India’s Modi says military, economic strength essential for peace

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India sees war as the last resort, but needs a strong military and economy to ensure peace, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech to soldiers.

“India has always opposed war, seen war as the last option, but peace isn’t possible without strength,” Modi told the troops during his annual practice of celebrating Diwali with them. “A country is safe when the border is secure, economy is strong.”

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In his wide-ranging address, Modi mentioned how India has risen to being the fifth-largest economy in the world, is strengthening both its missile-defense system and drone technology, and is taking steps against corruption in the country.

While the comments aren’t entirely new, the scene and setting offer insight into India’s strategic thinking. Modi was speaking from Kargil, the theater of India’s last military conflict with traditional rival Pakistan. They come a day after President Xi Jinping tightened his grip on China, with whom India is embroiled in territorial and economic disputes. Meanwhile, Russia’s war in Ukraine has left Modi trying to balance and explain his relationships with both Russia and the US.

So far, the Biden administration has signaled it’s not interested in sanctioning New Delhi over its recent decision to buy the S-400 missile defense system from Russia. Yet friction points are emerging. India has been pushing back on a price cap on Russian oil suggested by the US as its crude imports surged five times to cross $5 billion in the three months to the end of May. India is in talks to buy 30 Predator drones from the US.

Ties between New Delhi and Beijing haven’t returned to normal following a bloody skirmish along their disputed border in 2020. India has since banned several Chinese apps, is investigating multiple Chinese firms, while wooing global manufacturers to diversify from China by opening factories in India.

“You are our shield on the border,” Modi told the soldiers. “Similarly, in the country, we are battling terrorists, Maoists, corruption. No matter how strong the corrupt, they won’t survive.”

Modi’s government on Sunday barred the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation -- headed by an influential opposition leader Sonia Gandhi -- from accessing foreign donations, local media reported. Both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi have previously been interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate, an Indian government agency that investigates serious financial crime, in connection with corruption allegations. They have denied any impropriety.

The moves come ahead of key state elections in coming months, most crucially in Modi’s home state of Gujarat where an early poll predicts his party will retain power, albeit with a lower share of the vote.

Read more: UN chief chides India on human rights record

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