In an interview with the Manchester Guardian in 1965, the then foreign minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously said, “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no alternative.”
The world has seen how Pakistan has built the nuclear bomb and what cost its citizens have paid for the toy that will perhaps never be unboxed. It may be argued that the nuclear arsenal build by Pakistan and India has created a strong enough deterrence for any war between the two countries. Regardless, we had a war in Kargil (1999) and significant rise in the violence in the Kashmir Valley and along the line of control (LoC) since both countries declared themselves to be the nuclear powers in 1998. India has struck twice deep into PoK and changed the status quo materially in J&K in past 5 years. Many soldiers and civilian die every year on the both sides of LoC; and Pakistan economy is surviving on the IMF support. Bhutto did not realize that hungry people would need food to survive, which nuclear weapon cannot provide.
Similar is the sentiment in India these days. The politicians are exhorting people to shun Chinese goods; and people appear ready to forgo consumption of goods with Chinese connection. “Self Reliance” is the war cry against China.
Being self reliant in my view is the best economic policy. But, “self reliance” could have entirely different connotations. Even within the government there appears no consensus over the form and degree of “self reliance” we are talking about in present day context. Listening to and reading about the views of various functionaries of the government, politicians in power, and people supporting “boycott China” movement on social media and streets, I find the following popular perceptions of “self reliance” –
(i) Use only Made in India products.
(ii) Become a manufacturing powerhouse like the South East Asian economies did in 1990s; and produce for the global economies. In the process we should encourage the global corporations to either relocate their manufacturing facilities from China to India; or source their global requirements from the manufacturers in India.
(iii) Become trade surplus economy; especially in manufactured and agriculture products, reversing the colonial model of development, i.e., supplier of raw material and importer of manufactured items.
(iv) Ban “unnecessary” imports from China, e.g., toys, decorative items, furniture etc.
(v) Become “self reliant” in defence production.
(vi) Ban all investments by Chinese investors in Indian businesses.
However, a deeper probe reveals that most people have no objection to the investments from and trade with Japan, Korea, UK, European Union, Canada, Russia, Australia, Gulf Countries, Latin American and African countries. Insofar as the USA is concerned, the feelings are mixed and ambivalent. Most of the people however do not mind deeper economic relations with the USA, provided the USA offers little more favorable terms in terms of VISA and taxation.
So basically, when we say “self reliance” and “trade barriers” we are primarily talking about limiting trade with the “enemies” China and Pakistan” and restricting the movement of labor from Bangladesh.
The worst part is that very few people leading the “boycott China” movement from the front, do not have even basic knowledge of the contours of India’s trade with China. They hardly realize that the so called “non essential” items imported from China are a miniscule part of the total trade, but may be accountable for the employment and affordable consumption of millions of lower middle class and poor people in India. ….to continue