BJP's cu­ri­ous China syn­drome

BJP lead­ers' call to boy­cott Chi­nese goods is as phoney as it is to be­lieve that In­dian-made prod­ucts can re­place them

Down to Earth - - LAST WORD -

TILL SOME years back, I tried avoid­ing Chi­nese goods. Not be­cause I had any­thing against the Chi­nese, po­lit­i­cally or eco­nom­i­cally, save for their en­vi­ron­men­tal van­dal­ism which now ap­pears to be un­der check, but sim­ply be­cause I wanted to see if I could find a safety pin or a pair of scis­sors that had been made in In­dia. I couldn’t. So af­ter a long, fruit­less hunt, I stopped ha­rass­ing shop­keep­ers for made-in-In­dia and set­tled for the Chi­nese stuff. That in­cluded al­most ev­ery­thing—from toys, locks and toi­letries to yoga mats and even the silly Christ­mas hats hawked at traf­fic lights ev­ery De­cem­ber. The shop­keep­ers were scathing about my de­sire for In­dian goods. Why would any­one want costlier and less-fin­ished prod­ucts they won­dered? For the trader, the ba­nia who makes his money from hawk­ing the cheap­est of goods to bar­gain-hunt­ing In­di­ans, noth­ing has added so much to their cof­fers as Chi­nese prod­ucts. That is why China will be all over our homes and econ­omy for a long, long time.

Now that the rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp)’s big guns have launched a cam­paign to boy­cott Chi­nese goods, it is time we got the ba­sics right. First, the big pic­ture. China is In­dia’s largest trade part­ner, send­ing us goods worth US $61.7 bil­lion in 2015-16. This means a sixth of In­dia’s im­ports are Chi­nese, up from a tenth in just five years ago. And what of In­dia’s ex­ports? These have plum­meted and so sharply that it is just half of what it used to be in 2011-12: a pal­try US $9 bil­lion. Next, the range of goods that pours in from the dragon: cell­phones, lap­tops, medicines (yes, medicines to treat TB and lep­rosy), so­lar cells, fer­tilis­ers, in­dus­trial hard­ware, com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment and ship­build­ing equip­ment. That is not a com­plete list and there isn’t enough space to in­clude the pro­jects that the Chi­nese are set­ting up here.

Would this make it sim­pler for the bjp min­is­ters, mem­bers of Par­lia­ment and the na­tional gen­eral sec­re­tary who have called for the boy­cott to un­der­stand that In­dia sim­ply can­not blot out the Chi­nese from our eco­nomic land­scape? It may be harder to get the mes­sage across to the saf­fron band­wagon headed by yoga teacher Baba Ramdev and the face­less mil­lions who car­pet bomb so­cial me­dia sites with their boy­cott cries.

Who will ex­plain to them the big changes in the for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment pol­icy made by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi just a few months ago (see ‘fdi is for free dump­ing in In­dia’, Down To Earth, 1-15 July, 2016) to al­low Ap­ple Inc of the US to bring used iphones from China into In­dia? The pol­icy change was made de­spite fears ex­pressed by the elec­tron­ics in­dus­try that such con­ces­sions would hurt the lo­cal in­dus­try and re­sult in job losses.

Per­haps, they are un­aware, the bjp lead­ers and the saf­fron bri­gade, that 10 days ago, a high-level del­e­ga­tion from the Gu­jarat govern­ment was in the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic “to strengthen the re­la­tion­ship be­tween China, Hong Kong and In­dia where Gu­jarat will play a key role by of­fer­ing av­enues across sec­tors to en­hance busi­ness re­la­tion­ships”, as an of­fi­cial state­ment de­clares. China is a key des­ti­na­tion for the state govern­ment’s global road show to pro­mote the 2017 Vi­brant Gu­jarat Global Sum­mit.

So while Modi and his min­is­ters froth at the mouth in pub­lic over China’s per­fidy in sup­port­ing Pak­istan over the ter­ror­ists it har­bours and in black­balling our mem­ber­ship of the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group, they ap­pear to have no qualms about let­ting Chi­nese prod­ucts over­run the mar­ket. As a be­gin­ning to end this huge im­bal­ance in trade, the govern­ment could ask Ramdev—he is af­ter all di­ver­si­fy­ing ma­jorly from herbal prod­ucts to gar­ments, etc—to make those lit­tle idols of Hindu gods and goddesses? And yoga mats to re­place the Chi­nese? A cracker of a state­ment, would be a ban on Chi­nese fire­works this Di­wali.

RI­TIKA BOHRA / CSE

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