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The dark world of China’s multi-domain warfare

India must build its strength across all domains. Business as usual is no more an option. It’s time the country moved to business as unusual, especially with its relations with China.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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In an article on 5G, I outlined how China is waging multi-domain warfare (MDW) with Huawei as one of its Trojan Horses. It evoked great response. It also evoked great concerns from some right-thinking people as well:

I agree with the threat posed and China’s game. My apprehensions….it will be ‘back to business as usual’ once the situation normalises. In the ICT sector nothing gets done which is not made in China, or has Chinese parts. Who will fight the L1?

While the PLA has a finger in everything, we do not even have control over the DRDO, HAL, Ordnance Factories or even the MES or the Cantonment Boards.

5G allows China to hide in plain sight. The borders are moving to our homes and smartphones. 5G and IOT allow Chinese to trigger cyber-attacks from millions of vulnerabilities.

I share their concerns. My worry is also “back to business as usual”. At the first whiff of normalcy, the bureaucracy will start the familiar game of snakes and ladders. One step forward and many backwards. The Chinese believe in two steps forward and one step back. Some contrasting similarity! Even our PM is said to have remarked that he will not allow our bureaucrats to waste his second term. Telling thoughts.

However, the Virus and Galwan have changed the “usual”. Everyone understands the virus. It threatens our lives and lifestyle. So change is forced to a new normal. However the Chinese threat has seeped under the carpet. Galwan has exposed the poison underneath. What is happening in Ladakh is only a trailer. There is a sinisterly dark multidimensional war being waged against India. This will not abate. After the US, India threatens Chinese superpower dreams. That is why China is in military conflict with one and heading into war with another. China will initiate conflict and war despite sleeping in our bed to make trade and commercial profit. Curtailing India will be one of its key national objectives. It will be aggressive and assertive. Whether the assertiveness stems from opportunism, imperiousness, reactivity or insecurity is immaterial. Hence understanding the MDW concept and its Chinese manifestation is important to move to the new “unusual”.

Multi-Domain Warfare: Overview

The Concept: The Chinese practice the concept of ‘Unrestricted Warfare’. This led the US Army to adopt the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) approach. However MDO is operational and too narrow when applied at a national/international level. A wider understandable concept like MDW is needed to encapsulate the dark approaches of China in conducting war. Clausewitz’s dictum that “war is politics by other means” and conversely “politics is war by other means” encapsulates the MDW spectrum. It can be defined as conventional and/or non-conventional war carried out by state, non-state or state sponsored actors using hard and soft power during war, conflict or peace situations by day or night for specified national outcomes in various interacting and overlapping domains. These multiple domains are represented in the graphic.

Military Civil Fusion: A leading tool for execution of MDW is “Military-Civil Fusion,” (MCF). The colonial system gave birth to MCF. It was refined by USA. However China has taken it to a sinister level. The CCP is at the apex of MCF. The troika underneath — Government, PLA and Civilian firms are meshed seamlessly. They front each other interchangeably assisting the CCP in retention or capture of power. Barriers between China’s civilian industry and military — in research, development and trade have been eliminated. Firms like Huawei, ZTE and Bytedance are Trojan Horses of CCP. Their State-Owned Enterprises and Financial system are the main actors. MCF focuses on dual use technologies like quantum computing, big data, semiconductors, 5G, advanced nuclear technology, aerospace technology, and AI. The technologies are developed/acquired legally or illegally. Chinese methods include investment in private industries, talent recruitment programs, academic and research collaboration, forced technology transfer, intelligence gathering, and outright theft. State financing and subsidies are heavy. The core dual use areas are Artificial Intelligence to give them an asymmetrical advantage in warfare, New Materials for high-value industries like aerospace, Energy Storage which is an essential ingredient of battlefield stamina. (China controls the global Li Ion battery chain), Communication which is the lifeblood of societies and militaries and Nuclear Power to control the future nuclear export markets. MCF vastly expands the Chinese economic basket, converts PLA into a technologically advanced military and enables China to conduct a ceaseless MDW. Let us now see as to how China is waging a dark all pervasive Multi Domain Warfare against India.

Conventional Domains

Premeditated expansionist aggression through conventional Air, Land and Sea domains is manifest in Ladakh and South China Sea. This will continue. India must be prepared for direct Chinese aggression in future also. Simultaneously India needs to prepare for indirect and insidious moves through Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Pakistan and Nepal will remain willing catspaws of China. Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Pakistan (Gwadar) and Myanmar (Kyaukpyu) are the seaborne manifestations in waiting.

Disruptive Technology Domains

The disruptive technology domains are now coming to fore. Military strategists and Government ‘Pundits’ need to understand it better to develop counter strategies.

 Space: Space technology is an investment. A lot of space exploration is the search for liquid hydrogen to power fuel cells and attain energy dominance. The quest for new materials must be seen in this context. The ability to have a vibrant military and civilian aerospace ecology is an enterprise activity. China’s MCF plays a huge part in this enterprise. The spinoffs are dual use Satellite and Anti-Satellite technologies. In Ladakh, space technology supported their influence ops to beam a Chinese map on Pangong Tso into our bedrooms. Dicey.

Cyberspace and Electromagnetic Spectrum: Chinese exploitation of these interactive and interdependent domains is well established. It has carried out numerous cyber-attacks against India, USA and Australia. Its quest for AI, Communication and ICT technologies through MCF has multiple contexts. Unbridled Profits. Control over governments through communication and social media surveillance. Intelligence collection. Military prowess. These two key domains underpin Chinese domination in other domains.

 Nuclear Domain: The nuclear domain is not confined to nuclear war. It extends to proliferation for geopolitical control through Pakistan, N Korea and now probably Iran. A dangerous nuclear grouping. It is also about use and denial of nuclear energy. Chinese efforts to block India from Nuclear Suppliers Group is essentially denial of nuclear raw material. It delays India’s efforts at achieving critical mass in the Thorium cycle, which is our path to strategic independence.   

Dark Power Domains

Chinese ‘Three war’ strategies of Public Opinion, Legal and Influence ops are dark power domains. They exploit the power of information and data in a continuum. The CCP conveys political intent through these domains and prepares ground for other domains to succeed.

Public Opinion: China weaponises public opinion by manipulation, misinformation, sowing dissent, and discord in democratic societies. It shapes domestic and international public opinion blatantly through media, military experts, and political parties. A halo is built to make the Chinese look ‘Ten Feet Tall’ and invincible.  

Legal Status: China always portraying itself as a victim while blatantly violating the international rules-based order. Legal justification, through mythical history, is standard. Others are accused of breaking rules. Most importantly, the legal loopholes of democracies are exploited. Target countries are left with no choice but to accept the Chinese fait accompli.    

 Influence Operations: Chinese narratives are being built through pliant politicians, media, and officials. Think tanks, academic institutions, workers unions, industry, and even the government is penetrated to influence thought and decision. It will continuously exploit Indian plurality and fissures in the political and bureaucratic firmaments. China will ensure that either a wrong decision or one that favors it is taken.

Traditional Domains

Economy, Diplomacy and Politics/ Geopolitics are traditional domains. Energy and resource exploitation are historical endeavors by expansionist nations. As China heads into isolation we need to remember — an isolated and poor China was always troublesome and expansionist. A rich and ambitious China will be even more so.

Political: China is a political bully eternally threatening and coercing everyone. This will continue. PLA’s intrusion when Xi Jinping was visiting India was a premeditated hostile political move. The current military aggression in Ladakh is also a well-planned political move. A nation which can declare Dalai Lama as a terrorist and support Masood Azhar displays political perversion. Expect a politically hostile China which will interfere in our internal affairs at every turn. The Pakistani threat is peanuts in comparison.

Economy: China makes countries economically intertwined and dependent upon it. Thereafter it coerces and threatens them to defer to its political requirement. Many countries are subject to such threats including the US. China undermines the International financial system to debt trap weaker nations. India’s commercial dependency on China can be weaponised any day now. That will definitely force India into the next “unusual”.

Diplomacy: The Chinese ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy has been loutish to say the least. It seeks to undermine the target country’s sovereignty unambiguously. It happened in Australia recently and we could expect it to happen anytime.

 Energy and Resource Exploitation: A rising China is thirsty for resources and energy. It is sucking out mineral and oil resources from Africa through the BRI and debt traps. India must expect trouble. We have spurned all their schemes.   

Health Domain

China has weaponized health through the Wuhan Virus. It let the virus out deliberately. Mask Diplomacy was used to threaten countries which did not toe its line. The recently launched Health Silk Road as an alternative to the BRI is a new front.

 The New Unusual

China is waging a 360-degree MDW systematically against India. This will continue whether China becomes a superpower or not. China’s comprehensive national power outweighs India’s. We therefore have two choices. We partner with China or not. Partnering China means that we will become Pakistan Mark 2 eventually. That is not acceptable to any self-respecting Indian. Hence, we must contest China comprehensively. Resultantly India must build its strength across all domains. Business as usual is no more an option. India must move to business as unusual.

 India can thwart China presently. However it cannot contain China on its own. As per our national policy we cannot be part of an alliance. Hence, we must be part of a strategic partnership. It could be the Quad or Quad plus or any other with a focused geopolitical, military, and economic agenda. Partners need not even come to each other’s direct aid except in dire emergency. A differentiated but synergistic approach based on common intelligence, capacities, and purpose is good enough.

An economic revival necessitates grasping opportunities. We are strong in ICT and auto sectors. We can attract relocation in these sectors and build around them. If tech companies are quitting Hong Kong, they should be attracted here. Similarly in other sectors. Reforms are needed for attracting relocation and for Atma Nirbharta to take off. China respects strength. Hence the need to strengthen our Armed Forces in certain core areas is paramount. We need to start our own version of MCF. Communication, AI, Cyberspace, aerospace, space, and energy are starters. All in all, business as unusual must be the order of the day. If Government functionaries dither and prevaricate, then India lies exposed. Simple as that.  

Lastly, the Chinese Communist Party is an ideology. It cannot be defeated by kinetic means. It must be defeated by counter ideas and ideology — religion, democracy, or ethnicity. Mythologically, Ravan’s empire started collapsing after Hanuman carried the battle across to Lanka and set it afire. China has four Lankas — Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Time to set some or all of them on fire.

 Lt Gen PR Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www.gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

CADETS OF NCC DIRECTORATE GUJARAT TO BE DEPLOYED AT SURAT IN SUPPORT OF THE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION FOR COMBATING COVID-19 AS PART OF EXERCISE NCC YOGDAN

Ashish Singh

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As the nation is going through the second surge in Covid-19, NCC Cadets of Gujarat Directorate have volunteered to support Civil administration in various activities as part of the Exercise Yogdan II. In response to the requisition from DM Surat, 56 highly motivated Cadets (both boy Cadets and girl Cadets) have volunteered to provide relief efforts and assist in functioning of agencies employed in Covid-19 at Surat. More Cadets of Gujarat Directorate are likely to volunteer as the Exercise Yogdan II commences. Only Senior Division Boys and Senior Wing Girl Cadets of Gujarat Directorate above the age of 18, are being deployed to support the administration as part of NCC Exercise Yogdan II. All the Gujarat Directorate Cadets deployed would be Senior Volunteer Cadets and with proper Covid safety precautions and adequate care. The Cadets have undergone a thorough training on DOs and Dont’s on Covid Protocols before being deployed.

In addition, on announcement of Tika Utsav by the PM , the Cadets of Gujarat Directorate actively participated in spreading awareness about the necessity of getting Vaccinated and following Covid appropriate behaviour, through door to door interaction and circulating a large number of videos and messages on social media. The Directorate General NCC at Delhi has also made provisions to insure the volunteer Cadets adequately. DG NCC at Delhi has been actively involved and focussed in giving the necessary permission for the employment of cadets. Major General Arvind Kapoor ADG, NCC Directorate Gujarat, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu informed that last year during Exercise NCC Yogdan I, Cadets of NCC Directorate Gujarat were deployed in maximum numbers which was highly appreciated by the dignitaries and the people of Gujarat. He further assured that all safety precautions related to Covid -19 will be ensured for the Cadets and staff of Gujarat Directorate employed in Exercise NCC Yogdan II. He also complimented the parents to have come forward and given their consent for the Cadets to be deployed.

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Defence

AUSTRALIA ANNOUNCES THE INDO-PACIFIC OCEANS INITIATIVE PARTNERSHIP WITH INDIA

Ashish Singh

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Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell AO, launched the Australia-India Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Partnership (AIIPOIP) grant program to help support a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific underpinned by the rule of law and respect for sovereignty. “This AUD 1.4 million (INR 8.12 crore) grant program is a practical initiative to advance Australia and India’s shared vision for the Indo-Pacific”, High Commission O’Farrell said. “Through this program, we are seeking new proposals on how Australia, India and other regional partners can advance our shared maritime objectives”, he added.

 

The AIIPOIP grants program will help deliver practical outcomes under the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 14th East Asia Summit in November 2019. “Australia is proud to be co-leading with India the marine ecology pillar of the IPOI”, High Commissioner O’Farrell said. The first phase of this multi-year grant program will encourage proposals from Australian and Indian stakeholders to share expertise and resources, complementing the work under existing regional mechanisms such as ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Pacific Islands Forum. AIIPOIP is an outcome of the Australia-India Joint Declaration on a Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, signed by Australia’s Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne and India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in June 2020, as part of the Australia-India Comprehensive and Strategic Partnership Agreement.

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Defence

PROTESTS BY TEHREEK-E-LABBAIK & ONGOING SITUATION IN PAKISTAN

Ashish Singh

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Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Pakistan (TLP) which draws its ideology from the Barelvi sect of Sunni Islam is a far-right Islamist political party in Pakistan, founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi on 1 August 2015. TLP is known for its countrywide street power and massive protests in opposition to any perceived change to Pakistan’s blasphemy law or disrespect to Allah/Prophet Muhammad. Its first demonstration of street power came to light following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri the bodyguard of Salman Taser, the Governor of Punjab, who killed the Governor for publicly voicing his support for Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen). Qadri was hung on 29 February 2016, after which TLP supporters took to the streets across Pakistan, proclaimed him a martyr, chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with the police. A TLP patron, Pir Abdul Qadri, also called for the killing of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on the case and the Army Chief.

TLP, among other extremist religious outfits, was manoeuvred into mainstream politics by the country’s Army brass as one of its tools of political engineering. It was thought that carving out the far-right fringe from the conservative voter base of the PML-N, would damage it in the 2018 general elections, which proved correct & many PML-N candidates lost to PTI, as the voter base of PML-N gravitated towards PTI. Pak Army’s support for TLP was evident during their protest which took place from 8th November 2017, at Faizabad contesting changes in the Elections Bill 2017, demanding resignation of Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid. DG of Punjab Rangers, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen distributing envelopes containing Rs 1,000 notes to the protesters. The ISI then ‘brokered’ a deal between the TLP and the government. Wrapping up the suo-moto case of Faizabad protests, the two bench judge which included Justice Qazi Faez, directed DG ISPR & ISI amongst others to operate within their mandate. The said Judge is now facing various charges of corruption reportedly on the behest of Pak Army & the ISI.

In October 2020, a teacher, Samuel Paty was beheaded in Paris by an Islamist terrorist reportedly for displaying a cartoon of Muhammad. French President Emmanuel Macron defended freedom of expression and the rights to publish such cartoons, after which widespread protests took place in Pakistan, with calls to boycott French products and sever diplomatic ties with France. In November 2020, activists of TLP demanded the expulsion of French Ambassador from Pakistan. The protests were called off on 16 November 2020 after the Government of Pakistan reached an agreement with TLP by seeking more time to discuss the matter in Parliament.

On 11 April 2021, TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi (son of founder Khadim Rizvi) released a video message asking TLP activists to launch protests across Pakistan if the government did not expel the French Ambassador from the country by 20 April 2021. On 12th April 2021, after Saad Rizvi was arrested in Lahore, protests broke out across the country, with TLP activists blocking roads and cutting off Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Gujranwala from each other. The protests turned violent with reports of stone pelting; at least two people were killed in the riots on 12 April 2021. In addition, TLP claimed that two protesters were shot dead in Faisalabad and Karachi. On 13th April 2021, one police officer was beaten to death by the rioting mob in Lahore, while 40 others were injured. TLP spokesperson Tayyab Rizvi claimed that the number of TLP workers “martyred” in the protests by the second day had increased to 12. A spokesperson of Punjab Police confirmed that two cops were killed by the protesters who used clubs, bricks and firearms to attack them. Paramilitary forces were brought in to assist the local police across various cities including Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Bahawalpur. On 15th April 2021, the French embassy in Pakistan advised French citizens and companies to temporarily leave Pakistan “due to serious threats”. Pak Government formally banned TLP under Anti-Terrorism Law. On 16 April 2021, Pak government blocked several social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and YouTube for around four hours fearing call of protests by TLP. Situation turned extremely violent on 18th April 2021, at Yateem Khana Chowk, Lahore where three people were killed and hundreds of others, including 15 policemen injured in a clash between TLP protestors and police. It was reported that the TLP workers took five policemen, among them a DSP, hostage after an attack on a police station. It has also been reported that the protesters have taken a 50000 litre petrol tanker with them precluding any massive operation against them for fear of collateral damage.

Tanzimat Ahl-e-Sunnat leader Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman has called for a nationwide shutter down strike on 19th April 2021, against the Lahore incident. It has also been reported that that the protesters will march with the dead bodies of their colleagues to Islamabad, demanding expulsion of French Ambassador, release of all TLP members jailed in various parts of Pakistan and action against Pak’s Interior Minister Mr Sheikh Rashid. JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman also supported Mufti Muneeb’s call for the shutter down strike showing growing collusive support for the protests among other radical Islamic groups in Pak. The protest that started over a cartoon of Muhammad in France has brought the entire nation to a standstill. The Pak social media is replete with hashtags like #CivilWarInPakistan, #Stop_Gov_Terrorism, #Lahore, #LahoreBurning, #iStandWithTLP, etc.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable. While PakistaniEstablishment is trying to enforce writ of the Government& present a positive image to the international audience, given its precarious economic condition, the possibility of the ongoing protest looming into a major crisis for Pak cannot be ruled out.

There have been widespread reports of Pak Army and police personnel defecting from the forces and openly coming out in support of the protesters. The military-intelligence establishment’s pathological obsession with legitimising groups that provide their own warped-version of Islam, has made the foundation of Pakistani society unstable and unpredictable.

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INDIAN NAVY SEIZES NARCOTICS WORTH RS 3,000 CRORE

Ashish Singh

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New Delhi: Indian Naval Ship Suvarna, whilst on surveillance patrol in the Arabian Sea, encountered a fishing vessel with suspicious movements. To investigate the vessel, the ship’s team conducted boarding and search operation, which led to the seizure of more than 300 Kgs of narcotics substances. The boat with its crew have been escorted to the nearest Indian Port of Kochi, Kerala for further investigation. The approximate cost the catch in the international market is estimated to be Rs 3,000 crore. This is a major catch not only in terms of the quantity and cost but also from the perspective of disruption of the illegal narcotics smuggling routes, which emanate from the Makran coast and flow towards the Indian, Maldivian and Sri Lankan destinations. Apart from the human costs from drug addiction, the spoils of narcotics trade feed syndicates involved in terrorism, radicalisation and criminal activities.

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RAJNATH SINGH REVIEWS PREPAREDNESS OF MOD AND ARMED FORCES AMID SPIKE IN COVID-19 CASES

The Defence Minister asks them to aid civilian administration to tide over the current coronavirus situation; gives go ahead for emergency procurement of critical medical supplies.

Ashish Singh

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Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held a virtual meeting to review the preparedness of Ministry of Defence and the armed forces to deal with the recent spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, in New Delhi on Tuesday. Defence Secretary Dr Ajay Kumar, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh, Chief of Army Staff General M.M. Naravane, Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) Surgeon Vice Admiral Rajat Datta, Secretary (Defence Production) Raj Kumar, Secretary Department of Defence R&D and Chairman Defence Research and Development Organisation Dr G. Satheesh Reddy, Financial Adviser (Defence Services) Sanjiv Mittal and other senior civil & military officers attended the meeting via video conferencing.

Rajnath Singh was briefed about the measures taken by AFMS, DRDO, Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and other organisations of Ministry of Defence such as National Cadet Corps (NCC) in providing aid to the civil administration in this hour of crisis. The Defence Minister was informed that a COVID care centre established by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is active in Bengaluru assisting the civil administration. He was informed that arrangements are being made by the DPSUs to buy oxygen plants that will help them in production of oxygen cylinders at a faster pace. The Defence Minister asked the DPSUs, OFB and DRDO to work on war footing to provide oxygen cylinders and extra beds to civil administration/state governments at the earliest. Rajnath Singh called upon the Armed Forces to be in close contact with the state governments and be ready to provide any required assistance. In a significant decision, the Defence Minister directed the Armed Forces and other stakeholders to go ahead with procurement of critical medical requirements under emergency powers of procurement.

DRDO Chairman briefed that a Covid-19 facility, developed by DRDO, has again been made functional in New Delhi and efforts are being made to soon increase the number of beds from 250 to 500. Dr Sathish Reddy informed the meeting that the ESIC Hospital, which was converted to Covid hospital in Patna, has started functioning with 500 beds and a Covid hospital will soon be made functional at Muzaffarpur in Bihar. He also informed that work is on at war footing to set up a 450-bed hospital in Lucknow, 750-bed hospital in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and 900-bed hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Rajnath Singh was also informed that based on the On-Board Oxygen Generation Technology developed for LCA Tejas, a 1000 litre/minute capacity oxygen generation plants technology has been given to the industry and the Uttar Pradesh government has placed order of five such plants with the industry. Dr Reddy informed the Defence Minister that more plants can be supplied by the industry to cater to the hospital requirements. He further said SpO2 (Blood Oxygen Saturation) based supplemental oxygen delivery system developed for soldiers posted at extreme high-altitude areas can be used for Covid patients as their conditions become similar. The product will be available soon in the market from the industry as per technology provided by DRDO. The Defence Minister was informed that the AFMS has mobilised its man power and other resources in various military hospitals dealing with Covid patients. To augment the manpower if required, the minister suggested to utilise the services of vaccinated retired Armed Forces personnel to assist the civil administration/state governments to deal with the current situation. During the meeting, Rajnath Singh also discussed ways to contain the spread of Covid-19 among the Armed Forces personnel and the officers/staff working in Ministry of Defence. He focused on Covid-appropriate behaviour at the work place, stressing on the need to strictly follow all the Covid protocols such as wearing of masks at all times and maintaining physical distancing.

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Defence

HERITAGE AS LEGACY IN THE EVOLUTION OF INDIA: CASE STUDY OF NAVAL DOCKYARD IN MUMBAI

The Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar

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India is a maritime nation with a rich heritage. History records our oceanic links with other nations of Indian Ocean and beyond from the Harappan civilisation and lasting through the centuries. Indian maritime influence can be seen in all walks of Indian history. Our development is owed to the maritime economy and a gradual advancement of maritime infrastructure along the coastal frontiers. If we are to learn from our history, the biggest lesson is that the Indian terrestrial approach lured us away from the seas which were left almost unprotected. The failure amongst the Indians to perceive the potential threat from the maritime frontiers and percolate a maritime vision and policies among the masses was one of the grave problems that led to the rise of Colonial rule in India. This article highlights one facet as an outcome of “Manthan” or churn of the sea saga of Indian journey.

Under the Company and the Crown, the city of Bombay was developed further taking into consideration of all the physical features it had which gave it an edge. Even with self-gain as the motive, the emerging vision aided colonial officials to analyse the importance of the geography of Bombay and developed it as ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’-the premier city of the Empire.

Today as we traverse the heritage precinct of Fort area in South Mumbai, we are reminded of the lasting legacy that is the built heritage across the city’s waterfront. The Naval Dockyard that stands tall as a custodian of Mumbai’s coastline is a heritage facility in itself. The Wadia Master builders were commissioned to develop this shipbuilding and docking facility (erstwhile Bombay Dockyard) in Bombay in 1735. Today, this is used by the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy that upholds its heritage and continues to maintain its legacy.

With the Industrial revolution in Europe, change was inevitable. In the wake of Industrialisation in England, there was a paradigm shift in the realms of production. Technology took over and since then it has only developed. Ironically, this phase also marks the deindustrialisation in the Indian subcontinent in order to facilitate and furnish the English industries. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the need for better docking and banking facilities at such a juncture is self-explanatory. The undertaking of construction for new dock building and related facilities was deemed necessary and beneficial for improving the efficiency of the maritime trade and commerce.

Bombay Dockyard and nearby facilities made ‘Ships-of-the-Line’ for the Royal Navy that were considered to be of superior quality and craftsmanship. The skills and nautical expertise of the Indian shipbuilders was a legacy in itself. But, the Indian shipbuilding industry that was once sought after met its downfall as the sail ships were replaced with the steam vessels. Despite such setback, this never deterred the Indian shipping industry. Bombay faced economic repercussions but the indomitable spirit of the city as we see today was blazing even then. After an initial slump in the shipbuilding industry, the Dockyard and other facilities gave rise to a number of other associated industries that aligned with the needs of the shipping sector thereby creating a market for economy with wider avenues. Soon, the docking facilities were equipped and gained momentum as a ship repair and refits industry which made a lot of progress.

Built heritage and maritime affairs intermingle with economic matters-thus creating a legacy and building a stronger future of our nation. A gradual progression in the maritime infrastructure and its resultant impact on the economy has played a vital role in the development of the Indian shipping sector. Promotion of our maritime heritage and traditions by a holistic development of the coastal communities by integrating them in the mainstream policies will ensure the promotion of our rich maritime legacy.

The evolution of the Mumbai city is owed to the maritime economy and due to harnessing of its maritime connect and development of the infrastructure. The role and contribution of the maritime sector in developing the city to what it is today must be acknowledged. The mushrooming of allied industries in the shipping industry is a subsequent factor. The economy of Bombay strengthened which led to the creation of an industrial infrastructure. This was the rise of a modern SEZ i.e. Special Economic Zone, a precursor to the modern metropolis that Mumbai has become today.

Shortly after the World Heritage Day commemorated on 18 April 2021 this week sees launch of a multi-stakeholder initiative to revive maritime consciousness in form of a unique workshop titled “Indian Maritime History : A Manthan”. In the two day workshop, 21 – 22 April 2021, Dr Malini Shankar, IAS (Retd), Vice Chancellor, Indian Maritime University will deliver the Keynote Address while Commodore Odakkal Johnson, Director, Maritime History Society will mentor the proceedings and provide the thematic setting. The contents will benefit students, faculty & maritime enthusiasts. The workshop will evolve elements of an approach towards a long-term facility for excellence in Maritime History as envisaged in Maritime India Vision 2030. Maritime History Society and Indian Maritime University invite an enthusiastic response toward the resurgence of Sea Mindedness through participation, promotion and resource infusion into the journey to enhance influence for greater maritime consciousness in India.

Janhavi Lokegaonkar is a Research Associate at Maritime History Society with a focus on modern aspects of Indian Maritime History

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