Here’s the context.
Since the last year, or just around the start of Covid-19 and the China-initiated skirmishes on the Indo-China border, the government of India tried different measures to counter the Chinese threat.
One of them was to fend off China on commercial grounds: give a push to Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India drives and drastically cut down India’s reliance on Chinese goods (Banning TikTok and similar apps was one of the steps, which, according to many, was silly tokenism.).
Back to today.
Yesterday, The Economic Times published some data that showed how India is buying from China big time — again.
Numbers point out the China-India trade in H1 rang in USD 57.48BN — a massive 62% rise over the past year. Ironically, this is when Indian soldier’s aren’t exactly safe on the Indo-China border.
A friend who works with a think-tank shared the above news item with me and added a victorious caption “Ha ha ha!”
He had always argued the Atmanirbhar Bharat-Make in India concept was hollow, doomed from the start: summarily a bad idea, a joke.
To him, this news item about the ‘failure’ proved that he was right: it was a joke.
This is one more instance when I’ll confess I don’t always ‘get’ jokes. More than a joke, this is a piece of sad news, if anything.
Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India may not have achieved what the political trumpeting had sang about.
But it is a step in the right direction nevertheless.
Joking about the under-performance of Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make in India is like deriding the late Milkha Singh for having stood fourth in the historic race, instead of saying he was doing India proud and that it was the first step in the right direction.
To begin with it’d be silly to write off such initiatives as failures.
I’d say even if the figures were converse, i.e. China buying more from India than ever before, I’d not call it a runaway success. An occasional surge or dip isn’t really a good indicator.
A swallow does not a summer make, right?
That’s because these are strategic initiatives that require at least a decade before you can see genuine signs of fruition. Systemic corrections and changes in mind-sets are two of the many important factors that decide the success of such programs.
Yet, one cannot deny that there’s some sort of failure. We are a 70-year old democracy and multi-millennia old nation.
Should we be making this ‘failure’ a laughing stock or should we begin asking some tough questions?
If things come to such a pass from our Sone ki chiriya (literally, golden sparrow, the land of prosperity) days, it means we haven’t learnt anything over centuries.
Here’s what I think are the three pillars on which this failure is built.
1. Failure of the political system
Politicians, our favourite excuse for everything. But not without reason.
To begin with, ruling parties haven’t been able to build a system where businesses have grown and flourished to the extent that we could be the world’s dominant economy or a net-positive player in international commerce.
Gandhi was able to suspend the Non-Cooperation Movement with just a simple statement. Sardar could mobilise political muscle and people’s will and annex hundreds of princely states with India in an unbelievably short time.
We haven’t seem such strong commitment to national interest since. Neither on the political arena, nor in business.
Instead, our political system is today well-known more for things like the below item than for anything else.
2. Failure of financial institutions
One would think banks of India, over nearly hundred years of existence, would have perfected (or at least optimized) the art of lending. And make India’s businesses strong, competitive and profitable. And world dominant.
The sad truth is many banks are still reeling under inefficiency and bureaucracy (to be fair, that’s mostly due to the backdoor arm-twisting by politicians).
Look at the above screenshot: Rs 9.35 lakh crore of bad debt.
That’s Rs 935,000,000,000,000 (unless I’ve got my zeroes wrong, but you get the picture).
Even if a third of this had landed in the hands of genuine entrepreneurs, the Indian economy would have been a very different story today.
It’s telling how our financial system hasn’t been able to place money in the right hands.
3. Failure of people owning up
We are a people who have lots of empty pride but little genuine dignity.
There. I said it.
Since the first elections of free India, it’s we who’ve increasingly chosen and elected leaders based on caste, faith and our own selfish interests rather than the true credentials of politicians.
If our politicians have failed us in building a strong climate in India, we have more than failed our politicians by letting them get away with all the plundering.
We are willing to draw out swords at the first instance of someone hurting our religious sentiments, but we choose to stay silent for lifetime of plundering and pillaging by our political leaders.
It’s high time we owned up that all these failures are our failures.
Come to think of it, I think my friend is right. Atmanibhar Bharat and Make in India ARE a joke.
It’s just that the joke is on us.
Ha ha ha.