COVID-19 and India’s flirtation with localism

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The economic disruption precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the localism discourse globally. Amidst the worldwide upsurge in right-wing sentiment, left-wing progressive ideas of localism are being appropriated by far-right governments and political parties to promote chauvinistic ethnic nationalism. India’s ruling regime is also promoting policies around localism, bolstered by the country’s history of Swadeshi discourse. Swadeshi was an anti-consumption movement started byM.K.Gandhi as an anti-colonial, non-violentmovement against the British regime. Swadeshi was conceptualized as both a boycott of British goods and a protest against colonial economic policies and emphasized the revival of indigenous industry and the political goal of self-rule. However, in its current distorted avatar, neo-Swadeshi borrows heavily from Hindutva, the militant Hindu nationalist ideology that seeks to create a masculine Hindu nation. Neo-Swadeshi is the neo-liberal form of the state-temple-corporate complex mediated by conspicuous consumption. Using Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory and Nico Carpentier’s conceptualization of a “discursive-material knot” to further our study’s theoretical depth, we examine the intersection of the neo-Swadeshi discourse and the localism discourse in India. We find a departure between the two discourses as the neo-Swadeshi discourse is anti-MNC and anti-globalizationwhile the localism discourse, as articulated by Indian PrimeMinister NarendraModi, aims to attract MNCs to shift their supply bases from China to India. These irreconcilable and antagonistic objectives of the two discourses jeopardize policy frameworks and theirmaterialization. In post-structuralist parlance, themaster signifier of Swadeshi becomes a floating signifier due to inconsistencies within the discourse, thus rendering the project localism a vain exercise.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCOVID-19 and the Evolving Business Environment in Asia
Subtitle of host publicationThe Hidden Impact on the Economy, Business and Society
EditorsAndrei O. J. Kwok, Motoki Watabe, Sharon G. M. Koh
Place of PublicationSingapore Singapore
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9789811927492
ISBN (Print)9789811927485
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Swadeshi
  • Localism
  • Discourse theory
  • Discursive-material knot
  • Dislocation

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