Defence agenda for the new government : The Tribune India

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Defence agenda for the new government

If there was a day most looked forward to at present, it would be May 23, when India would know who would govern it.

Defence agenda for the new government

Shameful tag: India is the world’s largest arms importer.

Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
Addl Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi

If there was a day most looked forward to at present, it would be May 23, when India would know who would govern it. This five-yearly ritual of democracy heralds a new ‘thought’ in the shape of the fresh government that we choose. In our young democracy, issues of economic uplift of the vast populace have (and rightly so) found prominence in the electoral discourse. Missing from the conversation, however, are any concrete discussions on matters of national security (as against the cacophony of what can only be called ‘rhetoric’ of military actions). 

So, here goes a list of five macro issues that need the urgent attention of the new government. If these strategic-level concerns are addressed, they would ease the resolution of lesser issues.

First, at the apex level, a true integration of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Service Headquarters is necessary. This point has been hanging fire for decades and had been highlighted by the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) that went into the re-structuring of the higher defence organisation. It recommended that, “..the entire gamut of national security management and apex decision-making and the structure and interface between the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Headquarters be comprehensively studied and reorganised.” 

All that has happened is the renaming of service headquarters as ‘Integrated Headquarters of MoD’, a cosmetic and perfunctory step without any effect on the integration that the KRC had envisioned. 

Thus, the civilian MoD works on the principle of 'following processes' that flows from a bureaucrat's training of going by the book. What suffers is the urgency in decision-making born of ‘operational’ necessity of the war fighter. Make no mistake — both are important, and right, in their own way, but in matters military, a disconnect between the two adversely affects the war-waging capability of the services. 

Urgently required is the lateral placement of service officers in the MoD at the decision-making level — joint secretary and above. Unfortunately, in the novel lateral inductions undertaken in various ministries of the Central Government, the MoD has been omitted, an omission that needs immediate redress. 

Second, and awkward as it may sound, an acceptance of the fact that India's shameful tag as the world’s largest arms importer will take considerable time to be cast aside, since one basic underpinning of defence indigenisation has not been understood. Modernisation and indigenisation processes are oxymoronic in real terms. The services need modern state-of-the-art equipment to fight and win, a requirement that is immediate, while indigenisation takes decades. 

So, the new government must take a holistic review of the acquisition processes and plans so that the modernisation drive, while proceeding in a time sensitive manner, furthers the indigenisation aims. This is easier said than done, but an imperative that requires focussed and diligent efforts by trained personnel.

Third, the training of acquisition personnel, both civil and military, has to be taken up on a war footing to bridge the time gap between modernisation and indigenisation, and to ensure that the nation gets value for the enormous amount of monies being spent on armament (31 per cent of the nation's capital spending). It is no secret that the only ones laughing to the bank are foreign arms suppliers due to the sub-par expertise of our acquisition staff who have no professional training. As a reference, the US has a Defence Acquisition University that offers doctoral courses on subjects of military procurements and each of the 1,50,000 persons in the acquisition chain is a trained professional. 

While it is right to lionise the war fighter, it is equally important to acknowledge the critical role of the acquisition professional and strengthen his hand by enabling him professionally.

The professional Indian soldier, sailor and airman are driven by the credo to do well by their unit and paltan, and from here flows the fourth macro issue: the fauji is willing to lay down his life for the standing that the nation’s polity accords him in its social hierarchy. This, unlike in earlier times of a halo of reverence that a soldier was accorded, has got linked to the inter se comparison of emoluments that one draws from the government. There are glaring anomalies of pay and allowances between the uniformed and civilian cadres. The stepmotherly handling of this emotive issue by successive dispensations has adversely affected civil-military equivalence and status of the uniformed fraternity. The effects can only be described as deleterious; it is a sore that needs immediate excision as it affects the services’ morale.

Lastly, the morale of a serving soldier is greatly dependent on how he perceives the status accorded to a veteran, a tag that would one day be attached to his name. Do the veterans have a spring in their gait that represents the joy of having once donned the uniform? Do their ageing memories reminisce the thought that all those years spent in operational areas, away from families while the children grew up and wives managed the humdrum of daily life single-handedly, are being acknowledged by society and the government? 

If the thought brings a smile on their faces, then the nation’s defence is in safe hands. Veterans have many critical issues that are begging resolution, medi-care being a major one.

Come May 23, the new government has no choice but to hit the ground running — and such vital issues need the appointment of a full-time Raksha Mantri for five years. The MoD is too important a ministry to have revolving heads.

Views are personal

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