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Friday 3 July 2020

Modi’s Swadeshi Challenges

SVSome of my diplomat friends, who had turned pro-India after their stay in the country and their interaction with local realities, used to tell me that the West, particularly the UK and the US would not like a nationalist government to come to power in India. Narendra Modi’s ascendancy has demonstrated that a nationalist government can be formed by completely ignoring their concerns or opposing their tendency to manipulate.

There is an inherent conflict between the needs of foreign powers and a nationalist government in this country. While a foreign government-backed company would like to invest in India with predatory goals, a nationalist government would try to ensure that the investment comes on our terms — to generate employment, bring technological know-how and modernise the existing processes. This was evident when the BJP manifesto released on 7 April 2014 stated that “it will welcome foreign direct investment in all sectors that will create jobs, except in multi-brand retail”.

Way back in December 2012, BJP leader P Muralidhar Rao had said that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections would be fought between the “Wal-Mart front” and the nationalist or swadeshi front. Warning the DMK against its real challenges in Tamil Nadu, he had pointed out that over 65% of people from the OBC and 15%-20% from the SC were dependent on retail business for their livelihood.

This may help explain the massive upsurge of people across the country for Modi, encapsulated in the proverbial “Modi Wave”.  Modi to them represented not only someone who was from their own community, who would understand their plight, but also a strong man who could look eye-to-eye with the US and say no to Wal-Mart despite the UPA Government’s decision to the contrary. Their confidence was not betrayed. Union Commerce and Industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman has asserted, while assuming office, “At this stage, the party position is very, very clear. We have explained about (sic) FDI in multi-brand retail (MBR) that it probably is not best opened up now because medium and small sized traders or small farmers have not been adequately empowered… if you open up the floodgates of FDI in MBR, it may affect them.” There is hope that the confidence of this class on this government is rewarded.

IQIf Indian retail and manufacturing suffer due to Wal-Mart and other such multi-chain stores that are keen to outsource goods from outside India, the India industry will collapse and hurt Indian pride in the long run. In the name of benefiting customers, the government cannot open floodgates to foreign goods at predatory prices. True, Wal-Mart will sell goods much cheaper, but once the domestic manufacturing industries are destroyed, nothing prevents them from manipulating the prices.

The other focus of any nationalist government would be indigenisation of defence and strengthening of both internal and external security. Close to Rs 2 lakh crore are being spent every year on defence purchases from abroad. What are the issues that have prevented manufacturing of most of these equipments in India? It is sad that a nation that is a nuclear power produces its own missiles and sends its own satellites is failing to reduce dependence on foreign aircrafts, submarines, frigates and guns. Time has come to use the much talked about Indian brains in high-end defence research and get accountability for the money spent.

This is going to disturb the equilibrium India has achieved with foreign powers, but a strong decision needs to be taken to chart out the country’s independent growth. The money spent on arms purchase is creating employment in the US and other countries. This trend needs to be reversed. Advocates of swadeshi firmly believe that Modi, with such a massive mandate, will carry out the course corrections.

Third, which is the most important, is the Indian sense of pride that was mauled by the US, the UK and other countries of the West and the European Union (EU) in the wake of 2002 Gujarat riots. NGOs funded by these countries raked up issues with motivated interests and a more than willing UPA Government was keen to be an active player in the game. How can a foreign country think of imposing visa sanctions against a democratically elected chief minister? Do these foreign powers have no respect for the Indian legal system?

The UPA Government did not protest enough. Modi was not the issue; it was respect Indian democracy deserved. Can the US or any other country think of doing similar things with China amidst reports of human rights abuses?

It’s time questionable foreign funding that aims at destabilising the political system and creating a parallel power structure to influence decision-making in India is investigated. Time has come to make such sponsorships transparent so that people are aware of the motives of such NGOs. If needed, change the laws that govern NGOs.

In Modi we have a prime minister who understands all these issues since he was a victim of a situation created by manipulations. It is expected that he will work overtime to dismantle all these channels of manipulations that have the potential to undermine our national interest. A system must be created so that no other elected head of any State, irrespective of his political affiliation, is subjected to such situations.

Modi has emerged as a champion of ‘India first’ ideology. In him we find a unique blend of swadeshi and modernity. Swadeshi is not a blanket opposition to anything that is foreign. It is testing every concept in the context of national needs and aspirations. It is expected that his supporters would not have any reason for complaints.

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Sudesh Verma
Sudesh Verma
Member of the BJP's national media team, senior journalist and founder of Debating India Foundation

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