Pledging to build an ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ amidst COVID-19 pandemic

Pramod Ningombam
At a time when the whole world is battling the deadly coronavirus pandemic, India seems determined to head towards a self-sufficient and self-reliant economy with new goals and missions with a vision that is taking shape slowly and steadily. Converting a deadly crisis into an opportunity, India has launched the Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme. India is politically free but economic freedom is still a distant aspiration to many poor and downtrodden. Economic freedom will come through self-reliance - these are the pillars on which the poor need to be uplifted. The programs announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government have incorporated the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi to create an environment that enables the poor and farmers to gain self-reliance and live with dignity.
Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, which translates to ‘self-reliant India’ or ‘self-sufficient India’, is the vision of the Narendra Modi of making India “a bigger and more important part of the global economy”, pursuing policies that are efficient, competitive and resilient, and being self-sustaining and self-generating. Aatmanirbhar Bharat does not mean “self-containment”, “isolating away from the world” or being “protectionist”. The first mention of this came in the form of the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ or ‘Self-Reliant India Mission’during the announcement of India’s COVID–19 pandemic related economic package on May 12, 2020. The five pillars of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ are stated as economy, infrastructure, technology-driven systems, vibrant demography and demand. Aatmanirbhar Bharat envisages a self-reliant economy, whereby the National needs could be met domestically. The demand is to be met by the supply created through an enabling environment of ‘aatmanirbharta’. It doesn’t mean policy of isolation or protectionism but a policy of support and facilitation to make India realise its true potential.
As part of the detailed and comprehensive Aatmanirbhar Bharat package, numerous Government decisions have taken place. To name just a few - increasing the scope for private participation in the Defence sector and promoting the solar energy sector.
Gandhiji’s vision of self-reliance : Here we can recall, recollect and reconnect the works and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi’s push for economic freedom and self-reliance goes back to 1915, when he first began to use khadi in Sabarmati Ashram. Today, PM Narendra Modi has been able to fuse his lived experiences with the teachings of Gandhi. Modi has been able to build a strong and effective manifesto that focuses on empowering the poor and instilling a sense of dignity in them. The idea of Swachh Bharat in Modi’s first term made cleanliness and access to sanitation a universal agenda which was inspired directly from Gandhi’s own life and teachings.
Meanwhile, the Government of India is taking up various steps to ensure safety of its people and making sure that preparations are made to face threats posed not only by COVID-19, but also by any similar possibility in future. The Indian Government today, through its various policy and programmes, is trying to realise the vision of Mahatma Gandhi, which is based on simple ideas of truth, non-violence, swadeshi and self-reliance. His vision of Swachhta, self-reliance, development of Bharat, healthy India, khadi, etc., have been incorporated in the schemes of Swachh Bharat, Make in India, Fit India, promotion of naturopathy and yoga, promotion of khadi as a global brand, etc.
PM’s vision : While giving his speech during the 74th Independence Day celebration, PM Modi gave a call for reducing imports and pushing exports of finished products in place of raw material. He said that the country will have to move forward with the mantra of ‘Make in India’ as well as ‘Make for World’.
“Aatmanirbhar Bharat is no longer merely a word but has become a mantra and captured people’s imagination,” he said while adding that many concerns are raised about it and acknowledged the challenges ahead. There are “crores of solutions” offered by the country’s citizens to “lakhs of challenges”. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, 130 crore Indians have pledged to build an ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’. During his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’ too, the Prime Minister also spoke about how the new Farm Bills (since Act) would benefit the farmers and help create a self-reliant India. The country’s agricultural sector’s resilience during the coronavirus pandemic was a reflection of its farmers’ strength, the “foundation of Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, or self-reliant India, he added. “Farmers are playing a major role in the efforts towards self-reliance. If the farmers are strong the country will be strong.”
That India has the capacity to be self-reliant but only lacked appropriate economic policies and perhaps motivation, is apparent from the fact that the Nation went from zero production of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, N-95 masks and other basic equipment in the fight against COVID-19, till March 2020, to two lakh PPE kits and two lakh N95 masks per day, within two months of time. The country which was earlier fully dependent on imports for these basic pharmaceutical items, became self-reliant within two months time. It cannot be doubted that Gandhiji’s vision of Self-reliant villages can become a reality only when the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Mission becomes a mass movement. Given the sad reality that majority of India’s population lives below the poverty line and that the coronavirus pandemic has been worsening their lives, it is important that the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Mission becomes a mass movement and deals with the core issue. It is time to convert a crisis into an opportunity and finish the unfinished task of the freedom movement.