Swadeshi 2020: Taking Local to Global

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In a recent address to the nation, the Prime Minister asked the country to work towards being “atmya nirbhar” or self-sufficient. The address came in the backdrop of a continuous lockdown which in turn has caused enormous economic losses. This would not be the first time a leadership within the country would have called for such an act.

‘Swadeshi Movement’ of 1905 began as a popular form of disobedience movement in lieu of reactionary policies of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India. The Partition of Bengal, on both linguistic and religious lines to breakdown nationalistic sentiments of then undivided Bengal had created a large discontent amongst the masses. ‘Swadeshi Movement’ emerged as a way of protest by refusing to use foreign imported goods and in turn hurt colonial government economically.

A century later, we are brought to the same fundamentals by the pandemic but under different circumstances. The country still amasses a large trade deficit with China, it’s manufacturing sector still lacks the robust structural strength and a spike in unemployment rate presents serious problems for the economy. But not all is a gloomy picture, with an estimated population of 1.3 Billion, India possesses huge human potential. With most of manufacturing hubs present in China, the same place mooted as origin of the virus, India must take an advantage of the lingering global crisis.

A boost to manufacturing sector and a push for MSMEs which are also regarded as engines of growth will help reduce the unemployment burden of the country. A 20 Lakh Crore fiscal stimulus package announced by the PM is a step in the right direction to achieve that. Growth of indigenous industries will provide employment, boost India’s exports helping reduce Current Account Deficit of the government and will provide a larger tax base for the Government in future for its outlay in welfare schemes.

However, the call for consumers to give a preference for swadeshi products has its own problems. Before the New Economic Policy of 1991, the country was closed for business to global brands. The domestic players abused this period with hardly any modernization in a monopolistic market. And when the country was open for business in era of liberalization, privatization and globalization, these companies fell short and out of competition. The domestic market was introduced to concepts such as reliability, exchange and discounts which provided an edge to global makers over the domestic ones. The buyers still look at domestic products with dubious eyes and instead choose to spend a little extra for the reliability that comes along with the foreign players.

With the Prime Minister’s latest appeal, the government has helped secure a base for domestic manufacturers and has outlined a hint towards future government policies. Despite the gain, current scenario will largely differ for the domestic players as against 1991. They will still be competing with international manufacturers with a popular base in the country. However, with an aim to capture the void created by the pandemic, the domestic manufacturers will have the task to improve upon their quality and operations. They will need to evolve into leaders of globalized trade from mere domestic players. And all the work in these spheres will determine if Swadeshi of 2020 will be a short-lived phenomenon or will be here to stay.

Utkarsh Raj is a law student Campus Law Centre at University of Delhi.

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