History can truly blame the British for denuding the condition and the economic status of India from its glorious days, when it was one of the two richest countries in the world, to one that was barely sustainable at the time of independence.
The bitter effects of partition and the horrific and tragic condition of a population recovering from the consequences of the events, left little enthusiasm or drive to collectively harness their strengths to build a better future. But progress was necessary if the country had to prosper and develop as a nation, sustain itself and improve as the days proceeded. To make matters worse at the very outset, the attack by Pakistan razakars to take over Kashmir, which culminated in the Indo-Pak war of 1947-48, created the first setback to the fledgling economy.
What also came to light was that the Indian Armed Forces were equipped with bedraggled clothing, equipment and virtually obsolete weapons, all legacies of World War II. The war made it amply clear that the Army, Navy and Air Force had to be equipped in a befitting manner to contain and protect the sovereignty of the country from external aggression.
But our Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, notwithstanding the experiences of the naked aggression on the country by Pakistan, chose the path of peaceful co-existence and non-alignment with a thrust towards agriculture, rather than industry, as the way forward for India. Maybe his decision was judicious for that moment of time, to ensure survivability of the population by ensuring all mouths are fed. But the rather debatable (short-sighted) perspective resulted in India missing the wave of progress brought about by the industrial revolution in the West.
The boat having sailed, India has struggled these past seven and a half decades, swimming against the tide but making progress nevertheless at a pace which has, however, fostered an inadequacy in which we have been floundering. It was the Chinese aggression of 1962 that brought the issue of National Security to the forefront and triggered the need for urgent equipping of our Armed Forces appropriately for the future.
A nation with a struggling economy has just so much to distribute and it becomes imperative to judiciously distribute the limited funds to the respective budgets. The resulting defence budget was predictably low and the capacity to quickly upgrade the weapon status and the armed forces remained restricted.
Abandoned by the USA and adopted by the Soviet Union, the weaponization of the Indian armed forces progressed at a reasonably steady pace. But the Ordnance Factories, in true fashion of a government entity, went into bureaucratic procrastination, remaining on these rails much to the loss of the Army, with no intervention from the powers to be. It is a shame that in the year of celebrating 75 years of independence, we are still having to order modern rifles from abroad for the Indian Army. The Ordnance Factories have been a blot on the modernization process.
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) embarked on a most promising track with the production of the Pushpak and then the HT-2 which served the training needs of the IAF for many years. The arrival of Kurt Tank with a team of 18 German engineers infused a breath of life and a motivation into HAL in the production of India’s first jet fighter, a twin-engined one at that.
Attitude and drive make for the foundation of development and growth so necessary for a country on the rise. These very attributes seemed to be, and continue to be, lacking among the populace and unless a culture and ethos for hard work is developed, it would be difficult for India to attain a favorable reputation
It was a monumental feat and the team attracted keen aeronautical engineers to imbibe the techniques and methods. But the HF-24 so produced was doomed to a short-lived existence because of many factors, like support of the bureaucracy and the government, but primarily the development of an indigenous engine, so important for its maturity.
The departure of an unhappy Kurt Tank (if stories are to be believed) sent the indigenous aviation D&D into a tailspin from which it took two decades to recover and start from scratch all over again for want of continuity. The Naval shipyards have, however, contributed positively over the years because the Indian Navy created a Design and Development Directorate which has a permanent relationship and presence with the ship building agency, with access to and full authority to dictate timelines and quality of product.
Attitude and drive make for the foundation of development and growth so necessary for a country on the rise. These very attributes seemed to be, and continue to be, lacking among the populace and unless a culture and ethos for hard work is developed, it would be difficult for India to attain a favorable reputation. Saddled by hostile nations virtually across its entire land borders, no established National Security Policy or Strategy to follow, the indigenous government agencies were mired in bureaucracy and want of accountability.
Independence from dependence?
India has sadly not kept pace with the progress in military weaponry so necessary for its armed forces. Crises emanating from every act of aggression on our borders have thus found us wanting in suitable weaponry to meet the threat effectively. Dependency on arms from other nations has been the bane of the Indian government. Procurement processes, over the years, have not ensured adequate authority nor audit to stem the corrupt practices in acquisition. The arms trade, internationally, is riddled with corruption and remains one of the most lucrative of businesses for the dealers, whether conducted overtly or covertly.
With this ominous baggage of history to carry, the Modi government’s outlook from the very outset was like a breath of fresh air for most of the country and certainly for the armed forces. The basis or the bottom line of the culture and working ethos of the government was minimum government, maximum governance.
Translated in its simplest terms, the intention was to reduce the bureaucracy and maximize the output. The effect on the armed forces was a closer scrutiny of the immediate necessity and clearing of long pending acquisition issues like addressing the IAF’s MMRCA procurement which had been languishing for more than a decade.
Kitting of the Army operating in hostile conditions and infusing the Navy and Coast Guard with assets to safeguard the seaward approaches, a major thrust towards modernization was commenced. What was clearly apparent to the Modi government was that without an ‘industrial revolution’ within the country there was no possibility of becoming a reckonable entity in the region, let alone the world. The basis of recognition was ‘Brand India’ without which nothing would move. The foundation being weak and stagnating in a cesspool, the necessity for imbibing technology and promoting growth was paramount.
Make in India could not develop into its projected arena, even after the Govt of India had tweaked the rules of doing business and cutting down on red tape and bureaucratic procedures endemic to our business processes.
‘Make in India’ was an idea that provided the direction and hoped to provide the impetus for growth. Recognizing the poor technological base that existed within the country, it was essential that the technological base be strengthened to provide the backbone for further growth and development of industry, both civil and military. To promote the movement the Prime Minister embarked on an extraordinary journey to all the developed countries considered significant in assisting the program. The idea of Make in India was received with great enthusiasm abroad, not only by the diaspora but by the governments themselves and evoked favorable responses.
But, Make in India could not develop into its projected arena, even after the Govt of India had tweaked the rules of doing business and cutting down on red tape and bureaucratic procedures endemic to our business processes. It was evident that the reputation of the Indian work culture and psyche, its ability to live up to expectations and hopes for achieving targets and solutions / end products within the necessary tech specifications and quality control parameters was suspect.
The collapse of the MMRCA acquisition process, which had short-listed the French Rafale, because HAL refused to stand guarantee to the aircraft that they were to produce under license (expecting the French company Dassault Aviation to do so), was a slap in the face.
That single act was possibly more damaging than anything and trampled our reputation into the mud. Since that incident and maybe some other similar ones, the Make in India project went downhill, with no substantial inclination shown by any country to get into a big transaction with India.
Joint ventures and more
Certainly, joint ventures have started in many areas, but cautiously. Only the big business houses have been acknowledged and it is they who continue to reap the harvest. But infusion of technology, at the level that was possible through Make in India, should it have succeeded, can be considered a forgotten dream.
But there is no doubt that India must get self-reliant and not be dependent on other nations, especially for its security needs. The strategic partnership model does well in the regular flow of things but in a crunch, it could prove fragile, turning to adverse in a critical security related situation.
The success of Atmanirbhar Bharat hinges on only one aspect and that is the work culture and ethos in our country – our attitude. Rather than revel in ‘Jugaad’ and feel proud about it, it is the need to delve into and strengthen our R&D base that is paramount.
In the debacle mentioned earlier regarding the collapse of the MMRCA acquisition program because of controversial clauses, Dassault claimed it would take 31.2 million man-hours to produce the 108 fighters which were proposed to be made in India. But at the time of negotiations in 2011 HAL stated that French man-hours be multiplied by a factor of 2.7 to convert to Indian man-hours for cost calculations! It is a matter of shame that our work culture and ethos are exposed in this manner for the world to see. Was this the final nail in the coffin, I wonder?
Atmanirbhar Bharat is a great follow-up to overcome the failure of Make in India. The major thrust and support of the government is not only commendable but has sent a strong message across the country. We have faced the effect of sanctions in the past (by the USA) and the setbacks it creates to our military programs / hardware (Sea King helicopters and LCA development).
While we understand the sense of urgency to develop our self-reliance, we need to understand that in the era of globalization a product comprises components from various sources and countries. It takes time to absorb new technologies, especially niche and those that are state-of-the-art. But the success of Atmanirbhar Bharat hinges on only one aspect and that is the work culture and ethos in our country – our attitude. Rather than revel in ‘Jugaad’ and feel proud about it, it is the need to delve into and strengthen our R&D base that is paramount.
So, while we celebrate 75 years of Independence, it would be worth our while to introspect about our approach to the future to address Atmanirbhar Bharat and pave the way to a better tomorrow