June 07, 2020

The Farce of Self-Reliance

PRIME Minister, Narendra Modi, has hijacked the concept of self-reliance (Atmanirbhar Bharat). He claims this is the way to revive growth and make the 21st century, India’s century. Behind such bombast lies a crude contradiction and deception.  The Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan special package announced to realise this goal has exposed the reality – the aim is to make India’s economy more dependent on international finance capital and to privatise India’s natural resources to benefit foreign and Indian big business.

The prime minister has reiterated the goal of self-reliance in his address to the Confederation of Indian Industry annual session on June 2.  He said that a self-sufficient India would be fully integrated with the world economy, “but it also meant that the country would not depend on anyone in strategic areas”.

The package unveiled by finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, has done the opposite.  The mineral and mining sector has been thrown open to multinational companies.  500 mineral blocks would be auctioned to private bidders.  Already the government had announced 100 per cent FDI through the automatic route for mining and exploration in metal and non-metal sectors.  It had also announced 100 per cent FDI in commercial coal mining. Minerals is a strategic sector and an exhaustible resource.  The policy of the Modi government is to invite MNCs to come and exploit this valuable resource without any regulation. This is a vital blow to India’s self-reliance.

Another strategic sector is defence production.  Here the package provides for increasing FDI from 49 per cent to 74 per cent along with measures to dismantle the public sector defence production units. Already the government has opened up defence production to Indian corporates who have to tie up with a foreign weapons manufacturer under a strategic partners programme.  Alongside, India has become one of the biggest buyers of American military equipment. Rather than fostering self-reliance in this vital strategic sector, the policy is to become completely dependent on US arms companies both for domestic manufacture and for imports. 

The package has laid out a blueprint for privatising the major public sector undertakings, including those in strategic areas.  The package states that the private sector will be allowed to invest in strategic sectors; in each strategic sector, the number of PSUs will be reduced by privatising some of them. This is nothing but demolishing whatever prospects that exist for self-reliance.

Already the government has announced the strategic sale of the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL). This is the second biggest oil refiner in the country.  The government is selling its stake of 52.98 per cent of the shares.  The terms for the bidding show that only a major foreign oil company can afford to bid for the controlling stake in this valuable public sector enterprise.  Petroleum is a strategic sector for India and to handover control of a major oil company in an import-dependent sector is a major strike against our sovereignty and self-reliance.

The crucial aspect of building a self-reliant economy is to have a strong base of research and development (R&D). It is only by developing our capabilities in R&D and high technology that India can even think of self-reliant growth. But the Modi government has paid no attention to R&D and scientific research with the expenditure on this front being a dismal one per cent of GDP. 

Self-reliance requires an independent foreign policy and strategic autonomy as far as international affairs are concerned. In the last six years, the Modi government has enmeshed India in a tight strategic embrace with the United States.  Joining the Indo-Pacific strategy, the quadrilateral alliance and forging a military alliance with the US – all have compromised India’s capacity for independent decision making, both in foreign and domestic policies. India seems willing to go along with Trump in his destructive efforts to disrupt multilateralism and to build an anti-China coalition.  The recent telephone conversation between Trump and Modi provides a glimpse of this.

Meanwhile, the RSS outfit, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, is conducting a campaign to boycott Chinese goods, echoing Trump’s charge that it is a Chinese virus that has caused the pandemic which has damaged India’s economy. But this does not apply to American goods even though it is the United States which is the epicenter of the pandemic now. This Hindutva version of swadeshi translates into complete reliance on America.

The Rs 20 lakh crore package has been shown up to be a hollow one with additional funding being just one per cent of the GDP. The reason why the Modi government has refused to substantially increase its fiscal expenditure is its fear that foreign finance capital will disapprove leading to a flight of capital. That the Modi government prefers to accept the dictates of international finance capital than meet the absolutely vital needs of the people to stave off hunger and destitution is a stark eye opener of how fraudulent the slogans of self-reliance and swadeshi are, which Modi and the RSS are bandying about. 

Self-reliance is not possible without a strong public sector in the core and strategic areas; a sound public health system and a strong public educational network.  The quest for self-reliance has to be backed up with indigenous R&D and scientific and technological advance.  None of this is within the horizon of the BJP-RSS thinking.
(June 3, 2020)