THIRUVIDANTHAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said India's commitment to peace is just as strong as its commitment to protecting its territory and listed his government's efforts in making the country a hub of defence manufacturing and bolstering the armed forces.
His remark, after formally inaugurating the Defence Expo here, comes amid increasing Chinese activities along the nearly 4,000-km-long border with India as well as Beijing's efforts to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Spelling out his government's initiatives to promote defence production in India, Modi also accused the previous UPA dispensation of policy paralysis in the sector, which he said affected the country's military preparedness.
"There was a time when the critical issue of defence preparedness was hampered by policy paralysis. We have seen the damage such laziness, incompetence or perhaps some hidden motives, can cause to the nation. Not now, not anymore, never again," he said, in presence of top executives of foreign as well as domestic defence firms.
He said issues that should have been long addressed by previous governments are being resolved now.
Though the four-day-long Defence Expo - India's biennial exhibition of military platforms and weapons began yesterday, it was formally inaugurated by the prime minister today. The event was also attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and representatives of a number of countries.
Modi also invoked Indian thinker Kautilya, who wrote the 'Arthshastra' more than 2000 years ago and quoted him to say that "the king, or the ruler, must protect his people".
"Our commitment to peace is just as strong as our commitment to protecting our people and our territory. For this we are ready to take all necessary measures to equip our Armed Forces, he said. His visit to Tamil Nadu comes amid widespread protest in the state over the Cauvery issue.
Talking about modernisation of armed forces, Modi also mentioned about the long-drawn but unsuccessful initiative of the previous UPA regime to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) .
"You would recall the long-drawn process of procurement of fighter aircraft that never reached any conclusion. We've not only taken bold action to meet our immediate critical requirements, but have also initiated a new process to procure 110 fighter aircraft," he said.
The government last week had kick-started the process to procure around 110 fighter jets by issuing an initial tender. It is the first mega procurement initiative for fighter jets after the government scrapped the process to acquire 126 MMRCA for the IAF around five years ago.
Referring to India's quest for peace and stability, the prime minister talked about sacrifices of Indian soldiers in World War II and said the country has always contributed towards global peace, unity and harmony. "India has believed in winning hearts."
"Thousands of years of history of India show that we have never desired any one's territory. Rather than winning countries through wars, India has believed in winning hearts. This is the land from where the message of peace and universal brotherhood has gone out since Vedic times," he said.
Emphasising his government's focus on military modernisation, Modi said it has launched the 'Innovation for Defence Excellence' scheme under which Defence Innovation Hubs' will be set up across the country to provide necessary incubation and infrastructure support to start-ups in the defence sector.
"We want to move fast. But, we do not want to take short cuts," he said. Referring to delays in taking decisions, he said, "You would have seen how the issue of providing bullet-proof jackets to soldiers was kept hanging for years."
Modi said the government recently awarded the contract for bullet proof jackets which will boost defence manufacturing in India.
"In May 2014, the total number of defence export permission granted stood at 118, for a total value of 577 million dollars. In less than four years, we have issued 794 more export permissions, for a total value of over 1.3 billion dollars," he said.
Modi also said the Defence Procurement Procedure' has been revised with many specific provisions for stimulating growth of domestic defence industry. "We have also de-notified some items earlier made exclusively by ordnance factories so that private sector, especially MSMEs, can enter this space."
He said over the last few years, "we have made a humble beginning. On defence manufacturing licences, on defence offsets, on defence exports clearances, on Foreign Direct Investment in defence manufacturing, and on reforming our defence procurement, we have taken many steps".
He said the government was "conscious" that defence manufacturing is unique in terms of government involvement. "You need the government to grant a licence to manufacture. Since the government is almost the only buyer, you need the government to grant an order. You need the government to even to grant permission to export."
"It is wonderful to see that over 500 Indian companies and over 150 foreign companies are here. More than 40 countries have sent their official delegations as well," he said.
Modi described Thiruvidanthai and the nearby region as the land of India's "glorious maritime legacy". "This is the land from where India looked East and acted East thousands of years ago."