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Role of India's Defence Ministry: India's Preparedness in Defence Sector

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India’s management of its defence forces has generally been poor over the decades. Its management of the Ministry of Defence has also been pathetic. So much so that the management style can hardly be called anything but babu raj. Ministers have tended to outsource authority to the part time defence specialists. Thus adversely affecting civilian-military relations. The resentment brewing in the armed forces against the civilians is palpable. That is until the military officer gets a posting in his or her headquarter in the Ministry of Defence. For then it is apparent that that failing is not entirely of the civilian bureaucracy alone, but that its military counterpart is equally culpable for the sorry state of affairs. Some ministers had the vision and the gumption to take both bulls by the horns and steer a new course in defence management. But their tenures proved to be too short lived to provide a new direction. The latest opportunity befell the unimpeachable AK Antony and that too for the longest possible time.

Raksha Mantri AK Antony will be remembered for two things. He will, firstly, have provided quite possibly the longest tenure of anyone occupying that office in the east corner of South Block. Few individuals are fortunate enough to hold executive office in the government of India for a duration  as long as he has had. It reflects on the confidence that his two party bosses bestow upon him. Which is why it is a pity that he also has to be remembered for the second issue. And which is that he will remain on record for bringing decision-making to a standstill in the Ministry of Defence. In  all these years in office there is not one decision taken by him that can be called his in terms of intellectual property rights. If he did stick his neck to take a decision it was only on the matter of year of birth of former Chief of Army Staff, Gen VK Singh. Other than that there has not been one instance of new thinking, innovative planning or some such thing.

In the meantime there have been a number of scandals and issues being brushed under the carpet. The latest in the series being the Agusta VIP helicopter matter. Even as the controversy snowballed and investigations launched, the Ministry decided to stick its head into the sand. It simply cancelled the agreement, after receiving three aircraft and paying a lot of the money. Who will service the aircraft now and how will the extra money paid be returned? A simple cost-benefit analysis of the decision to cancel suggests that India remains the loser. It lost money because of bribes paid and now it will continue to lose money. This has become part of a pattern in defence management of the country. Even as the numerous CBI investigations come to naught the enhancement of India’s defence capabilities comes to a standstill.

There is no better example than what has happened to the Artillery modernisation programme. It remains a programme only on paper, while there is no hope for modernisation and the Artillery remains a neglected arm. The blacklisting of Bofors began the process of setting precedence and since then it has been followed ad nauseam. Every time there is a trial process all it takes to derail the selection is to make a complaint of irregularity, have a breaking news story and lo and behold the deed is done. India can wait for its guns to be upgraded, its capability enhanced and its security strengthened. The scandal that gripped the Artillery modernisation programme spread into the other arms and defence services as well.

The up gunning of the Infantry soldier remains one of the most neglected aspects of military planning. He is the most vital component of combat capability and yet remains the most ignored of all. On that score the service headquarter is as culpable as is the Ministry of Defence. For if the self does not feel the need to strengthen then the other will certainly not pay the bill. In the last decade the obsession with probity has ensured that bills may remain ignored. Even if it is at the cost of a dwindling arsenal.


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