Self-sufficiency (not self-reliance) as an economic – and business mantra

“Be like Japan” (not ape China or follow the United States) was probably what the PM meant 

The Prime Minister spoke about the importance of aatm-nirbhartha (translated promptly as “self-reliance” by the literati) as an economic mantra for India in his address to the nation on May 12 2020. 

It is a phrase that had seemingly lost its political and economic relevance in the last three decades – as India opened to the world, and the world embraced all that India had to offer. 

Now suddenly it is back in vogue – with the Prime Minister calling for “human globalisation” even as economic globalisation seems to have been beaten into a corner. 

His argument is that inherent within India’s cultural belief in the concept of “VasudhaivaKutumbakam” (the world is one big family) lies the mantra of aatm-nirbharta 

To many this may seem like a misplaced message. 

Surely, the fight against Covid-19 has to be a global one. The search for a vaccine, or even an anti-viral drug with proven efficacy or perhaps an equilibrium through concerted build-up of herd immunity against the virus, has to be an endeavour that all of humanity takes up. Surely, the revival of the Indian economy will rely upon foreign investors who look at compelling valuations and look to pick up distressed assets with long-term value in mind? 

OR – maybe what we are really talking about is self-sufficiency – which is a fundamentally different concept to self-reliance. 

And therein lies a message for professionals and business leaders – both on where the country is headed, and what is needed for the economy to get going…

  • Reaffirmation of the rural / urban continuum: Villages have reaffirmed their position as our primary sources of food & the nucleus of the Indian social fabric in the minds of Indians. Green Covid-19 free rural zones have benefited from migrant labourers getting back home to help with the Rabi harvest and the Kharif crops. It has been a good harvest on average – the issue now is to get the produce out to essential supplies hungry masses in towns and cities that sit in the red zones. Any consumption resumption will primarily rely on rural markets. Rural consumers are savvy – sometimes they are vocally local, but at other times they trust & buy foreign brands such as Samsung, Honda and Coca Cola. That’s self-sufficiency. 
  • Ecosystem mindset: Rethinking supply chains, ensuring that value chains come closer & become more efficient is the thinking across most manufacturing leaders. Most supply chains start in urban centres (corporate HQs), go out to rural / semi-rural areas (facilities) and then come back to urban centres (exports and consumption) – aided by logistics. India is a consumption led economy that relies on citizens consuming goods & services. Indian economy’s reliance (no pun intended) on such an ecosystem means that the engine room of growth is firmly managed within the country – even if the investment and the technology and the risk-capital comes from foreign investors. Surely, that’s self-sufficiency 
  • Stimulus to spark investment (not spending): The Indian government had to find a way back for the economy – and the one obvious way was by lighting the spark that kickstarts spending, which will drive investments, leading to a consumption increase, sustaining jobs growth. The infrastructure sector (power, roads, airports, even hospitals) has been a stand-out beneficiary of long-horizon investments made by astute investment funds based in Canada, Norway, Japan, Singapore and other parts of the world. The virtuous cycle is no doubt dependent on foreign investment – but most FDI investment into India still comes into the country in anticipation of super-normal returns and profitable growth. Unilever, Suzuki, HP, JCB and other brands are cases in point of companies that have won in India. That too is self-sufficiency 
  • Jobs have been a theme over the last six weeks – as too much newsprint was committed to labour dislocation, salary and pay cut stories. It is true – there is a strain on the economy and the resumption is turning out to be much much more difficult than going into lockdown. But the professionals with skills that are most in demand, executives who spent the down-time building their levels of expertise and leaders with the empathy and ability to lead the recovery process will still be sought after. Backing yourself to succeed doesn’t just have to be an entrepreneur’s mantra. It is possibly the purest form of self-sufficiency. 
  • Self sufficiency is about defining a sustainable path to growth and success from here on – for yourself, your business and the sector you operate in. The Prime Minister, in closing, spoke about managing what is in our control. He spoke about a land where “ethics are filled with duty, the culmination of diligence, the capital of skills”. Charting a path to economic growth lies in building an economy that rests on solid foundations. This is about doing the right things, conducting good & clean business, to be honourable as an employer and partner, being ethical and compliant as a business… and finding a way to contribute to the evolution of a nation which is trusted by the world and looked upon as an example of a nation that succeeded against odds by doing things their way.

Japan’s phenomenal and phoenix-like rise from the ashes of 1945 to hosting the Olympics to great aplomb in 1964 is probably what the Prime Minister had in mind when he was speaking about an India that finds its rightful place on the world stage in the 21st century.

A reset button has been pressed. 

India is ready to define what we want to be as a nation. Businesses that map their blueprint to this agenda will be better positioned to succeed. As professionals, we have the opportunity to re-think our business purpose, plans and programs and align with the new course that has been charted for us. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Narayan
Partner & Managing Director, South Asia at Control Risks
Amit manages consultants who design, develop and implement risk-mitigation strategies for companies across South Asia. He has advised clients on political and regulatory risk, pre-investment risk, reputational DD, forensic investigations, public policy and stakeholder mapping. Amit has worked in Edelman in India and Burson-Marsteller in Singapore. He has also worked in-house at Vodafone in Singapore and The Walt Disney Company in Hong Kong.

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