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Words like “Make in India”, “#AtmanirbharBharat”
or self-reliant India have been doing the rounds much before we got our
Independence in 1947. It was Mahatma Gandhi dressed in his simple cotton dhoti
and shawl who actually wanted Indians to be self-reliant.
Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Charkha” or
spinning wheel symbolised the very essence of self-reliance, hard work and
simplicity. The charkha is now a piece of relic, confined to the waste bins of
history. Today, whether we like it or not, we depend a lot on the outside
world. It’s obvious because if we have to progress in our lives we need to send
our children abroad for their higher education, take up jobs abroad, we need to
import technology and goods from abroad and we also need to invest abroad to
reap a decent monetary harvest.
Wealthy Indians go a step further.
They keep their money abroad in secret accounts, away from the noses of
government investigative agencies. It’s only when some bitter whistleblower
comes out with a list of offenders that the government suddenly promises to act
upon them and bring the country’s wealth back into the country.
Remember how our Prime Minister
went hammer and tongs against those who had stashed their ill-gotten wealth
abroad? He had even promised to put some money into each of our savings
accounts in the bank after he had seized the black money. I, for one, never got
a single rupee from the government or the Prime Minister’s Office.
Coming back to ‘Atmanirbhar’ and
‘Make in India’, are these phrases and words used to instil in us a sense of
false pride? Possible! Many decades back when I started reporting on the
Indian businesses for newspapers, I had then come to the conclusion that we
Indians loved what was then known as “reverse engineering”. Indian companies
during those days spent literally a tiny fraction of their revenues on R&D.
Their efforts were to reverse engineer a product from the prosperous West and
try to make it here in India. It’s like copying someone else’s hard work
fraudulently. In our world of letters, we call it plagiarism. In the
manufacturing world, it was called “reverse engineering”.
You cannot blame them for it. In
those days, the prevailing market conditions, policies and sentiments were just
not conducive for investment. We made sub-standard products, while
Japanese and European products were well-engineered. The Indian companies made
huge profits selling junk here and with those profits, over a period of time,
they bought some great companies abroad and in the bargain got hold of some
great R&D centres. Post economic liberalisation, the Indian industry began
flourishing and with the end of the “License Raj” era, industrialists in India
started spending more of their money on “R&D”. They realised that being
Atmanirbhar made a lot of economic sense.
(TO BE CONTINUED)