The consolidated economic package of Rs. 20 lakh crore announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help make India self-reliant in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and pitched for promoting local businesses is indeed reassuring. Sounding more like a story of hopes, the Prime Minister’s twenty-minute speech on May 12 was like a synopsis of what India has undergone, it’s glorious past and the nation’s evolution as a developing nation.
As the mainstay of the global war against the COVID pandemic, he believes that the nation has had to sacrifice a lot. Yet he is confident that India will bounce back. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, the country will shine again. The 21st century belongs to India! Besieged by adversities, the sorry state-of-affairs across the world brings across the message loud and clear that a ‘Self-reliant India’ is the only way out for us and we should be striving towards it.
No doubt self-reliance is the key to the nation’s resurgence!
But no matter how sincere the PM may have sounded, it is difficult to perceive an India of his dreams - not in the immediate future at least!
While an indefinite lockdown in the war against COVID-19 cannot be seen as the answer, a combined resolve of 130 crore citizens for a self-reliant India could work wonders for the country. But the push towards self-reliance can only be achieved through efforts to boost the efficiency of various sectors through reforms.
The economic package announced is about 10 percent of India’s GDP, which will give a new impetus to the development journey of the country in 2020 and a new direction to the Self-reliant India campaign. It however becomes difficult to understand the course India will have to chart to attain a self-sufficient status in these distressing times.
For, the five pillars the PM speaks of on which the magnificent building of self-reliant India will stand on are fraught with the elements of uncertainty. The country has always been aspiring for an economy that brings quantum jump rather than incremental change. However no matter how bold the reforms, pitfalls along the way have invariably brought the nation time and again to the brink of economic despairs.
Maybe a lack of proper infrastructure mars the country’s development. However, a system that reeks of political bias and bureaucratic imperiousness have been India’s undoing. The country has always been touted as a vibrant democracy, but more so as a political hype than anything else.
And lastly, though the cycle of demand and supply chain in our economy as that strength that needs to be harnessed to its full potential requires every stakeholder in our supply chain to be empowered; how can we be oblivious to the fact that bureaucratic wrangles have blocked many a Startup in India even before they took off!
When we talk of cottage, home and other small scale industries which is a source of livelihood for millions of people which is the foundation of the PM’s strong resolve for a self-reliant India, let us not forget that it is the poor and marginalized in the society who are actually at the forefront bearing the brunt of the ‘economic turmoil’ and the financial issues arising out of the succession of lockdowns.
As rightly said, the COVID crisis is as good as a tsunami for the poor. For instance, with no source of income, the inability to pay power tariffs and water bills haunts the aam aadmi. Over and above this a hike in power, water and fuel charges is on the anvil in the state.
The very fact that even during the various ‘phases’ of lockdown, the working class was never provided with any financial ‘relief package’ by the government speaks for the biased treatment met out to them.
Hence one is led to believe that “the economy is a matter between the ruling classes and the corporate houses of the country and the workers do not feature anywhere in the picture”.
The government has always viewed the resumption of industrial and other commercial activities in the state as an indicator of its economic health. Accordingly, the decks have been cleared for the economic revival by ensuring that the industries and other businesses have an uninterrupted ‘run', so to speak.
But can economic revivals be hoisted on the backs of the most vulnerable category in the hierarchal order of a corporate’s working! Weak labour laws will mean exploitation of the working class and any thoughts of scrapping them will only add to the economic inequality that is so evident even otherwise.
What sort of reforms is the government aspiring for by diluting the labour laws in force? But the government justifies its ‘pragmatism’ by arguing that without enough resources at its disposal, how can the state aspire to be self-sufficient!
Addressing the nation, when the Prime Minister said that ‘the vision of India turning crisis into opportunity is going to prove equally effective for our resolve of self-reliant India’, little would the working class have dreamt that the government could exploit the pandemic to further the interests of the corporate world at its cost.
Rendered homeless and jobless, does the government now expect to ride piggy-back on the working class to bring the economy back on tracks! Politicians in our country savour every opportunity they get to slam the government over its insensitiveness on various issues. But one cannot but concur with the argument that the fight against Coronavirus cannot be an excuse to roll-back the hard won safeguards against exploitation of workers.
Unfortunately the erosion of worker rights has come without any formal debates. The government has decided that at this moment a surge in economic activities is far more important than labour welfare, and has made that clear in no uncertain terms. Announcing the first lockdown in March the Prime Minister had said in a televised address to the nation, “If we are not able to manage the upcoming 21 days we will be pushed back by 21 years.”
But within two months into the extended lockdown(s); with absolutely no job security; and now with ‘Draconian’ amendments to the existing labour laws, the government has pushed the country back a century into those dark phases of unrest by the workmen demanding recognition of their rights. Reducing the impact of the pandemic and aiming for an economic revival cannot come at the cost of the poor workers who continue to have trouble making ends meet. Why is the working class being ‘taxed’ for the follies of a system that has failed miserably to ameliorate the situation arising out of the catastrophe!
The government needs to explore other sectors that could still play a decisive role in keeping the nation afloat in these trying times. Otherwise, terms like ‘self-reliance’ and ‘self-sufficiency’ ring hollow when thought of in the context of the COVID pandemic.(Published on 25th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 22)