New Defence Minister (DM): Challenges & Expectations

New Defence Minister (DM): Challenges & Expectations

Nirmala Sitharaman has become the Defence Minsiter (DM) at a challenging time for India ( increased threat of China- Pakistan collusion) and the world ( reducing US influence and increasing Chinese power). The DM has strong credentials of competence. However, she is a political lightweight in the autocratic “Modi Sarkar of 2 and a half men”.  In the coming years her role will be significant in shaping India’s future. In this blog I have covered the challenges she faces and the expectations the services have from her.

Question Marks over Issues of Gender and Tenure

Gender is a non-issue in my opinion and hence I do not even consider it worth discussing. Tenure is an important issue. To grasp the role and then start functioning effectively as the DM for even a competent and energetic person like her would take more than 6 months. The cabinet’s term ends in 2019. Thus time for the DM to deliver is very little. This is thus a serious question mark on her perceived effectiveness. I have a different perspective. Modi government has failed on several fronts and has done considerable harm to India, economy, unemployment and divisive politics being the biggest issues. Yet, public would still vote for him in 2019 because Rahul-Sonia and whoever else are definitely even more corrupt and incompetent. Hence I see Sitharaman as DM till 2024. This should be adequate time for her to try and match late George Fernandes as the best DM ever of India.

Challenges

Modernization  /  Implementing ‘Make in India’
  • India aspires to be a global power. We face serious conventional, nuclear and militancy threats. We need self-sufficiency not only in producing weapons and equipment, but projecting power in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. We also need to export defence equipment to employ our vast productive population.
  • ‘Make in India’ as regards defence production has to be made successful.
  • We need modern aircrafts, helicopters, ships, submarines, Future Infantry Combat Vehicles (FICV), artillery guns, missiles, surveillance, detection and huge range of electronics, command-control and guidance equipment.
  • To realize the above goals we need increased involvement of the private sector, FDI and increased efficiency of the existing public ordnance factories.
Deficiencies in Weapons, Equipment and Ammunition

The DM would do well to monitor the deficiencies in the weapons, equipment and ammunition, spares, repair and recovery organization to improve the inventories as well as serviceability of weapons and equipment in all the three services. This will do great for the morale of the services.

Reforms

The DM will have to undertake military reforms to include the following major issues:

  • Creation of a Chief of Defence Staff as principal military adviser to the government.
  • Restructuring of the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
  • Establishment of ‘Special Operations’ and ‘Space and Cyber Commands’ which will be vital for the future.
  • Restructuring of the three services to improve the teeth to tail ratio and meet the future challenges. Implementation of General Sheketkar Committee Recommendations has to be done systematically.
Paucity of Funds

Having vast experience in the field of economics and global trade the DM understands very well that modernization and making up of the deficiencies need funds. India is unlikely to be in a position to increase the GDP percentage spent on defence to more than 3%. The GDP is not growing fast enough; hence funds will be a problem for at least 3 years. The DM will have to manage the challenge of paucity of funds.

Relations between MOD and Services

The issues of OROP, grant of 7th Pay Commission Recommendations, interference in the existing precedence in the appointment of General Rawat as the Army Chief have caused the Services to rightly mistrust politicians and bureaucrats. As a soldier I do not trust Jaitley but had trusted George Fernandes. If the DM wants to be a genuine leader for the services she will have to undo the mistrust existing, which may be a very tall order!

Expectations

The services desire her to manage all the challenges well and do the following:

  • To improve the service conditions for women and reduce the gender disparity in the three Services.
  • Initiate the process of indigenous defence production, modernization, attract FDI in defence sector and improve the existing state of defence equipment.
  • Initiate the reforms and restructuring process in a systematic way.
  • Manage the scarce funds allotted to the MOD better.
  • Improve the image of the government in the eyes of the defence personnel, (maybe not as good as George Fernandes but definitely better than Jaitley).
  • Parrikar was a systematic administrator but his chest thumping statements lacked maturity. The Services expect her conduct to be more mature. ( She marches better than Parrikar and even speaks better than him!).

Final Word

I have great hopes in the new DM and do not doubt her ability to perform creditably. I only wish that the “Modi Sarkar of 2 and a half men”, chastised by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, the opposition & the reality of the economic figures and job losses allow her the freedom to perform. Good luck Nirmala Sitharaman Ji!

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