Crossing the road on Raisina Hill to move from Home Ministry to Defence Ministry, Mr. Rajnath Singh faces a new gamut of managing the complex matrix of the defence forces of a nation with two adversarial neighbours, one of which is the global hub of terrorism. Ironically, India’s armed forces have been functioning for decades on arms and equipment long overdue for replacement and glaring deficiencies urgently needed to be made good by fresh acquisitions. While in the five years since BJP came to power in 2014, the initiation process of many acquisitions and replacements was begun, their sustained follow-up was adversely affected owing to frequent changes of the Defence Ministers, viz. Mr. Arun Jaitley, late Mr. Manohar Parrikar and Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman.
In dealing with China and Pakistan, with its continuous export of terror, while it is just as well that Mr. Singh is seasoned in dealing with Pakistan generated terrorism as the Home Minister, he will have need to ensure that the responses to any infraction by either adversary are swift, appropriately nuanced and steady/sustained. Containing infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir and ensuring that the Army’s status/interests are not compromised by separatists/their sympathisers/pro-Pak elements in the Valley-and even ironically in New Delhi, will be another key focus area.
A major challenge for Mr Singh will be to strengthen the combat capabilities of the Army, Navy and Air Force by speeding up their long-delayed modernisation, besides ensuring overall coherence in their combat readiness. This is also linked to the follow-up processes begun and speedy acquisition of combat ready arms and equipment. Some critical equipment—namely fighter jets apart from Rafale, Tejas fighters to replace MiG-21s, airborne early warning aircraft, submarines and helicopters for the navy and tracked, truck-mounted and towed artillery guns and minesweepers for the Army will have to be purchased on an emergency basis.
A pressing demand from the armed forces to equip them to deal with hybrid warfare will also need to be pursued.For Make in India/domestic defence production, Mr. Singh will have to drive forward major reform initiatives, including implementing the ambitious “strategic partnership” model, under which select Indian private firms will be incorporated to build military platforms like submarines, warships and fighter jets in India in partnership with foreign defence firms.
Defence research organisations and various other defence public sector undertakings will also need to be modernised/streamlined so that they can produce state-of-the art military hardware required by the forces. He is expected to focus on simplification of the acquisition process as majority of the military modernisation programmes are delayed due to bureaucratic/ administrative hurdles. As aptly stated in media, delays in decision-making, combined with the risk averseness of the bureaucracy, has had a debilitating effect on the war fighting abilities of the forces. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi accepted this when he said the result of the India-Pakistan dogfight in skies over Kashmir would have been different if the Indian Air Force had Rafale fighters. While the process for procuring Rafale fighters began in the late 2000s, they will begin arriving in India only in September this year. The unprecedented politicisation of defence procurement by senior Congress leaders is only likely to make bureaucrats become even more apprehensive.
Instituting a dedicated Defence Procurement Organisation initiated by the Dhirendra Singh Committee four years ago will need the Defence Minister’s immediate attention. Mr. Singh will also have to oversee implementation of down-sizing the 1.2 million strong Indian Army, a blueprint for which has already been finalised. Fixing the defence budget allocation, which has increased 200% since 2011-12 will be another major challenge.
Last but certainly not the least is maintaining the morale of the armed forces. Urgent issues are: [a] legally protecting soldiers combating terrorism, particularly in J&K, [b] ensuring proper compensation and rehabilitation to next of kin of martyrs [c] ensuring parity in pay and allowances of armed forces personnel with civilian and police/central armed police forces equivalents, [d] implementation of non functional financial up-gradation for armed forces and [e] welfare of ex- servicemen, presently mainly, revision of pension five years after One Rank One Pension implementation.