Monday, September 12, 2016

Jeans and Ramdev: The False Idea of Swadeshikaran


I am not an economist, nor am I a trade pundit. However, I am interested in the business news of certain kind. That’s why a small one column news item in today’s Indian Express page number nine caught my attention. It read: “Patanjali plans to launch ‘Swadeshi’ Jeans”. Patanjali is the business brand of the famous Yoga instructor, Baba Ramdev. Using his personal reach and charisma, Ramdev became one of the major players among the herbal medicine, food and cosmetic producers since 2004. A yoga instructor who doubles up as an entrepreneur and life style guru Ramdev has of late become an unacknowledged spokesperson for the Right Wing government at the centre, especially in the religious and moral matters of Indian political as well as socio-cultural life. The latest move of his to produce ‘Swadeshi’ jeans has to be seen in the right business perspective than the cultural one that the entrepreneur claims.

According to Ramdev, the CEO of the Patanjali group he is about to launch more than sixty big and small production units to produce jeans, apparels and foot wear products in order to compete with the multinationals. Also he emphasises that the youth of India ‘has been egging him to give them Swadeshi jeans’. True, when the youth of a country demands the business heads should respond to their needs. That’s why Mukesh Ambani’s Jio claims that it is going to help the 1.25 billion population of India by helping them to use internet data. Ramdev’s Swadeshikaran (nationalisation) is a similar attempt. Neither Mukhesh Ambani nor Ramdev is asked who exactly have asked them for their help in Swadeshikaran. As it is a nebulous population of India or the ‘youth’ of India, we should understand that it is a sort of volunteering of these businessmen holding the people of this country responsible for their business moves.

(Baba Ramdev with his Patanjali products)

Yes, our world has changed. We think that without smart phones and mobile internet data our daily life is not possible at all. The moment ‘net’ goes off we get panic attacks; some start shivering, showing withdrawal symptoms much worse than those shown due to the absence of drugs intake. But nobody seriously asks whether one could survive without mobile data or making telephone calls. If one seriously attempts to live without this ‘connectivity’, life becomes much easier, but we approach this view with a fair amount of cynicism. One could even say, ‘you are writing and posting it in your blog because you have internet connection’. But imagine those times that we lived without all these. Life is possible. If my mother happens to see a television news item that in Delhi it is raining heavily or there was an earthquake last night, she panics and calls me up. It is common with all mothers. But imagine those days when mothers waited for the inland letters or airmail letters. They waited patiently; we too waited patiently. That means, the ‘demand’ is not of the people but of the capitalists. By hook or crook, they need to generate profit and for that, people need to consume.

Swadeshikaran is not a new idea. Gandhiji used it effectively. He changed the lawyers’ club, which the Indian National Congress was (as Ramachandra Guha has pointed out in his latest book, ‘Democrats and Dissenters’)  into a national movement of peasants and rural people. He stood for Swadeshikaran of everything including clothes and language (religion was one way of Swadeshikaran which would eventually yield bad results even Gandhiji had not foreseen in those days). At the same time Gandhiji was closer to the textile families like that of G.D.Birla (once again Ramachandra Guha becomes handy here as he said in an edit pager article last week how the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi approved the use of his image in the Jio advertisement without being corrupt himself but giving bad message to the lower level politicians) and this relationship was the basis of his Swadeshikaran of clothes pitting the populace of India against the Manchester imported clothes. Gandhiji knew that however the Indian population tried making khadi all by themselves using charkha they will have to depend on ‘swadeshi’ mill clothes that would come from the mills of Birla.

 (Mahatma Gandhi)

Hence, a clever entrepreneur like Ramdev using ‘Swadeshikaran’ is just another smart move to cash in on  the existing Hindu ambience of the country that demands more and more ‘swadeshikaran’ in every front including the socio-cultural life in India, ironically forgetting that the government is all for liberal Ex-Im policy and is aggressively promoting FDI (foreign direct investment) in all the possible fields. Ramdev overlooks it not because he does not understand it but because he knows that he would be a mismatch in the avenues where FDI is going to play a large role. Competing with a foreign company in their own quality terms would render Ramdev and his Patanjali a minor player in the given field. That’s why taking the unsubstantiated claim of the Indian youth asking for Swadeshi jeans Ramdev is all set for making Swadeshi jeans. The fact is, production of jeans is more or less an Indian monopoly in the Indian market. If at all there is a competition from outside, that is from China.

Out of the four or five main Denim producers in India (jeans cloth is called denim) Gujarat based companies like Arvind Mills and Nandan Mills are the business leaders. Besides catering to the Indian demands, they make a 20 to 25 per cent of denim export mainly to the Middle East countries. In a country where more than sixty five per cent of the population is below 35, one could imagine the number of the denim product users. To cater to the demands of an average 65 crore people in the country we have only four or five main denim producers. According to the heads of these companies, they feel the growth potential moving forward thanks to the new cultural opening of the country to the international trends. Jeans once was considered to be a working class clothing. But when it came to India during the years of protected economy only the elite could afford to wear it. Within ten years of the liberalization of the Indian economy jeans became a cultural product which could be afforded by a larger population. The market is driven by competitive pricing and the companies like Arvind Mills besides making franchise brands (like Levi Strauss, Wrangler, Lee and so on), it also has introduced affordable Indian brands like Flying Machine, New Port, Ruf and Tuf etc.

 (Historian and author, Ramachandra Guha)

That means whatever denim brands that we wear today in India are not imported. They are home produced therefore an argument of swadeshikaran of a mass product which is already home made is almost absurd. But the consumer population would believe Ramdev because his other products have been Indian made and created with a particular cultural ethos behind it. Swadeshikaran is just another slogan which would enhance the profit margin of the Patanjali company. Interestingly, Ramdev is not only aiming at the Indian denim market but also the markets in other Asian and African countries. The irony again is that while saying this Ramdev forgets that there could be possibilities of same nationalist resistances from those countries that would find these products as foreign import. But Ramdev will laugh all the way to bank because as we are not resisting the Chinese products or other imported items only because of competitive pricing, if Ramdev could sell his denim products in competitive prices, then definitely the Asian and African denim markets are going to be his. But Swadeshikaran of denim is a false claim because it is in way already is a Swadeshi product.  

No comments: