The India First doctrine can only survive if the Indian private sector delivers in the defence manufacturing sector by collaborating with defence majors of India’s close allies like France and US to manufacture in the country and export to third countries without any export controls.
Speaking to the Indian diaspora in Berlin this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi positioned India as a global solutions provider or as a force of global good. He at the same time pitched his India First doctrine by projecting his “Make in India” campaign in the manufacturing sector, whose foundation had been laid on good governance, enabling laws and rapid infrastructure development.
PM Modi’s India First for Global Good doctrine is a far cry from the country’s association with the non-aligned movement during the past Congress regimes as it is an active not inert doctrine. Many a foreign policy wonks have defined Indian foreign policy today as strategically autonomous, multi-aligned, aligned on specific issues with some still delusional about non-alignment after India abstained from the Ukraine vote in UNSC along with China and UAE. India also abstained with South Africa and South Africa in the UN vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council for invasion of Ukraine.
While the Modi government massively aided global vaccine support by supplying India developed and made vaccines to 100 countries, it also supplied tons and tons of pharmaceutical drugs like HCQ to developed countries in the first wave of Covid-19, which had origins in Wuhan in China. It has been the first responder on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the neighborhood and extended neighborhood—be it tsunami or global pandemic or economic crisis. While it leads by example in the global fight against climate change, India is a prominent advocate of open seas and freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific along with its QUAD partners. Under Modi, India is ready to cooperate and play its active part in global stability without compromising its strategic autonomy despite all odds or pressures.
Although India has made up its mind to sit on the high table, the real test of PM Modi’s India First strategy lies in the success of the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” model in the defence sector so that India is not reliant on any other country to protect itself. This is the right strategy in an uncertain world where countries are known to change positions based on realpolitik and utter ruthlessness. The Modi government realizes that the rise of India will not be benign with global powers not inclined to yield space to New Delhi on the high table. And why should they?
Fact is that Modi government is not at all happy with the never-ending war in Ukraine and innocent killings but was practical enough to abstain from the Ukraine vote as a major chunk of its defence hardware still comes from Russia and it will take at least a decade for India to be self-reliant if the famed Indian military-civilian bureaucracy does not add few more years in the name of protecting national interest.
A classic example is that of Indian Navy’s Project 75 I or the air independent propulsion submarine project was conceived way back in 2009 but is still to see the light of the day thanks to the tedious and tendentious conditions in the RFP made by the Indian military bureaucracy. The delays in the implementation of the 75I project means that the submarine line made in Mumbai dockyards will lie idle after the last of Scorpene class diesel submarines are completed by next year. In the meantime, the AIP technology has become redundant with big powers switching to nuclear powered conventional missile attack submarines or ones fitted with state of the art and long-lasting lithium batteries. It is the indecisiveness of the Indian bureaucracy that has the potential to scuttle PM Modi’s “Make in India” project and India First doctrine.
The India First doctrine can only survive if the Indian private sector delivers in the defence manufacturing sector by collaborating with defence majors of India’s close allies like France and US to manufacture in the country and export to third countries without any export controls. France is ready to make Safran aircraft engines in India without any conditions and India has proposed the same to the US. Thanks to paper tigers of Indian bureaucracy, the Indian defence PSUs are yet to come up with a shoulder fired anti-tank guided missile like US Javelin or Israeli Spyder or a credible indigenous armed drone. The Ukraine war has shown that the day and age of tanks is over with stand-off weapons taking them on with impunity and blocking the Russian land offensive. The strength of India First doctrine lies in the strength of Indian manufacturing the emerging and critical technologies and not on elaborate presentations made on future weapons before a PM who understands the ground situation beforehand. The Defence Ministry has already notified three lists of hardware by banning key items from imports to promote the “Make in India” plan, but the success lies in manufacturing the items and not just identifying them on paper.
While the Modi government is committed to helping the neighboring countries with economic and infrastructure support and be the first responder in natural disasters, New Delhi knows that these countries barring Bhutan are playing the same cooperation game with China and getting the best benefits by playing one against the other. One must remember, none of India’s neighbors share a border with each other except India but they all have a capability to be a national security threat to India by tying up with China like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Under the circumstances, it is best for India to bilaterally engage the neighbors without any expectation till such time they don’t play the China or the terror card. India is no longer bogged down by South Asia or by archaic NAM or Commonwealth of yesteryears, it is painting the global canvas with bold strokes and is reflected by the Indian diaspora.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.
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