Faced with one of the most disruptive health challenges in recent history, each country is crafting its strategy to cope with the pandemic. The subtle balance between protecting lives and restarting economic activities is hard to strike. India is navigating this complex odyssey with great agility, flexibility, sensitivity and tenacity. The challenge has engendered a spirit of solidarity and unity. It has shown yet again how resilient we can collectively be.
As India looks at opening up after four phases of lockdown, it is seeking to find new doors and windows of opportunity. It is aiming to discover possibilities for spurring inclusive, equitable growth, to discover new value chains that would create wealth, to harness the untapped human potential and optimally utilise the natural resources. It is embarking on a mission that would make the country self-reliant. The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, as it is called, is a mission to galvanise the forces of growth across the country in various sectors of the economy. It’s a launchpad for fostering entrepreneurship, nurturing innovation and creation of an ecosystem for rural-urban symbiotic development.
The decisions taken by the government on June 1 will have a far-reaching impact on the farm and non-farm sectors in rural areas as well as on the development and sustainability of medium, small and micro-enterprises. It tends to turn the current challenge into an opportunity. If the sound policy intent can be effectively translated into practice, it is bound to have a profound impact on our country’s economy, especially in rural areas.
The pandemic has created a difficult situation. We had got used to an intensely interconnected and inter-dependent world. As we had to perforce isolate ourselves to break the chain of viral transmission, the global supply chains which we had relied upon have been disrupted, prompting many countries like ours to think of ways to mitigate the negative impact of economic downturn.
Thanks to the visionary national leadership ably supported by the state governments and the creative energies of our people, we continue to act in unison to not only weather the storm but also to calibrate our responses, fine-tuning them, as we move along, according to the states’ contexts.
Given the magnitude of the virus’s threat and the size of our population, the hard reality of acute shortage of basic requirements like the masks, ventilators and Personal Protection Equipment came to the fore. The emergency forced us to scale up the production of essentials needed to fight the virus. At the same time, medicines made in India like Hydroxychloroquine were in great demand from various nations. India gladly supplied this drug to several countries.
It was in this context of an effective response to an unprecedented emergency that disrupted most channels of internal and international trade, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a clarion call for the country to become self-reliant. It is not a call for protectionism or isolationism, but for adopting a pragmatic development strategy that would enable the country to recognise and capitalise on its inherent strengths. It is a trigger for reforms in the policy matrix and charting out the way forward as we reboot and reset our economic trajectory in an uncertain, post-COVID-19 world.
As the Prime Minister underscored, “self-reliance also prepares the country for a tough competition in the global supply chain”. By increasing the efficiency of all our sectors and also ensuring quality, the new thrust on self-reliance is expected to enhance India’s role in the global supply chain. It is aimed at giving a new boost, a quantum jump to the economic potential of the country by strengthening infrastructure, using modern technologies, enriching human resource, and creating robust supply chains.
The appeal for self-reliance aims at a serious reflection on whether we are making the best use of our natural, human and technological resources. It seeks to galvanise our unused and hidden potential. It only underlines the need to be on our own with respect to basic and core necessities based on our ability to meet them with our known available resources and technologies.
Our country is blessed with a vast array of natural resources, a huge demographic advantage with over two-thirds of our population under the age of 35 years, a large farming community that indefatigably ensures food security for all of us, dynamic captains of industry who are creating world-class institutions and a set of young, aspirational and entrepreneurial path-breakers.
We need to make the connection between these strands to weave the fabric of a new India that not only meets its domestic demand for goods and services but builds global brands that the world will recognise as uniquely Indian.
We have all the ingredients for success. We have pioneers who have built global brands in various sectors. For example, 20 years ago Reliance had commissioned the world’s largest grass roots refinery in a record 36 months. Bajaj Auto is ranked as the world’s fourth-largest three- and two-wheeler manufacturer. Azim Premji not only founded Wipro, one of India’s foremost technology companies but has also been recognised as one of Asia’s most generous philanthropists. Companies like Hindustan Unilever, Larsen and Toubro, Bharati Airtel, Sun Pharmaceuticals, Maruti are among the world’s top 100 innovative companies listed in Forbes 2018 ranking. Similarly, in the Forbes 2019 list of world’s best-regarded companies Infosys, TCS, Tata Motors, Tata Steel and Mahindra and Mahindra figure in the top 125. There are other giants in the food processing and FMCG sectors as well. For instance, Priya Foods, the top pickle company, Haldirams, the largest snack company, Patanjali Ayurved, a home-grown consumer goods giant, and ITC, the multi-business conglomerate, have carved out a niche for themselves within India.
The new Atmanirbhar Bharat mission provides an opportunity to gradually reduce imports in every sector. If we can convert our demographic advantage into a demographic dividend by providing high-quality technical and vocational training to our youth, if we can further simplify procedures for setting up and running businesses, if we can focus strategically on the critical bottlenecks that are constricting rapid growth and find solutions to overcome them, if we can foster research and innovation, the mission we are embarking on will be able to achieve its transformative potential.
Any mission has to have people at the centre. People must internalise the concept of valuing local products and artefacts and promoting them. Once the demand is generated and the market expands, the production tries to keep pace and eventually, with a branding effort, the products go global. Being vocal for “local” can be a stepping stone to a self-reliant India and an India that will add its own unique glow and charm to the vast array of products in the global marketplace. We can certainly chase the dream of transforming “Local” India into a “Glocal” India by using our resources wisely and strategically. We can make it happen by unleashing the forces of growth and giving space for creative experimentation.
The writer is Vice President of India
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