'Aatmanirbhar' Book review: How India transitioned from fragile five to first five

The prerequisite for visioning India as a developed nation (Viksit Bharat) by 2047 is self-reliance or Aatmanirbharta. 

'Aatmanirbhar' Book review: How India transitioned from fragile five to first five
Source: IANS

Vijay Kumar Shrotryia

New Delhi, May 9 (IANS) The prerequisite for visioning India as a developed nation (Viksit Bharat) by 2047 is self-reliance or Aatmanirbharta. 

India is moving ahead with speed, in scale and size. It took us sixty years after Independence to become a USD 1 trillion economy whereas the next one and a half decades witnessed a three-fold increase.

It was during the middle of 2020 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi provided an impetus for Atmanirbhar Bharat. It was this timely realisation and focus that led him to further extend it for a greater mission – Viksit Bharat by 2047 (marking a century of Indian independence).

The challenge before all of us is how to become self-reliant in a sustainable way so that we are able to cherish the fruits for all times to come.

With this context in mind, I read this book titled – Aatmanirbhar: A Swadeshi Paradigm, edited by Professor Ashwani Mahajan. It is an insightful volume providing different viewpoints on the whole idea of self-reliance from the perspective of Swadeshi Bharat.

The core of our growth lies in solving our problems with our resources or finding a match between available resources, potential, and application. Moving from reliance to self-reliance, or nirbharta to aatmnirbharta, is the key to sustainable development within and beyond defined frames.

This book has 18 chapters authored by intelligent thinkers of contemporary India whose voice matters. The editor deserves appreciation for being able to rope in experts from academics, policy-making, and industry to share their perspectives on Aatmnirbhar Bharat through their prudent contribution.

The foreword is written by Dr Mohan Bhagwat (Sarsanghchalak, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), building context around purusharthas and beyond Western belief of materialism and consumerism.

The contributors include V A Nageswaran (Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India), Bibek Debroy (Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India), N K Singh (Chairman, 15th Finance Commission, Government of India), A K Lahiri (Former Chief Economic Advisor, Government of India), Sanjeev Sanyal (Member, Economic Advisory Council to the PM), apart from industry experts like Sanjeev Puri (Chairman and MD, ITC), Sridhar Vembu (CEO, Zoho Corpn), and Gopal Srinivasan (CEO, TVS Capital).

The experience of reading this book was enriching and sagacious, travelling through the villages, wage-led growth, industrial growth, food security, and international trade.

The mix of macro and micro; problem and policy; trade and technology are brilliantly interwoven through the volume. The chapters cover almost all broader areas important for a country like India. The three pillars of the economy, viz., Agriculture, Industry, and Services are addressed through expert views.

The idea of Aatmanirbharta has been discussed across chapters taking cues from our cultural ethos that have shaped our growing as a nation.

Sachin Chaturvedi mentions - one element that Gandhi emphasised and that is still relevant today is ethics in economic development. Indian development and particularly Swadeshi ethos should nurture this, going beyond corporate social responsibility.

At the same time, it needs to be ensured – as emphasised by PM Narendra Modi – that there is sustainable consumption of production with a minimum carbon footprint. (p 17).

The manufacturing sector’s growth is visible in many sectors that are propelling economic growth as well as creating employment opportunities. The issues concerning food security, energy deficit, and the self-reliant defence sector have been excellently discussed by Shamika Ravi.

The initiative of the government to boost industrial growth through production-linked incentives is mentioned by a few authors and I am sure that this scheme shall be one of the important engines of growth helping industry and employment through building appropriate competencies.

Sanjay Baru (former media advisor and chief spokesperson during PM Manmohan Singh) opines on the idea of Aatmnirbharta by tracing its roots in Indian thinking and appreciates the focus on the manufacturing sector (Make in India) apart from highlighting the impact of geopolitical conditions on economic growth.

Abhijit Das’s paper emphasising international trade across sectors and industries warns the policymakers to carry out an in-depth assessment as well as to have proper preparedness for facing ensuing scenarios after Free Trade Agreements (wrt Canada, EU, and the UK).

India’s digital transformation story has become a case for the world. The last few years have witnessed excellence in innovation through technology entrepreneurs, especially in the domain of finance and banking making India one of the leaders.

Digital Public Goods as explained by Nageswaran (p. 69) play a key role in easing payments through safety features winning the confidence of the users.

The integration of different operations through appropriate technologies has helped us disrupt the economies of speed, scope, and scale.

Similar echoes are found in Chapter 13 written by Srinivasan who talks about JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile) trinity, UPI (Unified Payment Interface), and OCEN (Open Credit Enablement Network) leading towards Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

The role of government in policy and its effective implementation has been nicely articulated by Ashima Goyal in Chapter 7. India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been phenomenal reflecting our resilience which has been discussed by quite a few contributors throughout the book.

Sanjeev Sanyal writes: the AatmaNirbhar Bharat approach is a key ingredient of the overall economic thinking of the Indian government. It is designed for an uncertain and unpredictable world.

By investing in an economic framework that is both flexible and resilient, Indian policymakers are simply being pragmatic. This is not ideologically blinkered isolationism or protectionism. Moreover, the strategy is open to evolution. (p 90).

The idea of reliance or dependence makes us weak and enthuses a sense of insecurity and an inferiority complex. Our historical contribution to world trade is not unknown to contemporary policymakers.

The last few centuries weakened us both economically and socially which has affected our dependence on the other part of the globe disturbing the balance of trade vis-à-vis the balance of payment.

We also need to build an ecosystem that focuses on ease of doing farming (Sharma, p 25) that shall sustain the industrial value chain and build us from within to be Aatmnirbhar.

Debroy and Sinha (p 169) propose two important interventions for Aatmanirbhar Bharat – one, the need for investment for research, development, and innovation through technology; two, boosting exports through getting market access which is possible through pursuing regional trade agreements and international cooperation.

Ashish Chauhan weaves an interesting story around the role of stock exchanges in India for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, starting with the Vedic period to the modern age. The linkage has been established brilliantly to highlight our ancient thinking. It is heartening to know that though we have lower per capita income, yet we are able to create vibrant, liquid, and healthy markets (p 188) in India.

It was in 1929, when there was an unequivocal agreement and resolve for Purna Swaraj (complete independence) that led India to become independent in 1947. After independence, efforts have been to develop all spheres of economy and society.

There have been several initiatives and programs concerning infrastructure development, the creation of institutions of national importance, poverty alleviation, green revolution, privatisation, and liberalisation.

However, we never had a single focused agenda or resolve like developed India by 2047. It is in this context that being self-reliant is imperative.

I recommend this book to all interested in seeing India becoming self-reliant and an economic power. We have transitioned from the fragile five to the first five. Apart from being the largest economy, we need to focus on reducing inequalities and improving human well-being which should increase per capita income.

I am sure India shall regain its past and lost glory when all of us put forth our efforts in the direction of Viksit Bharat.

(The writer is a senior professor in Delhi School of Economics.)