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Need for an effective Defence Minister in Team Modi 2.0

29-May-2019 by Mohinder Pal Singh

After a tsunamic victory for BJP in the Loksabha elections and the re-election of Modi by NDA to lead the nation all eyes are now set to see who all form part of Modi Team 2.0. Closely being watched will be the portfolios of Foreign affairs, Home, Finance and Defence. Considering that Modi 1.0 kept national security under the ‘Zero Tolerence Zone’ there is likelihood of these portfolios going to politicians with immense experience and perseverance. Considering that the situation on India’s borders is still volatile and the the wounds of Pulwama still green , there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Defence Minister in the upcoming Team is going to be with special qualifications and experience. Seeing the Situation in India’s eastern and western front in particular and Asia in general some very important strategic decisions and maneuvers (both overt and covert) will have to be taken by the country in order to place India into a regional super power matrix. None other than a strong Defence Minister alongside a strong PM can make this happen. In the last 5 years India has already moved leaps and bounds in achieving economic prowess and to sustain it, defence prowess is imperative. Modi 1.0 ended his first term with a decisive blow on the western adversary and a strong message of ‘zero tolerance’ when it comes to terrorism and national security. Apropos, the new regime is certainly going to have a hard line on strategic issues and for that India requires a stable, strong and decisive Defence Minister who is able to synergise the defence forces and convert them from being the third largest in the world to a well equipped and technologically second-to-none force.

Traditionally the coveted portfolio of Minister of Defence has not been done justice to. In the last 72 years there have been many changes in the Defence Ministers and it’s not surprising to see that there have been 28 Defence Ministers of India alongside 14 Prime Ministers , clearing indicating that on an average each PM has changed his Defence Minister twice. Alarmingly out of the 28 only 4 of them had a tenure of over 4 years and 5 between two-and three years. On 8 occasions the PMs kept it as an additional charge. The facts further indicate that India has never had a Defence Minister who has had a background of experience in either the defence forces nor in areas related to national security or strategic planning. On the contrary the portfolio of Finance Minister has been going to the most ‘financially erudite’ member of the cabinet and with good experience in the field. And that professionalism has helped India become a strong economy today. It’s time the country has a stable, professional and experienced person heading the Ministry of Defence. A person who can understand the strengths as well as the problems of the 1.4 million strong armed forces, a person who can travel extensively and feel the challenges the troops are facing while serving under inhospitable terrain , will certainly be able to effectively hold this position. The time when Modi team 2.0 is taking over, not only the super powers but also our smaller neighboring countries are watching us. Today when Indian armed forces are battling serious skirmishes on LC , protracted CI operations in J& K and some parts of north eastern states, the long land borders, some of them highly porous with seven nations and over 7000 kilometers of maritime boundry which has already been breached once during 26/11, I am very sure the choice of the Defence Ministers this time is going to be well thought of . He/she should be able to work in not only strengthening the defence forces but also convert India into a unbreachable strategic citadel. The geo-political situation is now ripe for India to assert itself in the region.

After the Pulwama attack and the subsequent surgical strikes it’s not only the defence forces but even the common man of the country who has become sensitised with the issues of national security and is looking forward to how the new government completes the foray which was probably left half way due to the elections. The people are tired of being victimized by countries much smaller in size and stature and the bullying by some higher economies in the region. The common man alongside the defence forces and the huge fraternity of veterans are looking forward to seeing the choice which the PM makes for this post.

The new Defence Minister has a yeoman task at hand. He heads the Ministry of Defence which has no or miniscule representation of serving or retired defence professionals unlike other ministries which have a good mix of bureaucrats and professionals. I implore the PM to give the country’s defence into the hands of a person who has a strategic vision for the strengthening the country’s defence and the defence forces. Be it in terms of modernization of equipment, integration of technology or optimization of manpower all need immediate attention. From small arms to fighter jets all need to be purchased or upgraded. The deals which are already in the pipeline need to be hastened up. The new defence minister must be able to take the vision of the PM and convert it into obtaining strategic , economic and political advantages for India and this is possible only with a very strong defence force.

Col Mohinder Pal Singh, PhD is an Army veteran and a defence analyst. He is presently Director at EGROW Foundation, NOIDA. Views expressed are personal.