Are we seeing the rise of an Indian Military Industrial Complex?

The insidious creep of the private sector in defence industry under the garb of ‘Make in India’ sends worrying signals

Supersonic fighter jet. Image

The news item of Mr. Anil Ambani taking to skies in a Rafale aircraft at the Aero India show on February 15 made great reading. As the chairman of Reliance Defence Ltd. that has the got the offset contract of Rs. 60,000 Crore Rafale deal, it surely was interesting find out that Mr. Ambani knows even how to fly one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world.

Talk to any Air Force pilot about this and he will laugh his guts out. Military flying is an extremely demanding and arduous task that takes years of practice to hone into a fine art. The highly selective system of any Air Force worth its salt in the world ensures that only the best make their way into the technologically and physically challenging job of fighter aircraft stream. A pilot wouldn’t dream of entering the cockpit of a Rafale without a couple of thousands of flying hours under his belt. And here, we had a top corporate honcho donning flying overalls only to impress!! He was given charge of an aircraft worth about Rs 700 Crores. Whether he actually flew the aircraft or simply played a backseat driver (or pilot) is best left for people to decide.

Mr. Ambani should know better. His business acumen and credentials of running a successful company are of course in no doubt. What is rather disturbing is the inroads that the private sector seems to be making in the defence industry under the ‘Make in India’ that is being aggressively pushed under the current regime. His company stands to gain about Rs. 20,000 Crores in the Rafale programme. It his here that we see a signalling strategy.

Indian tricolour by Pradippal. Image credit:

How much of it is going to be ‘Made in India’ is a question that must rankle policy makers at the top. The push to the defence industry for the western countries came because of the world wars in the 20th century. Subsequently, during the Cold War, the stockpiling of nuclear weapons by the superpowers led to an arms race for four decades. In reference to the brilliant parting address by Eisenhower where he warned about the looming dangers of military-industrial complex (MIC), one of the reasons that the US came to grief was the insidious growth of the MIC that fuelled interventions and wars.

To be strong and self-reliant in defence is what India must aim for. According to Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI) report, presently India is the largest importer of arms in the world with 70% of its inventory being foreign. If self-reliance is the aim, then questions must be asked whether in doing that, are we bargaining our sovereignty to indigenous industrial houses. Let us not delude ourselves. No one is in the business for altruistic purposes!! We must have sufficient checks and balances so as not to walk down the disastrous road of a garrison state.