It was a master-stroke! As an average Indian citizen I was truly awestruck at the very idea of “Make in India” Prime Minister, Narendra Modi proposed on 25 September 2014. To all of us, seeing the country struggling to stamp its mark on the international arena as an industrial marketing competitor, barely accepted and with no recourse to solutions in the near future, these three words changed it all. Not only the perspective but the whole country seemed to light up with enthusiastic fervour as one imagined the consequences of a successful “Make in India” program. The lead up to and promotion of the proposal followed the template of the monumental win that the NDA government had garnered in the elections not six months earlier. Symbolic of the thrust of the program was the Lion, embellished with cogs to portray industry. It could not have been more impressive—the Lion on the prowl, forceful and dynamic, marching ahead majestically, full of confidence and expectation; truly a representation of the vision of the Prime Minister. The astounding attendance at the inaugural function in Vigyan Bhavan belied the result that was to follow.
The idea behind “Make in India” was probably born out of the fact that a “Made” in India product would not be able to find a market other than in garments, probably. Our founding forefathers, in their wisdom, decided to miss the train of industrial revolution that was enveloping the countries as they struggled to restore their sagging economies post the two world wars. Trying to catch up was never going to be an easy task; in fact, made more difficult with India’s rising population. What was needed was the drive to achieve, the drive to succeed and the underlying ethos of pride in what one does. I think this is where our country has lost out. While we have many famous names to boast about, like Tata, Mahendra, Ambani, Mittal, Azim Premji, etc, their industry and name recognised world-wide, the essence of reputation, unfortunately, lies not in a few but many. What then ails Indian industry and why has it not found adequate acceptance globally?
A well known hurdle in our system is the bureaucracy. Strangely, most countries in the world suffer from red-tape in the conduct of their businesses, but nowhere is it more synonymous to ‘delays’ than in India, even though we inherited bureaucracy from the British! While it may be an acceptable impediment, it must never reach into the domain of national security. Unfortunately, in our case, it does, affecting not only the very nature of imbibing technology to modernise our armed forces, but also in the way we do business, shackling a process inherently time consuming. Cast in the shadow of the over-arching presence of the bureaucracy, our defence industry has not done justice to the needs of the fourth largest armed forces of the world. Government control through Public Sector Undertakings has been the bane of the industry and its products. While high visibility and criticism abounds for HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft, which after 35 years is yet to be established in its operational avatar, the products of the Indian Ordnance Factories have been a veritable nightmare for the Indian Army.
What, therefore, is the fundamental problem and why hasn’t the ‘Make in India’ program made a significant dent in the defence industry? I guess the basis of good trade hinges on ‘Quality’. Is it any wonder that we have a negligible defence export market, especially in the West? Tagged as the biggest arms importer in the world because of an indigenous defence industry that has neither the capability nor the capacity to meet the demands, we need to imbibe some pride and a sense of nationalism to prove that we are no less than anyone else. We export our human talent rather than harness their expertise. ‘Make in India’ was an open arms invitation to defence majors to invest in this country and benefit from its cheap labour and overhead costs. The initial euphoria does not seem to translate on ground because I fear we are not able to find a common meeting ground.
‘Make in India’ is not a lost cause. Foremost is our attitude and discipline. Top it with accountability and you have the basic starting point. We seem to carry our democratic outlook into our jobs, the trade unions constantly at loggerheads with the management, corruption and collusion abound, giving you the results which are there for all to see. The area of National Security cannot be compromised. Professional work ethos has to be instilled. Accountability and discipline have to be enforced with a heavy hand. The basic infrastructure and an efficient logistics chain are essential to give the impetus and provide the flow. A Lion’s family is called a “Pride”. I am sure this nation is capable of living up to that name so that we can hear the Lion roar and not groan.
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.