India’s quest for Big Power status - GulfToday

India’s quest for Big Power status

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Narendra Modi, File

In the last half-a-century, India’s unstated Big Power aspirations have manifested themselves on several occasions. They figured, at least as a remote objective, in the nuclear tests ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974 and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998.

Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke at the United Nations in Hindi although both could handle English. This, too, can be seen as part of an attempt to raise India’s status.

The oft-repeated demand for restructuring of the UN is also related to the goal of an enhanced status.

The UN, founded at the end of World War II, completes 76 years next Sunday. The face of the world changed in these years. But the composition of the UN’s most powerful organ, the Security Council, remains unchanged.

The erstwhile imperial powers, weakened considerably by the loss of the colonies, still have a commanding voice in it. Asian and African nations which emerged from colonial rule after the UN came into being have little voice in its organs.

When the UN reform ideas, now being discussed informally and in a leisurely manner, crystallise, India hopes to find a place in an enlarged Security Council.

On Friday Modi gave expression to India’s Big Power aspirations in a way none of his predecessors ever did.

Speaking at an online event at which he launched seven new state-owned companies to run 41 ordnance factories, he said “the goal is to make India the world’s biggest military power on its own.” He also said India wants to develop a modern military industry.

The companies he launched are new. The ordnance factories under them were working under ordnance boards set up by the British two centuries ago.

Modi has established companies to run the factories as he believes they are better instruments to manage modern industries.

Although an admirer of the private sector, Modi has decided to keep the ordnance factories in the state sector.

When he went to Paris to conclude the deal for purchase and local manufacture of Rafale jet fighters, Modi had taken businessman Anil Ambani with him. The French firm signed an agreement with an Ambani company to manufacture the fighters in India.

He drew criticism for helping the Ambani company, which has no experience in the line, overlooking the claim of the state-owned Hindustan Aircraft which has a long record in the manufacture of Indian and foreign civilian and military planes.

Hindutva politics has a macho character, and Modi is a consummate practitioner of it. He may have spelt out India’s military goal at this time in the belief that it will yield political dividends by enthusing his Bharatiya Janata Party’s cadres and boosting national morale ahead of next year’s State Assembly elections.

There were also other elements in his speech which read like campaign material.

He said that for the first time since Independence, the government has rolled out major defence sector reforms.

Instead of stagnant policies, a single-window system has been put in place to make India a major producer of defence equipment.

In the last seven years the country has been moving forward resolutely with the chant of “Make in India”, he added.

At another event on the same day Modi said that, although he had no political, dynastic background or caste backing, the people had given him a chance to serve.

The two speeches show that he is already in election node.

It is not unreasonable for a country to aspire to a status in keeping with its size and resources. Demographic projections indicate that India will take the top slot in the population table from China in 2027.

Going by World Bank data, India’s economy, which was growing faster than that of any other large country before the pandemic struck, now ranks sixth, after US, China, Japan, Germany and the UK.

Various factors like number and quality of personnel and equipment and size of military budget need to be taken into account to assess a nation’s military might.

Conventional wisdom puts the US, the lone superpower, the mightiest power. However, Military Direct, a UK-based military store, in a recent report, ranked it below China. Global Fire Power, a website, puts China in the third place, after the US and Russia.

Both Military Direct and GFP put India in the fourth place.

Who doesn’t want to be the mightiest? But let us remember that might too has limits. This generation saw the world’s mightiest power run away from three countries after devastating them.

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