A contributor, not consumer

Atmanirbharta is neither protectionist nor isolationist; it refers to a self-reliant India dealing with the world on its own terms

March 29, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the Atmanirbhar Bharat Defence Industry Outreach webinar via video conference, in New Delhi.

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the Atmanirbhar Bharat Defence Industry Outreach webinar via video conference, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call in May 2020 for an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) highlighted the reality that in a post-COVID-19 world, India cannot exist in isolation. It is clear that the world is small and connected. In just the last one month, the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine on our economy and democracy make it imperative for us to continuously engage with the world around us. As Rabindranath Tagore said, it is not possible to remain behind “narrow domestic walls”. The pandemic has shown us that whether it is the stressed economy or human rights, rural development or climate change, defence or foreign policy, we need to re-imagine the way forward for India and its relationship with the world.

The way forward

Atmanirbhar Bharat is Mr. Modi’s framework for India’s way forward. A recent book, Atmanirbhar Bharat: A Vibrant and Strong India, edited by noted ideologue S. Gurumurthy and Arvind Gupta, is a thoughtful and comprehensive conceptualisation of a wide spectrum of policy issues which are the building blocks for an Atmanirbhar Bharat. Atmanirbharta is neither protectionist nor isolationist; it refers to a self-reliant India dealing with the world on its own terms.

Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Swadeshi galvanised our nation. Atmanirbhar Bharat is Swadeshi tailored to India in 2022. The ideational foundation of this concept is not just relevant to today’s India; it also addresses existential challenges in the country and challenges in its engagement with a tension-filled world order. Within the country it is even more important that the conflicting aspirations and expectations of States are managed and harmonised to present a united, confident and self-reliant India. For example, the aspirations of the Dravidian model of development and other regional-specific aspirations should synchronise with the holistic concept of Atmanirbhar Bharat. If India does not evolve a harmonious national model, only chaos will result. The emphasis on unity rather than diversity in our polity becomes vital. In the absence of cooperation, fundamental issues such as the sharing of Cauvery waters and coal for energy will remain unresolved. Former Tamil Nadu Chief Ministers C.N. Annadurai and M. Karunanidhi ensured that their politics were regionally distinct while staying uncompromisingly nationalistic. Significantly, in the 1967 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, Dravidian icon Periyar actually supported and endorsed the Congress party and not the DMK, while C. Rajagopalachari supported the DMK. To learn from history and introspect on how these stalwarts responded dynamically to emerging situations is vital for political leaders today.

As Francis Fukuyama said, national identity is pivotal to the fortune of modern states, especially when states are built around liberal democratic political values and the shared experiences of diverse communities. In fact, national identity makes liberal democracy possible and is critical to maintaining a successful modern political order.

A human-centric model

Mr. Gurumurthy writes how, like Swadeshi, but also different from it, atmanirbharta is a model for a rising India. It is based on civilisational pride, experience and a self-belief that will help India be a contributor to the world rather than only a consumer. He forcefully argues that no one-size-fits-all Western model can work for a country as diverse as India, as evidenced by the catastrophic financial crisis of 2008. Social capital, family and communities are now at the centre of a development model, which was earlier not human-centric. This is an unassailable premise on which to base a growth model based on equity and humanity.

Defence, human rights, climate change, agriculture, the rural-urban divide, economy, governance and federalism are all addressed in the five pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat expounded by Mr. Modi. The time has come to seriously absorb the ideas explained in this important book and discuss with an open and non-partisan mind the concept of Atmanirbhar Bharat. There will always be differences. Indeed, in those differences lies the vibrancy of our democracy.

The world today is reeling under an economic crisis. The war in Europe has grave consequences for the entire world. Leaders should realise that this is not a time for narrow political gains, but a time to come together for the sake of the nation. Atmanirbhar Bharat is a human-centric way forward based on our own civilisational ethos and values. It envisages a self-reliant India working for Vasudaiva Kutumbakam. This is a time when the legitimate aspirations of the diverse peoples of our country need to be reconciled, and differences overcome.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a former Union Minister and a political activist and lawyer

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