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Defense as Basic Step of Self Reliance

It’s quite surprising that in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) China and Japan are
together but in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) India and Japan are together.
— Alok Singh


Self-reliance is taught to an individual in the foundation class of school education. The overall purpose of success starts from the basic step of being self-reliant in an individual’s life. For an individual, self-reliance is regular income and earnings for supporting the livelihood of the family dependent on them. The self-reliance of family, community, society, country, and other different groups have different orientations, different frameworks, and different definitions. 

The self-reliance of a country is quite different from the self-reliance of a state within a country. The country needs to be self-reliant in its ability to make decisions, own responsibility, and support growth and development on its own terms and conditions and requirements. The visible self-reliance which a country should have are self-reliance in the education sector, self-reliance in the health sector, self-reliance in the trade & commerce sector, self-reliance in the finance sector,  and self-reliance in the defense sector, apart from many other mini and micro sectors. The trade partnership and defense partnership are the two partnerships that are dominating the world today. Surprisingly, it’s not necessary that the trade partner and the defense partner be the same. One country is ahead of the other in the trade domain then the other country is ahead in the defense domain.  Common sense says that the trade agreements should be compared with trade agreements and defense agreements be compared with trade agreements.  Is it so, that the trade agreements are countered with defense agreements and vice versa. 

It’s quite surprising that in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) China and Japan are together but in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) India and Japan are together. RCEP is advantageous to China against India but QUAD favors India against China. It seems that the trade agreement is countering the defense agreement and the defense agreement is countering the trade agreements. 

It’s true that we are living in a codependent world but codependency should not violate the self-reliance necessity. Any country which is not self-reliant does not attain the peak of its development.  The proxy of a self-reliant country is its ability to formulate and develop its own customized trade policy and foreign policy with a win-win situation for the participating or allied countries. 

Self-reliance is tested during the constraints. The original character of the friends and the self is judged in a constrained environment. The way an individual behaves in constraints is the reflection of the true character of the individual’s self. The constraints imposed by the covid19 pandemic during the initial phases of lockdown were the testing time of the character of the trading partners and the grocery suppliers. The Covid19 pandemic forced many nations to prefer self-reliance vis-a-vis best quality and the cheapest price from anywhere in the global village. Self-reliance is beyond the price factor, it’s about the trust factor. The success of Bharat Biotech in developing the Covid19 vaccine on its own is the foundation of the trust which the world has in our country in managing crisis.

During the Kargil war of 1999 with Pakistan, it was our own domestic company Bharat Forge which came to the rescue. The context was the supply of ammunition for the Bofors gun. In a short notice for supply, the domestic company could successfully supply the required one lakh shells for the Bofors guns; the global suppliers had failed us then also. The capability of the domestic companies in manufacturing the medical ventilators during the Covid19 pandemic is another example of the success of domestic companies. All these emergencies and the success are enough that we are capable to achieve self-reliance in every sector. The government is focusing on self-reliance in the agriculture sector by targeting net-zero carbon emission in rural areas by promoting natural farming. The focus on renewable sources for energy generation and the promotion of electric vehicles has a lot to do to reduce dependency on imported fuels. The education import bill has increased exponentially during the last decade and is forecasted to overtake the oil import bill. The new education policy is directed towards self-reliance in the education sector and the most important tool is promoting the local language. The revival is on its way.

The big question is which area is capable to twist the arms of the government to sign international trade agreements or agreements in any other sector.

For a country, the most important self-reliance is defense self-reliance. We have seen during various crises on borders with China and Pakistan that the dependency on others for help or urgent supply of spare parts or ammunitions for the products which we have imported is not fulfilled. Whenever we have a casualty due to accidents of foreign-made helicopters it creates a doubt that whether the imported helicopters were designed by the manufacturers to fail us when we needed them the most. This blind trust is questionable. Such pains are a disaster. We need to get ourselves relieved from such doubts and pains.

Moreover, the defense is at the core of all policies. It is at the core of the railway infrastructure, highway and expressway infrastructure, airport infrastructure, and all the policies. It’s the defense dependency that maneuvers the trade policy and the foreign policy. It’s simply not possible that without attaining self-reliance in the defense sector we can have the liberty to decide our trade partnership and impose restrictions on importing products.

We have preserved our automobile industry by nurturing a policy that any foreign company who wants to sell their automobile in India has to come and establish their manufacturing units in India, otherwise has to pay very high import duty. It’s good that the government is engaging the same strategy in the defence sector. The foundation of self-reliance starts from the self-reliance on the defence sector. Swami Vivekananda had said centuries ago that the strength in feet is more important than the knowledge in the head.

(Alok Singh is fellow of Indian Institute of Management Indore and currently is faculty of general management at NICMAR, Delhi-NCR Campus.)

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