Exclusive: 'People are casting their votes only in Modi's name', says Rajnath Singh

Singh is confident that NDA will win more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha polls

28-Rajnath-Singh Rajnath Singh | Sanjay Ahlawat

Exclusive Interview/ Rajnath Singh, defence minister

Rajnath Singh’s legacy as one of the tallest leaders of the BJP has been cemented after helming two of the most important portfolios―home and defence―in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, across two terms. And his place in a future Modi government seems assured as well.

I feel that we should not make the electoral bonds public. but we will respect the verdict of the Supreme Court.
I can assure everyone that there will be no discrimination on the basis of religion in India under any circumstances till the BJP is in power.
The bjp does not view Ram Temple through the prism of electoral dividends and there is no link between the two.
India’s defence exports have reached an all-time high, supplying to more than 100 countries
India Aims to reach annual defence production worth Rs1.75 lakh crore by 2024-25.
Why five years [for withdrawing afspa from J&K]? It can happen in one or two years or even a few months.

Seated comfortably in an ordinarily set room with a portrait of the Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, who perfected the art of fighting in the shadows, Rajnath knows that the time has come to embellish his legacy as a political talent spotter for the BJP. Serving as the president of the BJP in 2013, he was quick to recognise the lure of Modi’s charisma and smoothened the way for him to become the party’s undisputed mascot. He was astute enough to read the mood of his party and the nation that Modi was the man of the moment.

“The qualities that I saw [in Prime Minister Modi] have stood the test of time and India has marched ahead and progressed like never before. This means that my assessment was correct,” Rajnath told The WEEK in a warm and candid conversation that lasted for more than an hour at his 17, Akbar Road residence in New Delhi, which is guarded by armoured gates and an efficient security posse.

Rajnath is confident that the National Democratic Alliance will get more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha polls and that the BJP will not fall short of the 370-seat mark. “People believe that only Modi’s leadership can make India a superpower. They are casting their votes in Modi’s name,” he said.

Only a thin line separates political acumen and narcissism and Rajnath, who spent most of his political life in the rough and tumble of Uttar Pradesh politics, is confident but humble. He not only survived, but also thrived in his career spanning more than three decades because he knows, unlike many other politicians, when to shun the limelight and work in the shadows.

Rajnath has a typical way of greeting visitors. He makes himself available in the meeting room first, and waits for his guests to enter. During the interview, it did not take much time to realise why the defence minister is popular among friends and foes alike. “We do not distrust anyone,” said Rajnath. “Vajpayee ji used to say, “Hum dhokha kha sakte hai, dhoka de nahi sakte (We can be fooled, but we can never fool anyone).” It was with this sentiment, said Rajnath, that the BJP was welcoming political rivals into the party. “What can we do if they want to join us? It is the culture and tradition of Bharat to welcome everyone to their house,” said Rajnath. “If I come to your house, won’t you welcome me?” Excerpts from the interview:

Q/Prime Minister Narendra Modi says the NDA will win more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. How many seats will the BJP get?

A/ We are confident of getting more than 400 seats. The BJP alone will get not less than 370 seats. We are expecting to increase our tally in some states. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 62 seats in 2019, but this time the BJP is expecting to win 74-76 seats and all 80 seats are likely to go to the NDA. In Bihar, we will bag all 40 seats. There can be a margin of error of one or two seats here and there, but largely this is our expectation.

Q/ Talking of Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s move to ditch the INDIA bloc and join the NDA raises questions of credibility.

A/ I don’t think at this juncture anyone is looking at any leader other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People believe that if they want to make India a superpower, it is only Modi’s leadership that can make it possible. People are casting their votes in the name of Modi and nobody else.

Q/ But there seems to be a feeling in Maharashtra that leaders like Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar have betrayed the trust of the people by joining hands with the BJP?

A/ I don’t agree. These leaders, whether it is Shinde or Pawar, have taken the decision [to join hands with the BJP] keeping in mind the larger interests of the country. India can rise further in stature in the international community only under the guidance of Modi.

PTI02_27_2024_000193B Turf to tackle: Modi at the BJP’s ‘En Mann En Makkal’ padayatra in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu | PTI

Q/ There are some projections that the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance may win more seats in Maharashtra.

A/ I don’t think so. I think our alliance will get more seats. Our strength has increased with these leaders (Shinde and Ajit Pawar) joining us.

Q/ Talking about southern states, it is said ‘Siddu (Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah) for Bengaluru’ and ‘Modi for Delhi’. How crucial is Karnataka for the BJP?

A/ There can be a Congress government in Karnataka, but when it comes to Centre, there is a general perception in the state that it should be a Modi-led government.

Q/ How many seats are you expecting in Karnataka?

A/ Of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, we are expecting to win at least 26. We have won earlier, too. This time, the Janata Dal (Secular) is with us. Earlier, we won on our own strength, but this time we have an alliance with the JD(S), so our tally will go up as they have their own vote bank.

Q/ We have seen a Congress wave in Telangana.

A/ I am not saying that the Congress does not have any traction in the state elections in Telangana, but when it comes to parliamentary polls, there is a common perception in the entire country that if anyone can elevate the stature of the country, it is Modi.

Q/ How difficult is Tamil Nadu for the BJP?

A/ The alliance we have formed in Tamil Nadu and the increase we have seen in vote share will bring some pleasant surprises. I cannot say exactly how many seats will we win, but the results will be very surprising for some people. We have already had two public meetings in Tamil Nadu and in my entire political life, I have not seen the kind of response I saw this time.

Some leaders like the former Congress whip in the assembly, S. Vijayadharani, a three-time MLA, have joined the BJP. We are witnessing several communities getting attracted to the BJP, which was not seen in the state earlier. Moreover, a certain faction of the AIADMK is also forging an alliance with us.

Q/ What reasons do you attribute to the BJP gaining ground in the southern states?

A/ I think good governance is the key. There is not a single section of society which has not reaped the benefits of government schemes or any other good governance steps taken by the Modi government. There is a sense of pride in each and every Indian today as the country’s stature has risen globally. India’s economy, which was once considered in the “Fragile Five” (a reference to nations perceived to be most at risk because of their heavy reliance on foreign investment to drive growth), has entered the “Fabulous Five” and some of its benefits have reached every segment of the population.

Giving peace a chance: School children in Srinagar. Rajnath says since the BJP came to power at the Centre, peace has been restored in J&K | Salil Bera Giving peace a chance: School children in Srinagar. Rajnath says since the BJP came to power at the Centre, peace has been restored in J&K | Salil Bera

Q/ What about Kerala? It is being seen as the final frontier for the BJP.

A/ Our effort is to win some seats in Kerala. I cannot talk about a number yet, but we should definitely win some seats there. The signals we are getting from the ground is that the BJP will win a few seats. Whether it is two, three or six, I cannot say. Some of the seats we are expecting are Thiruvananthapuram, Palakkad and probably Thrissur.

Q/ The RSS is growing the fastest in Kerala, but the BJP is not getting enough political dividends.

A/ There is polarisation (of votes) between the Congress and the communists in Kerala for many years. The BJP did not grow as expected, but our percentage of votes has risen. Our party activities have increased, our booth presidents are present in huge numbers for the first time and our organisations have strengthened and become more effective. The response has been tremendous in public meetings and huge crowds gather to listen to the prime minister which was unthinkable for BJP leaders in Kerala in the past.

Q/ The state leadership of the BJP does not seem to have made a mark.

A/ The same was said about the state leadership in West Bengal, but the BJP won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. So, there is a craze for the prime minister and his charisma. Let everyone accept this truth.

Q/ Are the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal ready for an alliance in Odisha?

A/ Things are under consideration, but our target is to win all the Lok Sabha seats in Odisha along with the BJD.

Q/ The Citizenship (Amendment) Act seems to have caused anxiety among the minority community. How does it impact the BJP, especially in states like West Bengal, where Muslim votes may consolidate in favour of the Trinamool Congress?

A/ We have been trying to remove the confusion around the CAA and we have largely been successful. The CAA does not take away anyone’s citizenship, but provides citizenship to certain persecuted minorities. In West Bengal, we are expecting to win 25-30 seats this time. Even last time, when we claimed that we can win 18-20 seats, there were naysayers who thought the target was too high, but we achieved that. Similarly, we will achieve our target this time.

Q/ Do you see polarisation in the country because of the CAA?

A/ No, I don’t think so. Definitely, there are attempts by the opposition to polarise society, but the BJP does not believe in politics of polarisation and will never let it happen. Wherever confusion [around the CAA] still persists, we will remove all doubts and misconceptions within a month’s time.

Q/ With the United States expressing concern over the CAA, do you agree there is apprehension globally?

A/ There can be confusion in some countries about the CAA, but their concerns are absolutely misplaced. Their ambassadors are here and once their doubts are clarified, they will be reassured and everything will be crystal clear to them. What is the confusion? The only confusion is whether anyone will lose their citizenship after the implementation of the CAA. We have categorically said that the CAA is about giving citizenship, not taking it away. So this confusion will not last for long.

Q/ If religion becomes one of the criteria for citizenship, there is worry that it can also be misused to deny citizenship.

A/ We are giving citizenship to persecuted minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who have faced religious persecution and discrimination in those countries and have come to India to seek refuge. Pakistan is an Islamic state and no Muslim can face religious persecution in that country. If there is religious persecution there, it will be only against other religions. I can assure everyone that there will be no discrimination on the basis of religion in India under any circumstances till the BJP is in power.

Spiritual high: Rajnath at the release of a book on Ayodhya in Delhi | PTI Spiritual high: Rajnath at the release of a book on Ayodhya in Delhi | PTI

Q/ How is the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir? How is the BJP faring there?

A/ Recently, the prime minister met Kashmiri leaders in Srinagar and members of the Muslim community turned up in large numbers. It shows that people realise that since the BJP came to power at the Centre and Article 370 was abrogated, peace has been restored in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier, hundreds of incidents of terrorism used to take place in J&K every year, but now they are drastically reduced.

Q/ There is a feeling that Muslims are scared of voicing their opinions.

A/ This is not true at all. It maybe there in some newspapers, but it is definitely not the ground reality.

Q/ Omar Abdullah told us in an interview that he did not want to enter into an alliance with the BJP.

A/ When did we say that we are interested in an alliance with him? (laughs)

Q/ The consecration of the Ram Temple was a key event in the country’s cultural history. Will the BJP benefit electorally from it?

A/ The BJP does not view Ram Temple through the prism of electoral dividends and there is no link between the two. People have devotion towards Lord Ram and it is a sacred issue for them. We do not see gain or loss here. People from across the country―from Tamil Nadu to Kerala to Lakshadweep―have celebrated the construction of the temple, with saffron flags flying high. Lakshadweep has 70 per cent to 80 percent Muslim population. There was no corner in this country where the Ram Temple was not celebrated.

Q/ People have always had faith in Lord Ram. Then why this euphoric celebration?

A/ The birth place of Lord Ram had no temple earlier and it is because of the construction of the temple at such a pious place that people are euphoric. People feel that Lord Ram has left his hut and entered his palace finally and there will be Ram Rajya in the country.

Q/ Can it not lead to insecurity among the minority population?

A/ The minority population will vote for the BJP this time in a much larger way. It will be unprecedented in the history of the party. It will be beyond expected lines because the Christians and Muslims are voting for us. Christians supported us last time as well, but now their support has increased manifold.

Q/ The focus has shifted to reclaiming Kashi and Mathura temples.

A/ It (Gyanvapi) is a longstanding dispute and it is up to the courts to decide. It is against our ethics to put any pressure on the courts. We will accept whatever judgement is given by the courts and I think everyone will abide by it, be it Muslims or any other religious groups.

Q/ How do you see the Supreme Court’s verdict on the electoral bonds?

A/ The State Bank of India is releasing all the figures. I think we should let the Supreme Court decide. But leaving the Supreme Court decision aside, if demands arise tomorrow that in a healthy democracy we must disclose our voting choices, should we do that? Should this information be made public? Personally, I feel that we should not make the electoral bonds public because if a certain donor contributed to ‘x’ party because of its ideology and tomorrow ‘y’ party comes to power, then the donor faces the risk of being harassed. This is my opinion, but we will respect the verdict of the Supreme Court.

Q/ But some donors faced the heat of Central agencies before they decided to contribute to the BJP.

A/ There is no link between the two. The ED and the CBI are autonomous organisations which have been working even during the Congress-led regime. It is not as if they came into existence during the BJP government’s time.

Q/ The BJP has completed all items on its agenda: the abrogation of Article 370, the implementation of the uniform civil code (in Uttarakhand) and notifying the CAA rules. What next?

A/ One thing has become clear that the BJP is not a political party that creates a crisis of credibility. There is no gap between our words and deeds. We fulfil all our promises. Our next agenda is to make India a developed nation and a superpower―Viksit Bharat. The BJP’s election manifesto will show the way forward.

Q/ A good democracy needs a strong opposition, too. But most of the opposition is now with you.

A/ It is very unfortunate [that there is no strong opposition]. The opposition should try hard to become a strong one, but it is collapsing. It is the opposition’s failure that it has become so weak.

Q/ Why is the BJP taking opposition leaders into its fold?

A/ What can we do if they want to join us? The culture and tradition of Bharat has taught us to welcome everyone to our house. If I come to your house, won’t you welcome me?

Q/ When you welcome leaders who were ideologically opposed to the BJP, does it not lead to resentment among the committed cadres?

A/ Our family is only becoming bigger. Should we be happy or sad about it? Our ideological commitment will never be diluted.

Q/ Are you saying that those who join the BJP also change their ideology?

A/ The ideology and programmes of the BJP are being appreciated by political leaders coming into our fold. They like it and want to participate in it. If they win, they can join the government to participate in the growth of the country. They want to be a part of the success story of India. This is because if there is any political party in the country which is capable of meeting diverse challenges, it is the BJP.

Q/ How do you trust politicians like Nitish Kumar, who made yet another U-turn to join the NDA right before the polls?

A/ We are trusting people. We do not distrust anyone. If anyone ditches us, it is another story, but we are not the ones to ditch anyone. It is not in our character. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to say, “Hum dhokha kha sakte hai, dhoka de nahi sakte (We can be fooled, but we will never fool anyone).”

1246582065 Ready to rumble: A BrahMos missile system on display during the Republic Day parade | Getty Images

Q/ Talking about Vajpayee, it is said that he got a portrait of Jawaharlal Nehru restored at the South Block after it went missing. Vajpayee got along well with political opponents. Why is it missing today?

A/ Bonhomie between the ruling party and opposition leaders is still very much there. Whenever the prime minister and [Congress president] Mallikarjun Kharge meet, there is a lot of affection and love. Modi ji is good friends with everyone and talks to everyone. There is not a single person in the opposition with whom Modi ji has not spoken to, be it leaders from the Congress, the TMC or the DMK. Whenever they meet, there is a lot of laughter and mirth.

Q/ We do not see much debate and discussion in Parliament these days. Bills are passed without discussion.

A/ It is for the opposition to introspect why it is not ready to participate in debate and discussions. If the opposition refuses to participate, how can we be blamed for it? If any member of any opposition party wants to participate in a debate, can we stop him? There have been times when Parliament functioned till 4am. But if the opposition only wants to create ruckus and stage walkouts, how can we be held responsible for their behaviour?

Q/ But the government is also responsible for the conduct of the house.

A/ The speaker runs the house and he is very popular among all political parties.

Q/ For five years, we did not have a deputy speaker.

A/ I assume opposition parties might not have reached a consensus on a candidate.

Q/ Who do you think will be the INDIA bloc candidate against Modi?

A/ They have not been able to complete seat distribution properly, so the choice of a PM candidate is a far cry. We have already seen so many contradictory opinions coming up. When Kharge was propped up, some others opposed. When some of them proposed Mamata Banerjee, others propped up Nitish Kumar. The BJP cannot be held responsible for it.

Q/ The BJP has still not succeeded in making a Congress-mukt Bharat. Will there be a Congres-mukt Uttar Pradesh this time?

A/ I don’t think the Congress will win any seat in Uttar Pradesh, including Raebareli. Rahul Gandhi himself has not been able to venture into Amethi.

Q/ When you were BJP President, you had announced Modi as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. What qualities did you see in him that time?

A/ The qualities which I saw then have stood the test of time and India has marched ahead and progressed like never before. This means that my assessment was correct.

Q/ How do you see the unrest in Manipur?

A/ What happened in Manipur was very unfortunate. It became an ethnic issue, but the government has made all efforts to restore peace and normalcy. Things are under control today.

Q/ The prime minister visited the northeast several times, but he did not go to Manipur.

A/ When there are crises like this, it is the Union home minister who visits the troubled areas. The home minister stayed in Manipur for three days and interacted with everyone. It is the prime minister who tasks the home minister and it is part of the latter’s responsibility. To say that the prime minister himself has to go everywhere is not correct. If the home minister had not visited Manipur, then these allegations would make sense, but there is no merit in this argument.

Q/ Is the situation in J&K conducive to hold assembly polls?

A/ There are no serious internal security challenges in J&K today. We will decide on the next step (assembly polls) when we receive a report from the Union territory on whether the situation is peaceful and conducive to hold elections. But we want assembly elections to be held soon.

Q/ Since the security situation has improved after the abrogation of Article 370, when will the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be revoked?

A/ After reviewing the security situation, whenever the government thinks it appropriate, AFSPA can be removed.

Q/ Can it be lifted in the next five years if the BJP comes to power?

A/ Why five years? It can happen in one or two years or even a few months. AFSPA has been removed from 80 per cent of the northeast.

Leading from the front: Rajnath at a forward post along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh | PIB Leading from the front: Rajnath at a forward post along the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh | PIB

Q/ Is cross-border terrorism from Pakistan on the wane?

A/ Pakistan continues to make attempts to disrupt peace, but it is not getting any success. The infiltration attempts have decreased compared with the past.

Q/ Are you satisfied with the pace of border infrastructure work on the Sino-Indian border?

A/ There has been a lot of improvement. Earlier, the Congress government was apprehensive that if we build border roads and infrastructure, Chinese forces will enter Indian territory. We have no such apprehensions. India is not a weak country now. We do not attack anyone, but if someone attacks us, we will give a fitting reply. If you see history, there is not a single instance when India targeted its neighbours. But whenever someone attacked us, we have protected ourselves. As Vajpayee ji used to say, “Dost badal sakte hai, par padosi nahi (We can choose our friends, but not our neighbours).”

Q/ Is the time ripe to resume peace talks with Pakistan?

A/ If Pakistan commits that it will not indulge in terrorist acts, we can resume dialogue. Terrorism and dialogue cannot go hand in hand. Cross-border terrorism has come down in J&K because of the efforts of our security forces and not because of Pakistan.

Q/ After the abrogation of Article 370, there are expectations that the Modi government will resolve the border dispute with China.

A/ Talks are going on between India and China. The [military] dialogue is going on for sometime now. It is the longest dialogue between the two countries so far but we have to be patient and wait for it to conclude.

Q/ There is apprehension that China is trying to acquire land inch by inch. Is it true that there has been no loss of territory from our side?

A/ It would not be appropriate to comment further on the India-China border issue. But people will be happily surprised with India’s capabilities if I could disclose any details. The loss of land [to China] happened only during the Congress regime. They must be viewing that loss when they talk about it.

Q/ China poses a challenge in the seas, be it the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea. The Maldives, too, posed a military challenge recently.

A/ The Indian Navy has become very strong as we have seen in recent times [in the Red Sea], safeguarding India’s maritime interests. India has opened a new naval base at Minicoy. We are addressing all issues successfully.

Q/ India’s defence exports have been among your biggest successes. It has crossed Rs16,000 crore in the last fiscal.

A/ India’s defence exports have reached an all-time high, surging from Rs1,143 crore in FY 2013-14 to nearly Rs16,000 crore (nearly $2 billion) in FY 2022-23. We are exporting to more than 100 countries now. Today, we are exporting state-of-the-art platforms and systems. This remarkable increase reflects India’s progress in the defence manufacturing sector. End-to-end online solution has been provided for issuing export authorisations, facilitating ease of doing business. By earmarking a fixed percentage of capital procurement budget for domestic procurement, we are promising our defence manufacturers an assured market. The domestic procurement is increasing continuously for the past many years. In 2021-22, 64 per cent of capital procurement budget was earmarked for the domestic procurement. In 2022-23, it was 68 per cent. In the current financial year, it has been earmarked at 75 per cent of capital budget for domestic procurement.

Q/ How do you see the success of Make-in-India programme?

A/ The government launched the ‘Make-In-India’ initiative in 2014 and the defence sector was identified as one of the most important sectors for this initiative. India was heavily reliant on the defence imports in the past. Because of heavy import dependence, we faced challenges in the supply of defence equipment during war situations and critical geopolitical scenarios.

India’s defence industry faced significant challenges such as non-availability of defence technologies, including niche and critical technologies, and modern testing and certification facilities, slow defence procurement processes, low investment opportunities and lack of private participation in defence manufacturing. Historically, India was always ranked among the top global importers of arms, which justified the need for this transformation that was brought in Make-in-India initiative in 2014.

Q/ India’s defence production has crossed Rs1 lakh crore. What targets have you set for coming years?

A/ The Make-in-India initiative has been supported with policy initiatives and reforms in the last nine years. It has shown positive impact in the defence industrial sector. This has created a conducive environment for promoting investments, defence manufacturing, innovations for niche technologies and provided a level-playing field to private industry. In terms of annual defence production, we have achieved a growth of 46 per cent in the last seven years, starting from Rs74,000 crore in 2016-17. It has already reached Rs1.08 lakh crore in 2022-23. Our target is to achieve annual defence production of Rs1,75,000 crore by 2024-25.

Q/ Under your stewardship, private sector has made significant inroads in the defence sector. What changed in the last few years?

A/ The focus on ‘Make in India’ has resulted in an increase in procuring defence licenses by private industry by more than 200 per cent in last nine years, reflecting the confidence in government policies. Private defence companies were awarded 214 defence industrial licenses till February 2014, whereas the number went up to 423 after February 2014.

So far, 1,650 ToTs (transfer of technology) on DRDO-developed systems have been handed over to Indian industries, of which 1,165 transfers happened in the last nine years. Further, the DRDO has established 15 DRDO Industry Academia-Centres of Excellence (DIA-CoEs) at IISc and various IITs and universities. A level-playing field has been provided to the industry. Private industry has been given access to government proof ranges and testing facilities to promote ease of doing business and facilitate defence manufacturing ecosystem.

Q/ The defence sector needs a dynamic startup sector and innovation. How is the ministry planning to deal with this challenge?

A/ Our startups have done tremendously well under Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX). It aims at the creation of an ecosystem to foster innovation and technology development in defence and aerospace by engaging industries, R&D institutes and academia and provide them grants and other support to carry out R&D and innovation which has good potential for future adoption in Indian defence and aerospace sector. iDEX provides grants up to Rs1.50 crore (up to Rs10 crore in case of iDEX Prime) to startups/MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) to fund projects in niche technological areas. Till November 2023, as many as 300 contracts have been signed for prototype development.

Q/ Government needs to provide robust policy support to indigenous manufacturing to strengthen the defence sector. What has been done so far in this regard?

A/ The government has taken several policy initiatives and brought in reforms to encourage indigenous design, development and manufacture of defence equipment, thereby promoting self-reliance in defence manufacturing and technology. These initiatives include giving priority to procurement of capital items from domestic sources under Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020; notification of five ‘Positive Indigenisation Lists’ of 509 items of services and four ‘Positive Indigenisation Lists’ of 4,666 items of Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), for which there would be an embargo on the import beyond the timelines indicated against them. There is focus on simplification of industrial licensing process with longer validity period and liberalisation of foreign direct investment (FDI) policy allowing 74 per cent FDI under the automatic route. Besides simplification of procedures, launch of iDEX scheme involving startups and MSMEs; implementation of public procurement (preference to Make in India) order 2017; launch of an indigenisation portal SRIJAN to facilitate indigenisation by Indian industry including MSMEs; and the establishment of two defence industrial corridors, one each in Uttar Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu are some other steps.

The Defence Research & Development (R&D) has been opened up for industry, startups and academia. To ensure supply of spares through indigenisation by domestic industries, guidelines on conduct of form, fitment and functional trials have been issued.

PTI01_04_2022_000108B United front: Indian soldiers at the Galwan valley in Ladakh | PTI

Q/ The government will also need FDI in defence. What has been the trend so far?

A/ To attract foreign investors and to bring new technologies to India, FDI in the defence sector has been further liberalised in September 2020 to up to 74 per cent under the automatic route and above 74 per cent through the government route. At present, about 45 joint ventures with foreign OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are already operational. We are also working on JVs to bring technologies for manufacturing of aero-engines, ship engines etc.

Today, India offers a unique opportunity in defence and aerospace manufacturing. This opportunity comes as a “Sangam (confluence)” of rising demand, greater innovation, conducive policies and maturing ecosystem in defence and aerospace manufacturing sector. All these efforts aim to strengthen indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem to make India self-reliant. It will boost industrial growth, foreign [exchange reserves], creation of jobs and GDP growth and also ensure sustained supply of critical defence equipment.

Q/ What is the road ahead for defence production?

A/ India aims to reach annual defence production worth Rs1.75 lakh crore by 2024-25. We have achieved substantially in the last seven years starting from Rs74,000 crore in 2016-17 and have already reached Rs1.08 lakh crore in 2022-23. The defence ministry is focused on the development of niche and deep technologies to get prepared for future warfare. Our scientists and young startups are working on various deep technologies including quantum, artificial intelligence, cyber, underwater awareness, space, drones/anti-drones and robotics. We are also working on the development of dual-use technologies.

Moreover, initiatives have been taken to ensure quality in defence manufacturing to bring indigenous defence industry at par with global standards to achieve self-reliance and subsequently become a potent exporting nation to friendly countries. The focus on indigenisation is a transformative step and will result in a number of spinoffs, the major one being the transformation of Indian military from “buyers” to “builders” with respect to indigenous production of defence platforms and weapons and as a nation, from “importer” to “exporter” of defence products.

The impetus on indigenisation in defence has contributed to industrial growth, import substitution, employment generation and greater economic activity, which, in turn, is contributing to enhanced production activity and GDP growth. In the present geopolitical scenario, the world is looking at India with greater interest as we follow the principles of “One World, One Family” and universal peace. In its Amrit Kaal, India is likely to become global manufacturing hub with focus on “Make in India–Make for the World”.

Q/ You have made your mark as a defence minister who blends military diplomacy well.

A/ India is using its soft power wherever it can. The fact that the prime minister is talking to both Russia and Ukraine is an example of our soft power. But the [long] wars are not good for the world and India is playing its role to restore peace. The prime minister has made an appeal to both Russian and Ukrainian presidents, saying dialogue is the way forward.

Q/ What is your proudest moment as defence minister?

A/ The confidence and bravery of the Indian armed forces is a matter of pride for me as well as all the Indian citizens. I think their confidence levels have also risen manifold.