Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his fourth 'lockdown' address (May 12, 2020) to the nation, spoke about how the current state of world and the coronavirus pandemic teaches us an important life lesson: That ‘atmanirbharta’ (self-reliance) is the only path forward. And, thus, came the clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India). The initiative, was, in a way, PM's response to the economic adversities confronting the Indian economy due to the COVID-19 crisis.
While PM Modi’s dream is to make India self-reliant, but more than half of our country and the country's youth are not exactly equipped to become 'atmanirbhar'. We, as a nation, indeed have a long and difficult path ahead.
If you ask me, as 30-year-old, what I need to become self-reliant, the answer will be simple: Home, food, clothes and money (the same as thousands of other fellow Indians).
Since I live with my parents, I don’t have to worry about a roof over my head. But, sadly, not all of us are as fortunate. Those coming to city with aspirations of making it big or for work, find it difficult to get a decent home. And, looking for paying guest accommodations or renting a home (only if it is affordable) becomes the only way out.
And, for this, a steady income becomes important. But, with the growing rate of unemployment, many in this country will find it difficult to be atmanirbhar. Because, you might be educated and healthy, but if you do not have financial stability, how will you become independent? You can't be running to your parents asking for money for your needs, can you (unless, of course, you are a minor)? Where's atmanirbharta in that?
I feel the only way to truly achieve and make Atmanirbhar Bharat a success entails economic prosperity of India's population. Unemployment in India still is a big problem and our nation cannot aspire to be self-reliant with a large portion of the working-class population being unemployed. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) report, a sharp 190 basis points rise in unemployment rate in rural India to 8.37% has pushed the country’s overall unemployment rate to a five-week high of 8.67% in the week ended August 9. Urban areas saw unemployment rate rise from 8.73% to 9.31% during the period.
While, Atmanirbhar Bharat discourse does involve fast-tracking investments and schemes to boost manufacturing, and so on. But, the question remains: How does this translate into reality? And, does this reality have space for not just employment, but formal gainful employment?
While half of India’s populations operates in the informal sector. It means irregular and uncertain earnings, lack of job and social security, and lack of appropriate working conditions.
The recent COVID-19 crisis exposed the vulnerabilities of the informal workers. The pandemic-induced left lakhs in a lurch: No food, income and in several cases, even shelter. The picture that is painted contradicts the tenet of self-reliance. The images of hundreds of migrant workers walking on foot to their respective states still remains fresh.
Nevertheless, the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan falls short when it comes to comprehensive set of measures for social protection. Though the initiative speaks about affordable social rental housing, there needs to be more which will assure the youth of today that they too will get opportunities to become 'atmanirbhar'.
Ronak Mastakar is a web journalist with Free Press Journal. Views are personal.