Atmanirbhar Bharat

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Atmanirbhar Bharat (देवनागरी: आत्मनिर्भर भारत , ISO: Ātmanirbhara Bhārata , IAST: Ātmanirbhara Bhārata ) which translates to 'self-reliant India',[1] is a Hindi phrase used and popularized by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and the Government of India in relation to economic development in the country during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, the term is used as an umbrella concept in relation to making India "a bigger and more important part of the global economy", pursuing policies that are efficient, competitive and resilient, and being self-sustaining and self-generating.[2][3][4]

The phrase has been used by Modi since 2014 in relation to national security,[5][6] poverty[7] and digital India.[8] The first popular mention of this came in the form of the 'Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan' or 'Self-Reliant India Mission' during the announcement of India's COVID–19 pandemic related economic package on 12 May 2020, 12 October and 12 November 2020.[9][10] Since May 2020, the phrase has been used across ministries such as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Defence in relation to press releases, statements and policies.[11] The phrase has also been used by the government in relation to the 2021 Union Budget of India.[12]

The phrase has been used by the former Planning Commission in India's Five-Year Plans.[13][14] Commentators have noted that India has been enacting policies and building institutions that promote self-reliance since the day it was created.[15] Private companies and their products have also been considered as fine examples of self-reliance in India such as— the Maruti 800 car, Thums Up beverage, Amul, HDFC, the leading IT companies of India, and Bharat Biotech and Serum Institute of India.[16][17][18] Bharat Biotech developed India's first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine in a bench-to-beside journey that took eight months.[19]


Self reliance and dependence[edit]

Indian nationalists emphasized self-reliance in the 1940s.[20] In those years India took cue from economic models in the Soviet Union, later becoming aware of other models such as that of South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil.[21] In a 1983 article by Sanjaya Baru titled "Self-Reliance to Dependence in Indian Economic Development", Baru wrote that self-reliance could be understood as "the strategy and the perception of our relative merits and constraints, of our opportunities and of our tasks. Even where deviations had occurred from this strategy they were viewed as temporary departures, as products of expediency, as being forced on an unwilling government [...]."[22] He based this on a lecture in 1982 at Sydenham College, in which economist Ashok Mitra said,

"self-reliance to us did not mean shutting out the windows to the world; even a certain quantum of external assistance was incorporated in our definition of the term, but we did certainly rule out the probability of chronic foreign aid. India, we argued, was not lacking inherently either in manpower or natural resources, including mineral resources. We had also the advantage of starting out with a certain basic infra-structure of industrial and technological skills and facilities, which was superior to that possessed by most developing countries at the time. In addition, there was the advantage, we thought, of having a political leadership keen to pursue the goal of self-reliance. We opted for self-reliance because, in our view, it was the most rational economic course."

However, following India's decision to take International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans in the 1980s and taking into account the general economic situation in the country, Baru concluded that "it would seem altogether inappropriate to refer to "self-reliance" any longer as constituting a national goal."[23]

Five-Year Plans[edit]

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in an address to the National Development Council in 1976, used the phrase self-reliance a number of times including in relation to "self-reliance in food and energy" and "economic self-reliance".[13] The Fifth Five-Year Plan of India (1974–1978) used the phrase "achievement of self-reliance" as a goal in itself. Usage also included achieving "self-reliance in terms of technology, production and conservation" in relation to non-renewable resources."[24] The report noted that in sectors such as industrial machinery and chemicals "the share of imported machinery and equipment.... declined sharply... reflecting increased self-reliance".[24]

The phrase also found usage in the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1997–2002).[14] Conversely "excessive reliance" was used in the Tenth Five-Year Plan (2002-2007). The tenth plan also stated that "Science and Technology [...] plays a lead role in contributing... self-reliance."[25] The next plan mentioned the "desire for attaining and sustaining self-reliance in some sectors of the economy".[26]

Defence sector[edit]

In 1992 a Self Reliance Review Committee was formed under A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.[27] In 2000, K. Subrahmanyam of India's National Security Advisory Board said,[28]

Self-reliance in defence has to be differentiated from self-sufficiency. [...] In today's international system it is extremely difficult for India to aim at self-sufficiency in defence equipment and it is more pragmatic to plan for self-reliance. [...] Self-reliance therefore calls for very careful selection of supplier and his political trustworthiness.

As per Subrahmanyam's distinction of self-reliance and self-sufficiency India's defence production can be divided into the following phases:[29]

  • Independence to the mid-1960s— self-sufficiency was the overall economic principle governing India’s industrial development.
  • From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s— self-reliance replaced self-sufficiency in defence production.
  • From late 1980s till date— emphasis in self-reliance has been on coproduction.
  • Early 2000s onwards— self-reliance, coproduction and private sector participation in defence production.

Post 2014[edit]


'Aatmanirbharta' or 'Self-Reliance' was the Oxford Hindi Word of Year 2020.[30][1]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said "Atmanirbhar Bharat is not about being self-contained or being closed to the world, it is about being self-sustaining and self-generating" and pursuing "policies that promote efficiency, equity and resilience".[2] Its proponents have said that this self-reliant policy does not aim to be protectionist in nature; the Finance Minister stated, "self-reliant India does not mean cutting off from rest of the world".[3] The law and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that self-reliance does "not mean isolating away from the world", rather "foreign direct investment is welcome, technology is welcome [...] self-reliant India... translates to being a bigger and more important part of the global economy."[4] In May 2020, Prime Minister Modi laid down five pillars of 'Atmanirbhar Bharat'— economy, infrastructure, technology-driven systems, vibrant demography and demand.[31] In March 2021 Modi said that, "at the core of Atmanirbhar Bharat is to create wealth and values not only for ourselves but for the larger humanity."[32]

In March 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reiterated that the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign was not intended to stop imports but to boost manufacturing.[33]

Self-reliance or self-sufficiency[edit]

According to Indian Express, "Atmanirbhar" can be understood as either "self-reliance" or as "self-sufficiency". The confusion, according to the Express started on 12 May itself, the day the phrase was first announced,[34]

The state of the world today teaches us that (Atma Nirbhar Bharat) "Self-reliant India" is the only path. It is said in our scriptures — EshahPanthah. That is — self-sufficient India.

— Prime Minister Narendra Modi, PIB

Swaminathan Aiyar says the same, "atmanirbhar" can be translated as both self-reliance and self-sufficiency. India in the 1960s-70s tried self-sufficiency and it didn't work out.[35] Aiyer says that "to go back to self-sufficiency again appears to be going in the wrong direction."[35] In May, in an article, Livemint translated the term as "self-sufficiency".[36]

Usage by the Modi government[edit]

Prime Minister Modi used the phrase as early as June 2014 in relation to defence manufacturing for self-reliance in national security.[5] He reiterated this over the years, including in 2018 and the need of India to makes its own weapons.[6] In August 2014 he connected self-reliance to Digital India[8] and in September 2014 to making the poor self-reliant.[7]

COVID-19 initiatives[edit]

A 5ml vial of Covaxin

Usage of the phrase and initiatives towards self-reliance in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in India:

  • A total of three Atmanirbhar Bharat packages worth 29.87 lakh crore (US$420 billion) were announced by the government on 12 May, 12 October and 12 November 2020. The second and third economic stimulus packages were labelled as Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan 2.0 and 3.0.[37][38] As part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat package, numerous government decisions took place such as changing the definition of MSMEs,[39] boosting scope for private participation in numerous sectors,[40] increasing FDI in the defence sector;[40] and the vision has found support in many sectors such as the solar manufacturers sector.[41]
  • The growth of India's personal protective equipment (PPE) sector from zero before March, to 4,50,000 pieces a day by the beginning of July, is considered as a fine example of a self-reliant India.[42][43] The PPE industry in India has become a 10,000 crore (US$1.4 billion) in three months, the second largest after China.[44]
  • The research, development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccinations in India was connected to atmanirbharta by the President,[45] Vice President,[46] Prime Minister Minister[47] and other Union Ministers[48] in separate statements. PM Modi has stated that "Made in India vaccines are a symbol of Atmanirbhar Bharat".[47] The Prime Minister got his COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, indigenously produced in eight months, by Bharat Biotech.[49]

Other initiatives[edit]

Other examples of usage of the phrase and initiatives towards self-reliance during the Premiership of Narendra Modi:

  • The largest fund in the country worth 21,000 crore (US$2.9 billion) was setup by the IIT Alumni Council with the aim of supporting the mission towards self-reliance.[50]
The Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh addressing an Atmanirbhar Bharat Defence Industry Outreach Webinar, jointly organised by the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Department of Defence Production (DDP), Ministry of Defence (MoD), in New Delhi on 27 August 2020. Also seen are General Bipin Rawat, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, Admiral Karambir Singh, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, the Defence Secretary, Ajay Kumar, the Secretary (Defence Production) and the Secretary, Raj Kumar, Department of Defence R&D and Chairman, DRDO, G. Satheesh Reddy.
  • In August 2020, the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the Defence Ministry is "now ready for a big push to Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative" by imposing an "import embargo on 101 items" in a staged manner over a period of 5 years.[51][52] The Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy (DPEPP 2020) and Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020[53] (DAP) also aims towards self reliance.[54][55] The 2016 Defence Procurement Procedure introduced a new category of procurement, "Indian-IDDM" (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured).[56]
  • During a speech in 2017, the Prime Minister said that the government was trying to convert human capital flight, "Brain drain to brain gain", and had the aim of engaging India's diaspora.[57] To this effect, new organisations such as IN–SPACe will help in "preventing India’s Space talent Brain Drain".[58]
  • Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, D V Sadananda Gowda , in September 2020, said that "India will be self-reliant in fertiliser production by 2023".[59]
  • Coir Udyami Yojana aims to develop the coir-related industry’s sustainable development.[60]
  • India's own 'Made in India' 5G network was announced in July 2020 by Reliance Jio.[61] Mukesh Ambani announced in mid-July "Jio has created a complete 5G solution from scratch, that will enable us to launch a world-class 5G service in India, using 100 per cent homegrown technologies and solutions".[61] In September 2020, Tech Mahindra announced that they have "the capability to build and run an entire 4G or 5G network in India [...] We have done that already."[62]
  • With the aim of promoting the toy industry of India, the country's first national toy fair was digitally launched in February 2021.[63]


Slogans initiated under Atmanirbhar Bharat include 'vocal for local', 'local for global', 'make for world' and 'brain drain to brain gain'.[64][65]

Vocal for local[edit]

Not only should products be 'made in India', but the promotion of those products should take place so as to make those products competitive.[65] During the Independence Day speech in 2020, Prime Minister Modi said that "The mindset of free India should be 'vocal for local'. We should appreciate our local products, if we don't do this then our products will not get the opportunity to do better and will not get encouraged."[66][67] Amul Managing Director RS Sodhi explained that the phrase vocal–for–local "meant that products be made competitive vis-a-vis global brands" and that "it didn’t mean that one must only buy products that have a logo 'made in India' on it."[65] An extension of this slogan is 'local for global', that local products in India should have global appeal and reach.[65] The slogan has also been extended to sectors such as the toy sector, "time to be vocal for local toys".[68]

Make for the world[edit]

Prime Minister Modi, during the 2020 Independence speech, said that 'make for world' should go hand in hand with 'make in India' and that the slogan 'make for world' should be a key slogan like 'make in India' is.[66][69] A variation of the slogan is "Make in India for the world".[70]


Atmanirbhar Bharat has been called by some as a re-packaged version of the Make in India movement using new taglines such as 'Vocal for Local'.[71][72] Other opposition members spoke about how India had enacted policies and built companies since its creation to make India self-reliant - SAIL for steel production, IIT for domestic engineers, AIIMS for medical science, DRDO for defence research, HAL for aviation, ISRO for space, CCL, NTPC and GAIL in the area of energy; criticising the advertising tactics.[15] Some have re-phrased it to "Fend For Yourself" Campaign.[73] It has been noted (satirically) that the phrase has been used so extensively that it has become "India's overarching national policy... for growth and development".[11]

At least don't buy Ganesha idols from China.

Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister[74]
25 June 2020

Calls for India to boycott Chinese products (and promote an Atmanirbhar Bharat instead), are practically difficult in the short term for India as India imports $75 billion worth of goods every year from China, to the extent that parts of Indian industry are dependent on China.[75] Following the Galwan Valley skirmish on 15 June 2020 in which around 40 Chinese soldiers and 20 Indian soldiers died, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch said that if the government was serious about making India self-reliant, Chinese companies should not be given projects such as the Delhi-Meerut RRTS.[76][77] However, a Chinese company was awarded a contract for 5.6 km of the project.[78]

According to an Indian Express article on 23 September 2020, unfinished reforms in the Atmanirbhar Bharat agenda include:[79]

civil service reform (the steel frame has become a steel cage), government reform (Delhi doesn’t need 57 ministries and 250 people with Secretary rank), financial reform (sustainably raising credit to GDP ratio from 50 per cent to 100 per cent), urban reform (having 100 cities with more than a million people rather than 52), education reform (our current regulator confuses university buildings with building universities), skill reform (our apprentice regulations are holding back employers and universities), and labour reform (our capital is handicapped without labour and labour is handicapped without capital).

In 1968, Romesh Thapar wrote, "Self-reliance demands the courage, the guts, to sacrifice something for the future. If no one does, there will be only one new export our current efforts will yield - brain and talent."[80]

See also[edit]


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