Multiple challenges await India’s new defence minister

manohar-parrikarIndia’s new defence minister Manohar Parrikar will have to hit the ground running as he begins his tenure in South Block from November 10. From tensions on the unresolved borders with China and Pakistan to India’s embarrassing tag of being the world’s largest arms importer, he will have his hands full.
It has taken Prime Minister Narendra Modi over five months to appoint a full-time defence minister for the country. Parrikar, a grocer’s son and former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharak, is known to share a good personal rapport with Modi.
While his predecessor Arun Jaitley set the ball rolling, it will be Parrikar who will have to measure up to the challenging task of overseeing India’s operational military preparedness.
The task at hand for Parrikar is particularly onerous given that his predecessor A.K. Antony, who served as the defence minister for no less than eight years, was unwilling to take fast decisions and risks lest his image of ‘Mr Clean’ be sullied.
Like Antony, the new defence minister is known for his spartan lifestyle and integrity. However, he will have to shed Antony-like diffidence and take tough decision if he wants to infuse the moribund defence ministry with some much-needed direction and new thinking.
While Parrikar will be serving as a minister at the Centre for the first time, he is no greenhorn when it comes to administrative experience, having served as the chief minister of Goa, India’s coastal state and a magnet for tourists. twice.
A metallurgical engineer from IIT (Mumbai), Parrikar’s technical knowledge should stand him in good stead while grappling with the nitty-gritty of crucial defence modernisation projects.
Among the many challenges before Parrikar will be the need to work towards getting India’s budgeted defence expenditure hiked to at least 2.5% of GDP from the present 1.7% for adequate military modernisation.
The new defence minister will also need to focus on reducing the corruption that dogs defence procurements as well as fast-tracking acquisitions by streamlining procedures for the induction of fighters, howitzers, helicopters, submarines and the like to plug the shortages the Indian armed forces currently grapple with.
On November 10, shortly after taking charge, Parrikar affirmed that all defence procurement processes will be transparent but fast.
The new government has already given its nod to raise the FDI cap in defence production from 26% to 49%. However, if Mr Parrikar is to push ahead with Mr Modi’s pet `Make in India’ policy, he will have to focus on ensuring these words are translated into reality.
Among the other areas that will require the new defence minister’s attention is the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), that’s been more often than not seen as an organisation that fails to deliver in a timely and effective manner.
The creation of stronger border infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China requires focus. In the over 10 years since India identified 73 strategic roads for construction near the LAC, it has managed to construct just 18.
Considered an able administrator in home state Goa, Parrikar will have to prove his mettle yet again as the country’s defence minister.
(The writer is a senior journalist)

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