The breakthrough blast for the Sela Tunnel Project in Arunachal Pradesh a couple of days ago was symbolic as much as it was a statement.

Despite the humungous challenge of Covid-19, this Border Roads Organisation’s project – comprised of two tunnels measuring a total of 2.5km and 9km-long approach roads – has been progressing at a swift clip. Once the project is complete, India will boast the world’s longest bi-lane tunnel above the height of 13,000 feet. But far more importantly, the tunnel will enable all-weather connectivity between Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) and the rest of the country and it will also reduce the travel time between Tezpur (Assam) and Tawang by more than an hour.

Therefore, the blast must have felt like a follow-up – and deafening – slap in the face of Beijing after India strongly rejected its objections to Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh. After all, China stakes claim to it and has a history of expressing disapproval whenever Indian leaders visit the strategically important border state.

The new India, under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is having none of it from hostile neighbourhoods. This was made clear to Pakistan during the 2016 surgical strikes and the Balakot airstrike three years later – and to China during the Doklam standoff in 2017, and the Ladakh face-off last year.

The Modi government has been working on many other fronts to ensure the emergence of India as a formidable force in all aspects.

This was most evident at a Defence Ministry event yesterday where PM Modi dedicated seven new defence companies – formed out of the Ordnance Factory Board – to the nation. These state-owned entities – Munitions India Limited (MIL); Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited (AVANI); Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited (AWE India); Troop Comforts Limited (TCL) (Troop Comfort Items); Yantra India Limited (YIL); India Optel Limited (IOL); and Gliders India Limited (GIL) – will obviously do a plethora of different things, but they will collectively have one overarching mission: boost India’s self-reliance in defence preparedness.

However, Team Modi has been on this mission ever since it came to power. The 325 per cent increase in India’s defence exports over the past five years is proof enough. Also, no other government in the past had laid such emphasis on research and innovation in the defence sector or encouraged start-ups to be involved in the process.

The Modi government has not only been putting the right policies in place to serve this cause, but has also been actively creating the right environment for those policies to be implemented effectively. For instance, the government has given the seven new defence companies complete functional autonomy while ensuring that the interests of their employees are protected as well.

Meanwhile, India is strengthening its ties with the United States to deal with global challenges such as climate change, terror financing, tax evasion and money laundering, to name just a few. Even apart from yesterday’s high-level meeting between Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in Washington, or the one between Prime Minister Modi and US President Joe Biden last month, defence and foreign affairs leaders of both nations have been meeting with increasing frequency over the past few months to discuss ways to join forces more effectively against common challenges.

One of those challenges, of course, is China’s expansionist proclivities. Especially given India’s geographical location, the world needs it to be an effective answer to Chinese excesses. The way things are going, India is well and truly on track to being that.

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