The Narendra Modi government is under a 100-day review. The manner in which defence and related military challenges have been addressed is instructive of the complex issues ahead.
Prime Minister Modi got off to a visually spectacular start when he made his maiden defence-related visit to the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, less than a month after being sworn in. He sailed down the coast of Goa and recalled India’s rich but long-neglected maritime heritage and assured the armed forces that their many inadequacies would be addressed. He assured veterans that the long-festering “one rank, one pension” issue would be resolved in a satisfactory manner. Maintaining this tempo, the PM commissioned INS Kolkata, an indigenously designed and built warship, visited Leh and addressed the troops there, and exhorted the scientists of the DRDO to work with greater dedication to enhance India’s indigenous defence production capability. For a 100-day period, this is an impressive track record.
But the challenge lies in implementing new policies in the ministry of defence and addressing the many imbalances that were inherited from the UPA. The greatest handicap is the absence of a full-time defence minister. Though undoubtedly competent, Arun Jaitley can only do so much.
The spectrum of issues that need urgent attention range from the poor material state of all three armed forces, particularly the shrinking ammunition stocks of the army, and a burgeoning import bill with no credible alternative to frayed civil-military relations and the disturbing perception of a decline in moral fibre of the military.
The professionalism and apolitical character of the military has been a distinctive characteristic that has enabled the Indian democratic trajectory. This was perhaps most evident during the Emergency, when the military apex refused to be co-opted into the constitutional excesses that were at play.
Paradoxically, the challenge of higher defence management received progressively less political attention and some of the revelations in recently published books point to petulant impulsiveness as the defining trait of higher defence decision-making. Sri Lanka and the IPKF is a case in point. The normative compulsion was replaced by what may be best described as the Bofors-HDW syndrome, where scandals and charges of turpitude at the highest levels of government became the dominant perception.
The transition from Rajiv Gandhi to the current incumbent marks a quarter century and the challenge for the 100-day-old Modi government is herculean — the defence/ military stables have to be cleaned, the entire edifice of the management of national security has to be comprehensively reviewed and rearranged.
A brief review of the military challenges of the last three months reveals the following. The Supreme Court found it necessary to caution the government for the manner in which it had dealt with the sale of non-service pattern weapons by senior army officers. A continued…