister it would have been a different story
    Express your views neutrally
    Democracy is in people’s hand
    If they feel the government is not up to mark they will throw as they didn’t re elect NDA after vajapayee or L K Advani got the mandate
    People are not fools
    So stop this nautanki
    Respect people mandate

  19. तुम नेहरू के नाना, या मुगलो की पैदाइश हो, जो नेहरू का गुणगान कर रहे हो। नेहरू चरित्रहींन और अय्याश था। जिसका परिणाम आज भी देश भुगत रहा है।

  20. Self reliance with competitiveness is NOT so called Nehru model of running-after foreigners as well as pseudo-secularism.
    This article is designed to create confusion on India’s capabilities.
    Congress has never credited PV Narsingha Rao, Ex-PM & architecture of open-clmpitive economic reform.

  21. This is why the Print fails in the proper analysis of the situation. Nehru did “suggest” self-sufficiency but he tried to do it through the public sector. Hence he failed.
    Modi is promoting & supporting private sector to develop self-sufficiency. Private sector is efficient, public sector is not. Hence Modi will win where Nehru failed.

  22. Andy Mukherjee needs to have his head examined..
    Why?. He says Modi is copying Nehru. By copying s lf suffi ncy model that Nehru never had.
    Regards Import Tariffs, the Nehruvian Era had import tariffs on almost everything at much higher rates and supervised by his License Raj of modern day zamindari politicians and beurocracy.
    Does Andy know that 3 motor bike brands from Europe are already in India, with many down stream ancillary units getting in place.
    TPA is also an area where local manufacturing is getting in place.

  23. Andy Mukherjee needs to have his head examined..
    Why?. He says Modi is copying Nehru. By copying s lf suffi ncy model that Nehru never had.
    Regards Import Tariffs, the Nehruvian Era had import tariffs on almost everything at much higher rates and supervised by his License Raj of modern day zamindari politicians and beurocracy.
    Does Andy know that 3 motor bike brands from Europe are already in India, with many down stream ancillary units getting in place.
    TPA is also an area where local manufacturing is getting in place.


  25. This is a Pidi media. Pidi is name of pet dog of Raul Vinci. Days of Antonia Miano, Raul Vinci and gang are over. You are criticising Modiji by comparing his policies with those of Nehru, thus trying to look more authentic. You must mind that Nehru was not a son of soil. He was aUK educated guy. He was so confused that he considered himself an accidental hindu. I think that he was an accident personified. He brought about so many accidents in our country. Modiji is a son of soil. He does not treat himself an accidental hindu. He is not a seasonal hindu. As such he is not required to disclose his gotra. He is not ashamed of his hindu identity. So, he need not show his janeo by putting it over his shirt. You must criticise Pt Nehru independantly . He had committed blunders after blunders. He has given many scope to be criticised. You write on them. You must criticise China also because it has become an industrial hub and have become atmanirbhav. In fact you do not want us to be atmanirbhav.

  26. 2021 is not 1947. There is no comparison about what India is now capable of, or what a globalised world has to offer in terms of growth opportunities. I am certain if Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were alive today, he would have modified his economic orthodoxy drastically, unrecognisably. Let us stop living in the past. 2. If some are really in the mood to criticise the Family – although the dead do no wrong – the 1980s would be a more appropriate comparison. Mrs Gandhi’s concluding term and Rajiv Gandhi’s only one were a very tough decade for India. Troubles in Punjab, Assam, Sri Lanka. And this at the time when China ignited its Saturn V rocket. 3. This also links up with today’s National Interest column. There is no justification for either the state of the economy or how it is being helmed.

  27. Educated people can understand how India has grown from rags to riches ,from hunger to excess food grains. Please once go through the speech of pundit Nehru from redfort ” trust with destiny ” In 1947 ,when we got independence ,our population was 60 crs ,we don’t have foreign exchange ,we don’t have country’s balance sheet ,people were suffering with hunger and malnutrition. We relied on wheat and milk powder imported from US under PL 480. Later with green revolution and white revolution we became exporters of food grains. Similarly in other fields. Our IITs IIMare testimony for future vision of Nehru and his team. Our steel plant established withthe help of then USSR ,our irrigation projects ,power projects are testimony for the seeds down for development. Better we go through our 5 year plans see the achievements f.

  28. The print and scroll are both anti India . Always stoking dissatisfaction
    Enjoy your burnol moments
    Best of luck

  29. Don’t reproduce articles from Print, Scroll, etc. They always represent negative side of everything. Instead use articles standard s like Indian express, Hindustan times, times of India, etc

  30. There is hardly any resemblance between Nehru and Modi. While Nehru placed emphasis on the public sector utilities, Modi lauds the contribution of private sector. Most sectors are open 100% for foreign investors. Recently foreign investment limit in insurance sector has been increased to 75% despite the protests from the socialists. Labour laws have been rationalised, corporate taxes are one of the lowest.

  31. You moron, atma nirbhar is not equivalent to Nehruvian self-sufficiency. Do your home work before you put pen to the proverbial paper.

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