The responsibility of the defense ministry given to Jaitley, coming after speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could retain it himself, may not be without problems for the armed forces.
Senior defense analyst, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retired), says, “It could be both good and bad. Of course if the same person handles both the defense and finance ministries, the bureaucratic back and forth could be cut short. So there could be synergies there.”
On the other hand he wonders about the wisdom of giving charge of two large ministries like defense and finance to the same person. “These are both full time ministries. More than full-time. How would one person be able to give due attention to both the ministries?”
The general impression on the basis of news reports appears that finance is Jaitley’s brief, with defense as an additional responsibility. “The new government will be presenting its budget soon. How much time would the finance minister have for the defense ministry,” he asks.
This would also have been the case were the prime minister to retain the defense ministry himself. “But,” points out Brigadier Kanwal, “With the prime minister in charge, this would have sent the signal that defense requirements would be a priority and that could have lent focus to the area.”
Although the Council of Ministers has been sworn in, the priority accorded to defense modernization by the new prime minister in terms of allocation of portfolio and exclusive responsibility remains uncertain.
The needs of the defense ministry and the armed forces will likely only get due attention when a full time cabinet minister is appointed.