Thus Spake Defence Minister Parrikar (As Did Others Before Him)
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar at the Amar Jawan Jyoti
Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar is a highly articulate minister. The words of wisdom he dishes out at great speed remind one of modern machine guns that spew bullets at rapid rates. Unlike machine guns though, which can be controlled to fire long or short bursts and even single bullets, depending on the situation, the defence minister does not get constrained by such niceties. Some call it the ‘foot in mouth’ disease, but being a military man, how can I endorse it although it is obviously well stated?
For some strange reason, all Prime Ministers seem to allocate the Defence Minister’s portfolio to those having little talent or knowledge for security issues, except a few exceptions. The presumption is that the selection criteria is either seniority in the party as he/she is part of all serious decision-making, being the member of all apex committees, like the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA), Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA). Alternately, the Prime Minister understands his compulsions and follows the old adage – ‘kick him upstairs’!
Without going decades back in history, for very few now remember the Baldev’s; the Mulayam’s; the Pawar’s; and so on of the past, let us at least mention the achievements or lack of them of at least the last three.
Prime Minister Vajpayee had appointed George Fernandes, a powerful member of the NDA, as a sop to the coalition dharma. He had remarkable energy, having made 21 trips or thereabouts to Siachen, but he never realized that our troops were also guarding the LC, the LAC and were deeply engaged in counter terrorist (CT) and counter insurgency (CI) operations in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the entire north eastern states! He was forced to quit when the Tehelka storm blew in his face, but being highly resilient, he bounced back to his old job after a suitable interval, when the BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh was brought in, and after the storm was over.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had two defence ministers – Pranab Mukherjee and A K Antony. While the former distinguished himself as the presiding deity of various Group of Ministers (GOM’s), the latter will always be remembered for his blacklisting of all weapon suppliers. The bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence were happiest during the tenures of these two ministers as they could and did take decisions as they deemed fit. The armed forces saw neither modernization nor any improvement in personnel matters.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi coming in with an overwhelming majority, the hopes of the Indian Military perked up, but at the end of one year of governance, the armed forces seem to have returned to the good old starting line! In his wisdom the Prime Minister appointed Arun Jaitley as both the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister. He had to juggle with one leg in the North Block and the other in South Block, a most ungainly posture even for the likes of our Yoga Gurus, and Mr Jaitley is hardly the yoga type!
It was in November 2014, when the situation appeared increasingly bleak for the defence and security of the nation, that Manohar Parrikar was summoned from salubrious Goa as the spanking new Defence Minister. But in just a few months he seems to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.
We will not talk about the tatters of the Raffale jet fighters deal with France, or the near-scrapping of the offensive mountain corps, or even the broken promises of the long-pending One Rank One Pension (OROP) proposal. As the presiding deity of the fourth largest military of the world, he no doubt reckons that a few multi-role fighter aircraft, obsolete submarines and the odd army corps stopped in its track will make no difference to the might of the Indian Military, which would and could fight even with the obsolescent weapons, ammunition and equipment. After all, has not the Modi Sarkar emphatically talked about ‘Make in India’, which may emerge in a few decades or years. The portents may not look at all favourable, but one needs to be at least optimistic and put up a brave face. Maybe our enemies may get scared with all the bombastic words, laced with jingoism and bluster!!
Let me now briefly talk about the defence minister’s latest analysis, which he has articulated with all seriousness. One, his analysis of low status of the Indian Army on account of lack of wars is masterly. Why has no one thought of it till now? It must be because they lack analytical skills that come from being a very well educated post- graduate from one of the best universities of the country!
Two, he has conveniently passed on the raising of status of Army personnel to the state governments. Despite these masterly political skills, why do people say he is the first non-political figure to adorn the prestigious office of the defence minister? Maybe he wants to hand over difficult decisions, like the implementation of OROP, for example, to the Chief Ministers of the states? But, of course keeping in mind the policies of the Modi government, those in Delhi need to be in the good books of the Lt Governor, who has been ordained as the Satrap, by- passing the duly elected government.
Three, Parrikar only talked about the low status of the Army. So, at least the status of Navy and the Air Force is intact, or is it? After all a lot of people use the word Army in the generic sense of the Armed forces, much to the chagrin of the other two services. At least for the time being, it is only the status of the Army that is at risk, and has fallen!
It took me a couple of hours to reflect on these pearls of wisdom spoken by our worthy Defence Minister, which no doubt are applicable at the global level too. By his expert analysis, all the Jihadi terrorists who have been waging a relentless war on all Kafirs for decades now must have the best status in the world and need not be parceled out to states/provinces. Similarly, the armies of most European countries must be having an even lower status, as most have not fought a war in anger for decades, except that some did contribute small elements to NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The silver lining on the horizon is that since China too has not waged a war against any country since the attack on Vietnam decades back, the PLA too must be now be in a state of low status like the Indian Army.
Thank you Raksha Mantri Ji for enlightening us. The last time we were enlightened was by Lord Buddha for showing us the Middle Path. We will now do our best to raise our status by refraining from going to the succor of our countrymen or neighbours and concentrate on thinking up ways and means to wage a war! After all, status does matter, even if the Sarkar has abandoned the hapless Indian Army!
(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)