A truism with which most military officers are acquainted with is “a commander is only as good as his staff”. It jells with another popular quote “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Both these quotes amply highlight the state of our defence preparedness.
The Indian Military is not just about valour and courage. These qualities are there in plen-ty. The military leadership displayed since independence, for the most part, has also been of a high order, from the junior leader level up to the Service Chiefs. But armies are also about providing the soldiery with the best weapons and equipment and provisioning the field force adequately to take on anticipated threats. Unfortunately, what the military needs, it seldom gets and for that we need to take a closer look at the Ministry of Defence and its four departments; Department of Defence; Department of Defence Production; Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare and the Defence research and Development Organisation.
On the issue of OROP (One Rank One Pension), a matter very close the heart of the Armed Forces and the veterans, Mr Manohar Parrikar, when he was Raksha Mantri, stated that when he assumed charge he asked for the file and found to his surprise that there wasn’t any. This was rather surprising as OROP was promised in 1972 by Indira Gandhi! It took a very determined Parrikar to get the babus in the MoD to shake out of their slumber and finally get to work on the issue. But the malaise in the ministry is not just about the missing OROP file. It has seeped into each and every department and section, to the point that regardless of what the political authority may want, the babus lack both the capacity and the competence to deliver. That is why the Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ call is floun-dering in the Defence Sector, despite four years of exhortations by the political authority.
The MoD holds all financial and administra-tive powers, in so far as they relate to the Armed Forces. However, within the Ministry, there are no defence personnel, making it the only defence ministry in the world which is devoid of inputs from the Service personnel. A revamping of the Ministry is long overdue, but as such revamping is to be done by the babus themselves, it is unlikely to see the light of day, unless the entire administrative machinery in the Government of India is overhauled.
The DRDO has a few successes to its credit but it has hopelessly underperformed in most areas, be it in artillery systems, armoured vehicles or even in something as elementary as making a modern small arms fighting sys-tem for the Army! It has been tardy in meeting its self defined deadlines, be it the Arjun tank, the LCA and many others. The nine Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and 41 Ordnance factories too are under-performing, which explains why India is in the ignomin-ious position of being the world’s largest importer of weapons. Coming under the Secretary, Department of Defence Production, in the MoD, the entire functioning and charter of the Department requires a review. There is an urgent need to close down some of the unproductive factories and DPSUs, and realign the others in tune with defence priori-ties and needs.
The Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ pro-gramme, a laudable venture by any yardstick is not taking off in the defence sector precisely because of institutional inertia in the MoD. The entire structure needs to be revamped if India is to progress. There is a need to put the right people in decision making structures, giving them the power and responsibility and thereafter making them accountable to the country. As of now, the MoD is like a dinosaur which consumes a great deal, but just cannot deliver. Without reforms in the MoD, the Make in India initiatives in the defence realm will continue to flounder, regardless of the effort and energy put in by the political authority. After all, a General is only as good as his staff— something that the Defence Minister needs to ponder on.