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Guest Column - Force Magazine
An Average Performance

A mid-term appraisal of defence reforms

Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd) Maj. Gen. Mrinal Suman (retd)

Narendra Modi government took charge in May 2014 and has completed half the term. It is often said that all governments take bold and radical decisions in the first half of their term in office. As the next election draws closer, all parties resort to populist policies to garner votes for another term in office. Courage to take harsh decisions abates. Therefore, an objective appraisal of the first half of tenure is always a far truer indicator of a government’s performance, achievements and failures.

As regards the defence issues, a mid-term appraisal of the performance of the Modi government shows disappointing results. A closer look at the report card shows plethora of policy statements with little ground action.

Structural Reforms
Responsibility for India’s national defence is discharged through the ministry of defence (MoD). It provides the policy framework and wherewithal to the armed forces. Yet, it is totally devoid of any service presence. Higher defence management of the country is virtually non-existent. The services have been deliberately kept out of the decision making loop. Bureaucrats who are totally ignorant of the defence imperatives have usurped the power to dictate policies to the services.

The defence secretary is responsible for the defence of India and every part thereof, including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war. For such an onerous responsibility, it is natural to expect a highly experienced defence expert/veteran to be occupying the chair. But MoD is different. Any bureaucrat can foot the bill, even if his previous experience and knowledge is limited to fisheries and animal husbandry departments.

As regards the development of indigenous defence industry, MoD has a vast domain of 39 ordnance factories and nine defence public sector undertakings. Their performance has been pathetic to say the least. They are solely responsible for the current pitiable state of the indigenous defence industry. Instead of exploiting the enormous technological prowess of the private sector, MoD blocks their entry to ensure regular flow of orders to the public sector entities.

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has 52 laboratories in multiple disciplines. The track record of DRDO is abysmal to say the least – a chronicle of false claims, tall promises, inexplicable delays and sub-optimal products. It has the unenviable reputation of never developing any equipment conforming to the parameters in the promised time-frame.

Department of Ex-servicemen’s Welfare (DESW) deals with all resettlement, welfare and pensionary matters of ex-servicemen. It is wholly manned by bureaucrats and not a single serving or retired service officer has been posted to it. Welfare of retired soldiers has been entrusted to the people who have never faced a bullet and who know little about the challenges faced by the retired soldiers. Hence, they cannot be faulted for their complete lack of empathy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar at Yelahanka air base

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