There has certainly been a marked change in culture and outlook in India, ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.There has certainly been a marked change in culture and outlook in India, ever since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014.Never before, in the last 70 years since independence, has so much of thrust been given to development, especially at the lower levels of industry. Strong governance, with extensive emphasis on corruption free assurances, easing of business norms to facilitate participation and provisioning for easy loans are strong indicators for promoting development in the country. On one of his early visits to the developed nations, September 2014 to be precise, the Prime Minister extended an invitation which took the world by surprise when he said that India has the space to create infrastructure, has the manpower and the technological base and intellect, so why doesn’t foreign industry (always on the lookout for expansion) come and “Make in India”? The country and the Indian industry lauded the move. The catch phrase was a gateway to use the technical  talent and industrial space to set up industries which in turn will be able to absorb technologies heretofore not available in the country. Participation by small and medium enterprises  (SMEs) was a natural fallout, alleviating their financial status and enhancing the knowledge base. The lure of cheap labour coupled with cost effective infrastructure set-up could not offer a better business proposition. But in the last four years no big international player has really set up any production facility that would complement the Prime Minister’s slogan. If the picture was rosy, why hasn’t the opportunity been exploited ? Is “Make in India” a boon or a bane?

International business, I guess, relies on certain factors — ease of doing business as regards government clearances, taxes and procedural transparency, reliability and quality of output, reputation, and export capability, which essentially translates to acceptability in the international market, among many other factors. Even a cursory glance at these factors will lay bare the reason why we are the biggest importers of arms in the world. We actually do not adequately meet the requirements of transacting international business nor inspire confidence in the major players to make large investments in our country. It thereby translates why these major industries did not immediately jump at the offer provided by our Prime Minister. With a relatively negligible export market in the arms business (which is all about precision and quality) and an indigenous defence industry ruled by a series of government behemoths called Public Sector Undertakings and the ignominious DRDO, India’s reputation in the arms department falls in the ‘less said the better’ category.

But is there a way out? Can we salvage our flagging reputation and prove our capability to the world? I believe we can. While one can admire the efforts of DRDO in certain specific cases, the organisation largely has not met the test of its creation. Monolithic in structure with a government orientation and absolute lack of accountability are its setbacks. There is a serious need to reconsider the structure and re-orientate the functioning of DRDO and make it analogous to that of a private sector enterprise — a ‘hire and fire’ policy will go a long way to harness accountability of individuals serving in the organisation. While R&D is an evolving process, projects must be governed by time lines and cost. The user interface must be increased to facilitate satisfaction and trust. There are certain items, like jet engines, which will remain a distant dream. Let us forget them for the moment and concentrate on areas of manufacture more compatible with our capability. The work culture and ethos of the industry worker must be under tight control to exact efficiency. Labour unions must not hold sway and not be allowed to hold the system to ransom. The Strategic Partnership model must be exploited for transfer of technology but in return the partner must be given the confidence to invest his money and his industry.

The indigenous defence industry has to be enhanced. We cannot continue with the ‘world’s largest arms importer’ tag eternally. We need to harness academia and private industry in a big way to provide the thrust. But this means fiscal support. For a cost benefit return a tough accountability model must exist to address every level. We must not lose focus of the purpose for which the armed forces exist, to defend the nation. They need the means to do it.

An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.

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