Quoting Dr Manmohan Singh’s favourite line to Mr Narendra Modi would be waving the proverbial red rag to the bull, but it does put into perspective the Prime Minister’s seemingly soul-stirring rhetoric when opening the Defence Expo.
For while there can be no condoning the virtually comatose showing of AK Antony on the procurement front, this government too has to sell itself to the military through means other than shrill rhetoric.
What the Prime Minister said at Thiruvadanthi on Thursday would have been bang on target in 2014 or 2015, but after three defence ministers (one having had two stints in South Block) the message from NDA-II points to policy-inconsistencies ~ no less-debilitating than the policy-paralysis of the UPA.
There was painful truth to Mr Modi’s saying “We have seen the damage such laziness, incompetence, or perhaps some hidden motives can cause to the nation.”
Alas, his “Not now. Not anymore. Never again. Issues that should have been long addressed by previous governments are being resolved now,” is only partially authenticated by the recent, albeit overdue, deal to procure some 180,000 bullet-proof jackets for the “footsloggers” many of whom had jackets, of poor quality.
It is a pity that the name of the producer of the jackets under the make-in-India scheme is being withheld, identifying the firm that “rose to the occasion” would boost self-confidence.
Ridiculing the years spent by the UPA deciding on 126 MMRCAs was valid, but replacing that with an emergency purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from France (the political controversy over pricing need not detain us) was a poor alternative: the jets are still over a year away ~ even as the IAF’s squadron strength keeps declining.
The much-trumpeted latest proposal for 110 fighters is another “headline-only” affair. During Manohar Parrikar’s regime the proposal envisaged single-engine fighters (for economic reasons) and the choice was narrowed down to two planes: their American and Swedish principals had tied up with local industry hoping for production-approval.
Now the process is back to square-one, twin-engine jets of the Rafale/Typhoon class. Even if that deal is expedited, there is no way in which the first batch of jets can be delivered before the next parliamentary poll.
Meanwhile, all the IAF can hope to acquire is the indigenous Tejas ~ which it approved under pressure. The NDA is not the guilty party, but it must understand that defence acquisitions are a time-consuming process before pointing accusing fingers.
Detailing the military wish-list/shortages is not all that matters, there are welfare/emoluments issues too. The budget remains limited, the desire to allocate 2.5 to 3 per cent of GDP a pipe-dream.
There has been no “movement” on the demand to make allocations for capital expenditure “non-lapsable”. The short-point being that the Modi-Jaitley-Sitharaman trio has promises to keep when translating rhetoric into reality.