“We must be self-sufficient. Why can’t we send our defense equipment to other nations?” asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday as he attended the inaugural act of India’s largest warship, the INS Vikramaditya. The newly minted prime minister used the occasion to promote military and technological independence for the nation.
The INS Vikramaditya, an aircraft carrier previously belonging to the Soviet Union and entirely refurbished by the Indian government, was commissioned by India toward the end of last year, even then considered extremely significant for the military dynamics of the region. The ship, wrote the Times of India then, “would provide a significant boost to Indian Navy with [its] range of over 700 nautical miles” and provide the Indian military with “an array of weapons like anti-ship missiles, beyond visual range air-to-air missiles and guided bombs and rockets.”
Half a year later, the former Admiral Gorshkov received its official induction into the Indian Navy as the INS Vikramaditya. While the ship is of foreign origin, Prime Minister Modi took the opportunity to encourage technological advancement within India. Rather than relying on other nations to build the parts later used to construct Indian military equipment, Modi encouraged the development of such an industry domestically. “We need to give immense importance to latest technology. This will help the nation. Why should we import defense equipment?” he asked. Of the ship itself, Modi described its introduction into the Indian fleet as “a historic step” for the nation, as it is a significantly more formidable piece of engineering than anything previously in the Indian Navy.
Modi, who received more votes than anyone up for election in human history, is considered a reformer with significant potential to reconstruct and improve the Indian economy – indeed, much of his campaign focused on such improvements.
As a new prime minister, he has not had much opportunity to delve in foreign policy, but the little that he has achieved through symbolic gestures has resonated in the greater region. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration upon being invited, the first time the head of state of Pakistan had done so since India gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. While Pakistani media regarded the gesture with appreciation and Indian media with praise, some in the former expressed some reservations about Modi, corroborating their skepticism with the fact that the gesture of inviting Sharif was merely that, a gesture, and that no policy issues reportedly surfaced during the meeting.