Thiruvidanthai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thusrday said India's commitment to peace is just as strong as its commitment to protecting the country's territory and asserted that his government is ready to take all necessary measures to equip the armed forces to bolster their strength. The prime minister's comments, after formally inaugurating the Defence Expo here, comes in the backdrop of increasing Chinese activities along the nearly 4,000 km border with India as well as Beijing's efforts to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Listing his government's initiatives to promote defence production in India, Modi also accused the previous UPA government of policy paralysis in the defence 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," Modi said in the presence of top executives of foreign as well as domestic defence firms.
Though the four-day 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, state Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and representatives of a number of countries.
"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," the prime minister said.
The prime minister -- whose visit to Tamil Nadu comes amid widespread protests in the state over the Cauvery river waters issue -- also discussed modernisation of the armed forces and 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 aircrafts," Modi said.
The government last week began the process to procure around 110 fighter jets by issuing an RFI (Request for Information) or 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, Modi discussed the sacrifices of Indian soldiers in World War II and said the country had always contributed towards global peace, unity and harmony.
"India has believed in winning hearts," he said.
Emphasising the government's focus on military modernisation, Modi said the government has launched the "Innovation for Defence Excellence' scheme" under which "Defence Innovation Hubs" will be set up throughout the country to provide necessary incubation and infrastructure support to start-ups in the defence sector.
"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.
He also said the Defence Procurement Procedure has been revised with many specific provisions for stimulating growth of the domestic defence industry. "We have also de-notified some items earlier made exclusively by ordnance factories, so that the private sector, especially MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) can enter this space," he said.
"Over the last few years, we have made a humble beginning. On defence manufacturing licenses, 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 added.
The prime minister said his government was 'conscious' that defence manufacturing is unique in terms of government involvement.
"You need the government to grant a license 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 were participating in the exhibition, he said. More than 40 countries had also sent their official delegations as well, he pointed out.
Modi described Thiruvidanthai and the near-by 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," he said.
"I am delighted and overwhelmed to see an enthusiastic gathering in this historic region of Kanchipuram in the great state of Tamil Nadu. I am very happy to be here in the land of the great Cholas who established India's historical civilization links through trade and education," he said.