Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most outstanding and exemplary contribution towards putting India on the technological map of the world is his fervent appeal to develop and exploit indigenous expertise and produce international standard products made in India by Indians. The PM’s announcement was like a breath of fresh air in the murky Indian political scene, where national growth agenda finds a place after listing all the ‘freebies’ that would be provided should a particular party come to power. However, an honest and pragmatic analysis would reveal that the PM’s initiative has largely gone unheeded, particularly by those, who could, rather should have made substantive contribution to the ‘Make in India’ appeal by the PM and transform it from a campaign to a revolution.
Instead of looking at the Western world, a peep into ‘Make in China’ campaign would reveal elementary but startling facts. Four decades ago, India and China spent a meagre 0.56 percent of their respective GDPs on Research and Development (R&D). While we continue to maintain the same status as on date, China, on the other hand has increased R&D expenditure to nearly 2 percent of their GDP. In real US dollar terms, the increase in R&D expenditure by China has been nearly 250 times over the past four decades.
It is worthwhile to look at the Chinese model advocated and adopted during the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party held in Beijing from 15 October to 21October 2007. As a nation that believes that in 21st century and beyond international affairs will be influenced, if not controlled and/or dictated by China, the Congress adopted the following resolutions, specifically aimed at promoting and achieving self-sufficiency in ‘Make in China’ campaign (political resolutions adopted are not being mentioned).
- To review the historical course of reform and opening up in past 30 years (1977-2007).
- To formalise new requirements for attaining the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
- To address, change and develop new scientific outlook on priority to ensure rapid economic and social development.
A look at the agenda of our political parties over past five decades would merely prove the point. Our myopic politicians and greedy business houses fail to comprehend that the technological advancement is the key to social development be it in the field of education, health care or military preparedness. ‘Import’ has become a way of Indian life. Even the idols of Indian Gods and Goddesses in our homes are of Chinese origin. Festival of lights, which till about 20 years back was celebrated by lighting millions of earthenware ‘Diyas’ has been replaced in the most brazen and shameless manner by Chinese lights virtually in every Indian household. We have thus ‘killed’ an indigenous industry. This elementary fact is being cited merely as an example of our depraved and despicable behaviour as a nation towards attaining self-sufficiency by manufacturing our requirements in India by Indian artisans.
In order to keep pace with economic globalisation, India has no option but to compete with the ‘Best’ in the market. If we fail to accomplish this, the gap between India and the developed world would continue to widen with each passing year.It is ironic but true that ‘Make in India’ campaign has made no worthwhile progress during the past four years. Few reasons for such dismal state of affairs are as follows:
- Our focus at the governmental level towards increasing budgetary support to R&D has been and continues to be dismal.
- As a nation we do not have international standard laboratories involved in research. Competent and academically brilliant youth, therefore, have little option but to move out of the country. This enormous ‘brain drain’ has not been contained.
- Participation of private sector in the field of R&D is non-existent. Concept of philanthropy of Indian Business Houses remains confined mostly to establishing schools, hospitals and so on. Except for Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), there is not a single business house which has viewed establishing world class research facility in any field. They are extremely happy and contented by importing the best equipment from abroad. ‘Make in India’ as a concept is not even on their radar. They believe that their investments in form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) meets their national obligation.
R&D is a painstakingly slow process and takes years, at times decades to develop a new and more efficient product, be it in the field of medicine, engineering and/or weapons. Make in India initiative must be viewed in a holistic manner. It is not merely aimed at designing and producing military hardware. In my opinion following areas merit an urgent review:
- Initiate the process of establishing world class R&D facilities in India with the help of Indian scientists abroad.Simultaneously, introduce a government aided/funded programme for sending students with brilliant academic record and inclination towards R&D to world renowned institutes viz Stanford, MIT etc to acquire the expertise needed to establish and run such facilities. Let us not worry too much as to how many of them will return.
- India will, in near future, face acute shortage of energy. In order to achieve ‘Energy Security,’ we must invest in thorium based nuclear power, which is cleaner and safer than existing nuclear power plants based on uranium. Abundant stocks of thorium within the country would remain available for centuries, may be more. In order to make this happen, the technological breakthrough will happen only if we encourage the youth (may be 100 of them) to devote their energy towards this task by offering scholarships to join international facilities.
- Electronics and miniaturisation is yet another area that merits sustained and extensive investments for usable products to emerge. In rapidly moving space age and computer regime, establishing computer hardware industry is a must. As on date, India has no facility producing chips needed for every application. Merely patting our back by calling ourselves a ‘software super power,’ we are merely exposing our soft and vulnerable under belly.
- Shortage of drinking water is already staring at our face. With a huge coastline, availability of drinking water can be met comfortably provided we develop a cheaper and more efficient desalination plant technology.
- Specific to military affairs, we must do an honest audit of our Ordnance factories. Loss making behemoths producing ‘nothing’ must be shut down in national interest.
- DRDO must be reorganised by splitting it into independent and autonomous units specifically tasked for focusing in a particular field viz. laser weapon, kinetic energy weapon, radars and so on.
Even if we were to spend two percent of our GDP towards R&D with immediate effect, results will take decades to surface. We will have to be patient. For ‘Make in India’ revolution (not campaign) to be successful we require, firstly, huge investments to set up R&D facilities in diverse fields.Secondly, participation by large business houses is essential.Thirdly, gestation period will be long. Patience will be the key to success.
Now a word about ‘Make in India’ with specific reference to the military. As on date we do not produce any ‘Big Ticket’ weapon platform. TEJAS is the only platform under development. Before listing out what we require, mention of expectations by the military is a must. Indeed, we must aim to acquire the best but we must also understand that the ‘Best’ was not developed on the very first attempt. Indian Military, more often than not, demands a multi-purpose machine that will ‘Sink’ like a submarine, ‘Hover’ like a helicopter and fly at supersonic speeds, all at the same time and all in one. It does not happen. Past performance of Indian Military in promoting indigenous hardware has been dismalat its best. Decommissioning the HF programme is a sad example. The Arjun tank story is an ideal subject for studies at IIMs to learn “how not to do a project”. Service HQ have repeatedly failed in freezing the GSQRs/ASRs in time. Frequent and numerous changes sought place an extraordinary burden on the R&D team, a fact not understood by Indian Military yet. Rejection of Naval variant LCA and TEJAS Mk I by the IAF proves that we are not only impatient but also have little time to embrace and encourage indigenous R&D. Sad but true, we seem to be
THE PM’S ANNOUNCEMENT WAS LIKE A BREATH OF FRESH AIR IN THE MURKY INDIAN POLITICAL SCENE, WHERE NATIONAL GROWTH AGENDA FINDS A PLACE AFTER LISTING ALL THE ‘FREEBIES’ THAT WOULD BE PROVIDED SHOULD A PARTICULAR PARTY COME TO POWER. HOWEVER, AN HONEST AND PRAGMATIC ANALYSIS WOULD REVEAL THAT THE PM’S INITIATIVE HAS LARGELY GONE UNHEEDED, PARTICULARLY BY THOSE, WHO COULD, RATHER SHOULD HAVE MADE SUBSTANTIVE CONTRIBUTION TO THE ‘MAKE IN INDIA’ APPEAL BY THE PM AND TRANSFORM IT FROM A CAMPAIGN TO A REVOLUTION
extremely happy about getting contracts for producing Airbus doors and Apace fuselage. What a shame! In an otherwise bleak scenario, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) stands out like a beacon. Our satellite fabrication and launch vehicle expertise is perhaps second to none, in certain cases better. ISRO is also nurtured by Indians. Why can’t we have hundreds of ‘ISROs’?
Gp Capt TP Srivastava has served for over three decades with the IAF, flying the MiG-21 and MiG-29. He has authored a book titled “Profligate Governance: Implications for National Security” dealing with national and international affairs, specific military affairs, geo-strategic scenario etc. He is currently based in the NCR and writes extensively on defence and security related issues