“Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”
― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War
The press coverage and guess work that went on before the appointment of the new Defense Minister has never been so passionate as in the case of Mr Manohar Parrikar. It appears that the press literally camped outside the South Block trying to second guess what was in the PM’s mind! It just brought to fore the genuine concern of the Indian at large at the way a key ministry, and matters national security, are being handled.
The new Raksha Mantri has his work lined up for him, literally, with the monthly meetings of the Defense Acquisition Council that will start happening. The huge backlog of policy decisions and gaps in capability building of the Services beg urgent attention (and it is indeed heartening that his statements all convey his positive intent). Obviously the purse strings cannot be opened just for the Defense Ministry but then remember that, what Thucydides had said way back in 5th Century BC, is the eternal truth! So, the best way to go about handling the pending issues would be to view them as short and long term ones.
Immediate attention to capability building is an imperative that the Government can ignore at the nation’s peril. The decisions to buy the MMRCA, additional AWACS, air defense systems and flight refuellers for the IAF, artillery guns and that basic weapon – the humble infantry man’s rifle, for the Army and submarines and maritime reconnaissance capability for the Navy, to name a few, demand decisions literally as on yesterday because fruition of the contracts would take a decade thereafter!
That done, come policy issues that have a long lasting influence on the internal robustness of the Forces and morale to focus the acquired capabilities in the defense of the nation; this is where the new dispensation can turn a new leaf and do what is expected of the leadership at the highest level.
The most important task at hand is to ensure that the nation attains true strategic autonomy. Strategic autonomy of a nation is its capability to safeguard its vital interests for the well being of the state, without any fear or pressure. Unfortunately, India is found wanting on this basic requirement of a truly independent nation due its dependence on 70% of its armament needs on imports.
Any major supplier Government, who wants to influence Indian decision making, can turn the screws – – and which country knows this better than India itself as experienced by American sanctions post-Pokharan II and ratcheting up of prices by the Russians after the collapse of the USSR. We had no choice but to pay up. The shameful tag that we sport of being the largest arms importer in the world should be cast aside through a drive by the Government that can succeed only if a maniacal impetus is given to it by no one less than the Prime Minister himself.
If the PM can head the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space Commission, with all too visible success, why not a Defense Indigenization Authority or Commission? Call it whatever, but establish this as a multi-disciplinary body with members of all stake holder Ministries (defense, law, taxation, heavy industry, excise, micro small and medium industries et al) under one roof so that issues can be thrashed out centrally. The ‘Make in India’ exhortation would remain a mere slogan in the defense sector if such an enabling organization is not created. Give it ‘ownership’ of the plan to make India self-sufficient in armament?
Today, nobody in the government can be held accountable for failure on the indigenisation front – this truth has to be set right or people would continue to pass time and move on after completion of their tenure. The private defense industry, or what little there is of it, is presently an orphan whereas we know that private entrepreneurship is thriving in other sectors. The immediate need is to impart to it an affirmative push a la affirmative action of the social security kind; else it will never take root.
An imperative as part of the setting right of the acquisition process is to sort out the ‘offsets mess.’ For the past decade India has been dreaming of getting cutting edge technology, and paying 15 to 20% more in every contract exceeding Rs 300 crores (this is the price mark up that takes place when offsets are demanded), but precious little to show for it. For the next decade at least, we would be importing billions of dollars worth of armament till we get some domestic industries going.
The Defense Offsets Management Wing, which is a lynchpin in our effort to utilize offsets to get technology, needs to be woken up from its slumber and held accountable; failure to do so would be criminal neglect of public money.
Then there are morale issues of better housing and schooling for uniformed personnel, OROP for the veterans and the emotional War Memorial demand which needs to transcend from being one that servicemen want to one that is genuinely felt necessary by the nation as a whole. What better time for the new RM to show his concern than to get servicemen their just dues in the forthcoming 7th Pay Commission!
But for all the ills to be set right requires one basic act on part of the new Raksha Mantri – the integration of the Higher Defense Organization of the country. Uniformed service personnel are conspicuous by their absence in the Ministry of Defense (MoD), and India must be the only country worth any standing to have such an odd structure. The Government and the bureaucrats must accept uniformed personnel to be as intellectual and knowledgeable as they consider themselves to be and Service officers must be inducted in the MoD at the level of Additional Secretaries for better cohesion in military decision making.
The executor of MoD policies, i.e., the Services, must be made a part of higher decision-making, else we would continue to meander as has been our wont. Surely, the new Raksha Mantri, the hands-on man he is supposed to be, would set this right to ensure that India is seen as a power in its own right.