As the NDA government approaches the completion of its first year in power, it should steer itself to being placed under the scanner and subjected to grueling audits in many fields. Any new regime has to run this gauntlet; but the BJP came to power on the back of a high-voltage election campaign, promising panaceas for almost all the nation’s ills and should, therefore, prepare to be judged by a different yardstick.
National Security Expectations Thwarted
Having seen the diffident and irresolute approach of the UPA government to national security matters, hopes from the new government were of a much higher order. Given the BJP’s ‘nationalist’ label, its RSS provenance, and PM Modi’s ‘no-nonsense’ attitude, a tougher stance on defence issues and streamlining of the MoD’s languid functioning were the minimum expectations of the cognoscenti.
The early signs were not propitious. A scrutiny of the BJP’s 2014 Election Manifesto had revealed a surprising hotchpotch of security related issues, listed at the bottom of the document and placed under the inane heading of: ‘External Security — its Boundary, Beauty and Bounty’.
A year down the road, sceptics would comment that most of the 16 points listed in the manifesto (the first five being: defence reforms, officer shortage, one-rank one-pension, war memorial and national maritime authority) have remained un-addressed.
However, the PM had delayed the induction of a full-time Raksha Mantri (RM) by six months, so that he could place the right man in the job. That having been done, we need to give the incumbent a fair chance to settle down before passing judgment.
Deciding Defence Portfolios
Here, one is constrained to point out that the Defence portfolio demands the full and undivided attention of the minister, on a full-time, 24x7 basis. However, all governments have erred, egregiously, in assigning the portfolio to heavyweights with huge political demands on their time.
Such demands place major constraints on the time and attention-span of the RM. As head of the nation’s security establishment, the RM’s spare time is best spent in getting to know military’s leadership, discussing security issues with them and visiting soldiers, sailors and airmen in the field.
This is because India faces acute security dilemmas whose resolution requires serious application of mind by soldiers as well as politicians. At one end of the spectrum is the twin nuclear threat posed by neighbours China and Pakistan.
At the other end is the menace of Jihadi terror outfits which form an integral part of Pakistan’s proxy war Pakistan. As Pakistan jockeys for domination of Afghanistan and China seeks hegemony across the Indo-Pacific oceanic region, these arenas promise to become the twin crucibles where India’s strategic acumen is going to be tested.
Unless Mr Modi brings good news from Beijing, India has very few cards — economic or military — to play vis-a-vis China. A skilful hedging strategy will need to be employed, by India, while keeping its powder dry.
‘Make in India’, FDI — To What End?
Against this background, many of the measures contemplated by the government — be it ‘make in India’, enhanced FDI in defence-production or expeditious clearance of defence acquisition cases — are long overdue steps in the right direction. The recent flurry of arms-import cases, cleared by the MoD, will, no doubt raise the morale of our forces and strengthen their hands.
However, it must be clearly understood that these are mere palliatives; at heavy cost to the exchequer but with no benefits to our industry. India’s safety and salvation lie, not in import or licenced manufacture, but in the indigenous design and serial-production of weapons.
‘Make in India’ will remain a mere slogan, unless a detailed roadmap is charted, which must include a radical restructuring of our ineffective DRDO as well as inefficient defence-production agencies. This would be the first step to laying the foundations of a dynamic indigenous arms industry.
Must Deliver on Promises
India’s archaic higher defence organisation, too, needs urgent reform before it lets the nation down in a conflict. One of the RM’s priorities must be to eliminate a lingering Nehruvian legacy which casts unjustified suspicion on the armed forces and excludes them from the edifice of the Government.
This would logically lead to the integration of Service HQs with MoD and constitution of a single-point source of military advice; either CDS or a Permanent Chairman COSC.
While one cannot presume to speak for the uniformed fraternity, mention needs to be made of a sense of bitter disappointment amongst the armed forces Veterans; due, not so much to the Government’s under-performance as to un-kept promises. Non-delivery of OROP has become emblematic of this disenchantment.