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Economic nationalism is a wrong turn for Covid-hit India

1 min read

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants all 1.3 billion Indians to be “vocal for local” — meaning, to not just use domestically made products but also to promote them. As an overseas citizen living in Hong Kong, I’m doing my bit by very vocally demanding Indian mangoes on every trip to the grocery. But half the summer is gone, and not a single slice so far.

My loss is due to India’s Covid-19 lockdown, which has severely pinched logistics, a perennial challenge in the huge, infrastructure-starved country. But more worrying than the disruption is the fruity political response to it. Rather than being a wake-up call for fixing supply chains, the pandemic seems to be putting India on an isolationist course. Why? 

Granted that the liberal view that trade is good and autarky bad isn’t exactly fashionable anywhere right now. What makes India’s lurch troublesome is that the pace and direction of economic nationalism may be set by domestic business interests. The Indian liberals, many of whom are Western-trained academics, authors and — at least until a few years ago — policy makers, want a more competitive economy. They will be powerless to prevent the slide.

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