Kochi, India: India debuted its first indigenous aircraft carrier on Friday. This marks a milestone in the government’s efforts to reduce its reliance on foreign weapons and counter China’s growing military claims in the region. At 262 m long, her INS Vikrant, one of the world’s largest naval vessels, will officially enter service after 17 years of construction and testing. She bears the name of a retired aircraft carrier famous for conducting a blockade against the Pakistan Navy during the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the ship’s commissioning ceremony in South Kerala, “Today, INS Vikrant has filled the country with new confidence and created a new confidence in the country.” We have entered a league of select countries that can build a large aircraft carrier,” he added. About 1,600 sailors will board her Vikrant. Vikrant will initially serve fighters redesignated from India’s only other carrier.

The ship was purchased second-hand from Russia, which had long been a major arms supplier to New Delhi. The Modi government has sought to wean the country off its reliance on foreign military purchases and build a domestic defense hardware industry. He has invested heavily in local construction and is currently building more than 30 of his other naval vessels and submarines at the country’s shipyards.

The spending comes at a time of growing concern among the military’s top brass about the strategic challenges posed by China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi joined Washington in raising security concerns last month when neighboring Sri Lanka allowed a port call by a Chinese research vessel accused of espionage.

Both India and the United States are members of the so-called Quad, a security alliance that focuses on the Indo-Pacific and aims to provide a more substantial counterweight to China’s rising military and economic power. “Security concerns in the Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean region, ignored in the past, are a top priority today,” Modi said.

Friday’s commissioning also saw the unveiling of a new naval flag, which has no remaining British colonial symbols from India’s colonial days. The new flag replaces England’s flag, the prominent St. George’s Cross, with the royal coat of arms of Hindu warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji. “It’s a historic day. We made history and abandoned signs of conquest,” Modi said in his speech.

Shivaji is widely admired for challenging the Muslim Mughal dynasty, which ruled much of the subcontinent before British colonization and which Hindu nationalists viewed as an era of foreign conquest. I’m here. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is also backing his $300 million construction of a 210-meter-tall Shivaji statue off the coast of Mumbai, which is scheduled to be unveiled later this year. – AFP

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