With a slew of bold decisions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has turned the tide for defence forces to shed the baggage of the past
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first post-Independence born Prime Minister of India, is working on a mission mode ever since he assumed the charge of the government in 2014. He has taken historic decisions to redefine the political, economic and military landscape of India, which was viewed globally as a weak nation not due to its potential and capabilities, but due to a lack of strong political leadership. India’s voice was often unheard on global platforms, while internally we had a government that was running through remote control.
In 2013, the whole nation viewed with shock the ugly episode of an angry Rahul Gandhi tearing in public an ordinance brought in by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. Rahul Gandhi was not even the president of the ruling Congress Party. The UPA government was mired in rampant corruption at the highest level, while the Prime Minister was unable to control his ministers. It was also plagued with the disease of “decision paralysis.” It had a natural impact at the international level and India’s global image was badly hit.
But with the arrival of Narendra Modi things began to change globally. Today, India has regained its status as Global Guru and its views on all important issues are not only heard but respected. PM Modi has a firm belief in the professionalism and supremacy of the Indian Armed Forces. He is a firm believer in the fact that no nation can aspire to be a global power without strong and capable armed forces. In 2014, he inherited the armed forces which were suffering from “hollowness”. The equipment held by the armed forces was not only critically low but also suffered from obsolescence. The armed forces were crying for modernisation but the UPA government paid no heed.
Many defence contracts signed by the then government were mired in the charges of corruption putting a halt to any new contracts that were needed for modernisation. At one stage, the then Defence Minister AK Antony had announced even lack of funds as one of the reasons.
Modi understood that India can ill afford high import budgets to maintain the armed forces. When Modi took over as the Prime Minister, he had a clear vision for the Indian Armed Forces. To put it simply, he wanted to transform the Indian military from a mere “force” to a military “power”, shedding its colonial legacy. He knew that it would not be easy for him to change the deep-rooted mindset of customs and traditions of the armed forces and carry them along with his vision of not only “Indigenisation” but “Indianisation” as well. He, therefore, will have to tread a very cautious path.
From “Agnipath” to “INS Vikrant”, the various decisions taken by the government are a continuum of Modi’s military vision. In his first address to the Combined Commanders Conference in 2014, he said, “the world was looking at India with renewed interest, confidence and excitement and there was a universal current of expectation from India to emerge not only as one of the poles of the global economy but also as one of the anchors of global and regional security.” While talking of future threats, the PM said, “The threats may be known but the enemy may be invisible. Domination of cyberspace will become increasingly important making its control as critical as that of land, sea and air.” He touched upon the importance of the integration of the armed forces, reforms in procurement processes, domestic development and production of defence equipment, long-term threat assessment and “Digital Armed Forces.”
He also wanted to transform the armed forces. Slowly, the PM’s vision began to be given practical shape. Acquisition of Rafale fighter jets, rolling out of a new defence procurement policy, the delegation of financial powers to the Vice Chiefs of the three forces, the creation of a new Department of Military Affairs under the Ministry of Defence, appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff with powers of a secretary of the government of India, modernisation of armed forces and mandate for theatrisation were few notable and welcome decisions.
The cross-border operations across the LOC and air strikes deep inside the enemy territory symbolised the growing strength and the confidence of Indian Armed Forces under the Modi government.
Aatmanirbhar Bharat and self-reliance in defence forces is another initiative of the Modi government and part of Modi’s military vision. Construction of a defence corridor, ban on import of certain military equipment, indigenous production of 108 military equipment, and export of military hardware, including Brahmos, are the giant steps taken by the Modi government towards self-reliance. The list of equipment to be produced indigenously include sensors, simulators, sonars, radars, assorted weapons, helicopters, next-generation corvettes, AWACS, tank engines, combat vehicles, fourth-generation anti-tank missile systems, medium-range surface-to-air missile system, artillery guns, including self-propelled guns.
Modi unfolded a major component of his military vision while addressing the Combined Commanders Conference at Kevadia in Gujarat in 2021. This conference was unique in the sense that it included the junior and non-commissioned officers for the first time. But the attendees were chosen with a purpose. Modi wanted his vision to flow right down to the rank and file. In his valedictory address, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of enhancing indigenisation in the national security system, not just in equipment and other military hardware but also in the doctrines, procedures, and customs practiced in the armed forces.
Modi revealed his vision of “Indianisation” in front of a very carefully chosen audience. He also revealed another issue very close to his heart and very vital for India to transform from a “force” to a “power”. He emphasized the need to optimize manpower planning in both military and civilian parts of the National security architecture. He advised the Services to rid themselves of legacy systems and practices that have outlived their utility and relevance.
No self-respecting nation can claim to be a world power while carrying colonial baggage. The armed forces have begun the process. Though, many people particularly the opposition parties, which find fault with every action of the government, are questioning the government’s intent and terming it as the
“saffronisation” of the armed forces. To my mind, such comments are the result of a myopic vision and an attempt at politicising the issues related to national security for electoral gains and appeasement.
Modi’s military vision is fructifying. PM himself acknowledged the same when he acclaimed the armed forces from the rampart of the Red Fort during his address to the nation on 15th August this year. He said, “For the first time after 75 years, the Made in India cannon has saluted the Tiranga. Will there be any Indian who will not be inspired by this sound?” He also lauded and saluted the armed forces for voluntarily embracing Atmanirbhar Bharat Mission. On September 2, 2022 PM Modi witnessed the two pillars of his military vision, Indigenisation and Indianisation being implemented when he presided over the commissioning ceremony of the first indigenously made aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and unveiled the new Naval Ensign removing the red coloured St. Georges Cross, a legacy of the colonial past.
(The author is a Jammu-based veteran and security and strategic analyst)