By Niraj Sahay
India’s geographical shape and location has always given advantage over others. Being covered from sea on three sides and Himalaya on north, our boundaries have been defined and secured. But in recent time India’s vast borderline with China posed a security challenge. The Indian Armed Forces have to defend 15,200 km of land borders along with 7,516.6 km of coastline that consists of desert, snowy mountains and sea and to guard the border and coastline against any threat and challenge, India needs to be Atmanirbhar or self-reliant in defence.
Self-reliance in defence is a fundamental requirement of a sovereign state. A state with external dependence for armed forces can’t be completely independent. Only a self-contained force can guarantee nation’s political independence and economic progress.
SELF-RELIANCE: HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Self-reliant India was always a dream of our founding fathers. Father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi always thought of integrating rural development to reduce the dependence on imports. Doctrine of Swadeshi was the cornerstone of his economic policies. He was not against the machines but when majority of population was in abject penury, Mahatma told that the problem of poverty will never be solved by an indiscriminate importation of machinery.
Soon after Independence, India chose the path of industrialisation by focusing on state run industries. These gave us a head start but India lost the momentum by failing to modernise these industries and moving up in the value chain, and develop globally competitive products. During that time the private sector enjoyed the monopoly conditions due to permit raj. India mistook self-reliance as bureaucratic state capitalism that resulted to lower productivity, poor quality and inferior products.
COURSE CORRECTION: MISSING TECHNOLOGY
Post 1991 India awake and welcomed liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation but it missed a significant part of industrial development that was focused on electronic goods, computers, telecommunication and new manufacturing system. On the other hand, the government still is carrying the burden of large subsidies, which has distorted the market and resource allocation for competitive advantage.
During the phase of globalisation we followed consumer mindset where it was understood that developing the already invented is a waste of resources. Being a large market, companies came to India with products but technology didn’t come. It made our dependence stronger on foreign or multi-national companies especially on critical products like Defence, Energy, Electronics, etc.
Today when the country is ready to claim its position on world stage, that is possible only with strong and competitive India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India Atmanirbhar” is expected to be foundation of self-reliant India. Many times people misunderstand the self-reliant with isolation which is entirely wrong. Government has clarified that self-reliant India does not mean cutting off from rest of the world. The idea of self-sufficiency is aimed to exploit our economic potential by building and strengthening infrastructure, skilling our workforce, using modern technologies and creating robust supply chains.
Capture Critical Value Chain: Self-reliance does not mean that we should aim to produce everything inside our country only. We must understand the value chain of product and must be confident and resourceful for critical components / technology. This will allow us to have better bargaining power and dominant status in the global economy.
Robust Supply chain: Supply chain works like arteries of economy. To become confident and self-sufficient, India needs to develop robust, efficient and predictable supply chains. For this we must build ports, freight corridors, high speed trains and drone ports.
Comparative Advantage: In globalised and interconnected world, India must focus on the areas where it can claim leadership. Knowing that we are a super power in Information Technology it is time to put focus on Additive Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Aviation.
Private sector in R&D: Traditionally the share of private sectors in R&D is abysmal. Most of the research are conducted by PSUs or government institutes which are unable to match with pace of technology. India needs to enable policy change which should encourage private players to prioritise innovation over short-term profits.
–The author is Vice President, Avianco Technology, which has developed Indigenous UTM platform for drones. He can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda