New Defence Minister
Parrikar: Turnaround Man Arrives
Having proved his mettle as an illustrious Chief Minister of Goa, young and tenacious Manohar Parrikar now finds great space at the head of the country's Defence Ministry which remained precariously muffled in an ad hoc arrangement since Arun Jaitley heading the Ministry, along with Finance and Corporate Affairs Ministries, hardly found time to look into the heft of these assignments.
At a time when the country faces formidable challenges from across the borders, with the security scenario calling for multi-dimentional initiatives to address these spine-chilling concerns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done well to entrust the job to the youthful go-getter from Goa. This instills confidence not only in the different segments of the defence system, but also in the basic psyche of countrymen.
The Prime Minister judged Parrikar suitable for the crucial Defence Ministry by his proven track record in administration and governance in Goa. He is as hard a taskmaster, laborious and tough as he is benevolent at heart. But upfront of him is the horrendous task that he has to handle with utmost care and precision. First of all, he has to tackle Pakistan and solve the Chinese riddle.
After Narendra Modi took over reigns of power, he tried every way to buy peace with Pakistan, but its terror-friendly rulers instead preferred rampage and chose to internationalize what strictly is a bilateral dispute. Despite receiving benumbing flak from United Nations and a strong snub from America, Pakistan chose to push up the tempo of aggression and hostility. It's now left to Parrikar to act in a direction that brings Pakistan to senses.
Similarly, Chinese incursions in Ladakh have been ominously disturbing to India. Incursion continued even when Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Modi in Delhi. Parrikar,therfore, has to meet the tough challenge China throws to India. The worst is that both China and Pakistan are in the habit of creating trouble when some new development takes place in India. As Parrikar replaces Jaitley, the possibility is that these hostile nations will go berserk again.as an exhibition of their unbeaten belligerence
Though the problem with Pakistan looks a little intractable for now, the one with China is linked to the imbroglio of perception. Parrikar will have to work hard finding avenues for initiating serious dialogue with Beijing to amicably solve the border row. But if an adamant Dragon indulges in any misadventure, it needs to be handed down strong rebuttal. For that, our forces have to be kept on high alert and battle-ready.
I wonder what is happening to our Navy and its morale when the force finds its fleet perishing in the whirls of the ocean waves. At one point, we want to build our naval fleet and arsenal strong enough to meet the veritable enemy threats from the sea, at another we find that in a very short period more than half a dozen naval mishaps have wrecked our fleet, beside causing heavy human casualties. In a recent accident, an Indian navy torpedo recovery vessel sank, leaving two officers dead and three others missing. When a common citizen feels the pain of such losses, he also suspects it to be the result of poor naval maintenance standards.
This trend of mishaps is alarming, to say the least. When a disgusted former Naval Chief D K Joshi quit earlier this year, taking moral responsibility of such tragedies under his command, I was wondering if his resignation would set the things right. Will our new technocrat Defence Minister do his bit to check this depressive trend effectively ? A retired naval officer says it's all due to poor maintenance and irresponsible handling of mechanical systems.
Under severe pressure from the Opposition, in the wake of myriad massive scams, the UPA regime of Dr Manmohan Singh had almost frozen all proposed arms deals, with the then Defence Minister A K Antony playing it safe to save his skin after being permitted by the party leadership. Even though PM Modi is strictly for building indigenous weapons and military hardware, both for self-use and exports, it was at his initiative that the jinx against arms purchase was promptly broken and deals worth Rs 80,000 crore acquisitions were finalized.
However, a number of projects are still pending. While purchase of 8,000 Israeli antitank guided missiles and 12 Dornier surveillance aircraft is on the anvil, half a dozen submarines are proposed to be made indigenously. The government has also done well to raise FDI in defence from 26% to 49% to facilitate setting up of arms manufacturing units. Parrikar's mettle will be judged on how transparently he proceeds to do all that, beside clearing passage for the purchase of sophisticated firearms to strengthen our forces' strike power and morale in the face of the growing hostility from across the borders along Pakistan and China.
When we buy almost 70% of the weapons and equipments of our pressing needs from abroad, the question arises : what is that our Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is doing ? Can our technocrat Parrikar put this organization to its mainframe use, converting it into an ultramodern scientific laboratory ? Modi has been asking that if our Indian Space Research Organiszation (ISRO) can do wonders for the country, why can’t DRDO do that ?
I believe Parrikar, properly briefed by the Prime Minister, must be seriously thinking on recasting DRDO into a right kind of productive unit. It may appear little challenging, but not altogether impossible. This issue was once raised in Parliament during the tenure of UPA II, but despite assurances the then Defence Minister did not think it worthwhile to take the needed action.