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Prime Minister Modi’s policies of “Indianness”: the case of internationalising Ayurveda

Par Alokprasad,Balajijagadesh — Travail personnel, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Narendra Modi was elected, three years ago, against his anti-Muslim bias. His promise was to develop India’s economy by continuing the transformation from the old socialism to more market economy and against old bureaucracy and corruption associated with decade-old rule by the Gandhi family. It implied unchanged secularism. So, there was hope that Modi’s reputation of being a Hindu nationalist with strong Hindu-religious inclinations, would become part of the past. Modi’s first steps in foreign relations went in the right direction: a fresh and sober view on India’s authentic strategic interests and moves towards new international alliances. More difficult and more critical were his moves against corruption. Still vividly remembered and resented was his surprise coup against cash money, which triggered chaos in domestic economics. This and some ugly returns to old nationalistic Hindu bad habits in rhetoric and politics, however, are not this column’s topic. We look at “nationalistic” policy decisions completely compatible with a secular and market-oriented economy. A major move, starting as a marketing operation with the slogan “Make in India”, aimed at developing Indian industry. India’s smarter young people had already discovered the opportunities that the information technology  - IT -  offered them in production and services. Indians are excelling in these fields. But the impact of their successes on the whole Indian economy remains minimal as long as 700 million Indians are still employed in agriculture. What India’s economy is lacking is industrial production on a large scale, which only can get millions and tens of millions of people into genuinely productive occupations adding to economy growth. The policy’s objective is clear: copy and ultimately surpass China’s successful way out of poverty and zero-growth. The policy may go in the right direction but is still far from changing the industrial landscape. So, the slogan “Make in India” is more a wish than a reality. Now, PM Modi has also reached out to old Indian legacies to be transformed into export assets. He has started to actively promote yoga domestically and abroad, spreading with that spiritual Indian values. On the same line, he wants now to promote Ayurveda, India’s ancient medical system, not to be mistaken for the wellness programme derived from it. He aims at taking Ayurveda as a medical system to the world. By creating his own specialised ministry for the promotion of Ayurveda he is putting a strong stress on spreading an old Indian legacy in an economic perception. This is now the moment to hint at an amazing feature of PM Modi’s direction. For Ayurveda to be understood in the world, it takes translators and conveyors in other places, ideally non-Indians, who take over the medical legacy and spread the message.  It seems now that far away from Indian shores, in midst of the European continent, there is a place ideally suited for the acceptance and transformation of Ayurveda into a global field of knowledge: Switzerland. In fact, that economically most successful and well reputed nation voted, a few years ago, in a national referendum in favour of a constitutional amendment, which allows alternative medicines such as Ayurveda to get recognition from within Switzerland’s health system. New dynamics have developed, Indian authorities have discovered the potential that lies in Switzerland’s constitutional arrangement for Ayurveda’s outreach to the world. “Go global via Switzerland” is the most appropriate slogan for those committed to this task, both in India and in Switzerland. Thus, Prime Minister Modi’s initiative, born out of “nationalistic” dreams or with a clear economic view of giving the world something of India’s scientific and cultural heritage, may well add a most original element to India’s export economy, which to the amazement of many establishes its global hub in Switzerland. 

1st May 2017 / Philippe Welti

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