FB   
 
Powered bysps
        Society for Policy Studies
 
 

 
Bite the bullet
Updated:Sep 13, 2017
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 
By Arun Sahni
 
 
The appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as India’s defence minister created ripples on more counts than one. She is the first full-time woman minister who occupies the hallowed office. Her appointment confirmed the resolve of Prime Minister Narendra Modito respect merit and performance, more so as she is a relatively junior politician. In the hype that indirectly reinforces Modi’s commitment towards women’s empowerment and gender equality, I read urgency in seeking a “hands-on commitment” for addressing the challenges faced by the armed forces. Progress on this front, a focus area of the present government, has been slow. 
 
 
The government made the right noises and initiated baby steps to mitigate the existing deficiencies in ammunition and shortfall/upgrade of critical weapon systems. It also took steps to facilitate a vibrant “defence ecosystem”, a pre-requisite for achieving self-sufficiency in the manufacture of big ticket items, including guns, submarines and aircraft. The previous defence minister did a great job despite his political compulsions. But good intentions were subsumed by archaic procurement processes, apathy and a lack of understanding in the bureaucracy.
 
 
The apprehensions voiced regarding a woman steering the tradition-steeped and formal armed forces are totally misplaced. History is replete with examples of unprecedented military successes achieved with women at the helm. In our case, we have the success story of the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict that resulted in the birth of Bangladesh. Yes, the armed forces will take some time to get used to a woman defence minister. The minister too has her task cut out. Going by the ethos of the armed forces, she will have to take the first step and prepare the environment for interactions with the uniformed fraternity. Seeing her frank and free approach to discussion, however, I see this issue being resolved amicably.
 
 
What needs to be looked at more closely are the challenges she is likely to face in running the defence ministry. Her methodical approach, perseverance and capacity for hard work, reflected in her handling of the commerce ministry, are a big plus. Her real task, however, will be to appreciate the complexities of the three services and the interplay of OFB-DPSUs-DRDO (Ordnance Factories Board-Defence Public Sector Units-Defence Research and Development Organisation) in India’s quest for self-reliance and indigenisation in weaponry.
 
 
The focus on the MoD is such that decisions taken or not taken could go viral on social or visual media and create pressures. The defence minister will have to retain the dexterity and informality to be empowered by periodic briefings on evolving situations along the active borders with Pakistan and China, internal security commitments in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast, and so on. The TRP-driven visual media will create emergencies across myriad spectrums. Unfortunately, a majority of the senior bureaucrats in the MoD, including the defence secretary, are also recent inductees. This may have a bearing on the time taken by the new minister in settling into her job.
 
 
Unlike in other ministries, experience in dealing with matters military is necessary for bureaucrats to develop trust and appreciate the nuances in the functioning of the armed forces. If they differ on perceptions regarding priorities, it could cause impediments in the smooth running of the ministry. Structural and procedural issues already plaguing the ministry could also have a negative impact. The reforms announced by the outgoing defence minister amount to a new paradigm. They have financial overtones and their implementation may be time consuming. Therefore, changes must be initiated only after workable alternatives are found.
 
 
Hopefully, a minister whose sole responsibility is the running of the defence ministry will ensure that issues are addressed in a holistic and timely manner. Patience and an eye for detail are necessary to review the existing procurement processes and measures to give shape to the “Make in India” initiative. There is a need to be disruptive in thought and action as the efforts in this direction till now have been sub-optimal. Simultaneously, the private sector needs to be re-assured that there is space and place for them in nation-building: The government must convey its resolve that a level-playing field will be provided to them vis a vis the DPSUs. She will have to be dogged in both intention and attitude to break the existing barriers and accelerate the changes promised by the government. The importance of the defence industry needs no emphasis for it will enhance our security imperatives, provide jobs and inject a feeling of national pride.
 
 
 
 
 
Print
Share
  
increase Font size decrease Font size
 

Disclaimer: South Asia Monitor does not accept responsibility for the views or ideology expressed in any article, signed or unsigned, which appears on its site. What it does accept is responsibility for giving it a chance to appear and enter the public discourse.
Comments (Total Comments 0) Post Comments Post Comment
Review
 
 
 
 
spotlight image Since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assumed office again in Bangladesh in 2009, bilateral relations between New Delhi and Dhaka have been on a steady upward trajectory.
 
read-more
  Nearly 58 per cent of the about 600,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are children who suffer from severe malnutrition, a UN report released said.
 
read-more
A unique and passionate gathering of acrophiles, or mountain lovers, took place in neat and picturesque Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram state in north-eastern India in September.
 
read-more
India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attained a level of maturity which allows it to assert itself in an effective manner. This is aimed at protecting the country’s national interests in a sustained way.
 
read-more
With over 100 incidents of braid chopping reported in different parts of Kashmir, there is widespread fear and anger among the people.
 
read-more
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's GDP expanded 6.9 percent year on year in the first three quarters of 2017, an increase of 0.2 percent above that of the corresponding period of last year.
 
read-more
As political roller coasters go, there is none as steep and unpredictable as the one shared by the United States and Iran.
 
read-more
In West Asia, the end of one war paves the way for the next. Raqqa, the Syrian capital of the self-styled Islamic State (IS), has fallen to a coalition of rebels, the Syrian Democratic Forces that is backed by the United States.
 
read-more
On “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century”
 
read-more
Column-image

Title: The People Next Door -The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations; Author: T.C.A. Raghavan; Publisher: HarperCollins ; Pages: 361; Price: Rs 699

 
Column-image

Could the North Korean nuclear issue which is giving the world an anxious time due to presence of hotheads on each side, the invasion of Iraq and its toxic fallout, and above all, the arms race in the teeming but impoverished South Asian subcon...

 
Column-image

Title: A Bonsai Tree; Author: Narendra Luther; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 227 Many books have been written on India's partition but here is a firsthand account of the horror by a migrant from what is now Pakistan, who ...

 
Column-image

As talk of war and violence -- all that Mahatma Gandhi stood against -- gains prominence across the world, a Gandhian scholar has urged that the teachings of the apostle of non-violence be taken to the classroom.

 
Column-image

Interview with Hudson Institute’s Aparna Pande, whose book From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on June 17.

 
Subscribe to our newsletter
Archive