On Thursday (February 24), Russia launched a full-scale invasion in Ukraine, months after deploying over 1 lakh security forces at the border. The military strikes on the first day resulted in 137 fatalities. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine not just threatens world peace but also shifts the balance of power in Eastern Europe.
As the world watches in sheer anticipation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky lamented how the Western Nations had deserted Ukraine at such a crucial time. President Zelensky said, “We have been left alone to defend our state. Who is ready to fight alongside us? I don’t see anyone. Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of NATO membership? Everyone is afraid.”
Although the United States had initially helped the Eastern European country with shipments of lethal assistance, it has confined itself to economic sanctions and lip service after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are no talks of inducting Ukraine as a member of the coveted North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) or providing on-ground military support to it.
Countries, which are not part of military pacts and international treaties prior to a bilateral/multilateral conflict, are often left to fend for themselves at the time of crisis. For a nation such as India which chose the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) after Independence instead of siding with any superpower, it underlines the significance of self-reliance (Atmanirbharta).
General Bipin Rawat had cautioned about not depending on US during confrontation with China
This crucial aspect was highlighted by late Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat in an interview with journalist Sandeep Unnithan of India Today in October 2021.
On being asked by Sandeep Unnithan about India’s strategic partnership with the United States, General Bipin Rawat emphasised, “The US is trying to support us. They feel that they need us in their confrontation with China…The sense I got was that if they confront China, they may need a lot of logistics support and bases.
He further added, “The engagement is basically because of China. (Ever) since this confrontation with China started, the US realised that the Indian political leadership is also inclined to take on China. With that (our standing up), the Philippines too has stood up to them.” The Chief of Defence Staff was speaking about India’s border standoff with the neighbouring Communist regime.
General Bipin Rawat had, however, cautioned the government to not ‘rely’ on US support and instead focus on tackling China on its own (Atmanirbharta). “Will the US help us in a confrontation with China?” asked the interviewer. The late CDS had responded, “That we should not bank on. We should not work on that premise to say that the US will fill this void of mine.”
Under the able leadership of Gen. Bipin Rawat, the self-reliance in all three wings of Indian armed forces, air, naval and land was of utmost importance. He was a strong votary of self-reliant India and was instrumental in starting indigenous production of many arms and equipment within India.
India becoming ‘Atmanirbahar’ in defence sector
Amidst the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the lack of military intervention by the West, journalist Sandeep Unnithan recounted his interview with late CDS General Bipin Rawat and his message of ‘self-reliance.’ He tweeted, “Lessons from Ukraine: If you’re not a treaty ally, you’re on your own. New Delhi has internalised this for some years now…”
Lessons fm #Ukraine. If you’re not a treaty ally, you’re on your own. New Delhi has internalised this for some years now… – extract fm a transcript of what the late General #BipinRawat told me last October- pic.twitter.com/vZbJ3Y9vBS— Sandeep (@SandeepUnnithan) February 25, 2022
Given that India is not a member of NATO, it cannot expect military intervention on its behest by its Western allies against a foreign aggressor. It will have to defend its territory and uphold its sovereignty without expecting much help, beyond statements of condemnation. This came to light during the 2017 Dokhlam crisis and the Galwan Valley skirmish of 2020 with the Chinese PLA.
As India faces an expansionist neighbouring nation, it becomes imperative to develop ‘self-reliance’ in defence manufacturing. The government has been investing heavily in its defence sector, especially since the BJP came to power in 2014. As per a report in The Times of India, India’s defence budget has been increasing annually at an average rate of 9% since 2010-2011.
Besides, the Defence Ministry has also approved proposals worth Rs 7,965 crore for modernization of the Armed Forces under ‘Make in India’. Furthermore, Defence Ministry in its statement said, “All of these proposals (100 per cent) are under ‘Make in India’ with focus on design, development and manufacturing in India”.
According to the Minister of Defence, Rajnath Singh, in the past seven years, India has exported defence-related products worth Rs 38,000 crore, now the government wants to achieve the defence export target of Rs 35,000 crore by 2024-25, adding that the country is exporting defence equipment to around 70 countries.
Given the defence export potential of India, indigenization can also give a big boost to the Indian economy. The efforts of the involved stakeholders, policymakers and successful implementation of the self-indigenization campaign will be pivotal in realizing this dream.