It might appear arrogant to assess the importance of an issue on the basis of the media attention it attracts, yet the limited coverage of the defence allocations in the Piyush Goyal budget does serve to indicate that despite the hype over surgical strikes and warnings to Kashmiri militants that they would be made to run helter-skelter, when it comes to providing funds for defence the NDA government tends to refrain from putting its money where its mouth is.
An element of mischief was also evident on Friday; Mr Goyal made much of the defence allocation touching the Rs 300 lakh crore mark, but did not mention that Rs 298 lakh crore had been expended in the fiscal now drawing to a close ~ the increase was just nominal. Worse, the figure he cited to draw a contrast with the UPA ~ even as its term draws to a close the NDA remains obsessed with its predecessor ~ pertained to defence pensions that are a separate allocation.
Such manipulation of numbers irks apolitical military personnel who resent such puerile attempts to take them for a ride. The manipulation was also visible in the President’s Address (a government drafted document) the previous day ~ when the Rafales would land was not specified, nor any hint available of the negotiations for 90 (beyond the 36 already contracted) that of late the government has been talking about to counter queries about how a mere two squadrons would augment a depleted fleet. “Bluff and bluster” was how Balraj Madhok would write off Pakistan ~ the present avatar of the party he pioneered would also merit that description.
Since figures generally mean splitting hairs they are best avoided yet the defence ministry’s projection of the outlay at Rs 3.18 lakh crore is a mere 1.5 per cent of GDP ~ the lowest since 1962. Would Mr Modi & Co. be thrilled at that comparison? The fauji would be highly distressed since 2 or 2.5 per cent is what the experts recommend. There has clearly been no “correction” of the lop-sided ratio between Capital and Revenue expenditure and unless the provisions are more fiction than fact, comprehensive modernisation and re-equipment programmes are unlikely ~ not to mention the continued threats along the northern and western fronts.
True that budgets are not blueprints, yet there are few signs of manpower being reduced to facilitate the induction of hi-tech weaponry. One disturbing discovery by an authoritative analyst notes that while in terms of rupees the allocation has increased, in dollar-value it has fallen. That too when 65 per cent of advanced weaponry is still imported, and “make in India” is as elusive as achche din. The reality being that it was an election budget, engineered to allure the electorate ~ and there is still no such thing as a “military-vote” despite the bid by a couple of “Chiefs”, and Nirmala Sitharaman’s brand of charm.