Axe effect on DRDO Chief: Right move, wrong man

Written by: Dr Anantha Krishnan M

Bengaluru, Jan 14: Love your job, but never fall in love with your Company. Because you'll never know when the Company stops loving you! Not sure whether Dr Avinash Chander, India's top missile scientist, whose services have been unceremoniously terminated by the government, ever remembered this old adage. Well, the Company in this case, could be the government.

So Dr Avinash, who is currently the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief, can now plan for his long holidays, read his favourite books and need not wake up early morning to catch a flight. He need not call for a review meeting post mid-night ahead of a missile launch either.

Avinash Chander

And, after January 31, 2015, he will be free to write columns in newspapers and defence magazines on whether India should go for MMRCAs or make more LCAs. Or rightfully, comment more openly on whether India needs a DRDO or not.

Deserved a gracious exit

Almost 18 hours after deciding to replace Dr Avinash, India's brand new Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar made a bold statement. "I had recommended that the position should not be held by a person on contract," he told journalists, owning up the responsibility for the ‘axe effect.'

Not sure whether it was a clever ‘cover-up' job by Parrikar to divert the resentment being expressed by many in the last 24 hours - all directed at his boss, Mr Narendra Modi.

Many felt that the top scientist, who delivered the first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) to the nation, deserved a better treatment. His was appointed by the UPA-2 and was given a three-year tenure purely on his merit. All that will now become history as Dr Avinash, who was left with 15 more months in office, will have to make a silent and sad exit.

Silent because he wouldn't now probably want a farewell, otherwise reserved for the top chair. Sad as people will now remember him as DRDO's terminated boss.

Clean track record so far

The Missile Complex in Hyderabad, where most of his pet projects took birth, was in a state of mourning on Wednesday. "There is no charge-sheet against him. He is not involved in any scams, he is neither a fraud. There will be a big void in DRDO's structure and the cohesiveness will reach an all-time low," a senior Director of one of the labs told OneIndia.

Dr Avinash, unlike previous DRDO bosses, never bothered to brand himself much and he always backed his men, if the reasons were genuine. "After the partial success of Nirbhay missile, there was tremendous pressure on our team. Many questioned our capabilities and wondered why a Bengaluru-based lab was making missiles. The media reports too played its part. But Dr Avinash constantly told us to stay focused and ensured that he took all the blame all the time," says another senior scientist.

"And when the missile was a hit during the second launch, he ensured that all the credit was given to us," says the scientist.

Delays many and the captain takes the hit

The media selectively picked up PM Modi's ‘chalta hai attitude' comment and projected the same as the main reason for Dr Avinash downfall.

It unfortunately painted a picture that blamed Dr Avinash for all the ills of DRDO. The innumerable number of delayed projects, senior officials' grouse against him within the DRDO for not getting promotions, the media's constant anti-DRDO campaign and a demanding government at the helm of affairs ensured that Dr Avinash's exit was imminent.

"Young scientists are deeply hurt and demoralized with the government's decision. He had established a deep connect with us. He always told us the importance of working for the motherland and not chasing money. I still have preserved my resignation letter on which he wrote - No way, we need you," says a middle-level scientist now part of a team working on a new missile project.

Insiders say that Dr Avinash was identifying all projects that were fetching bad name for DRDO. "He was clear that areas DRDO couldn't make any breakthrough needed to be closed down and three such projects had already been notified in that direction," another scientist said.

Did DRDO ignore Modi's warning bell?

While addressing a DRDO event in Delhi last year soon after taking over as the PM, Modi had expressed his wish of DRDO handing over the reins of a couple of labs to youngsters. Though a top Director General had earlier told OneIndia that the process of identifying youngsters had begun, nothing substantial ever came out. Moreover, the DRDO never grabbed Modi's wish and followed-upon on his dream of running DRDO on new set of tyres.

Parrikar's statement becomes more meaningful in the context of PM's wish. "We should introduce in scientific world, slightly younger generation," he said.

However, many online defence enthusiasts are already taking on the government for the surprise move. "What is the logic? If a 64 years old guy is not fit to run an organisation, how is 64 years old Modi fit to run the country," so goes a comment. "Parrikar's statement is for media consumption. Why would he not be informed before being removed to bring in young blood? So, his 40 years of service is all waste now?" asks another.

Agni-V will be his best moment

Under Dr Avinash's leadership, India successfully designed and developed the 5000-km range Agni-5 strategic weapon system propelling the country to the elite Club of five advanced nations having ICBM capability. It brought a quantum jump in technologies such as composite rocket motors, high precision navigation, advanced avionics and world-class mass fractions. He pioneered the design of Multiple Independently Targeted Re-Entry Vehicle (MIRV) and Maneuvering Re-entry Vehicle (MaRV).

His list of achievements is surely long, but he definitely ran out of luck at fag end of career. Modi & Co definitely could have given a better send-off to a man who put India on a map that most nations couldn't dream of. But then, the DRDO too will have to take the blame for probably not listening to the Master, who is definitely in a hurry to bring ‘Achhe Din.'

Mr Modi deserves a pat on the back for taking a bold step aimed at the much-needed course-correction of DRDO. Just that he probably picked up the wrong guy on the chopping block. And, hence Dr Avinash became a ‘famous scapegoat.'

Sorry Dr Avinash Chander. You deserved a better deal!

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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