Looking back at history, we can see that the Swadeshi Movement in its initial form was a way to revolt against the British colonial oppressors. Post-independence the term and movement took a slightly different meaning. Owing to our priorities as an agrarian nation, the movement was a way to rapidly modernise and industrialise the country while supporting the agricultural backbone of India. The Five Year Plans that were devised as early as 1951 were aimed largely at developing and modernising the agricultural sector.
It is in very recent times that the movement took a slightly new name: Make In India. As soon as this rebranding was done, the entire movement was seen as something coming from a single political party or government. It was essentially dismissed as old wine in a new bottle created by the hypernationalists. The recent political polarisation in India can be pointed out as the reason why ‘Make In India’ or essentially the Swadeshi movement is now attributed to a single political party.
The truth remains that historically, leaders across the political spectrum have seen the merit in developing a self-reliant India that has indigenous capabilities on all fronts. It is our polarised political climate that has seen political analysts, economists, and think thanks from all sides using the term as a way to attack the Modi government. It has been (sometimes) conveniently forgotten that the Swadeshi movement was, is and will remain independent of the political ideology of any single party.
The larger picture
The Swadeshi movement is the need of the hour for India as a nation that aspires to be a global superpower some day. True superpower status is only reserved for states that have strong indigenous capabilities across industries. This is a common trait for everyone from the USA in the west to Russia and China in Asia. India’s work is cut out.
We Indians reside in a larger neighbourhood that is fraught with geopolitical uncertainties. We share our borders with two nuclear-armed neighbours (Pakistan and China) which have developed strong military and trade relationships to offset India’s influence. Military conflict can always be used as a bargaining chip to arrest India’s ambitions and future growth as a rising power. In view of China’s rising authoritarian tendencies in its immediate neighbourhood, India too needs to grow, prosper and sustain itself as a strong economy that cannot be bullied or intimidated militarily.
A desi military-industrial complex
One of the biggest challenges facing India is its inability to build a large, innovative and robust military-industrial complex. Even after decades of partnering with highly advanced defence economies like Russia, India hasn’t even come close to achieving this dream. World history is proof that countries with a strong military-industrial complex will always find themselves in the list of superpowers.
Russia for instance is one of the largest exporters of weapons in the world. India on the other hand is one of the largest importers of weapons. Russia’s advanced defense industry has always played a critical role in enabling India’s defense needs. It is in this context that India too needs to focus on building a defense industry that can compete with the best in the business. In 2015, Make In India – Defence, was seen as a good start with the right vision, but it still has a long road ahead of it before achieving all its ambitious goals.
Is all hope lost?
High-tech manufacturing is not out of India’s grasp as a nation. High precision components, specialised materials manufacturing, etc. are industries where India does have the talent pool and infrastructure in place. ISRO, for example, has grown to become one of the finest space agencies in the world in a matter of 5 decades. Space as an industry requires the best components made with the highest levels of precision.
If India can build a space agency that can effectively support companies that manufacture components for the most advanced rockets and space probes, then India can set up a vibrant military-industrial complex too. This would in fact underscore India’s arrival on the global stage as the latest superpower.
Another ray of hope is the immense potential that India has in its young workforce. From building rovers that can land on the moon to developing India’s first sniper rifle, startups in India are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. The right policy climate along with financial incentives can surely help small and medium companies in the defense sector become large flourishing corporations based out of India.
Is Swadeshi only for defence?
The Swadeshi movement needs to first begin in our own homes. A good start will be to Boycott Chinese products to ensure that India’s immense purchasing power largely benefits companies that are Indian. In many ways, China has already given us the blueprint to become a superpower. First, we need to ensure that our money stays in India with Indian companies. Second, we need to create and encourage Indian companies that can serve us and the rest of the world by exporting their quality products and services.
Let’s not confuse the Swadeshi Movement with a certain political party or a political ideology. Let’s support it only because it is the right thing to do in the interest of our country’s future.