Budget 2019: Time to Augment Defence Allocation

 By Col. Mohinder Pal Singh

Undoubtedly the allocations  for  spending on defence needs  higher allocations in the forthcoming budgets  keeping in mind  the present  geopolitical situation in the region.

Every  elections National  Security forms  the  headlines of  the election manifesto of  each  national level party  and  this  year was  no  exception. However it  was  heartening for every Indian to  notice  that the  issue of  National  Security  catapulted  from the second last  page of the  BJP  election manifesto  2014  to the first  page in 2019. The  manifesto  starts  with a strong resolve of ‘nation first’ and  the opening paragraph starts with the tenor of ‘zero tolerance Approach to Terrorism’.  This is  immediately  followed by  emphasis on  – Strengthening our Armed  Forces. The manifesto says,  “We will speed up the purchases of outstanding defence related equipments and weapons. In order to equip the Armed Forces with modern equipment, we will continue to take focused steps to strengthen the strike capability of the Armed Forces.” This is followed by  bringing attention to  a very pertinent issue related to the defence sector – Self Reliance . The manifesto removes all the maze on this issue by  stating, ‘In order to ensure self-reliance in procurement of defence equipment, we have taken several effective steps in the last five years. For instance, the most modern AK-203 automatic rifles are being manufactured at Amethi under our ‘Make in India in Defence’ initiative. We are committed to focus on ‘Make in India in Defence’ to enable indigenous production of defence equipment. This will also generate employment and encourage investment in the defence sector.’  The intent of the new government is unequivocally conveyed in the above quoted lines and does not require any more explanations.

It  goes without  saying  that  by bringing  to  fore  two most  important  issues of ‘national security’ and ‘zero tolerance to Terrorism’  , both of which not only  effect the  common  man but also hurt  the  nation’s  sentiments in general, the  Modi Team  2.0 has  clearly understood the mood of the people.  And  to  undertake  steps to work towards   their  logical conclusions in the next five years is a yeoman task.   There is a  need to not only strengthen  the  armed forces  but also  equip them  with requisite weapons and  ammunition. We  are all aware that procurement  of weapons from  foreign countries not  only  entails labyrinthine processes  and which  at times takes  many  years. Own  defence  manufacturing , though in the nascent stage  is  the  right  answer  for  ‘faster procurement and maintenance’ of the weapons and  equipment for  the future.   The  fact  which  the  common man does not know probably is  that  all the macro level procurements for  the  defence sector fall in the  preview of the  Ministry of  Defence(MoD)  and   which is  headed by  the coveted portfolio  of  Raksha Mantri(RM)  and  a  team of bureaucrats.  Hence,  the  RM  plays  a  very important role in  equipping  the  defence forces  and promoting ‘defence readiness’  for  any  action . In the past, the  MoD  has come under scanner for many   defence deals and   in  some cases  the  logical  conclusions are not yet out  even after  many  years  of investigation which are  full of  allegations and  counter allegations.  At present all  the  three  arms of the  defence forces namely Army, Navy and  Airforce are    battling with gross  shortages in terms of  shortage /vintage of important weapons/ weapon systems/ weapon platforms. Reports about shortage of fighter aircrafts, submarines, light machine guns, tanks  as well as essential equipment have been highlighted in  the media. There  are  two  factors  which presumably  could  have  effected  the  lack of  timely  purchases. One,  the tenures of RMs have been very short . We  have  had 28  RMs alongside 14 Prime Ministers since independence.  Out of the  28 , only  4 completed more  than  4 years in office and 14 were  there  in office for approximately  an  year. On six occasions the PMs  have  officiated as RMs. On three occasions  the  RM was  there  for less than  three months. Now  everyone is  aware  that the  defence deals  take  a long  time and frequent  changes  in  the person  at helm is bound to  effect the timelines of purchase. Two,  anyone who  takes up  this portfolio takes  time  to understand the  pulse of the  defence  forces and its requirements on ground. Ironically,  the MoD  has  very  miniscule presence of serving officers from the defence forces  or the  veterans as  part of bureaucracy,  hence the requirements  on ground take time to be projected and  understood. Though in  Indian democratic system the  President is the  Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces however  , it’s the RM who  has  to see  the day to day developments  in the forces  and  connect  with  the troops. In the past,  we  have  seen  on umpteen  occasions  when the  RM has left his office in South Block and gone and interacted with the troops deployed in the inhospitable terrains. Such  visits not only  raised the  morale of  the  troops but  also helped the RM understand  the  difficulties  of the  soldiers and the  units  guarding our borders, the ships  guarding the  seas or  the  planes  guarding  the  skies. After  all he is directly  responsible for  ensuring the battle worthiness of the  forces. In a good  strong  economy,  a  strong and  well equipped defence forces   are  a  must for  which  there  is a strong need for  a strong, stable and   experienced  RM.  Our  adversary for  many years  has been doing  huge  budgetary  allocations  for defence production and procurements or indigenously  manufacturing  weapons.  The  Team Modi 2.0 has made  a  right choice in choosing the Mr Rajnath Singh, for this  job, who is a right blend  of  experience, strength and courage  required  for  onerous task  of  RM  to  make  India a regional power in a $5 trillon economy in near future . He  has proved  his  mettle  as  a  home minister for  full  five years in the previous  team , during which  he  has closely   worked with  the paramilitary  forces of the  nation and  made them into a  well-oiled  machinery. He being the  number  two  in  the  previous  and present  government,  commands  good  respects and  a  speckless  record  in getting  the  work done. We  hope  that now  as  the nation’s RM he gets unstinted  support in his task  of  upgrading the defence forces  from  other members of the  Cabinet and adequate budgetary  allocations  are made available for  the defence  sector not only in the  budget 2019 but also  in the coming five years. Once the Budgetary allocations for defence , the RM’s resolve for modernisation and the vision of  attaining  strong National Security  paradigm are in sink India will emerge  as a regional giant.