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‘Aatmanirbharta is not about reverting to economic isolationism’: India’s Foreign Secretary

The call for Aatmnirbharta is not about reverting to economic isolationism” and the idea “does not mean seeking self-centered arrangements or turning the country inwards“, India’s foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said on Monday. “Its essential aim is to ensure India’s position as a key participant in global supply chains,” he said in an online speech addressing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

“It is important to identify products and commodities where India has the ability or potential to expand domestic production and enhance global availability. True, we cannot make everything — but we can certainly make many, many more things than we currently are.” [emphasis ours]

India has seen weeks of heightened tensions with China at the Ladakh border, where 20 Indian soldiers were killed as troops from the two sides violently clashed. While talks have been ongoing, the Indian government last week banned 59 ‘Chinese’ apps, under the garb of national security and privacy. Calls for local manufacturing and self-reliance have been increasing ever since, even for apps. Talking about how diplomacy has had to move online with the pandemic, Shringla said that, “The increase in tensions in different parts of the world, including on the Line of Actual Control between India and China, have only emphasised the criticality of continued communication.”

Read more: Week after ‘Chinese’ app ban, Indian govt launches ‘Atmanirbhar’ app innovation challenge

Pvt sector crucial, fintech to contribute to economic growth

Private sector participation will be encouraged: Shringla said that it has been given a big push in areas, including defence production, civil aviation, power distribution, social infrastructure, space and atomic energy.

“New Public Sector Enterprise policy will be a significant step in enabling private participation in a greater number of sectors. You would have also seen Government’s plans to invite private players to run trains on certain routes and modernize our railway stations. These are just a few examples of opening previously restricted sectors to private participation. The Government has also made access to affordable capital easier for small businesses, which are important economic engines and job creators.”

Fintech “important for economic growth”. There was an 40% increase in the funding received by Indian Fintech companies in the Q1 2020, Shringla said. India intends to work on “replicating our digital platforms and e-Governance initiatives in partner countries under our Development Partnership Framework and on a commercial basis“.

We are also working with several countries on making our digital payment systems interoperable. Our payment systems such as the Rupay card have already been launched in Singapore, Bhutan, UAE and Bahrain. The Prime Minister had earlier launched a global digital platform, APIX, to connect Fintech companies and financial institutions.

Finally, Shringla said that “a preliminary assessment by our Missions indicate” that in the short-term, India can expand its presence in textiles and apparels, gems and jewellery, chemicals etc. by scaling up production. In the long-term, “we need to move up the value chain in sectors such as electronics, pharma, engineering and design outsourcing etc. where we are present but have the potential to do more”.

Eventually, we need to target high value added activities while continuing to build our lead position in basic manufacturing. We also need to work on development of technology and intellectual property across industries.

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