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Defence Is Not A Part-time Job

Discussion in 'Indian Defence Industry' started by Layman, Mar 27, 2017.

  1. Layman

    Layman Colonel Senior Member

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    Defence Is Not A Part-time Job
    Published March 27, 2017
    SOURCE: The Pioneer


    In his 27-month stint, Parrikar set the reforms ball rolling on many fronts. While Arun Jaitley, holding additional charge of the Defence Ministry, can be expected to proceed along the course set by his predecessor, he will be hard-pressed for time to manage it well

    The sudden departure of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar to Goa as Chief Minister, has surprised many. Now, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) needs a full-time Minister to fill in the void left by Parrikar in the modernisation of our defence services.

    In his 27-month stint at the MoD, Parrikar set the reforms ball rolling on many fronts. While Arun Jaitley, holding additional charge of the Defence Ministry, can be expected to proceed along the course set by his predecessor, he may find it hard to address the needs of a Ministry as crucial as defence while holding the other equally important portfolio of finance.

    To get an idea of the magnitude of the tasks at hand, defence deals worth Rs50,000 crore are stuck for want of documentation on strategic partnerships. This entails spelling out the specialisations of Indian corporate players so that foreign partners can forge tie-ups without running from pillar to post for the requisite information. Negotiations on the $12-billion single-engine jet fighter deal could lose momentum (100 of these aircraft are expected) as Jaitley may take some time to familiarise himself with the issues involved.

    A major procurement initiative is called for, in view of the squadrons being phased out. The Indian Air Force has 34 squadrons out of the 42 authorised. Each squadron consists of 18 aircraft. Apart from this, 11 squadrons of MiG-21s are required to be phased out as these have already completed more than 20 years of service and have become obsolete. These are in common parlance known as flying coffins due to large accidents and pilots bailing out/casualties.

    However, at the heart of the new agenda is the Make in India dispensation for defence, bolstered by significant foreign investment and know-how — a shift away from large-scale imports. In this regard, the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) policy, released in March 2016, must be taken to its rightful conclusion.

    Parrikar had set an ambitious target of $two billion defence exports by 2019, against a mere $330 million at present. He also worked out a formula, although not to the satisfaction of all concerned, to the vexed one-rank-one-pension (OROP) issue, which had been hanging fire for a decade.

    The Justice Reddy Committee report on OROP, which was submitted in November last year, has not been made public. The most important proposal to create the post of chief of defence staff (CDS), based on the recommendation of a Group of Ministers in 2001 after Kargil battle, under NDA Government and high powered Naresh Chandra Committee’s recommendations in 2012 under the UPA Government, needs to be taken forward at the earliest for better higher defence management and appointment of a single advisor to the Government on defence and national security matters.

    The bureaucracy may try to claw back to regain the ground lost under Parrikar. He had rubbed many officials the wrong way by creating a procurement policy that was both transparent and pragmatic. He realised that since middlemen were indispensable to deal-making, their commissions should be above board and their functions seen as an extension of the ministry’s operations. He relaxed the blacklisting rule (barring companies that had been indicted earlier for paying bribes) by excluding subsidiaries of tainted companies from their ambit. In doing so, he overcame the deal-freeze regime of former Defence Minister AK Antony, without, however, compromising on transparency in the process.

    Parrikar’s successor should not disturb the institutional balance of power between the Armed Forces and the Government, which has been one of the strengths of our democracy. Concerns in this regard have arisen from time to time. A Defence Minister, besides being informed, clean and committed, should not overlook this aspect.

    Moreover, Jaitley gets additional charge of the Ministry of Defence at a time when his hands are only too full with the Budget Session of Parliament still on. Jaitley has been busy with two key Bills, Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill, in the Houses, while he also has to make focused efforts to ensure that whatever negative impact demonetisation has had on economy, is negated fast. He has to build political consensus to get supporting legislation on Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill passed in Parliament and have the new tax regime rolled out within the July 2017 deadline.

    Besides this, Jaitley also has institutional work in the BJP as he remains one of the key political strategists in his party and his opinion, both political and legal, are crucial for the BJP in situations like in Goa, Manipur and the forthcoming elections in Gujarat, Karnataka and so on.

    And, as far as the Ministry of Defence is concerned, terror attacks such as the ones in Uri and Pathankot are a reminder that the ministry needs the full-time attention of a Defence Minister. Moreover, the Modi Government has laid special emphasis on better defence preparedness. As such, the three services have to make large-scale acquisitions, which again require meticulous evaluation of global bids.

    While for the better part of around three years that the Modi Government has been in power, Jaitley has held the charge of two to three ministries, the arguments only go to show that the Prime Minister must quickly find someone full-time for the key job.

    Jaitley himself has held the ministry for a brief while before the appointment of Manohar Parrikar as Defence Minister in November 2014. He has also held other additional portfolios as and when the need has arisen: Jaitley was given charges of Information and Broadcasting Ministry, along with the Corporate Affairs Ministry, but now the I&B Ministry has a full-time Minister with M Venkaiah Naidu at the helm.

    Before this, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, Jaswant Singh was briefly given additional charge of the Defence Ministry while he was the External Affairs Minister. In the wake of a Tehelka report and subsequent political outrage, George Fernandes had to resign in March 2001, and Singh was given additional charge. But by November, Fernandes returned.

    A full-time Defence Minister would be required to implement wide-ranging reforms including modernisation, besides being alert to geopolitical threats and changing realities. Hence, Modi must find a worthwhile replacement to Parrikar and relinquish Jaitley of the additional charge.

    The problem, however, lies in finding a good candidate for filling the vacancy. It is clear that there is a talent crunch in the existing bench strength of the BJP. That was precisely the reason why Parrikar was handpicked by Modi, shifted out of Goa, and asked to take charge as the Defence Minister.

    (The writer is a defence analyst and commentator)


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