Swadeshi and Nationalism in India 2020

Recently read a piece in Print on how the Vocal for Local campaign promoted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters is all hypocrisy because the ‘nationalists’ had abandoned the Indian mobile phone maker Micromax and preferred Chinese mobile brands. If interested, you will find the article here.

First, the prime objective of the article appears to be to deride nationalists as hypocrites; Micromax is just a convenient tool. Second, around 2014-15 when Micromax was leading the mobile market in India, smartphone use had not penetrated deep and wide like it is today. It was largely with middle-class and above. The above middle-class was anyways going for the Samsungs and iPhones. So the primary clientele of Micromax and other similar Indian brands was the middle-class which aspired for the utility of a smartphone but couldn’t afford the cost of high-end specs.

What most Indian brands did at that time, and probably even now, was buy cheap, low specs phones from China, rebrand them and sell here in India. This strategy worked fine, and they made hay while it lasted, as long as the original Chinese companies that had already invested in R&D and manufacturing had stay away from Indian market. But once they came here, they could sell the same phone or even one with better specs at lower prices because they made the phone and didn’t need to buy from someone. While at the same time, the Indian brands didn’t funnel their profits into investment in local manufacturing and R&D and hence lost the only competitive edge they had, the price.

Anywhere in the world, not just in India and more so in India, ideological purists form only a minuscule fraction of the population. For an overwhelming majority of people, what drives purchasing decisions is the bang for buck factor. This is true to a large extent even for the ideological purists. Nobody has idle money lying around to burn and give arati to Bharat Mata. And, the decision to prefer non-Indian brands becomes that much easier when these foreign companies invest in setting up manufacturing/assembling facilities in India itself and give employment to fellow Indians. Case in point is the failure of several Twitter and Facebook alternatives to take off despite the nationalists constantly cribbing about the ideological bias of these platforms. This when trying out a new software/app has almost no cost associated, unlike hardware. If you don’t like an app, you uninstall and move on. But it’s not like you can throw away a phone and get a new one every week or month. People want to use a phone for at least a year, most for more. So in real life people don’t buy a phone or a TV or something similar because the company that makes it is somehow in your ideological vicinity.

To summarize, that Print article is an exercise in intellectual dishonesty written with the only intent of taking potshots at nationalists by someone totally dissociated from realities of the lives of common Indians.

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