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Vocal for Local: Will it finally be an ‘India Wali Diwali’?

The Prime Minister in his Mann ki Baat program aired on 25th October also urged the people to be vocal for locals while doing their Diwali shopping. He reminded us that the pandemic has taught us who our true allies are and how we should support national integration and unity by being vocal for local products.

Atmanirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India is a concept that can be safely summarised as a newer and revised version of make in India. The call for Atmanirbhar Bharat has come when the country is suffering through the double blow of pandemic and economic loss on one hand and Chinese intrusion on Indian soil. In such a high voltage scenario the question remains to answer is- Will PM’s call of self-reliant India going to gain traction? Let us analyze its various aspects.

The moot question in the whole debate of vocal for local is- Is Indian manufacturing sector ready to take on Chinese products? Due to the pandemic and the lockdown that followed, the country has suffered the most disastrous economic fall down of (-)23.9 % in the GDP. The growth figures since then are encouraging but are they sufficiently strong enough to tackle the Chinese products immediately? India had a trade deficit of more than $50 billion with China in 2016-17, although the pandemic has worked in India’s favor. However, the country still depends on China for technology, something which cannot be replaced in a year or two. You need consistent efforts to tackle this. To solve this problem the Indian government has announced a special economic stimulus and has tried to give various benefits to the MSMEs.

Another important angle in vocal for local is Consumer Sentiment or the bent of mind of the consumers. Recently, because of the clashes on the border between the two armies, we have seen a rise in anti-China sentiment. One would like to assume that this might translate into a rising market share of Indian products over Chinese products. Presumably, this assumption is not wrong but one should not entirely plan his business on this perception. Till the time there exists a price difference, it is less likely that the consumer will be going to shift towards Indian goods in a significant manner. One very good example is the smartphone industry which is dominated by players like Xiaomi and One plus. Despite the anti-China sentiments, these Chinese smartphone brands are able to dominate the Indian market share. But with companies like Samsung gaining popularity and Micromax announcing its comeback the scenario might change in favor of India in the near future. The consumers are ready to pay for Indian products if given competitive and good options.

The messaging of Atmanirbhar Bharat is undoubtedly very significant but the question is- Is it doing more harm than good? On one hand, the country should definitely try to build a robust and efficient manufacturing base but at the same time, this should not send a message to the international investors that India is inching towards protectionism and a closed economy. This might become more counterproductive than productive for Indian manufacturing.

The Prime Minister in his Mann ki Baat program aired on 25th October also urged the people to be vocal for locals while doing their Diwali shopping. He reminded us that the pandemic has taught us who our true allies are and how we should support national integration and unity by being vocal for local products.

To conclude it can be said that the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat is neither new nor unique but surely is hopeful and is likely to gain traction among the masses of the country. The fact remains that this will need constant efforts from the Government and civil societies with significant transfer of technology and heavy investment. All this will take time and it highly unlikely that it will be going to show any significant changes in the trade relations between two countries in the immediate future. India on one hand should surely try hard to push the envelope but at the same time should be realistic and pick its diplomatic and military battles carefully and tactfully.

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Pragya Mishra

Senior columnist with interest in economy and government policies.

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