When Prime Minister Narendra Modi releases a book on India’s Maritime Heritage on February 7 during the International Fleet Review, he would have emphasized that India has always been a maritime power and that our story is a story of voyagers, from Harappa and Lothal to the era of Raja Raja Chola.
The awakening to regain our maritime superiority has come recently, but the path charted out is exciting and looks reassuring for the future of Indian Navy. The future is maritime, said Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Dhowan when I met him during Japanese PM Abe’s India visit - and everybody agrees.
This is also Admiral Dhown's most glorious moment - an officer who commands great respect globally for his perfectionist attitude and for being a hard task master who has set the Navy on a futuristic path of gaining self reliance and the best lethal power.
It’s not just India’s 15,000 kms of coastal line that needs to be guarded. We have stakes in the Indian Ocean and pacific going up to the South and North China seas.
This year, India is celebrating the second millennium of Rajendra Chola’s birth anniversary, who remains till date, a naval emperor par excellence, and whose rule extended up to the deep east - virtually commanding the waves.
We are a nation of seafarers since the times of early civilization and this fact has remained buried under the strains of defending our northern borders which meant that military naturally became synonymous with the army.
With more than fifty navies of the world participating in the presence of about 25 naval chiefs of various countries, India is getting a rare chance to show its naval prowess to the world with the International Fleet Review. We are here to stay and make our presence felt in the maritime region. Let no one remain in any doubt, said a top naval analyst emphasizing that Indian Naval expansion was never so rapid.
We are moving ahead to add 100 new warships, having two aircraft carriers, three nuclear powered submarines, submarine-rescue vessels and aiming to have a capacity to build ships with hundred percent Indian knowledge and technology by 2030. Not just this, the future plan envisages exporting Indian made ships too and we have already committed to supply patrol vessels and naval ships to Mauritius and Vietnam.
Presently, one-third of weapons and sensors are made in our shipyards and so are about 60 percent of the propulsion systems. We have to rely on European and Russian technologies for warships. The trend must be corrected and in a big leap forward, the Ambani group has agreed to invest 50 billion rupees for naval shipyards.
The South China Sea syndrome and the growing strains in the Pacific region prove that India will have to assert its role in maritime region and build a truly powerful blue water Navy. Our growing ties with Vietnam, Singapore and Philippines and the bolstered vision for the future cooperation with Indian Ocean nations after the visit of Prime Minister Modi in May last year, shows India’s active interest to provide ‘net security’ and a vision to keep this region free of any conflicts and any race for gaining unhealthy superiority.
With the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and ancient civilizational ties with all countries of the Indian Ocean and Pacific region, India’s presence is warmly welcomed by all those nations who are getting more concerned about the future. The assertion is to keep the law of the seas and the Bali principle of ‘no threat- no interference’
India's ambitious, but not difficult goal, includes to build a 200 ship Navy in the next decade and expand our naval presence from Africa to the Pacific. We are moving with confidence, taking advantage of the ‘democratic axis’ that includes Japan and Australia on one side and the USA on the other. The joint naval exercises like Malabar have created the right atmosphere for us. But the nautical miles we have yet to cover, are long and need a patient build up of our sinews.
We not only have to match the growing Chinese presence in our region, but we must also have a superior position. Presently, the Chinese Navy with 300 ships looks down at our 137 vessel Navy (the sarcastic and sometimes acidic remarks of Global Times reflect their attitude at one level).
If 90% of India's trade is through waterways, 80% of China's oil supplies are routed through Malacca straits. The significance of the maritime sector was never so big and crucial. India will have to shed its inhibitions and declare unambiguously that we are seriously moving to make sure that the Indian Ocean is not just an ocean with India in its name, but also that it belongs to us.
The writer is a Member of Parliament from the BJP and is also part of the party's National Executive.
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