Prime Minister Modi has raised the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ battle-cry, thereby turning a challenge into an opportunity. He has basically put a positive spin on the inevitable consequences of the distancing that has taken place in supply chains, primarily at the global level. Just as those who went and shopped in fancy malls, irrespective of the distance and the prices, had to depend on local shops for the basic necessities during the lockdown period, the business world is reconsidering its options. Gone for some time, at least, are imports that were cheaper than local products – being exclusively profit oriented is now exacting a price. Perforce, businesses will have to rejig their functioning to accommodate the new reality, or perish. In the process, it is expected that those more ingenious will obtain an advantage in the market and others with less flexibility and outdated models will suffer.
And, unlike what some self-declared experts might have people believe, industries in the small and medium sectors are better geared to not just survive but also take advantage from the situation. One needs to only see how many have taken to making masks, sanitiser and PPE kits. All kinds of products have been innovated to ensure social distancing in various situations. It is the larger industries with huge investment in infrastructure and heavily dependent on imported components that are feeling the pinch.
Unfortunately, too many of such organisations have merely resorted to laying off workers, instead of reimagining their business models, even products. It is also true that some products, such as automobiles, particularly diesel driven ones, were already facing debilitating change even before the pandemic. On the other hand, the uptick in the agricultural sector during this period has given a fillip to tractor sales. It is time now for the industrialists to get together and prepare strategies that will not only help them transform but also benefit from each other’s strengths. Instead of reaching out across the seas, they need to reach down to the grassroots and take advantage of the skills available with the working class.
It has been easier for the infrastructure sector to resume activities in the Unlock period, as there was a lot of work needing to get done. It should become one of the pillars of the restructuring and rescue plan. Those seeking to sell cars for the jaded customer, with just a little tweak in the design, should go into specialised vehicle making for infrastructure construction, just to give one example. It is a formidable challenge, but the returns will be enormous for those who face up to it successfully.