On May 12 this year, PM Modi addressed the nation and unveiled his vision for “Atmanirbhar Bharat.” The pandemic had shut down global supply chains and there was China snarling at our borders. Naturally, this required India to re-examine our dependence on other countries, especially China. A more self-reliant India, with a bigger industrial base, with lesser trade deficits was the need of the hour. Who could object?
Then, the spurious narratives began. “Experts” came out of the woodwork, many of them household names, with warnings. India should not go back to the era of license-quota-permit Raj, they argued. “Atmanirbhar” should not mean a return to protectionism. That would wipe out all the gains since 1991, they told us.
On the ground, in actual Indian government policy, there was little evidence of any protectionist instincts. In fact, the Modi government just pulled off an ambitious free market reform in agriculture, a sector that had not been touched since independence. India’s FDI regime continues to be one of the most open in the world. With the exception of curbs on Chinese imports, part of a strategic necessity, there has been no effort to close the Indian economy to outsiders. Just an emphasis on identifying sectors where India can become more competitive.
Who would misunderstand something so simple? Not common people with common sense. But only “experts.”
Here is the question to ask. Are those experts really so foolish that they don’t get it? Or are they pushing a spurious narrative on orders from someone else? A superpower, perhaps? A superpower that has something to lose from an Atmanirbhar India and wants to hurt India’s image in general.
What makes a spurious narrative? Here is the perfect example. On June 16 this year, a bloody clash took place between Indian and Chinese soldiers at Galwan Valley in Ladakh. As many as 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action. The Chinese side admitted to casualties, but refused to disclose the numbers. Coupled with China’s habitual aggression towards neighbors, known expansionist tendencies and secretive Communist state, this would look very bad for China. That too in a year when the world is reeling under the Wuhan Coronavirus. This latest act would confirm the world’s worst fears about China.
What would Americans think? How would the world think? Fortunately for China, the New York Times was around to help. In an article published the day after the clash, the New York Times reported that “analysts” had arrived at a stunning conclusion. The clash was not due to China’s expansionism nor aggression. They were merely reacting to a provocation from Indian Home Minister Amit Shah in August of the previous year.
Who are these “analysts” that connected the Galwan clash to Amit Shah’s speech? The New York Times did not name them. If Amit Shah’s speech was a provocation to China, can I see in public the work of any “analyst” who noticed this between August 5, 2019 and June 16, 2020?
Of course not. When Amit Shah spoke on Article 370, everyone knew he was talking on domestic matters of India. The reference to Aksai Chin as Indian territory is something on which India has been consistent for decades. How could it suddenly be a provocation to China?
That is a spurious narrative right there. The idea that India provoked China was created overnight on June 16. Over the next several weeks, this was repeated by experts, both Indian and foreign.
Again, observe that these experts didn’t even notice the alleged “provocation” for 10 months between Aug 2019 and June 2020. The day after the clash, they suddenly said it was the most obvious thing of all. You cannot help but ask: who paid for this sudden realization?
The attack on Atmanirbhar Bharat rouses similar suspicion. How could apparently intelligent experts misunderstand something so badly? Can you point to a single example of a newly protectionist policy created by India since the Prime Minister announced his intention in May? Then, who are you trying to warn?
Is it a spurious narrative.
Let’s explain spurious narratives like this, with apples and oranges. Suppose you decide to add more apples to your diet for health reasons. The next day, there are all these people warning you about the risks of not eating enough oranges. But you never said anything about oranges. Then, why are these experts suddenly giving all these warnings?
The answer is simple. Those experts don’t care about your health. Their warnings are not real warnings, but ads. Those experts work for the guy who sells oranges.