ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Make in India or Make for India?

Arms and Men

India is planning to push up domestic defence production by roping in the private sector, especially multinational corporations. Though this seems a laudable aim at fi rst sight, the wisdom of letting in private players inspired by profi ts and a reluctance to be regulated into the strategically signifi cant defence sector is suspect. The argument that the public sector has shown itself to be incapable of meeting the country's defence needs rests on fl imsy ground. Above all, the government has so far shown that its dogmatism is its own worst enemy.

The Narendra Modi-led government plans to manufacture—“Make in India”—military hardware in India in “partnership” with the private sector. At February’s Aero-India 2015 in Bengaluru, the Prime Minister pointed out that 2,00,000 people were employed in the public defence sector. He asserted that 1,00,000–1,20,000 skilled jobs could be created by reducing imports by 25% to 40% and also that no less than 2,00,000 workers would be required in the aerospace industry (Singh 2015). Modi invited defence multinational corporations (MNC) to join hands with India’s private and public sector to manufacture in the country. On the face of it, manufacturing in India, which imports 60% of its military items, is a laudable notion. The annual output of India’s domestic defence production is estimated to be Rs 4.4 lakh crore or $7 billion. Which is to say that Rs 7 lakh crore worth of equipment is imported. But why is there a hurry to invite the private sector and MNCs into the defence sector?

The secretary in the department of industrial policy and promotion is quoted as claiming that given equal opportunities, the private sector has the “potential to streak ahead in the Make in India race” (Singh 2015). Meanwhile, the Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) reminded us that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), HAL, and other public sector undertakings (PSU) “are the engine powering it (defence production), while private sector players are like bogies,” using a train as an analogy. The question is whether the private sector ought to be involved in this at all. And if so, how?

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