The Print founder Shekhar Gupta today took to Twitter to rant against FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s comment on restoring India to her former glory of a major trading hub through the agency of atmanirbhar Bharat.
“Intrigued by reference to ancient India as ‘atmanirbhar.’ At its peak in ancient & even medieval history, India was a major trading power. It was far from self-insulated or import-protected,” Gupta tweeted.
Gupta’s tweet came in response to Ms Sitharaman’s reference to atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) in her speech while presenting the Union Budget 2021.
Sitharaman laid the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat saying, “AtmaNirbharta is not a new idea. Ancient India was largely self-reliant, and equally, a business epicentre of the world. AtmaNirbhar Bharat is an expression of 130 crore Indians who have full confidence in their capabilities and skills.”
However, FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s remarks promising to strive towards building a self-reliant country did not sit well with the former President of the Editors Guild of India, who perverted the meaning of atmanirbhar (self-reliant) to fulminate against the policy outlined by PM Modi in the wake of coronavirus-induced lockdowns that had severely crippled the global supply chains.
Shekhar Gupta, in his tweet, perversely likened the concept of atmanirbhar (self-reliance) to that of self-insulated and import-protected. He commented that even at its peak in ancient and medieval times, India was a major trading hub and was nowhere near self-insulated or import-protected.
While there is a grain of truth in Shekhar’s assertion that India was a major trade centre in the past, his conflation of self-reliance with self-insulated and protectionism is grossly incorrect and profoundly misleading. Self-reliance, by no means, can be equated to being insulated and protected from the external dynamics. In fact, it means scaling indigenous capacities to cater to the rising global demands while simultaneously reducing dependence on others.
By comparing self-reliance to self-insulated and import-protected, Gupta is deviously attaching a negative connotation to the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat. The conflation of two seemingly disconnected concepts of self-reliance and isolationism is yet another attempt by Gupta to peddle anti-Modi government propaganda by raising aspersions on the policies formulated by the Centre.
Atmanirbhar Bharat, a policy aimed to integrate India with the global economy
The policy of Atmanirbhar Bharat as laid out by PM Modi is aimed to make India into a bigger and more important part of the global economy, a far cry from what Gupta has contended in his tweet.
Atmanirbhar Bharat doesn’t mean ‘self-containment’, ‘self-insulation’ or ‘protectionism’ as alleged by Shekhar Gupta. The focus of the initiative is to help further integrate India in the global value chain, including through trade, investment and technology.
In fact, self-reliance is one of the key drivers in turning a country into a major trade hub. Self-reliance reduces the country’s dependence on others by expanding its capabilities and therefore better safeguard itself from extrinsic factors. A self-reliant country has the power, confidence and resources to transform itself into a robust business centre.
A country well-integrated into the global economy is better positioned to provide a competitive and stable business environment. It is also well-equipped to absorb the arbitrary shocks and undercut the vicissitudes of fragile global supply chains. These are precisely the reasons why ancient and medieval India thrived as bustling trade hubs.
India was the fulcrum of the global trade for much of the ancient and medieval period until Britishers came and pillaged the country to satiate their rapacious greed. It is in this context, that FM Nirmala Sitharaman referred to ancient India as ‘atmanirbhar’.