Atmanirbhar Bharat, meaning self-reliant India, is the goal set before us as a panacea to recover from the manifold problems generated and spread as inevitable consequences of the cruel COVID-19 pandemic. Self-reliance is the ability to do things and make decisions by oneself without depending on other people’s help. It requires independence, individualism and self- confidence, besides the ability to reach the desired end.
Global disease has yielded many useful lessons for reviving our shaken life and livelihoods among which the realisation of the need for “self-reliance” and the value of “local” stands foremost. Prime Minister Modi, in his latest address to the nation in this lockdown period, emphatically stated: “local is not only our need; it is also our responsibility. Current world situation has taught us that we have to make ‘local’ one’s life mantra”. He has already laid the foundation for this in “Make in India” project commenced in 2014.
Building Atmanirbhar Bharat is not a mere slogan, but conveys an objective to instill in the minds of the people the capacity and willingness to manage their life without external help. This policy is aimed at making the Indian economy competitive and emerging as a major player in the global supply chain on the back of “Make in India” products.
Self-reliance, though not a novel or an imported idea, is resurrected with great vigour and official encouragement. It was known in our panchayati raj and community development programme even in the 1960s.
Modi addressed 250,000 gram panchayat heads through video conferencing on National Panchayat Day a month ago, where he stressed the importance of self-reliance, which has to be built from grassroots.
When global supply chains have been disrupted and nations are preoccupied with fighting the life threatening virus, when restrictions on travel and movements have barred flow of goods and resources, and when labour supply is curtailed due to exodus of workers, all nations are facing difficulties in manufacturing, marketing and services. They have to look inwards to tide over the difficulties and revive their economy.
In this endeavour to awaken India’s internal potential, the presence of over 2 lakh elected panchayat bodies is a great boon. Development of every village will in aggregate contribute substantially to the development of the nation. The Prime Minister has made a fervent appeal that, “Every village has to be self-sufficient enough to provide for its own needs. Similarly, every district has to be self-sufficient at its level; every State has to be self-sufficient at its level and the whole country has to be self-sufficient at its level”.
The philosophy of self-reliance is the strategy adopted successfully in community development in villages in many African nations. It believes in reliance on indigenous technology and local human resources which leads to overwhelming participation in community-driven development. In essence, it means that local people initiate, galvanise and mobilise their own resources. When macro economics faces hurdles, the combined power of micro economic units will have to rise and save the situation. In India, there is no dearth of local resources, manpower and skills.
In a country’s development, self-reliance is “development on the basis of a country’s or region’s own resources, involving its populations based on the potentials of its cultural values and traditions”. In any part of the free world, at any time, self-reliant communities and people define their own development according to their own needs, values, and aspirations.
Self-reliant India, as envisaged today, stands on five pillars listed by Modi as Economy, Infrastructure, System, Vibrant Demography, and Demand and Supply Chains. Economy must work for “quantum jump” and not just “incremental change”. The pandemic growth is exponential creating huge losses to the economy which cannot wait for step by step growth. Current age technological innovations must underlie system and infrastructure. The source of energy must be our people; and we should use the supply chain and the demand to full extent.
Self-reliance is not a call to halt technological revolution, but an urge to people to do things themselves using local human capital and resources. Self-initiated efforts towards development are needed today to lessen dependence on government. Policies that require and provide space for people’s participation are in need. Distribution of monetary incentives should be so designed as to promote self-help. People’s own initiatives can work wonders.
The PM has urged citizens to turn the present crisis into opportunity to grow local manufacturing capacities. Truly, necessity is the mother of inventions. It is also the mother of resurgence and re-inventions. The “local” mantra has a cultural background in India, where at various points in our history, “local” has been our pride and identity. It has a political past in the Swadeshi movement.
Self-Help Groups (SHG) are innovative organisational set up in India for uplift and welfare of women. Different types of SHGs have been formed and are in operation. Their linkage with banks is a major micro-finance programme in India. They have earned a reputation for organising micro enterprises and for prompt repayment of loans. In the pandemic year, even the poorest in India has something to fall back, revive and strengthen so as to withstand the loss of collapse of economic activities dependent on external resources.
Economic stimulus package for Rs 20 lakh crore (said to be about 10% of GDP) with some definite economic reforms were announced by Modi as the road towards Atmanirbhar Bharat. “We need to be vocal about local” is the new strategy to concentrate on manufacturing local products with local material and expanding it gradually to global level in quality and quantity in the manner many multinational enterprises have grown. Even small and cottage industries have a place in globalisation.
This concept of self-reliance is differentiated from protectionist policies of earlier centuries associated with mercantilism, which shielded domestic products from foreign competition by levying high import duties. Modi emphasises once again his favourite theme of “Vasudeva Kudumbakam” (World is one family) and his dream of helping the whole world with what India can do. The goal is to make India a globally competitive economy. Integration with the rest of the world and not isolation is aimed at.
Wide ranging reforms have now been unveiled under Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package touching various sectors. Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), farm sector, rural industries and migrant labour, which are the main players for self-reliant economy, are all covered in a big way. Steps to indigenise defence production by banning import of certain weapons while hiking foreign direct investment are the highlights in the industry sector. A set of structural reforms across sectors cover coal, minerals, defence, civil aviation, power, space travel, and atomic energy. Privatisation is accepted in these sectors. Agriculture and related activities have been declared as essential services.
Strangely, COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that both globalisation and self-reliance are needed for a country’s sustenance and growth. India has understood this very well and is in a better position than many other developed nations to put it into policies and programmes so as to survive the all-round attack of the pandemic.