Rajiv Gandhi once remarked, somewhat controversially, that he was not required to respond to “every dog that barks.” Conversely, Nirmala Sitharaman seems to relish every opportunity to bare her political fangs and tear into anything which her government deems unflattering ~ even if while doing so she takes a position contrary to what the apex court has been advocating.
The defence minister made it in a big way to the newspapers on Wednesday, but on three of the four occasions the reports were of political significance and only one had immediate relevance to national security. Not that there was anything earth-shaking to the Defence Acquisition Council clearing additional Akash missiles ~ there is inevitably a considerable time-lag between such purchases being approved and their induction into the arsenal.
It was countering another salvo from the Congress on the Rafale deal, and that party’s contention that a troop-cut would follow the proposed restructuring of the Army that she turned up the heat at the Indian Women’s Press Corps. She saved her best for the last ~ alleging that anti-India forces were at work at her alma mater, JNU, where the BJP continues to be rejected by the student community. Such stridency may raise her stock within the party (Smriti Irani also seems to think so) but it is debatable if the best interests of their ministries are simultaneously promoted.
The Congress is beginning to sound like a broken record on the Rafale purchase, over which its wisdom was decidedly belated and the anxiety to do a “BJP Bofors” is palpable. And that party invites public ridicule when fielding AK Antony in its firing squad. No defence minister has been so ineffective, and his non-performance is primarily responsible for the charge of policy paralysis that attached itself to the Manmohan-Sonia government like a magnetic-mine.
In fact Mrs Sitharaman accords his allegations undue credence by detailed rebuttal of them. The Army issue would not have figured had a Congress loudmouth not created a skewed impression of 150,000 jobs being slashed over five years. A competent minister would claim credit for moving towards what experts have been recommending for decades ~ a “leaner, meaner army”.
The minister’s take on the JNU results would not have been worrisome ~ crying foul after a rout is par for the course ~ but she swims against the court-charted stream by contending that those who do not think saffron are seditionists. It is the impact on the armed services of Mrs Sitharaman’s politicking is what troubles.
More so when the IAF is bereft of fighters, the Navy of submarines and the Army of contemporary artillery. Analysts are convinced that top IAF officials were pressured (and shamefully wilted) to certifying financial aspects of the Rafale purchase. It is with distinct trepidation that uniformed circles recall that the last such overly-political defence minister was the disastrous VK Krishna Menon.