Apart from reiterating the need for social distancing and compliance to lockdown rules, a common thread in many of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent addresses has been the need for the country to be self-reliant.
On Friday, interacting with gram pradhans from across the country to mark National Panchayati Raj Day, Modi again underlined the need for the country to self-reliant. “The pandemic has thrown us new challenges and problems which we have never imagined, but it also taught us a very good lesson with a strong message. It has taught us that we have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. It has taught us that we should not look for solutions outside the country. This is biggest lesson we have learnt.”
The Prime Minister’s call for self-reliance comes at a time when the pandemic has upended the world economy, with trade and manufacturing output facing an unprecedented decline.
Addressing the gram pradhans through video conference, the PM said, “Every village has to self-sufficient enough to provide for its basic needs. Similarly, every district has to be self-sufficient at its level, every state has to be self-reliant at its level and the whole country has to be self-reliant at its level.” He also appealed to panchayat representatives to ensure that every person in their panchayat downloads the app and uses it as a “personal bodyguard”.
Complimenting villages for showing the way with their simple definition of social distancing, he said the phrase “Do gaj doori (a distance of two yards)” has been a mantra used in Indian villages for social interactions.
This emphasis on self-reliance – a throwback to the traditional Sangh ‘Swadeshi’ line, which has often seen the party at variance with its ideological parent – has found an echo in almost all the addresses the Prime Minister has made since the country went into a lockdown in the wake of COVID-19.
While interacting with his Council of Ministers on April 6, Modi asked them to “strategise for emergent conditions” post lockdown. “While mentioning that… the country needs to lessen its dependence on other nations, (the PM) asked all departments to maintain an objective index on how their work will promote Make In India,” said an official press note released after the meeting.
The Prime Minister also pointed out that the crisis had offered India an “opportunity to become self-dependent in the medical sector” and urged the ministers to suggest new sectors where the country could become export hubs.
BJP insiders said ‘self-reliance’ was a factor in the government’s decision to back out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Cooperation in the first week of November. Party leaders pointed out that reservations within the larger Sangh Parivar had played its part in the government’s decision.
In his annual Vijayadashami address, less than a month before the RCEP announcement, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had cautioned the Central government against yielding too much in the negotiations. Invoking BMS founder Dattopant Thengadi, Bhagwat had advocated the principle of Swadeshi and suggested that the country must “create and expand trade relations with the world on the basis of our strength and terms”. The RSS chief’s remarks on the economic slowdown and trade agreements had encouraged the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to raise its pitch against the government’s proposals on FDI, disinvestment and trade deals.
During his video call, the Prime Minister interacted with sarpanchs from seven states — Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra and Assam — and discussed their COVID containment plans.
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