'Self-reliance' has come to India. However, in its current avatar, it looks less like a confident country aspiring for a great future but rather like this staged street-corner bonfire of foreign (chinese) products.
In a volte face par excellence, many Indian commentators, who snigger at 'Nehruvian Socialism' and the strategy of 'import substitution' followed by post-Independence India, are suddenly champions of 'Atmanirvar' Bharat. This, of course, doesn't mean that they have belatedly realised Nehru as a genius. They, and various Trump-loving American commentators after them, believe that this time, self-reliance is different. It is not about North Korea style autarky; instead, some kind of magical open closedness (or closed openness as it may be) that would let India have its cake and eat it too. "We can import anything as long as it's made in India", the Prime Minister is reported to have told a group of businessmen recently.
This may sound familiar: This is not unlike the America First peddled by Donald Trump, or for that matter, the core claim of Brexit. But it's special in India: The country was one of the chief beneficiaries of globalisation, rather than its victim. The Indian government has not distinguished itself for economic thinking, but the assumption that India can shut its doors and its companies can have open access to global markets is naive even by its standards.
Of course, in India, politics precedes economics. The call for self-reliance is more a political strategy than economic common sense. COVID19 is hitting India hard and exposing its structural problems in financial system, supply chain and labour and the government needs to be seen doing something. Unfurling the flag of self-reliance, something that is more positive than boycott of Chinese goods and more intuitively appealing, was found attractive. What could really be wrong in arguing to buy local?
However, Indians should know better. In fact, on this, they should know better than the English and the Americans, who have never really experimented with such indulgence. The Nehruvian ideal made India a heaven for crony capitalist, who ran their little monopolies as inefficiently as possible. For all the talk, that legacy isn't dead and gone: India is still one of the world's most protected markets and its economy is dominated by vested interests. These businesses, apart from those in handful of export-driven sectors, are inefficient and badly run - one of the reasons why India can't compete with China not just in price, but also in quality and innovation. These businesses often lack critical capabilities and will have to rely on foreign suppliers for design, parts and software. Hence, the PM's comment - made to a group of businessmen who are looking to benefit from this policy - is not as idiosyncratic as it appears.
Indeed, I am no free-market globaliser. In fact, I come from that part of India which was a net loser, rather than a beneficiary, of liberalisation of Indian economy. But my enthusiasm for the latest call of self-reliance - poorly thought out as it is - is limited because I see no prospect that this would mean expanding the opportunities for local or smaller businesses. In fact, my hopes of such regeneration is pinned upon a sensible trade strategy, wherein India develops its trade with its neighbours, builds road, rail and shipping routes through its pariah Eastern region. Closing all of that out - and handing over the markets on a platter to businessmen who pay - is a recipe for disaster for everyone outside that charmed circle.
I am actually a big supporter of self-reliance and I say this without any hint of irony. Self-reliance can indeed be a worthy goal for an emerging nation, when it's not about pandering special interests. That type of self-reliance can not be achieved cheaply or easily, not with an 8pm television address. That type of self-reliance, the type with Japan achieved in the late nineteenth century, needed sacrifices, hard work and intelligent policy. It required being more open, not closed. It required trusting its common people and unleashing their energies through education. I am indeed all for that kind of self-reliance. But that will be about sweeping away all the vested interests that dominate all aspects of Indian policy and starting fresh. It will mean shaking up India's broken education system, sorting out public health and engaging with the world with intent and intelligence.
Of course, all that is too difficult. The object of government policy in India is cornering as big a share of political funding as possible; and prime time visibility. The cheap rhetoric of self-reliance serves that goal well. Indeed, this sets back the worthy objective of self-reliance of the difficult kind. But in the here-and-now world of Delhi, the future may not matter.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.