Towards the closing days of Lockdown 3.0 Prime Minister Modi gave the nation a clarion call of ‘Aatm Nirbhar Bharat’ (Self-Reliant India). Amplifying his earlier statement of “Jaan Bhi Jahan Bhi”, he asserted “we have to protect ourselves and move ahead as well”. He also announced a special economic package and said the recent decisions by the government, the decisions by the RBI combined with the May 12 financial package announcement come to about ₹20-lakh-crore—nearly 10% of India’s GDP.

By recent government decisions, The Prime Minister was referring to the slew of measures announced by the government for the economic survival of the poor and weaker sections hit by the sudden announcement of Lockdown 1.0 in form of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and other measures to fight the deadly pandemic which was the causa primaria of the Lockdown 1.0.

As a consequence, the economic activity in the country came to a sudden halt and people were confined to their homes to maintain social distancing and to stay safe. The series of lockdown thereafter, was termed by the PM as “Tyag” (sacrifice) and “Tapasya” (penance) of the people. The shift from initial “Jaan Hai to Jahan hai” to “Jaan bhi Jahan bhi” was a realisation of the fact that the Coronavirus is going to stay and we have to learn to live with it.

PM said, “Corona crisis has also taught us the importance of local supply chains, local markets have stepped in to help us. Time has taught us that we have to now think local. Even global brands were once local. When people used it, branded these products, marketed them, those products became global from local. We need to be vocal for our local products. Not just buy but also publicise them.” Quoting from Vedas, PM explained the importance of self-reliance, “Sarvam Aatmam Vasham Sukham (That which is in your control gives you happiness). We have to move ahead with new energy, he said and added that we will make India self-reliant.”

Prime Minister Modi communicated five pillars of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan

  • An economy that doesn’t talk of incremental change but a quantum jump.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Technologically driven systems.
  • Demography is our strength. Source of our energy.
  • Demand – we need to stoke demand and every spoke of our supply chain has to be strengthened. This supply chain will have the aroma of our country and the sweat of our labour.

The PM clarified that the definition of self-reliance has changed post-COVID19. Self-reliance does not mean “isolation” or “protectionism”. India has always believed in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family). He said, “Our definition of self-reliance is about including everyone, who believe the earth as mother. When such a country becomes self-reliant, then the prosperity and happiness of the world is included in it. The aims and works of India have an impact on the prosperity of the world.”

Thereafter,  Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a series of five press conferences, expounded on the finer nuances of the economic package which focused on land, labour, liquidity and laws, and catered to various segments of economic activity including cottage industries, MSMEs, labourers, farmers, Self Help Groups (SHGs), middle class, industries, among others. The package is also meant to give a requisite boost for the ‘Aatm Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ through structural reforms, technology intervention and improved measures for ‘ease of doing business’. These included both fiscal and monetary measures.

Even before the FM had finished announcing all the tranches of the economic package, a debate raged in the country terming the measures announced by the government as a “loan mela” rather than a ‘stimulus package’. Those opposing the government advocated cash doles to the people engaged in different sectors so that the cash in hand would revive the demand cycle which as per them was a pre-requisite to revive production cycle.

Those advocating the cash doles belonged to the school that believed in using the people as vote bank by pleasing them through appeasements and in the bargain always keep them dependent at their mercies rather than encouraging them to stand on their own feet and compete. The government did not concede to their pressure. The government insisted that there is a mix of fiscal impulses and liquidity provisions. In any case, the entire debate was ill-founded since the PM very clearly had announced an “economic package” and not merely a “stimulus package.”

The opposition failed to grasp the concept of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat or deliberately chose to ignore it to gain sympathies of the people in order to nail the government and portray it as ‘unsympathetic’ and ‘anti-people’ to score brownie points. But people of India hold PM Modi at a different pedestal and believe that he is not merely a politician but a moral, social and spiritual leader of our vast country as well, who has been ordained to make India “Sone ki Chidiya” again. That is why the nation responds to him in a  way it does to no other political leader. He has convinced the nation ‘there is no gain without pain’.

It needs to be understood that the economic package announced by the PM and slew of measures announced by the FM are not merely short term quick fix patch solutions but focussed time-bound mission mode projects with necessary laws, liberalisation and financial support to enable farmers, companies and producers to compete at the global level and ultimately lead the global supply chain in the new world order post-COVID-19.

The tendency to start counting eggs even before the chickens are hatched needs to be curbed and allow the necessary time for the package to fructify and make real the dream of Aatm Nirbhar Bharat. Brand India, because of its quality, world-class certification and competitiveness, will first dominate the local market and thereafter be the envy of others in the global market.

There are two components of self- reliant India. First is developing, promoting and selling world-class Brand India. The second one is to attract multi-national foreign companies desirous of re-locating from China post-COVID-19 by providing them with business facilities and environment at least equal to if not better than China.

For making Brand India world-class as well as affordable, we need to develop the talent and infrastructure for designing and producing products which compete with market leaders like I-phone, BMW, Samsung, Nike, Gucci, Honda, Google, Android etc, without compromising on quality yet being cheaper and affordable. Quality, reliability, visibility, affordability and ease of access are a few essentials for brand acceptability. As PM had said, self-reliance does not mean using only swadeshi products but implies producing world-class quality products which would sell not only domestically but globally.

Self-reliance does not mean that you depend on the free cash doles given by the government to sustain you but it means that you become a contributor to nation’s economy by starting own business with incentives and loans given by the government and stand gradually on your own feet. Once you are on your own feet, the loan can be repaid. The message, simply put, it to be a contributor rather than a dependent. In a nutshell, there is a need to shed all our past inhibitions and forge ahead with a new mind-set—a positive mind-set of “We Can We Will.” Future vistas in nuclear, space and geo-spatial space has provided wings for young start-ups to fly.

In order to be “vocal for local” aggressive brand promotion will be needed. Extensive use of television and social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and others will enable instant brand visibility. It is the best opportunity for existing Indian companies like Reliance, Tata, Mahindra, TCS, Infosys etc to establish them as world-class brands through aggressive advertising and turn this short term crisis into a long-term opportunity.

China’s weakened global position is a God sent golden opportunity for India to attract more investment by providing an environment for a new world factory. To begin with, companies which already have some manufacturing in India may be interested to reduce stakes in China and scale up production in India. But that wouldn’t suffice. The market is wide open and there are other competitors as well.

In order to beat the other competitors, we will have to not only provide supply chain infrastructure like large ports and highways, top quality and cheap labour and sophisticated logistics but continuity, stability and sincerity in our policies and regulations. A consistent and transparent FDI policy is also warranted. Bharat also needs to integrate with already existing regional supply chains through bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Everything is achievable when there is a sense of purpose, sincerity and submission to the national interest. PM has already said, “our resolve and determination are greater than the crisis.”The economic package announced by the PM and subsequent measures contained in five tranches are meant to enable us to do exactly what is needed to become vocal for local as well as drawing international investment. It will provide our MSMEs with a unique identity which they have been denied so far. It would formalise the Micro Food Enterprises by showcasing our diversity in which nondescript and remote towns have products which are unique as well as commercially viable.

It would also enable us to “Think Global-Make Local.” The scope is vast from wearables to organic wellness products, robotics, 3D printing, hospitality and clean energy products. We have to grow beyond pickles, pappad and handicrafts, not that they be ignored but our supply chain shouldn’t be exclusive but include maximum possible products as per domestic and global need.

Make in India, Make for India, Make for World, the quintessential requirement of inclusivity is the key to provide global reach to the Vocal for Local programme-the spirit behind Aatm Nirbhar Bharat. PM’s economic package is just an enabler. It provides for laying a foundation of taking a quantum leap. Those who dare to seize the opportunity will come out winners.

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Brig Anil Gupta

Brig Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at anil5457@gmail.com

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