Bengaluru, Jan 18: Thirteen hours of non-stop meetings, facility visits, speeches in between, listening to attention-seeking officials, visitors and photo sessions hardly seemed to have frazzled India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
Parked a few metres from his make-shift office was a Service aircraft ready to transport him and the battery of officials to the next destination. "The take-off is at 8 pm," reminded one of his aides.
Parrikar adjusts his reading glasses and says matter-of-factly. "You go ahead with your questions, I am listening."
He takes a look at the watch. "It's 7.40 (pm). Okay, go-ahead," he says, nodding his head. It was time for a really supersonic interview before the scheduled take-off at 8 pm. Excerpts from the interview granted to OneIndia.
IAF keen on Tejas squadron at the earliest
Having gone through various presentations on Tejas through the day and handed over the documents of the HAL-built first series production (SP-1) aircraft to the Indian Air Force, Parrikar seemed to have grasped more information about India's late, but light and bright fighter jet.
"Tejas is India's in-house project and it had its share of concerns. I am convinced that it is a fine aircraft and we need to move on now. The IAF should get the aircraft on time so that they can form the squadron without any more delays," Parrikar said.
Saying that lots of hard work has gone behind the project, the Defence Minister noted that the future of Tejas will depend upon the full scale series production.
"There are small issues and all those will get sorted out. I am impressed with the flying display of the Tejas. I have heard a lot about Tejas and saw it from close quarters today. The IAF wants to form the Tejas Squadron at the earliest," he added.
The minister said that the Tejas Mk-2 project is also on track and stake-holders in the project will have to put in their best efforts.
"Meeting the timelines is the key and we are here to extend all possible help," he added.
My job is to clear all the hurdles
He said that as the Defence Minister his primary role is to clear all the hurdles India's defence forces are facing. "It's time to deliver so that the nation is not deprived of what it needs. There has to be some firm approach in meeting the deadlines. My job is to give a clear direction to our armed forces," he said.
Parrikar did not touch upon the controversy surrounding the contract termination of DRDO Chief Dr Avinash Chander. Stressing again on the ‘delivery factor,' he said: "Finally I will be measured by the kind of work my forces do. Delivery is the key," he said.
Forces need to be motivated
When asked whether he had come to grips with the Ministry of Defence and its functioning, Parrikar said it's a continuous process.
"Our forces need to be motivated all the time. That's my mission. Let them fearlessly defend the nation and my job is to take care of all their needs. My job is to give all back-end support to them. I must ensure that the families of our armed forces are safe and happy. My job is to ensure the future of the families of our men guarding the nation," he added.
‘I don't need any publicity'
It was 7.55 pm and one of his senior staff members entered the room to remind us about the ‘deadline.' When asked he is bothered about his and his ministry's brand image, he replied in the negative.
"I have a job on hand. I don't need any branding. I don't need any publicity. If my forces are happy, that's the biggest branding I can get," he said.
The Service aircraft parked in the technical area of HAL Airport had already got its engine running and was waiting just for the Raksha Mantri.
"I wish I had more time with you. May be next time," Parrikar signed off.
Yes Minister. There's always a next time!
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)