Without Raksha Vikas, Desh Vikas at risk
Ashok K Mehta
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was conspicuous by his absence from the Government’s two-year achievement mega event at India Gate last month. He has scored high in intent, but relatively low on implementation without unshackling the Ministry of Defence from the legacy of the AK Antony amnesia. He said that, on assumption of office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s guidance to him was: “Defence deals mein kaafi gadbad rahti hai” (there is lots of corruption in defence deals). This is reminiscent of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee commiserating with the Army chief after the attack on Parliament and full deployment of the Armed Forces and reportedly saying: “Kuchh kar deejiye” (do something). No wonder, Brookings’ Stephen Cohen said last month: “On the civilian side, India does not have the competence to run the military; in Pakistan, the military does not have the competence to run the country…”.
To be fair to Parrikar, he is honest and is doing his best. On a domestic flight, I was seated next to a businessman who had been in college with Parrikar. They decided to travel in the Deccan Queen to Pune but could not buy the train tickets. So on the return journey, Parrikar insisted both buy two tickets each.
Making some headway in the Ministry of Defence are Make in India, indigenisation and the umpteenth revision of the still incomplete Defence Procurement Procedure minus the policy on blacklisting/banning companies- like AgustaWestland and its subsidiaries. Visiting British Minister Hugo Swire warned that the ban may prove costly for India.
On the downside, a half-baked and unilaterally implemented one-rank-one-pension (OROP) has left the ex-servicemen community unhappy though Doordarshan inveigled an OROP audio-visual showing ex-servicemen celebrating it. Similarly, the Seventh Pay Commission which, without removing the 48 anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission, has further downgraded the Armed Forces who seek status and parity with civilian services, to equivalence with police services. Both are bad for morale of the men in and out of
This after Modi, as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, on September 15, 2013, at an ex-servicemen’s rally at Rewari, promised them the moon. He said the problem was not at the borders but in Delhi where a patriotic and effective Government was needed no matter how good and well equipped the military. His party’s election manifesto pledged almost everything the military has sought for 70 years and not received.
After the BJP’s victory, disillusionment arrived early as it dawned that nothing relating to defence and national security was going to change. This year’s Defence Budget said it all: No mention of it in the Finance Minister’s Budget speech for the first time because it was the lowest in decades, below 1.7 per cent of the gross domestic product, but made to look good by adding pensions and Defence Ministry spending. A $38 billion Defence Budget was dressed up to amount to $52 billion without indicating that over two successive budgets the Ministry of Defence returned Rs21,000 crore of defence modernisation funds unspent.
In two years, the Government could easily have implemented the Kargil Review Committee report/Group of Ministers Recommendations and Naresh Chandra Task Force report by appointing the Chief of Defence Staff, integrating MoD and Service Headquarters, re-initiating a defence planning process first begun in the mid-1980s by the erstwhile Defence Planning Staff, integrating military intelligence with defence preparedness and streamlining Defence Procurement Procedure into a pragmatic acquisition process, factoring the down side of blacklisting/banning.
Parrikar concluded his presentation on AgustaWestland in the Lok Sabha by declaring that he would not impose a blanket ban on AW subsidiaries as “I cannot have ships without ammunition”. Yet, on May 28, he was quoted by PTI as saying that blacklisting process of Leonardo-Finmeccanica and their subsidiaries (providing torpedoes, guns and radars for submarines, aircraft carrier and naval ships) has begun. This will lead to fresh global tendering and request for proposals that will set back the military operational preparedness by five years, at least.
Finmeccanica has threatened to stop supply of components and essential services. Wholesale blacklisting is good for the Government’s clean image but terrible for defence preparedness. The investigative processes have failed to identify middlemen, so, instead, Governments resort to
In the absence of a strategic vision for defence, the MoD is engaged in routine: Producing the Integrated Defence Staff, written Raksha Mantri Directive for Armed Forces which is no substitute for a Strategic Defence and Security Review or a CCS-scripted Strategic and Political Guidance; a teeth-to-tail ratio study, the third in the last two decades, to remove the flab and reduce cost of manpower which is around 55 per cent of defence spending; strengthening the security of defence installations across the country following the attack on the Pathankot Air Base and the latest tragedy last week of fire in an ammunition depot.
This ad hoc, crisis-driven firefighting is unproductive, clouding the real issues: Appointment of CDS, integration and jointness. The last two essentials have been highlighted by every Prime Minister in the Joint Commanders annual conference that they must happen. Defence reforms, as experience in the West shows, have to be done top down, never bottom up as they are an existential threat for bureaucracy.
No wonder the Services remain below par to meet their primary task of deterrence and inflicting punishment on adversaries. The Air Force is struggling to maintain critical combat squadron strength, the Navy’s warship and submarine numbers are dwindling leaving its domain domination in doubt and the Army can’t even get an assault rifle for its infantry. This unhappy development is self-inflicted: No long term joint defence plan.
The Government does not lose any sleep over these deficiencies as it believes there will be no war even as it is divided whether China or Pakistan is the real threat. Parrikar told The Hindu that no military posture is needed against China we can talk and settle issues. That’s what our leaders thought in 1962. That’s why, according to the Government of India Rules of Business, the Defence Secretary is responsible for the defence of India.
Surprisingly, the shortcomings in the defence sector Modi mentioned at Rewari have not attracted his attention. The policy of blacklisting is hurting defence modernisation. On top of this, capital expenditure isn’t fully utilised. The appointment of the CDS, cleared by the previous BJP Government 15 years ago, is hanging fire and, therefore, there is no jointness. Modi is forgetting that without raksha vikas, he is putting desh vikas at risk.