A policy movement’s success is determined by a number of factors, including economic effect, global impact and political presence. Atmanirbhar Bharat’s motion is often countered in terms of economic success and global outreach, but one area where it’s not much mentioned is its political importance- which gracefully overweighs the other two phenomena.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision and slogans for the country have been of self-reliance for quite some time since the economic growth started receding after the 2016’s demonetisation policy. Even though it was on the lines of Modi government’s protectionism policies, like that of Donald Trump, it has been a fairly reliant supplement to help people’s economic vision during the economy’s hard time. With the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, supply chains from across the globe broke down for a while. Along with that, rising tensions with China over border also added to imply how Atmanirbhar Bharat was our ultimate choice.
The biggest problem with the Modi government’s economic vision is believing the fact that they have one. And the entire political campaign of Atmanirbhar Bharat helped cover their weakness i.e. the economy with their biggest asset i.e. Nationalism.
Economically, the goals set for Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign are practically impossible keeping in view India’s growth and distribution pattern. The government apparently claimed for the self-reliance project’s objective to be able to make the Indian Manufacturing sector reach 25% of the country’s GDP by 2029-30- a sharp increase from 14% of the current GDP of 2019-20. If we were to even assume that India’s economic recovery path would face straight up and the GDP would return back to its pre-recession i.e. pre-COVID period rate, the manufacturing sector would have to rise by at least Rs 53 lakh crore in the next 9 years to meet the target, which is way more than what the sector has ever witnessed in the said time frame, keeping in view the assumption of constant economic growth of 6%.
This means the objective is a hollow economic promise and the true purpose of the campaign is how it has distracted people by getting them in the loop of hope. Here’s how.
The Modi government’s ultimate political aim, along with shallow promises, has been the vision. He creates a vision for the country that people seemingly start believing because it feeds right in where the problem is- and this all acts as a provider of hope. Consider the government’s 2014 narrative of ‘ache din’ where even though lines of those acche din were blurry, the common man had hope for the government to improve employment, reduce inflation, reduce poverty and corruption and everything that the country, especially the common man, needs working on. However, the aftermath of the government’s demonetisation policy took away the hope that the common man was sticking on- acche din. It is then to be noted that the worst hit by the demonetisation policy were businessmen and labour class- with the hopes of improvement closing in on them.
Now, consider another vision- The Atmanirbhar Bharat, whose self-reliance policies claimed to take India’s manufacturing sector to much greater heights. The common men, most of them being the labour class and Small and Medium Enterprise entrepreneurs, now saw a vision, the hope of revival of businesses and more opportunities. That narrative fed in to help people get hope in the otherwise recessing economy and thus, served the very fulfilling political notion. The dream of USD 5 trillion economies was never on the list, which very conveniently now can be blamed on to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To answer why Modi government is so popular among the people despite their terrible economic handling, apart from the Prime Minister’s Hindu nationalist and xenophobic ideologies, can be credited to their ability to create a vision. A vision so imposing that today, most of India’s population see Modi to be India and India to be Modi. Therefore, more than economic reality, Atmanirbhar Bharat was a political vision and it served its purpose pretty impressively.
However, the real success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s protectionism policy in the name of Atmanirbhar Bharat would be if the economic feat of the campaign is achieved- which aims at long term development of the country to emerge as the global infrastructure and manufacturing hub in the coming years. India’s current situation is not too strong in terms of achievement of the goal to become a global hub of manufacturing and to convert it into one, the government would need to step up and deliver more than what it has promised.
Incentivising innovation, research & development and production facilities are critical for moving towards the goal. With a heavy dependence on cheaper Chinese imports of raw materials, it is imperative that to replace it, the government brings in action subsidised units and plants for the production of raw material. The government needs to ensure the country is cost-competitive in terms of economies of production and thus should introduce tariffs and bans on cheaper imports to help domestic producers create opportunities for themselves. Bilateral trades and trade balances, which are deficits with most countries right now, should be worked upon such that trade takes off.
One of the worst business environments right now is political instability of the union government- which has not only shaken investor confidence but also has resulted in loss of partnership ties of many Indian businesses with foreign companies. Stabilising political environment has to be the government’s key working areas because the current situations, with country’s increasing democratic deficit and lost global reputation, would lead to hampered long term growth opportunities, let alone creating new ones.
The leading Modi government’s political asset of creating visions for the people would assist as long as it is met with economic growth in the long run because sooner or later, people are going to terms with what the country really needs- and religious intolerance isn’t one of them.