In the hindsight one is forced to contemplate what is making so many former men in uniform and some exceptional administrators rooting for Modi? Is it just for the heck of it because the wind is blowing in that direction or is it that there are serious flaws with respect to India's defence and security policies that is making many look for an alternative and a strong government which can take decisive steps in correcting the flaws?
The Unacceptable Pacifist Approach....
Over the last few years, Indian Armed Forces have literally been at the receiving end of sheer indifference and disdain of the Indian Government. The issues range from complete inability of the Ministry of Defence and the Government at large to buy critical equipment on time, to remaining silent on the issues of Pakistani soldiers frequently crossing the Line of Control and ambushing Indian soldiers to a series of intrusion by the Chinese forces in Ladakh region. On each of the latter mentioned counts the Indian Government's pacifist approach towards China and Pakistan has miffed many including the armed forces.
Does the Government have a Policy to Counter Maoist Violence?
The same is the case with the Government's approach to fighting the Maoists. UPA seems to be completely clueless as to how to deal with the Maoist menace. Even though the Prime Minister of India had stated in the past that the Maoists pose the single biggest internal security threat to India and even though the Maoists have been involved in some of the most brutal massacres of police personnel including the killing of 76 jawans of CRPF in Dantewada in 2010, the approach of UPA seems to be see-sawing between a hard and a soft approach.
The Government continues to deal with Maoist problem as a law & order issue even though Maoists are militarily preparing themselves to literally strike major Indian cities and industrial infrastructures. With reports of them having a fund base of nothing less than Rs 1500-2000 crore, the presumption of Maoists being a rag tag army of peasants does no longer hold good. They are more so sophisticated and ruthless than New Delhi presumes them to be.
The Plight of the Central Police Forces
Further, the Government has failed completely to keep the morale of the Central Police personnel up and over the last few years more than 65,000 Central Police personnel in total quit the jobs with 16,000 jawans and officers quitting CRPF alone in the last four years. Devoid of even the basic promotions, amenities, timely sanction of leaves and lack of peacetime posting has led to massive frustration among the paramilitary forces. Issues of fratricide and suicides have been to major rise too.
Politics of Appeasement over War on Terror
Likewise India's war against terror continues to be a blind man's quest for water in a desert. Probably there is no other country which has been so soft in terms of dealing with terror as India has been. The more shocking saga is that of the manner in which terrorism has been politicised and efforts have been made to give a communal angle to all of it. Be it the attempt of the Uttar Pradesh Government to get Muslim terror accused released or be it the attempt of the Home Ministry to send advisory to the states that innocent Minority youth should not be arrested, each of these attempts are a sheer blot on the war on terror. The question is why should the police be told to be careful about minority youth only? Does that mean that youth of the majority community can be detained and kept without trial for years and then it is not a crime? No innocent should ideally be arrested or punished be it from any community but at the same time a situation should not be made that police personnel become scared of arresting anyone for fear of persecution in case of an error in judgement. Yet even as these debates continue, Indian Mujahideen continues to trigger explosions at will, be it at Bodh Gaya, the Patna Rally or at several other cities.
Moreover, the criminal prosecution as well as investigation architecture continues to be so flawed and so much inter organisation turf war continues that on several occasions terrorists were acquitted by courts because the prosecution failed to provide a fool proof case.
The Plight of the Indian Borders
The situation in the borders is none better either. To keep the Bangladeshi Government in good humor, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued a directive a couple of years back in which it had put severe restrictions on the power of BSF to fire at illegal infiltrators. Taking advantage of the situation and knowing well that BSF has been barred from firing on Bangladeshis, on several occasions Bangladeshi smugglers and cattle traffickers have brutally beaten and killed BSF personnel. The hapless BSF personnel have no option but to get beaten up because if they fire in retaliation and if Bangladeshis are killed in the process then the very Government of India on whose behalf they are guarding the borders, would prosecute and persecute them for killing Bangladeshis even though that Bangladeshi may be a terror agent, a supplier of fake currency notes or explosives or a human trafficker. BSF has been literally made to do duty with hands tied even as massive infiltration of Bangladeshis continues to create major demographic problems for many of India's states.
The Appalling state of India Defence Equipment Procurement Programme
And last but not the least is the appalling condition of the Indian Armed Forces so far as its equipments are concerned. In the recent past the Indian Chief Air Staff Air Marshall has made it clear that in case there is a joint attack by China and Pakistan, it would be difficult for Indian Air Force to counter that. This revelation does not mean that Indian Air Force lacks courage or conviction. In the past, the Indian Air Force had often routed Pakistan Air Force with elan. The revelation of the IAF chief is a reflection of the sheer indifference and appalling level of delay in taking critical decisions on acquisition of key equipment that the fighting capability of the armed forces is severely getting compromised.
There is no denial of the fact that Indian Armed Forces have often compensated the lack of quality equipment with their own personal valour which even the enemies of India would accept. But there is a limit to how much raw courage can compensate for critical equipment whose procurement keep getting delayed thanks to bureaucracy which takes pride in delaying and a political leadership whose concerns about India's security is becoming a matter of debate. With exposure of scams leading to stalling of more defence projects one can gauge what would happen if another Kargil were to happen now. All this has been happening because India has failed to bring institutional reforms in the critical weapons acquisition programs.
The Agonising Delays that May Cost India Dear....
The squadron strength of the Indian Air Force is coming down at a rapid pace due to the retirement of the ageing Mig-21s. While it would take few more years for India to have a sizeable fleet of the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft, which is yet to get a Final Operational Clearance, after selecting Dassualt Rafale for the deal for 126 Multi Role Combat Aircrafts, the Ministry of Defence has failed to complete negotiations even in two full years knowing well that such delay severely jeopardise the operational readiness of IAF. It takes four years after the signing of the final deal for the first lot of aircrafts to arrive, meaning that even if the deal with Dassualt is signed in 2014, the first aircraft would not arrive before 2018. In between India would continue to have its combat squadrons further depleted due to more retirement of the MiGs. During the recently concluded Defexpo organised by FICCI in Delhi, the Defence Minister stated that the Government has no money left to buy weapons.
Already, over the last two years, Government has been systematically cutting down on funds meant for capital acquisition for the armed forces.
The excuse of the government about paucity of funds stand hollow against the recent hike in the Dearness Allowance of the Central Government Employees from 90% to 100% which would cost the exchequer an additional Rs 7500 crore expenditure. The mismanagement of the economy keeps on raising the inflation and the Central Government keeps on pouring largesse on its 50 lakh central government employees by spending thousands of crores in additional allowances even while the rest of the country and India's defence forces keep suffering. All these have been happening at a time when China and Pakistan have been modernising and augmenting their arsenal on a war footing.
It is not the case of merely the deal of 126 combat jets alone which is hanging in balance. The same goes for the acquisition of much needed M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers that India needs to secure its Himalayan borders against the Chinese intransigence. On several occasions tenders for purchase of helicopters, howitzers, critical missiles and ammunitions have been cancelled for frivolous reasons and on some stray allegations, leaving the armed forces high and dry. Take the case of the recent fire in the Indian Navy Ship INS Sindhuratna where it is alleged that the accident and the subsequent death of sailors were caused by the leakages in batteries which were past their shelf lives and were not replaced because the Ministry of Defence could not take a solid stand to buy batteries on time and instead was mired in litigations filed by one battery company for not being given a chance to sell batteries.
It has happened on several occasions that whoever did not get a contract for selling equipment would file case and then the Ministry of Defence would put the whole contract in perpetual hold to investigate allegations even while India's defence preparedness continue to suffer. While issues of propriety is fine, can there be any space for mischief by those companies who do not win contracts and thus cry foul and make efforts to delay projects or scuttle them altogether at the expense of national security? Does it at all make sense to stall projects midway if such defence projects are critical to national security?
The Critical Need to Change the Culture and Bringing in a Sense of Urgency
India's defence procurement procedures need massive overhauling and there is a need to bring in a no-nonsense approach to acquisition of critical equipment in a time bound manner. Even while being stringent on issues of malpractice and corruption, it has to be made sure that ongoing projects are not stalled suddenly because they severely jeopardise India's military preparedness. And last but not the least, India needs professional specialists and not arm chair bureaucrats to run critical departments like Defence and Home Ministry. Most bureaucrats running Defence and Home Ministry have extremely rudimentary understanding of strategic and military affairs, more often than not failing to realise the implications of issues, even though exceptions are always there.
The officials sitting in the air conditioned offices of Delhi needs to understand the plight of the men on ground be it in the Maoist bastions or in the borders. It is this extreme lack of empathy of the civilian bureaucrats and their failure to understand the problems of the men on ground that has led to the disgruntlement in the forces. Eventually it would not be the babus but the uniformed men who would fight for India. Keeping them content and understanding their problems are extremely critical for the ‘powers that be' as well as for the nation.
It is sad that national security has never been part of the national discourse in this country and perhaps that is the reason ruling establishment can take issues of national security and eternal delays in defence acquisition deals for granted. Unless this changes and unless there is public pressure on government to expedite acquisition of critical defence equipment in national interest, men in uniform would continue to suffer and so would be national security. One has to remember that India's enemies are preparing for the next war with alacrity. India might eventually have to pay a heavy price for its casual approach towards defence.
It is perhaps for all the above mentioned predicaments that there is a considerable amount of expectation that men in uniform have from Modi that he would possibly apply his same efficient and a no-nonsense approach towards bringing the much needed reforms in India's defence administration and truly secure India from all kinds of external and internal threats.