The idea of Atmanirbharta, or self-reliance, was at the heart of prime minister Narendra Modi’s recent address to the nation. There are parallels between PM Modi’s message and Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of a self-reliant India, the bedrock of his Swadeshi philosophy. Self-reliance is woven into the tapestry of India’s journey right from the Swarajya movement. The renewed pursuit of Atmanirbharta sows the seeds for a new course of long-term development, and serves as the pivot on which India can emerge as a hub for manufacturing and investments. In order to achieve this vision, India needs to focus on holistic and sustainable development.
In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms were the trigger for China’s emergence as a global powerhouse today. Though successful, the energy-intensive Chinese model has troubling environmental and economic ramifications with significant income inequality, and may not be ideal for India. While there are many important learnings from China and its rise as a global superpower, India must now chart its own course to growth as a market democracy.
With its growth agenda, the government is set to play an important role in creating a conducive environment for business. Keeping in mind the fundamental pillars of this new, post-Covid-19 India that PM Modi highlighted in his speech, it is important that key policy changes are implemented.
Incentivising the establishment of production facilities in the country is critical, not just for assembly, but for raw materials, too. The need of the hour is a calibrated incentive plan, depending on the level of indigenous production. Certain curbs against the import of cheaper produce, from other countries, might be necessary while ensuring that the local produce is cost-competitive and sustainable.
The government should consider moving away from broad-stroke international policies and shift to a country-to-country model. The focus should remain on bilateral trade agreements, which ensure a balance of payments as well as technology-sharing. The government should forge partnership/alliance models with other countries and companies, especially in areas where indigenous capabilities do not exist.
To achieve real self-reliance, the country will also need to incentivise innovation, research and development to keep India at the cutting edge of the industry. These can be achieved either through the setting up of global innovation centres in India or through partnerships between leading Indian research/ academic institutions and their global counterparts. While the seeds of such collaboration already exist in the form of the NASA-ISRO partnership and joint vaccine development efforts for Covid-19, these ties should be enhanced across institutions and fields.
Governance and policy issues will also need attention as India seeks to carry on improving its ‘ease of doing business’ climate. Heavy investment on technology in government procedures and bureaucracy is a long overdue necessity that can’t be overlooked.
Building world-class infrastructure is extremely critical, and