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Can Covid-19 push India towards systemic changes for a Swadeshi model of development

This pandemic has given us an opportunity to adopt bottom-top approach of development based on justice and fairness or in short ‘Swadeshi model of development’.

Vipasha Bhardwaj and Dr. Rahul Chimurkar

The whole world is grappling with a global threat in the form of COVID 19 and the pandemic has, quite evidently, uneven repercussions on different sections of the society. In the post-Covid-19 world there would be a re-negotiation of social interaction within the society as humans would be retreating from physical proximity, leading a more sequestered life. The political consequences could be envisaged in terms of restructuring of the global order and of international organisations like UN and WTO. This pandemic has also increased the possibility of India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. Most importantly, this pandemic has paved the way to create a different type of ‘normal or new normal’ which can re-establish the dominance of the state and reaffirm the fulfillment of social and economic rights.

Dr BR Ambedkar, in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly on 25 November 1949, said:

On the 26th of January 1950, ‘we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up’.

Dr Ambedkar clearly was of the opinion that modern democracy is not so much to put a curb on power of the state as to bring about the welfare of the people. The soul of democracy lies in the doctrine of ‘One Person One Value’.

After 72 years of Independence, we have not been able to realise the principle of ‘one person, one value’. Covid-19 has exposed the profound inequalities inherent in our society. Undoubtedly, all sections of the society have been affected by this pandemic. But it is a temporary crisis for the middle class since they have health insurance, work from home facility, ‘essential service providers’ serving the needs of this middle class at the cost of their health among other privileges. Those who would be facing the brunt of this pandemic are the menial workers; migrant labourers, daily wage earners, women labourers, sanitation workers etc). The hapless condition of the migrant workers who have been walking endlessly or cycling for days to reach their destination reflects a grim reality of globalisation. They are being pushed to the brink of survival. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which talks about Right to life and personal liberty is highly compromised during this current pandemic. The unequal treatment meted out to migrant workers and people coming from abroad had clearly shown the grave violation of the core value of our Constitution i.e ‘Dignity of the individual’. The question arises : Who is responsible for this ?

The primary reason behind the violation of constitutional rights, depriving people of justice is the present form of globalisation. The whole course of pandemic has questioned the notion of capitalist view of development which has only exacerbated the entrenched inequalities in our society.

The current phase of liberalisation in India has led to ‘Crony Capitalism’ and the cost of these measures befall the powerless and the marginalised sections of our society. This is quite evident from the fact that in India, richest 1 % possess 76% of the total wealth in the country and remaining 99% .This is nothing but a new form of ‘modern colonialism’ with an appeal to shift from the rule of nation-states to the global corporations . The end of ‘License Raj’ heralded the beginning of a ‘Patent Raj’ with IPRs being framed as entitlements to usurp the bio-diversity which are the living resources of the rural population, making them bondsmen of the corporates.

It is time to realise that this capitalist model of development has miserably failed in India . In contrast to the Western economic order based on centralised production of goods driven by profit motive, we need an economic order where the production is centred at the village level fulfilling the human requirements and recognising the dignity of labor and using the indigenous resources constructively. Both capitalism and Marxism treat man as an ‘economic animal’ therefore they don’t go beyond ‘stomach’. While ‘stomach’ may need food, clothing, shelter but more important than stomach are ‘Nose’ which requires honour, dignity and development and ‘Mind’ which wants principles and values. The recent decision of the government allocating 20 lakh crore for the revival of domestic economy is a welcome step. The emphasis on ‘self-reliance or Atma Nirbharta’ or vocal for local initiatives by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is well appreciated.

This pandemic has given us an opportunity to adopt bottom-top approach of development based on justice and fairness or in short ‘Swadeshi model of development’ . In this context the recent upsurge of ‘Boycott China’ movement could hit the right spot if we adopt the Swadeshi model of development in our country. The movement is already gaining momentum across the country and resonated with millions of Indians after the stealth aggression shown and suprise assault made by China in Eastern Ladakh. This aggression is not just a wake up call for India but it could also prove to be a deciding factor in altering India’s approach to China in times to come.

Paving the way for others

China has established its foothold in almost all the sectors of India. The investments, however, are not being done on physical infrastructures unlike in other countries but rather on the new Indian start-ups. The funds invested by China on these start-ups are overwhelming. China has made its presence in all digital mediums like fintech, media, eduaction, e-commerce etc. Gateway house based in Mumbai in its report on the ‘Chinese investments in India’ found that Chinese tech giants like Alibaba, ByteDance and Tencent have funded around 92 start ups which includes major apps like Paytm, Byju’s, Oyo etc. The funding is so liberal that 18 out of 30 unicorns are Chinese funded. Tiktok has overtaken YouTube with 200mn subscribers. The investments in the smartphone market is huge too. Chinese smartphone manufacturers in India hold almost 66% share in the smartphone market. India will encounter structural and political challenges in achieving a self reliant India.

Given the dominance of China’s investments in India, the question arises what could a common citizen do to minimize its dependence on China?

The anti-China sentiments in India has gained momentum after the Ladakh based educator and innovator Sonam Wangchuk appealed Indians to boycott all Chinese goods. In the context of ongoing tensions between India and China at the LAC (Line of Actual Control), he urged people to avoid using Chinese softwares in a week and the hardwares in a year. He said “this time wallet power will work more than the bullet power. If we all start using Chinese products, it will have a great impact on its economy”. In this context, it needs to be remembered that China has penetrated in almost all the sectors in Indian economy. However, boycotting Chinese goods can alter China’s economy in the long run. China has been trying to superimpose itself as the emerging global power for the past many years. Any negative propaganda against China will prevent it from becoming a major power. It would also encourage people to use domestic products, boost domestic manufacturing sectors, eventually creating self sufficiency in the future. India, with its huge market and vast population will become a lucrative destination for companies moving their manufacturing base out of China in the post COVID world. The government should provide flexible norms and rules for diversifying its supply chain and attract companies from the US, Japan, South Korea to establish their manufacturing units in India.

Swadeshi model can debunk the Chinese myth

The ideology running behind globalization is Libertarianism. This ideology upholds the individual right to private property unlimitedly as long as the individual is not violating the rights of others. It is not opposed to private charity but it is opposed to distribution of wealth and resources to prevent the formation of an equal society. They are also opposed to any social security measures, welfare, subsidies, minimum wages etc. This ideology totally believes in Privatization and deregulation, trade and financial liberalization, shrinking the role of the state, encouraging foreign investments. Opening up of economy in 1991 was seen as an attempt to endanger the economy of our country. The entry of the foreign produced goods and capital intensive technology threatened not only our indigenous industries and threw people out of their employment but also affected our culture irreparably as this notion of ‘Western development’ is based on consumerism and it will hamper our family structure in the long run. Therefore, Swadeshi is the right way of development of our country and there is no need to look for some ‘left’ or ‘right’ way of development. Even the capitalist model of USA seems to be a failure. Eg. Global economic crisis of 2008. Along with this, a large number of divorce people, single mothers, rape cases, erosion of family system is seen in USA. For all these reasons, India should follow its own path of development as capitalist model of development believes only in economic growth (unidirectional) , not development (multidirectional).

India is also blessed with a rooted family system, which helps the country by saving more and more money. This saved money is invested in our economy to further the development of our country. So the narrative of development with foreign investment is not applicable in case of India. Moreover, our family structure also helps us to take care of the old age and unemployed in the family, thus reducing the burden of the state unlike western economies of the world.

The notion of Swadeshi needs to be applied in all sectors of our lives. In education, It means we must develop our indigenous system of education. In politics, swadeshi means decentralization.

We need to develop our villages as 70% of our population resides in villages and primarily engaged in agriculture. The share of agriculture is mere 15% in our GDP. Therefore, a lot more investments needs to be done in our agriculture sector to utilise the benefit of ‘Comparative advantage’ that India has.

In economy, Swadeshi involves use of locally produced goods as it would give employment to a millions of people and render the foreign investment unnecessary. In a nutshell, Swadeshi model of development looks for developing human beings both materially and spiritually, unlike western model of Development. One organisation Swadeshi Jagran Manch has been advocating consistently for a Swadeshi model of development . Swadeshi, to them, is SWABHIMAN (self-respect), SWAWALABMAN (self-reliance), SWA-TANTRATA (working with own models suited to one’s situation), SAMARTHYA (National Strength- military, diplomatic, economic, will and character), SAMRUDDHI (prosperity without social exploitation and environmental degradation) and SHANTI (peace-mental, social harmony and international).

One aspect of this model is observed in the recent announcement of the government where it expounded about strengthening the MSMEs. The revival of Small and Medium enterprises like textiles, apparels, footwears etc will not only cut down cost of production and import dependence on raw materials for sustaining heavy industries (iron and steel) but also arrest inequality and rising unemployment among the youth. They are generally labour intensive in nature. Textiles will provide leverage to draw women in the major stream to harness their productivity.

The pandemic has also reflected the significance of ‘Community’ in our lives. Friends, family, neighbours, and volunteers are providing lifelines at a time when the invisible hand of the market and the visible hand of the state are proving to be ineffective in tackling this health crisis. About time we foster this collective spirit by contributing more time and resources something which is not possible in the current pursuit of individual goals or interests .We can mitigate the loopholes of Indian economy by adopting and implementing ‘Growth with equity and justice’, one which includes all Indians and make them equal and responsible owners in nation based on equality-liberty-fraternity- justice and humanism. It requires the creation of a ‘new world order’ which cultivates the fundamentals of common good along with establishing a sustainable environment for future generations.

* Vipasha Bhardwaj is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, Pub Kamrup College (Guwahati University), Assam. She is also pursuing her research from North Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong and her area of interest is war and trauma literature, Post-9/11 literature.

* Dr. Rahul Chimurkar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Laxmi Bai College (Delhi University).



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