by Ashok K Mehta

Spearheaded by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, defence, national security and welfare of veterans were the key pillars of his election campaign.

Amongst defence reforms, he promised the moon, pledging to pursue a muscular policy against Pakistan. On the fourth anniversary of his government’s tenure, Modi’s score card is not as impressive as was expected or is made out to be.

Rather, in his achievements was a subterranean effort at politicising the military in the guise of nationalism by agencies and organisations integral and linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
OROP, Rafale Deal & Other Policies

The most outstanding achievement that Modi does not hesitate to acclaim is OROP, though some veterans remain disappointed due to its residual imperfections.

OROP accompanied by the Seventh Pay Commission award, which, not surprisingly has its usual quota anomalies, has made a big dent in the defence budget where salaries and pensions have impaired funding for defence modernisation – allocation for 2018-19 being the lowest at 1.57 percent of the GDP.

The Ministry of Defence has remained unstable by the frequent switching of defence ministers: Nirmala Sitharaman being the third minister.

The resultant turbulence adversely affected consummation of major defence reforms like integration of service headquarters with MoD, strengthening and expanding Integrated Defence Staff, creating combined theater commands and appointing the elusive CDS (which Manohar Parrikar had vowed would “definitely happen”) to name just a few.

Instead the government appointed yet another superfluous organisation called the Defence Planning Committee through which NSA Ajit Doval, at heart a policeman, was indirectly anointed as the CDS.

While ministers played musical chairs, ad hocism crept in, crowned by Modi unilaterally cancelling the 126 Rafale fighter deal in the making and summarily ordering the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft from France just before his visit there.

Two years later, the MoD revived the ‘abandoned process’ of acquiring another fighter aircraft to make up for the crisis of dwindling number of fighter squadrons in the Indian Air Force.

This is cruel joke on the IAF. The Navy has its own sorry story of diminishing submarines and other warships and the Army only recently – after two decades of tinkering – caught the bull by the horns: equipping Rifleman Bhoop Singh and the infantry, the sword arm of the service, with a modern assault rifle and contemporary protective gear.

All this, thanks to the relentless efforts of General Bipin Rawat.

Were Modi to invest a little prime time in defence and remove the silos and minefields that have been created by the bureaucracy, we could get the right bang for the buck and a more effective fighting force. 
Fighting a Two-Front War

Right-sizing the Army is vital and Rawat is at it.

About the situation in Kashmir, BJP’s Ram Madhav said “all is fair in love and war”. But according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence, the Army is not ready for war. It is high time for the Modi government to shift the focus from fighting elections to preparing to fight for a two-front war after carrying out essential defence reforms whose use-by date is periodically extended.

Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray has correctly observed that Modi should focus on conflicts with Pakistan and China rather than on fighting electoral battles.

Which takes Modi’s defence capsule to the start of Team Modi’s innings and the politicisation creep targeting the services.

Former Army Chief General Dalbir Singh who had been mistreated by General VK Singh became the political football between the victorious BJP government, which insisted on announcing and appointing the next chief even as the outgoing UPA II argued it was its prerogative to do so.

With VK Singh having stormed the elections and having become a BJP MP, the Congress feared the incoming government might not make Dalbir Singh chief under VK Singh’s pressure.

Fortunately, justice prevailed. Fast forward to Gen Bipin Rawat’s appointment.

Superseding two senior Generals, however much justified, created a political stir along party lines. The last time two Lieutenant Generals were overlooked was when Gen KS Thimayya was made Army chief.

He was recently in the news during the Karnataka elections for the wrong reasons. The government, which need not have attributed any reason for super-session, issued a note saying Rawat’s counter-insurgency experience was richer than that of the other two Generals, just as Gen AS Vaidya in 1983 stole a march over Lt Gen SK Sinha because he had distinguished himself in wars and gallantry awards won.

The Indian military’s sterling assets are that it is apolitical, secular, professional and under civilian political control and has successfully weathered political storms. Born from the same womb, the Pakistan Army next door chose a different direction and destiny. The Indian Army’s motto taken from Field Marshal Chetwode is etched on every officer’s mind: the safety, honour and welfare of the country come first, always and every time; the honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next; your own ease, comfort and safety come last always and every time.