'Swadeshi' in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's speech: What it can mean for India in post-Covid world

Updated: Jun 3

Swadeshi is about achieving self-sufficiency with regard to essentials that are required to lead a good life, thereby reducing dependence on other countries.


Dr Netajee Abhinandan


As gloom and uncertainty pervade the entire world and there are more questions than answers as to how to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of Indians, RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Rao Bhagwat, during his address on Akshya Tritiya, called for adopting Swadeshi model of development that would lead us to “reinventing our lives and relying on ‘swadeshi (domestically-produced)’ resources”.

The message compels one to rethink: What is development and what is the best way to achieve it? These two questions have perennially haunted policy-makers, academics, experts and people at large. The conflict between market-driven capitalism and state-driven socialism models of development led to, among other factors, a protracted Cold War between two superpowers and divided the world into two blocks in the second half of the twentieth century. Though the collapse of Soviet Union and acceptance of globalization by Asia and Africa settled the debate in favour of capitalism, the uneven and unbalanced outcomes of capitalist model and growing disparities between rich and poor gave rise to a very strong and well-founded critique against the model. Also, as the spread of globalization did not help in reducing poverty in the world, capitalism-induced globalisation was seen as imposition of colonialism - by rich, developed and industrialized countries of the West - in a new format. The debate is still raging with no signs of a closure. In the context of disruption of global economy due to the outbreak of Corona pandemic, this debate assumes greater significance.

The question is how a country like India can come out of this grave economic crisis, being touted as the worst ever, and what path of development it should undertake to revive its economy and rebuild the lives of the millions who have faced the scourge of national lockdown. The answer leads us back to the address of Mohan Rao Bhagwat.

After Independence, India adopted ‘mixed economy’- an euphemism for the socialist model - to ensure equal opportunities and, most importantly, equal access to national resources for all. However, due to politico-bureaucratic inefficiency and mismanagement, neither could India achieve self-sufficiency in the vital sectors of economy nor could it fulfil the basic needs of the people. Almost four decades were lost in finding the correct trajectory of development that India should adopt to raise the standard of living of its people and emerge as a modern and prosperous country. The balance of payment crisis in 1991 forced India to go for course-correction and open the doors of its economy to foreign investors and companies. India achieved significant economic progress in next two and half decades but still was not able to achieve the ‘developed’ tag. However, the blind adoption of ‘market model’ without strengthening the domestic economic parameters or without adequate groundwork did not yield anticipated results in the long term; even though it saved the economy from imminent collapse.

In terms of reducing poverty, bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, transforming the rural India and providing the best amenities to the people, the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation (LPG) framework did not prove to be that fruitful as had been expected. After one and half decades of introduction of economic reforms in the country, the Narendra Modi government initiated ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’ and a host of other programmes to revitalise the core sectors of the economy and create confidence among the Indian companies, technicians, workers, farmers and all the stakeholder resulting in the country’s rapid stride into the next phase of development and modernisation. We could have achieved our goal sooner than later but for global economic slowdown, trade imbroglio with the US and the sudden outbreak of Corona pandemic. Can Swadeshi show us the way out of this mess?


Swadeshi is not merely an economic or political paradigm or slogan. It is not about shutting the doors to ‘foreign’ products or shunning all exchanges with the outside world.

It also does not promote economic isolation or inwardness. As our economy is deeply intertwined with the global economy, it is not possible to remain insular to global trade processes, practices and regulations. Swadeshi is rather about achieving self-sufficiency with regard to most essential things required to lead a good life and thereby reduce our dependence on other countries for them. It entails following a ‘new’ model of development - different from capitalism and socialism - that would be sustainable, nature-friendly and humane. This developmental model calls for intense and intimate engagement with ‘nature’ and initiating such economic projects which would not have adverse impact on the environment and natural habitat.

Mohan Rao Bhagwat echoes the economic philosophy of Pandit Deendayal Upadhayay who envisioned a decentralised economy containing thousands of family-oriented small industries situated in villages that would ensure livelihood for every single person. Village or community should be at the core economic planning and there should not be any imposition from the above. Swadeshi does not signify fulfilling only the material needs of the people, it rather focuses on developing a ‘national consciousness’, maximisation of ‘gross social happiness’ and maturing of the soul and intellect. It is a wholesome philosophy that prods for connecting the humans with nature and also with each other. Swadeshi must be followed for ushering in a new phase of socio-economic reorganisation and reconstruction.

(Author is Assistant Professor, Political Science, Ravenshaw University, Bhubneswar, Orissa)

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