In what can be seen as a symbol of a quantum leap for the Indian Navy, the second International Fleet Review organised by the Navy in the Bay of Bengal at Visakhapatnam, was considered a huge success by the national and international dignitaries and the Chiefs of Navies. “In comparison to the first Presidential International Fleet Review held in Mumbai in 2001, this is much more impressive, much larger. The Indian Navy has made a huge progress and this IFR is indicative of its might now. The Indian naval force is lot more respected in the international sphere now,” said Michael Nitz, a senior German journalist working for a dedicated defence news service, and who has covered both the events.
The Presidential Fleet Review is a ceremonial inspection of the naval fleet by the Supreme Commander of the defence forces, the President. The first International Fleet Review organised in Mumbai saw the participation of merely 23 countries. The event was a one-day affair which was the ceremonial inspection of naval vessels, veteran journalists recounted.
In contrast, the IFR organised in Visakhapatnam, which is the first IFR organised in the Eastern Naval Command, has seen the participation of over 50 countries. It has a line-up of events which showcase the might and cultural prowess of the Indian lands. Apart from the ceremonial fleet review, other programmes like a city parade, a cultural programme and a serious academic seminar for forging co-operation have been organised. The Navy has set up a small IFR village at the AP University ground.
In line with the “Make in India” theme, an exhibition showcasing the indigenous innovations has also been arranged. The massive response is an indication of India’s growing naval prowess, some international delegates told The Sunday Guardian. The invite of a host country is accepted depending on the power the country wields in the global order. “The aim of the first IFR was very limited. It was only for building friendship. The mandate of this IFR goes much beyond that. Moving ahead from building friendships, this IFR focuses on forging strong international co-operation to protect common maritime interests. That is why the motto is ‘united through oceans’,” a senior Indian journalist said. Asked about the reasons for change in India’s international image, Admiral R.K. Dhowan, Chief of Naval Staff, said, “There is a change in conditions and perception about the Indian Navy. Today, the Indian Navy is looked at as a capable, multi-dimensional navy which can protect its interest. The image is positive,” he said. He added that though India has a rich maritime heritage, its revival as a maritime nation happened since 15 years. “In the past 15 years, a large number of ports and harbours have come up. About 90% of our trade happens through sea. We have offshore oil reserves. Our trade and economy are flourishing and rising. In such a condition, our security umbrella provided by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard, also need to grow. Only then, we can protect our vast maritime interest,” he said.
Many top naval officials admitted that the change in perception about India was also prominently because of India’s huge success in anti-piracy operations and humanitarian rescue missions. When the threat of piracy was the highest in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Navy joined hands with the international navies to fight the menace. India’s operations in troubled waters have been so successful, that they have instilled fear in the minds of the pirates. In 2015, there wasn’t a single incident of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The Indian Navy escorted every single merchant vessel irrespective of its nationality. This earned the force a lot of goodwill, international delegates said.
“Also the fact that India is so hands-on in humanitarian relief work, has helped its image. Whenever there is a disaster, India is the first country to reach and provide assistance. This has generated lot of goodwill for the Indian Navy,” Captain Stuart Borland, naval and air adviser to the Royal Navy, told The Sunday Guardian.
A senior officer of the Indian Navy said that India’s strength was its perception as a soft power. “We are not looked at as a country which goes on offense. We are defensive. Our aim is to forge ties. We have never attacked anyone unnecessarily. This goodwill and friendliness help us get access across the world.”
The Indian Navy also reflects the qualities of a true blue water navy. From being importers of naval warships and equipment, the Indian Navy is now looked at as a makers’ navy. It had taken huge strides in not just indigenous production of warships, but has also exported them to neighbouring countries. The focus on indigenisation, innovation and self-reliance is another factor that has changed India’s image abroad. “At present, 46 ships and submarines are under construction in the Indian shipyards,” Admiral Dhowan said.