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Modi’s idea of self-reliant India same as Gandhi’s — modernisation yes, Western dependence no

Swadeshi does not and should not be interpreted as isolation. It is India’s bridge between localisation and globalisation.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ or self-reliant India is Swadeshi economics in other words.

In the Indian context, self-reliance should not mean divorcing international trade. India will have to seriously engage with the region and the world, but at the same time strengthen its own domestic industry by streamlining the governance system and go far beyond mere amendments and announcements. Swadeshi does not and should not be interpreted as isolation. M.K. Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement and self-reliance were two sides of the same coin that would find currency in a globalised world. 

Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj explains the “all Indian economic (and political) model” in detail. For Gandhi, swadeshi was the rejection of the colonial exploitation of India to add to British coffers, leading to the detriment of India’s poor and the downtrodden. Capitalism based on unrestricted industrial growth to feed insatiable crass consumerism became the norm of the laissez-faire (free market) Western economic model, which Gandhi criticised in Hind Swaraj. The British colonial model was passed on to the US and was touted as a panacea for economic growth, with technological materialism pitted against dialectal materialism as an inevitable operative instrument. It wasn’t, which is why we need Swadeshi economics back.

Also read: Modi can build ‘atmanirbhar’ India, but only going local won’t help the cause

The middle path

The Swadeshi model, like Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, was not averse to technology but detested the unbridled import of all the attendant trappings of a West-oriented economic model. So, ‘modernisation yes, Westernisation no’ became the catchy slogan of the 1990s when former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh were busy dusting the Indian economy out of the five-decades old Socialist cobwebs.

The critics of Rao-Singh’s economic liberalisation strongly argued that India will face the same fate as the erstwhile USSR following the perestroika and glasnost, though there were no parallels between the two concepts. But then the protagonists of this policy of “middle path”, as Narasimha Rao called it in his World Economic Forum speech at Davos (originally a Nehruvian idea), were shouted down by Swadeshi antagonists. But neither side had a clear vision for an ideal economic model that would balance national exigencies and international compulsions. The opposition to free-market economy continued when Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried marketing Swadeshi as antyodaya but could not buy peace with the proponents of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), who launched a massive boycott of FDI and foreign goods.

Also read: Modi can build ‘atmanirbhar’ India, but only going local won’t help the cause

Vocal for local

The entry of China into the market economy and its successful positioning as the manufacturing backyard of the world, coupled with the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), changed the dynamics of global trade. But for the coronavirus pandemic originating from Wuhan, the global trade architecture would have definitely skewed in favour of Beijing, ending the US-China trade war.

The current economic crisis is of a much larger nature compared to 1991 or even the 2008-2009 economic meltdowns. Will the five pillars of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, so eloquently enumerated by Prime Minister Modi as economy, infrastructure, technology, vibrant demography and demand, be able to hold up India’s collapsing economic edifice?

A post-Covid world is as scary as the world post the collapse of USSR. Multilateral and regional trade institutions are failing just as protectionism, non-tariff barriers and standalone economic models are getting relegated to the background. US President Donald Trump’s resolve to ‘make America great again’ so that “America will start winning again, winning like never before…” went the same way as the ‘Be American, buy American’ ‘swadeshi’ slogan.

Being vocal for local is, in the real sense of the term, the recognition and promotion of the intrinsic strength of Indian entrepreneurship waiting to be freed from the shackles of inextricable tangles of land, labour, liquidity and laws as PM Modi pointed out. Swadeshi should be reinterpreted as a bridge between robust localisation and inevitable globalisation, complementary to one another and not diametrically opposed.

The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.

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  1. The person who talked about self reliance, took it seriously earnestly and did some thing towards it. Nehru. Modi and his gang is vilifying that noble man with humanitarian heart.Think of the IITs, space program, IIMs, and corporations like BHEL, Sail and Oil companies and other enterprises which Modi and his gang of Nehru baiters sell off today.(of course there were failures like IDPL). Modi, a man with such narrow and sectarian mentality, driven by hatred intolerance and bigotry can never ever lead a country, let alone a a large one like India.History will speak for itself. Modi is the biggest disaster to have befallen on India so far. Do not know if bigger disaster will be waiting on to happen. You can be sure, as Amos Oz said before his death two years ago, that democracy is in crisis if people like Trump and Netinyahu get elected. Modi was not under his radar

  2. The stupidity is obvious. Every country wants to or tries its best to be self reliant. No country would be dependent if it could be self reliant. But the truth is you are dependent not because you chose to be but because you dont and cannot have everything. Common sense .You cannot be self reliant in petroleum in modern technology .Your industry cannot develop a single product ?They have no budget for research and development .They reliy solely on foreign tech collaborations. Just check the Patents registry how many indian registrations. The Prime Minister must clarify doesn’t he think we are self reliant to the extent we can be. What is the self reliance in which fields and how is it going to be achieved. Is self reliance buy Indian even if it is poor quality and higher price. Would be doing injustice to India. That is the slogan of tje swadeshi jagran manch. These empty slogans are just good sound effect.

  3. Self reliance in a globalised world is not easily defined or understood. However, strategic autonomy in the realm of foreign policy is something India has always pursued. Former NSA SS Menon believes that may have changed.

  4. BJP people never tire of attempting to appropriate Gandhi. The comparison is silly. Gandhi’s economic ideas are regressive and would take us back to 10th century India. Merely because Modi now exhorts “Think Local”, this spokes person of BJP thinks that it it return to Gandhism. Typical intellectual laziness of Sangh Parivar. On the other hand, I am apprehensive that Think Local will become protectionist, and our manufacturers and traders, duly protected by government policies and lack of competitiion, will palm off substandard products and services to the consumers, as they were doing before the liberalisation.

  5. Gandhi was particularly opposed to British Imperialism, though ironically he followed British customs and traditions when he was a lawyer. That was more than 75 years ago. We have come past all that, though the hypocrisy continues to flourish. The aspiration of the youth of 2020 is Modernisation and Globalisation, and they will get it no matter what tactics the present dispensation uses to brainwash them. Our Statesmen will continue to talk about “Swadeshi” and yet travel in a foreign car and wear foreign shoes. The Common Man cannot be fooled by the “Be Indian, Buy Indian” slogan or any other slogan for that matter. If the Govt cannot provide for the people and fulfill their aspirations, then they will teach the ruling dispensation a befitting lesson…in the next election.

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