An “atm nirbhar” (self-sufficient) India, great! In armaments too, Mr Prime Minister? – Augmented

[Modi at the DefExpo 2020]

Whether by coincidence or design, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two most recent speeches — first on the National Panchayat Day and the second, the TV address yesterday which, incidentally, was the third one on the coronavirus crisis and the first in terms of promising a comprehensive economic package, had a common theme. It was self-reliance. “The global contagion has …taught us”, he said April 24, “a very important lesson; that we have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. It has taught us that we should not look for solutions outside the country” and added that the fact that “we should not depend on others for fulfilling our needs is centuries old…”

Sure, he then veered off, as the occasion demanded, into suggesting that villages should become self-sufficient in their needs raising, in the process, the Luddite nightmare that Mahatma Gandhi — who had strange ideas and did even stranger things — had conjured up when he talked of India as a collection of “village republics”!!

In the address last evening there was considerable confusion — which is increasingly the hallmark of the PM’s public utterances. His khichdi speech mixed self-reliance with global welfare and with India making a place for itself in “the global supply chain” before turning 180 degrees and urging the strengthening of “the local supply chain” and the Indian people needing to trust and buy Indian products as a first step towards making them “global brands”. Modi concluded by saying that “Self-reliance leads to happiness, satisfaction and empowerment” and how “Our responsibility to make the 21st century, the century of India will be fulfilled by the pledge of self-reliant India.” He ended with an exhortation: “Now we have to move forward with a new resolve and determination. When ethics are filled with duty, the culmination of diligence, the capital of skills, then who can stop India from becoming self-reliant?”

Who, indeed? Unless it is the government itself.

Coroniavirus vaccine is fine. Supply-chain aspirations are good. It is a pity though Modi did not in his speeches once touch on the one sphere, that of armaments where India absolutely has to become self-reliant to maintain its sovereignty which has been sliced away over the last 60-odd years due to the military’s relentless hardware buys from abroad for which the politicians, bureaucrats, DPSUs and Ordnance factories and the armed services’ brass are almost equally to blame. It is a vicious circle any of the numerous PMs in power could have broken, but did not.

So, Indian politicians’ blathering on and on about self- reliance is a bit rich and counter-pointed most glaringly in the country’s almost total, abject and shameful dependence on foreign armaments. This last, moreover, is at the cost of indigenous effort, talent, and capability richly available if the government only looks for it outside the waste and corruption-ridden defence public sector units (DPSUs) and Ordnance factories. To put these latter wretched, money guzzling, government-owned defence ministry-run agencies, maintaining whose health at whatever cost is the defence production department’s sole remit, in-charge of the task to achieve arms self-sufficiency is to take the axe to national interest. It is to put a partially blind man at the steering wheel of a bus and expect he will take us to the destination, when the surprise will be if India gets to the gate without mishap.

After almost surrendering the telecommunications future to the PLA outfit, Huawei, and China, the government, prompted by organizations such as SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator), is finally permitting Indian private sector high-tech achievers to enter the field of 5G and potentially even 6G systems. SITARA is headed by an unusual former Indian diplomat, Smita Pushottam; unusual because the Indian Foreign Service usually breeds foreign arms lovers. Similar telecom sector type thrust will have to be given by the Modi regime in defence, aerospace, and electronics sectors generally, lest national security continue to be willfully compromised. There is more than critical mass of Indian companies with skills and competences in these fields to free the country from the “commissions and considerations in kind”- racket within the portals of government that lubricates the present procurement system.

The danger though is that Modi, who is his own and only adviser, will decide to buy antiquated fighters (F-16-F-21) and such and compel Indian industry to produce this trash item just so his ‘Make in India’ programme is not seen as an out and out fiasco.

The only consolation is the treasury will be emptied out with 10% of the GDP or Rs 20 lakh crore ($260 billion) staked by Modi to revive a moribund economy, with industrial output down by 16.7% and sliding downwards, and an annual growth rate estimated at best to be no more than 1%-2% this year and at the worst decline to negative growth in this fiscal.

In the event, now may be the time, if he is really serious about self-reliance, for Modi to announce an end to all purchase of armaments, and aerospace systems and sub-systems, and high-value electronics components, as I have been advocating, and for his government to stop dilly-dallying [detailed in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)] and put up the money for establishing a high value microchip fabrication facility to drive the technology sector. It will mean, by way of a beginning, the long overdue dismantling of the extant procurement processes and systems in the defence ministry and the departments of Space and of Electronics.

We may do well to recall as a cautionary tale the country’s sorry condition in the electronics field being the result of the historic blunder committed by the late MGK Menon-led electronics commission in the 1970s, which advised the Indian government to concentrate on developing software capability while ignoring development in-country of computer hardware capability. It allowed companies like TCS, Infosys, et al to grow and prosper, of course, and all to the good, but did not help India become comprehensively independent in high-technology. Whence the awful state the country is in with Huawei and China lording over us in the telecom sphere, as does every half-way industrialized state supplying India where armaments are concerned.

In the defence arena the indigenous capabilities that produced the Tejas LCA, the nuclear-powered submarine, and the Arjun MBT as the principal technology programmes can be enabled to seed design-to-delivery projects for future advanced manned and unmanned combat aircraft, conventional diesel submarines, and various infantry combat vehicles, including a light tank derivative (for Tibetan plateau use) for the mountain corps, for instance. This is the time for Modi to take such disruptive measures and bring the armed services forcefully in line and ensure the success of his government’s “atm nirbharta” policy.

But, as I conclude in my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward’ Modi may not be the leader to take hard decisions to realize technological autonomy because, among other reasons, he is too besotted by the US and the West to not sustain the entrenched import culture inside the government which benefits them, his rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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42 Responses to An “atm nirbhar” (self-sufficient) India, great! In armaments too, Mr Prime Minister? – Augmented

  1. V.Ganesh says:

    If you say that Modi is his own and only adviser, then, is it right to presume that to grow close to America and save his Make In India plan he will not hesitate to shell US $20 billion approximately to buy 114 F-21s for the IAF?Because US $20 billion is nothing compared to his US $260 billion recent plan to fight the Chinese Corona Virus.

    • He can and will, an uptick in the country’s financial condition permitting.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        When you say will, then is it a foregone conclusion? Because there are individuals who say that after 36 Rafales, the Rafales will be the winner of the MMRCA 2.0 because the IAF has the infrastructure for 36 of them. If these individuals are wrong, then, going by the will part of your reply, is MMRCA 2.0 dead and does it also mean Modi directly buying 114 F-21s in a G2G/FMS way?

      • This is what I said long before the Rafale decision was made in my books and writings, that IAF will use the induction of the 36 Rafales as wedge to get the rest of the 90 or so aircraft in as the MMRCA fleet complement.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        If IAF uses 36 Rafales as a wedge will it be able to prevail over Modi?

  2. V.Ganesh says:

    If Modi were to buy F-21s to get closer to America and save Make In India, would Bahrain help the PAF because it is said the F-21 is just another name for the F-16V inspite of Lockheed Martin saying that it incorporates elements of the F-22 and the F-35?

  3. V.Ganesh says:

    Is it right to presume that in his pursuit to grow close to the America and save Make In India, like with the IAF, Modi will go in for the F-18 for the Indian Navy?

    • ARINDAM BORA says:

      Sir, is it true that the present national security apparatus is centralized in the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
      What are the pros and cons of such a setup , sir ?
      And what is your appraisal of Mr. Doval as the national security czar, sir ?

      • In the Modi set-up, only Modi matters and is the sole fount of policy ideas and the unitary source of all decisions. NSA Doval, MEA minister Jaishankar, et al are all only implementors of whatever Modi decides to do. Doval is a Kerala-cadre policeman (IPS) and, and like others of his Service ilk, is better at carrying out orders than thinking up geopolitical concepts, military alternatives, and national security options, etc.

  4. V.Ganesh says:

    CDS Gen. Rawat is saying retirement age of the armed forces personnel will be raised This seems to be a case of the GOIs right and left hands not knowing what the other hand is doing. Then, how can India be atma nirbhar? What do you think about this? Is there some ploy of Modi in this?

  5. V.Ganesh says:

    Why are you against the F-16 leaving aside the fact that the PAF operates them. As of 2019, some 2,280 F-16s are in operation, which is 15% of all fighter planes in existence today Now these 15% nations can’t be fools to be operating them even as of 2019, right? Bulgaria, Slovakia are some of the nations using the F-16s Even Morocco is upgrading it’s F-16s If nations from Asia to Europe to Africa are still buying and upgrading their F-16s, then the entire world or these nations can’t be wrong, there must be something good about the F-16, right? Make In India and atma nirbhar are good, but, they aren’t going to bore fruit in a jiffy, it’s going to be years.

    • Not prepared to go over this F-16/21 again and again. Have done this for over 20 years now. Unless you want a late 1960s’ F-16 to last till 2050!!! Even IAF is not that much of a duffer service.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        The F-16 was introduced in 1978, not 60s and has undergone several upgrades with the latest being F-16V/F-21. So, what the IAF would be getting a F-21 and I’m going by what Lockheed Martin says incorporates elements of F-22 [which the US hasn’t sold to anyone and unsuccessfully tried to sell it to Israel] and F-35 which it and it’s allies are operating which seems to be good for India. Why would the IAF be a duffer if Modi bought it F-21s?! 20 years ago I wasn’t even aware of you.

      • F-16 was designed in the late 1960s as a cheap light fighter by Pierre Sprey and others. Look up the history.
        (End to my response re: F-16. It is really old hat!)

      • V.Ganesh says:

        I looked up my history before saying what I said. It was introduced in 1978 as per Wikipedia.

      • Wikipedia is not history (for God’s sake). That’s the problem these days of easy and shallow references on the net.

      • V.Ganesh says:

        But Wikipedia gives references.

  6. ARINDAM BORA says:

    “In the event, now may be the time, if he is really serious about self-reliance, for Modi to announce an end to all purchase of armaments, and aerospace systems and sub-systems, and high-value electronics components”

    In my humble opinion that would be too disruptive a policy decision. Disrutive more so for the armed forces, domestic industry and consumers than for foreign companies. I mean we don’t have any industrial scale semiconductor FAB and even if an import substitution policy were to come into effect it would take many years for us to acquire that technology and manufacturing capacity to become self-sufficient. I am more optimistic about armaments though.
    Regarding domestic manufacturing of aerospace components, what about the civilian aerospace industry, sir? Do we have the technology and manufacturing base in the country? I am not sure we even have proper MRO facilities. Even China has not yet succeeded despite investing so much time and money. And is there any progress being made on the Embraer front, sir?

    • No real change will happen unless the ordinary, the usual and the normal is disrupted.

      • ARINDAM BORA says:

        Has Mr. Karnad sir ever tried to present his ideas to the honorable Prime Minister ? This PM is the one who is the most empowered and well-positioned to carry out such reforms. Why has the government not sought to seek advice from Sir on issues of defence and national security ? I mean you are not someone who is known to be politically or ideologically close to any former establishment, so why not ?
        Maybe you should try reaching out to the PM or NSA or Defence Minister or the CDS again and again, for the sake of the nation although I don’t know what response some of your more radical ideas like nuclear arming Vietnam shall get.

      • The PM asked me in for consultation (along with a few others) just once, in Nov 2014. I gave him three pages of pol-mil policy priorities. Obviously, he didn’t care for my recommendations. ‘Coz I never heard from PMO again!

      • ARINDAM BORA says:

        [Continuing the thread here since there’s no reply option in the original].
        Sir, you said all power is centralized in PMO or to be more specific in the PM himself. I guess his personal popularity gives him enormous political capital.
        However sir it cannot be that the PM does not consult domain experts, especially on issues of military and national security. You are saying Mr. Doval gives no credible input for policymaking to the PM but someone has to advise him on these issues (I hope it’s not the Sangh Parivar). Once assessments bases on studies and intelligence reports are placed before him does the National Security Council (NSC) or the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) not discuss them before giving policy direction. I understand that the PM is head and shoulders above the rest but what about expert advice ?

      • Look, re: foreign-military policies there are many sources of material support once the PM’s policy line is clear, which I’m sure is used. But these do not generate policy ideas. The “domain experts” who have some sway, as in past govts, are in economic and trade policy areas where he is less confident. Whence appointments in his time, predictably, of US-based economists– Panagariya, Arvind Subramaniam. In the security and foreign policy fields the PM feels surer of his grip on the subject, however loose and uneven that grip might be, and this is the point I have made. As to why he thinks he knows it all, that he is intellectually completely “atm nirbhar”, as regards the external realm we may have to look at his psychological makeup and personality traits, which I have analyzed in my book ‘Staggering Forward’. I conclude that as a result of his travels in America he is bowled over by the West, US in particular, that personality-wise he is self-centered, narcissistic, and autocratic — characteristics of a self-made man who, moreover, was influenced by and absorbed the way the RSS values stressing discipline and strictly hierarchical functioning with the pronouncements by its chief not free to be disputed, and which brooks no opposition to the laid down line. This is also the way Modi run his government.

    • ARINDAM BORA says:

      The Prime Minister’s mental make up might be shaped by the considerable amount of time he spent in the RSS but sir does the organization provide any direct input to policymaking in areas of defence and national security. I am inclined to believe that it is the areas of trade and economic policies that RSS has considerable influence maybe not directly but through it’s hold over the BJP and ability to mobilize. I am curious to know about the degree of influence that organization has on the government apart from it’s former members being in almost all key positions.

  7. Rupam says:

    Given China is getting more and more jittery about Taiwan. Now would be good time to offer them 100+ Tejas plus even MWF in the pipeline with Astra, SAAW et al. While getting TSMC help to set up SC fab plant in return.

    • Taiwan has its own indigenous fighter programme.

      • Rupam says:

        Shouldn’t stop us from offering it, IMO. Oil some parts in the procurement machinery. Hell if not Tejas, offer Astra, SAAW et al missiles and radars in good nos. and support. My point is we stop before even trying. We come up with various reasons why they won’t take it. Its like a mental block to not export. Similar to the mental block to not take on China properly.

    • V.Ganesh says:

      What does MWF, SAAW, TSMC and SC mean?

      • ARINDAM BORA says:

        MWF- Medium Weight Fighter i.e., the MK2 variant of the LCA Tejas whose design has now evolved from that of a light aircraft to a 17.5 tonne medium weight category aircraft. They have not yet come up with any new name.
        SAAW- Smart Anti-Airfield Weapon
        TSMC- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation. Established in 1987.
        SC- Semiconductor & ‘fab’ is fabrication plant.

    • Saladin says:

      Currently, China is being minimally antagonistic to India, even after considering its limited support to Pakistan. They just wish to balance India. They have no desire to wage war with India.

      If India should go down the route of supporting Taiwan, I am sure China has ways of punishing India, which you could not imagine.

      Perhaps you should be happy that those diplomats/politicians which Karnad disdains are not so stupid, that they would listen and implement such insane ideas.

  8. Shaurya says:

    What India awaits is “Transformative” leadership. E.g: Sell ALL the DPSU and OFB’s and most of the DRDO’s 51 labs to a few Indian private companies – enabling an MIC. Bar ANY new foreign platform to be purchased by the MoD. All foreign collaboration approved to be through the Indian private sector and incentivize/regulate this private sector to go indigenous.

    Create markets in the IOR RIM for this MIC. Junk the MRCA bids and force production/upgrade of Tejas and its derivatives like the MWF.

    Commit to a defense spending of 3% of GDP. Limit the growth of the operations side and instead focus the spend on capital assets.

    The above is just an example of the type of decisions needed. Who will do it?

    • Selling off the DPSUs, et al may be politically infeasible. Hence, when on NSAB had submitted a paper in 1998 re: this to the technology subcommittee headed by Roddam Narsimhan. ‘Am sketching it out here. It proposed the creation of two competing mil-industrial complexes by dividing up the entire DRDO, DPSUs, Ordnance factories caboodle into two, capability-wise, near equal packages which are then handed over to the two most responsible and comprehensively capable Indian private sector giants — Tata and L&T to manage, with each of them allowed to use their own design-industrial wherewithal, to be turned into competing combines. These two combines will be the only interface that defence, aerospace, telecom etc will have for procurement. The two combines will compete for every contract and would be free to access foreign tech. GOI’d fund projects to the prototype stage. To incentivize fully indigenous content the decision on final contract will be weighted on the side of the combine with greater locally designed and produced content by value (not weight!). The GOI will get a rent on the DPSU-DRDO etc facilities and royalty on the products produced in them, this to satisfy the babu’s rentier mentality! This paper was submitted by NSAB to GOI and that’s the last anybody heard of it, until I detailed it in my 2015 book – ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ and also referred to it in my latest ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’. Think that this is the best, most practicable plan.

      • Sir, what sort of DAC do you think will be ideal for bringing reforms in our defence industry??(What should be the composition, what should be the qualification of members etc..)

      • If atm-nirbharta is the goal, the DAC should have only minister, defence secy/def production secy without veto power, services’ chiefs, pvt sector reps, and DRDO chief.

  9. vivek says:

    regarding your previous post for Embraer buyout, when i went into details i found that they dont have capability to manufacture jet engines, they still use US made or RR engines . Why should govt invest in it, we already have design in india , what we need is engine technology.

    • Embraer have proven capacities in medium haul passenger/transport aircraft design and production which will synergize with what we have way by way of combat aircraft design and manufacture to gain a comprehensive aviation/aerospace capability.

  10. PRATIK KUMAR says:

    Hi Bharat sir, just a general question (not related to this topic)..
    Sir in your books you have talked that India should allow its neighboring countries to export their products into India without any restrictions. But now news is coming that India has cancelled the licences that it has given to palm oil exporting companies of Nepal and Bangladesh under SAFTA. India may have done this to boost domestic job growth but sir don’t you think that it will impact India’s relations with these nations and also effect India’s self proclaimed ‘neighborhood first policy’ ?? Already there are some strains in India’s relations with these nations, especially Nepal.

    Also I think China will take advantage of this myopic move by India and will tighten its grip more on these nations, again hammering India’s neighborhood first policy.

    Would love to know your views sir..

    • Yes, this will hurt our relations with Nepal and Bangladesh (even if these countries actually import palm oil from Malaysia, etc and re-export it to India with a small price mark-up).

  11. quickboy says:

    The only consolation is the treasury will be emptied out with 10% of the GDP or Rs 20 lakh crore ($260 billion)
    Please explain. which rupee in that package is actually spend by Govt?.

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