Aatmanirbhar Bharat: India’s March towards Self Reliance

By Amb. Dr. Mohan Kumar

In May 2020, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi made a clarion call for Bharat to become “Aatmanirbhar” – self-reliant. What does that war cry meant in general? It is important to clarify what it meant and what it did not.

While the literal translation of the word “Aatmanirbhar” is no doubt “self-reliance”, it is nevertheless not the kind of self-reliance that India arguably believed and practiced in the early years of its independence until the 1980s. The experience of a controlled economy till liberalization makes it easy for us to state what is not a real “Aatmanirbharta”. It is certainly not an autarchy, or an inward-looking approach, and most certainly not stopping imports altogether and making every product at home. So it may be more prudent to think of the current approach towards “Aatmanirbharta” as Self-Reliance 2.0 under the leadership of PM Modi.

In the framework of Self-Reliance 2.0, PM Modi clearly stated that rather than being self-centered, India should open up even more to the outside world, guided by her ancient civilizational motto: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the world is one family. “Aatmanirbharta will stand on five pillars: economy, infrastructure, technology, demography, and demand,” he said. He explained the raison d’être of Aatmanirbharta by saying that this should prepare India for participation in global supply chains and that this is a battle India cannot afford to lose. There is little doubt that covid-19 pandemic played a significant role in India’s push for Self-Reliance 2.0.

Take the simple example of the demand and supply of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) kits and N-95 masks in 2019-20. At the beginning of the pandemic, N-95 mask production in India was insignificant. Today, India manufactures at least 200,000 masks a day, if not more. Even more impressive is India’s record of vaccinating its mammoth population. In 2020, when Covid-19 struck, almost no one believed India could ever fully vaccinate her vast population and that such an exercise may take years to complete. Yet, in July 2022, around 18 months after the first vaccination shot was given, India administered 2 billion doses of vaccines to her citizens.

The story of how this was achieved is worthy of a case study that will cover vital contemporary policy and management issues such as public-private partnership (PPP), center-state cooperation, and mass awareness-building exercise to inform citizens and ensure their willing participation in this exercise. No wonder that the World Health Organization (WHO) and other stakeholders have praised India and emulated her best practices the world over.

Proving that Self-Reliance 2.0 is not just for Indians, India also exported a large number of vaccines and PPE countries all over the world. As per the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India delivered around 240 million vaccines to 101 countries. This includes not only developing and least-developed countries but also the developed world in the American and European continents. The story of India being the pharmacy of the world is too well known to bear any repetition. But covid-19 management by India is a working example of “Aatmanirbharta” as explained by PM Modi.

The COWIN platform that India used for distributing vaccines to its mammoth population was also remarkable. COWIN is essentially a cloud-based solution for planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating covid-19 vaccination in India. By July 2021, India decided to make this open platform available to all countries for their use. In the COWIN global conclave organized in July 2021, as many as 142 countries in the world expressed interest in adopting this platform. Again, this is an example of “Aatmanirbharta” at work.

The war in Ukraine disrupted the global supply chains that had a profound impact not just on Europe but also on the developing and least-developed countries that depended on wheat supply from the war-torn country. The Ukraine war has impacted food, energy, and commodity prices adversely the world over. Wheat shortage, in particular, is expected to affect Africa and the Middle East quite significantly.

At a time like this, it is comforting to know that India’s position when it comes to food security for its huge population is satisfactory. This is yet another manifestation of Self-Reliance 2.0. Indeed, not only was India able to give away food grains and lentils to 800 million of her citizens as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana but also assured carrying out modest exports of food grains to low-income countries that needed it. Again, an example of “Aatmanirbharta” at work.

Yet another amazing success story of “Aatmanirbharta” is the case of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI).  It is a government-backed centralized digital payment gateway, widely popular in India. To understand the significance of the UPI, consider this: India accounted for the largest number of worldwide digital transactions in 2021 at a whopping 48 billion, a number that is nearly three times bigger than China’s (18 billion) and is at least six times bigger than the transactions of US, Canada, UK, France, and Germany combined. Experts in the US are now saying that they must learn from India which is leapfrogging into the future. Again, an example of “Aatmanirbharta” at work.

All this is not to suggest that India no longer has any challenges before her. India still faces the monumental task of eradicating poverty, solving unemployment through job creation, and massive investment in the health/education/skills of its vast population. But the lessons are clear: India is ‘sui generis’ and it is only an “Indian” model that will work for India and Indians. Hence, the importance of “Aatmanirbharta” is supreme. After all, ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ – a self-reliant India is not just good for herself but also for the world at large.

(The writer is a former Ambassador of India to France and had a 36 years long career in the Indian Foreign Service. He is now pursuing his interest in academics and wrote a book titled “Negotiation Dynamics of the WTO: An Insider’s Account”, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018.)


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

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