Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of late, spelled out India’s ambitions to become a major defence hub as global firms flocked to the mega Aero India 2023 in Bangalore on 22 February last for a slice of the nation’s massive import budget. At the curtain raiser event for the show, defence minister aid that the government is committed to making India self-reliant in the defence sector and has set a target of achieving defence exports worth Rs 25,000 crore by 2024. Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated his government’s promise of boosting defence exports by more than 200% over the next three years. From about $1.5 billion in 2021-21, India targets to export $5 billion worth of military hardware by 2025,’’ PM Modi said. The $5 billion target comes at a time when the Modi government is pushing an ambitious programme of turning the nation into a defence manufacturing hub.
Surprisingly, this resolve to build India as a defence exporter comes at a time when India is ranked number one in arms import. 11% of global arms import is by India. Aside from Russia and France, India also imported arms during this five-year period from Israel, South Korea, and South Africa which are among the top arms exporters globally. What a contrast! While the budgetary allocation for education, food security and health have been Rs. 89,155 crore, Rs. 1,97,350 crore and Rs. 36,175 crore respectively in 2023-24, the defence budget is starkly higher at Rs. 5,94,000 crore!
And this is at a time when over 80 crore Indians are languishing in abject poverty, malnutrition and starvation are at peak. Approximately 4500 children die every day under the age of five years due to hunger and malnutrition. This is reflected in India’s growing slide in global hunger index 2022, now 107 out of 121 countries, down from 101st position in 2021. Pauperization of people is soaring with every passing day. Prices are rising exponentially, unemployment mounting, job loss is spiralling and essential services like healthcare and proper education eluding over 95% countrymen. Over 5.5 lakh peasants have committed suicide. Now retrenched and jobless workers are joining them in ending life to get relief from such a sub-human living. Inequality is climbing grotesquely. No doubt we are in ‘Amritkal’ after 75 years of independence and the whole world is looking at India’s spectacular growth and steady march to become a 5 trillion economy, as claimed by the BJP PM and his cabinet and party colleagues.
But then why this one-sided emphasis on arms manufacturing and import? Even on 31 March, 2023, the last day of the financial year 22-23, the BJP government placed fresh order of weapons amounting to Rs 32,000 crore so that there is no balance is left in the previous year’s budgetary allotment. Let us quote from Comrade Shibdas Ghosh, Founder General Secretary, SUCI(C) and an outstanding Marxist thinkers of the era, to get the answer. ‘‘If there is no market abroad and if an internal market too cannot be created to some extent, then what would happen to the steel that is being continually produced? The steel would stockpile at once, the shifts would close down, the steel plants …would have to face closure. That is why this beating of war drum. War is to be waged, that means, artificial stimulation is to be created in the market by increasing the military budget— the government would itself consume a part of the steel produced as the buyer. Besides, the government would try to rescue to some extent the engineering industries by placing orders. The Indian capitalists cannot do without creating an artificial stimulation in the market in this way, increasing the military budget and defence industries for this purpose… So, the budget for defence industries cannot be reduced, rather it is to be increased continually. The crux of the matter is that the policy of artificially stimulating the market is to be kept in force. Indian capitalist economy too is gradually leaning toward militarization in the bid to save itself from the all-out crisis in trade and commerce.’’
(Independence on 15th August and Problems of Emancipation of People, SW Vol. III)
(source: Indian Express 27-02-23, 13-03-23)