AatmaNirbharata, Globalization and the Indian Toys Industry: A Tale of Reconnections and Revival


The need to promote the Indian toy industry has recently been brought to the forefront by PM Narendra Modi. Amid the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic and the tremendous socio-economic upheavals entailed by it, economies all around the world have naturally faced an inevitable slowdown. Amidst such socio-economic conditions, Modi’s attempts to promote, among other things, the Indian toy industry comes as a truly constructive step. More importantly, this promotion of the Indian toy industry is laden with the power to bring about a genuinely inclusive economic development as well as social amelioration.

To understand the economic significance of this step, it is important to remember the economic problems that our nation has been plagued with as a result of socialist policies which were implemented during the Nehruvian regime and continued through Indira Gandhi’s regime, in newer forms. As sociologist Vivek Chibber has discussed, in the years immediately after independence, the state builders of India focussed mainly on developing an extensive and sprawling public sector, and heavy industries through import substituting industrialization.[i] The socialist Nehruvian License Raj that was imposed during this time eventually led to remarkably slow growth as it restricted competitive progress[ii]. While the License Raj was shown to be a form of state control, in reality, it only enabled the monopoly of the already existing elite businesses while naturally restricting the upward mobility of aspiring, competitive entrepreneurs[iii].

Eventually, the creation of such an oligopolistic economic regime served to stifle both domestic and international competition. This stifling of both kinds of competition led to a natural complacence among the existing, privileged businesses which had the cushion of a protected market. However, the stifling of domestic competition in particular had yet another painful impact – it stymied the possibilities for aspiring entrepreneurs. This led to a rigidity and systemic perpetration of inequality, engendered by the socialist Nehruvian regime and continued by his descendants – albeit under new garbs. Indira Gandhi’s regime continued the monopoly of elite businesses under a newer façade. Her populism and poverty alleviation programs did little to address this fundamental, systemic flaw which restricted the opportunity of aspiring entrepreneurs and reproduced the privilege of oligopolistic business dominions. In fact, business oligopolies continued to be allied to Indira Gandhi’s regime, further facilitating the economic rigidities sustained by socialist policies.

While the creation of such economic rigidity has historical origins, the percolation of this rigidity over the decades has embedded it in our socio-economic structure in such a way that makes it appear like an inherent quality of our country. However, such rigid restriction to equality of opportunity was never an inextricable part of our Indic civilization – it was constructed and sustained by phases of colonization followed by the Nehruvian socialist regime and its successors. Thus, the regression inherent in socialist policies restricts the upward social mobility of the poor by hindering entrepreneurial possibilities and creating dependence on the state. Further, socialist policies also engender oligopolistic cronyism that exclusively benefits the privileged few who have historically enjoyed access to connections in any political economy. Therefore, socialist policies are perfect for reproducing privilege or the lack of it.

The only way to redress such regressive economic ordeals perpetrated by socialist policies is to promote greater human liberation, to promote entrepreneurship, and to promote freedom of thought and freedom from dependence on the state for income. The role of the state thus becomes that of maintaining security and engendering economic development not only through the creation of jobs, but also through the creation of conditions conducive to entrepreneurial freedom. Modi’s promotion of the Indian toys sector can be read precisely as such an attempt to promote entrepreneurial possibilities and thereby enable greater human liberation.

As prominent economist Jagdish Bhagwati has shown, in the Nehruvian era, the creation of such an extensive public sector, promotion of capital-intensive production techniques, and promotion of heavy industries that relied massively on import substitution, all led to an exclusivist form of development[iv]. This essentially delinked the poor from the process of reaping the fruits of development. This naturally led to greater inequality as the labourers were deprived of the chance to ameliorate their economic conditions. While heavy industries and capital-intensive production certainly are important, Bhagwati explains that an emphasis on the toy industry, the garment industry, or such other light manufacturers, which would be more labour-intensive and also export-oriented, would have led to a truly holistic, all-encompassing development. Thus, PM Modi’s decision to promote the Indian toy sector is not only beneficial for the economy today, it is also a redressal of a historical blunder of the socialist Nehruvian regime.

The economic ordeal unleashed by socialist economic policies of Nehru, Indira Gandhi, have impacted successive regimes as well. Contrary to physical ordeals, which may leave visible signs, economic ordeals manifest in ways that makes it difficult to formulate a solution. When we see the economic ordeals plaguing our country today, we often don’t remember to trace it back to the disastrously unsustainable and regressive socialist policies that increased inequality of opportunity, stifled entrepreneurial possibilities, and eventually crumbled our economy in the first place. This inability to trace the source often leaves us bereft of the ability to reach a serious solution as well. Modi’s promotion of the Indian toy industry addresses many of these historical failures and attempts to help us recover from the decades worth of socio-economic damage by promoting entrepreneurial freedom and consequently, economic liberation of human beings.

Therefore, criticizing the promotion of the Indian toy sector is essentially no different from belittling a constructive attempt to eradicate poverty by rectifying historical economic fallacies and blunders.

Moreover, this constructive step also revitalizes the importance of indigenous craftsmen, traders, small business people, and the very spirit of Indian entrepreneurship. The attempt here is thus both to revive the economy, and to increase equality of opportunities to achieve a better lifestyle – thereby also addressing the historical blunders of the previous regimes.

By promoting labour-intensive industries such as the toy industry, Modi has taken a step towards including labourers as beneficiaries in the march towards greater economic development. The promotion of Indian toy industries thus helps rebuild the spirit of Indian entrepreneurship and liberate ourselves from a dependence on the state for employment.

Needless to add, this is a truly constructive step in the creation of ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ as well. Modi’s quote of ‘Vocal about local’ is excellently exemplified through his promotion of the Indian toy industry. It is literally promoting local small businesses and helping them reach newer goals. Moreover, this step has positive social implications as well. Indulging children with expensive gifts is not a new concept, it is something many parents have done in the past. At the same time, austerity also occupies a large part of raising children. Most importantly, raising children requires the rarest commodity in our world today – attention.

In today’s fast-paced lifestyles, where parents are often burdened with work even after they return home, it is difficult for them to pay attention to children. Often, this results in guilt and parents compensate by gifting their children expensive gadgets. However, this hardly reduces resentment as a gadget is a poor substitute for genuine human connections. Gifting gadgets has become such a commonplace occurrence today that even parents who do have time for their children, or don’t have enough money to spare, also go out of their way to buy expensive gadgets for their children. Gadgets, unlike other non-digital gifts, have the ability to occupy children’s minds almost completely. Even toddlers are prone to getting addicted to gadgets – and while some find this trait endearing, it has the potential to create problematic social and behavioural tendencies among children, depending on its content. If the content of the gadget is problematic, it could have serious implications for the mental health and growth of the child.

While gadgets are an inevitable part of our lives today, it is always advisable to keep them away from babies, toddlers and even children and teenagers up to a certain point. Of course, gadgets would continue to remain a part of our lives, and they would seep into the lives of children as well. In that context as well, the promotion of more educational apps or games based on stories from Indic literatures can positively reconnect children with their roots.

Especially for toddlers and small children, promoting the Indian toy market could help to reduce gadget addiction by providing them with an alternative form of entertainment. Unlike gadgets, which demand a physical isolation and complete focus of the child, the use of toys and board games require the involvement of other human beings. If more children are encouraged to play with toys that require more human connections, it would significantly help in their mental and social development. An engagement with Indian toys would also help children to not be deracinated and instead reconnect with the older generations. By restoring the human connections in a child’s life and extracting the child from the isolation demanded by a gadget, this step has the potential to make children socially vibrant, thoughtful, and empathetic human beings. Thus, the promotion of Indian toys has not only positive economic but also positive socio-cultural effects for the future generations.

References:

[i] Chibber, V. (2003). Locked in Place: State Building and Late Industrialization in India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[ii] Kar, S., & Sen, K. (2016). The Political Economy of India’s Growth Episodes. Sheffield: Springer Nature.

[iii] Bardhan, P. (1984). The Political Economy of Development in India. New Delhi: Oxford Univversity     Press.

[iv] Bhagwati, J. (2004). In Defense of Globalization. New York: Oxford University Press.

(The author teaches sociology and writes extensively on various socio-economic issues. Views expressed are her own)

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