Prime Minister Narendra Modi had elected Manohar Parrikar to infuse life into the lethargic and risk-averse civil and military bureaucracy in South Block to modernise the Indian military and get it battle-ready in the face of various political tensions. Parrikar, the chief minister of Goa till November 2014, was handpicked to ensure that the Ministry of Defence got the required political leadership that was lacking in the tenure of AK Antony. Here's how Parrikar spent his two years at the ministry amidst bouquets and brickbats.
According to DailyO, as a defence minister, Parikkar controlled the world’s third-largest military and the sixth largest military expenditure. The ministry he supervised is a key stakeholder in a South Asian tri-junction of India and nuclear-armed Pakistan and China. The unsettled borders with these countries mean there is a perpetual threat of a military clash.
Asked about his two-year stint at the Centre, Parrikar said, "Initially, I was finding the role as the defence minister difficult but during the last two-and-a-half years I have done my job well. I have done it with utter honesty." "The Defence Ministry is such a portfolio where allegations are always levelled against the minister but during last two-and-a-half years, despite so much of procurement, there is not a single allegation against the ministry or me," he said. "If I want to sum up my achievements as the Defence Minister, I can say, these are boosting the morale of the force and better procurements," he said.
Parrikar added that through various defence deals, the ministry has saved crores of rupees as many tenders had earlier been over-quoted. The former defence minister had the huge responsibility of cleaning up the mess left behind by A K Antony in the ministry of defence in half the time. It was not easy and Parrikar was a clear novice. However, unlike A K Antony who had to work under the UPA government's policy paralysis, Parrikar had Modi's fast-track implementation of policies.
Although it took him a year to figure things out, the result was remarkable as Parrikar came up with a defence procurement proposal. In 2015, Parrikar launched the first indigenously-built Scorpene submarine at the Mazagaon Dockyard Ltd in Mumbai. The Scorpene was part of the ambitious Project 75 of Indian Navy's submarine programme, undertaken with French collaboration, which will include six such vessels joining the fleet over the next few years.
Parrikar was initially reluctant to become the defence minister but he was a strong advocate of production in this country of military equipment and supplies. As told to DailyO, he commissioned a dozen committees to identify problems from streamlining defence procurements to resolving ex-servicemen’s issues. He was also close to the armed forces because of his accessibility technological acumen and grasp of complex procurement issues.
In 2015, he resolved the One Rank One Pension (OROP) logjam even as he faced criticisms for not being harsh on his MoD bureaucracy. He also had an impeccable personal integrity that would shock the bureaucrats and armed forces’ brass in his ministry. However, some of the biggest reforms he started like strategic tie-ups between the private sector and foreign defence players, the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a single-point military adviser to the government who would ensure tri-services integration - are yet to be implemented. It is questionable whether these reforms will see the light of the day in the absence of Parrikar.
However, as a Times of India report discusses, Parrikar's successor will have to deal with some gaping issues in the defence sector. From strengthening the nascent indigenous defence production sector and removing operational gaps in military capabilities to implementing the proposed reforms in higher defence management and fixing the public-military divide, there is a lot to be resolved.
Higher defence management reforms, ranging from a new defence chief post to ensuring the much-needed synergy among the armed forces to the creation of unified theatre military commands —there is still enough on the cards as of now. The Budget of 2017-18 barely had enough funds allotted for the modernisation of defence projects. Considering the country still imports 65% of its military requirements, there is much to be desired where a strong indigenous defence base is concerned.
Manohar Parikkar has also been known for his political incorrectness which has also made him controversy's child often in the last two years. In the Firstpost article by Monobina Gupta, the author recalls the incident when while addressing a gathering at the launch of Brigadier (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal’s book The New Arthashastra, Parrikar said: "Why a lot of people say that India has No First Use policy. Why should I bind myself to a… I should say I am a responsible nuclear power and I will not use it irresponsibly. This is my thinking. Some of them may immediately tomorrow flash that Parrikar says that nuclear doctrine has changed. It has not changed in any government policy but my concept, I am also an individual. And as an individual, I get a feeling sometimes why do I say that I am not going to use it first. I am not saying that you have to use it first just because you don’t decide that you don’t use it first. The hoax can be called off."
As Gupta mentions, Parrikar’s words seemed to be inspired by the sort of rhetoric that came from Donald Trump during his election campaign....His disturbing statement has, however, fuelled controversy about India’s tradition No–First–Use (NFU) Nuclear doctrine even as the Defence Ministry clarified that the Minister had made that comment in his personal capacity. In its 2014 election manifesto, the BJP had pledged to “study in detail India’s nuclear doctrine, and revise and update it, to make it relevant to challenges of current times”.
In May 2015, Parikkar had sparked another row by saying in New Delhi that "terrorists" in the state can be neutralised with the help of terrorists. "We have to neutralise terrorists through terrorists only. Why can't we do it? We should do it. Why does my soldier have to do it?" he said. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah had accused the coalition government of trying to revive the brutal years of 'Ikhwan Raj', when militancy was at its peak and state-sponsored militia ruled the streets of Kashmir.
"Looks like Mufti Syed (CM) is reviving & empowering the Ikhwanis. That's the only way to carry out "terrorists killing terrorists" policy of MOD," Omar tweeted.
In 2016, Parrikar had said India did not seek war, but would "gouge out eyes" of the enemy if provoked. As Firstpost author Sreemoy Talukdar had said in his article last October, "It is not often that the Congress makes a lot of sense these days, but it is difficult to find fault with its description of Manohar Parrikar as a "national embarrassment". The defence minister's recent spate of garrulousness sits at odds with the discretion and gravitas that his portfolio demands."
After Uri attack in Jammu and Kashmir, Speaking at an event in Ahmedabad, the defence minister said: "The prime minister hails from Mahatma Gandhi's home state and defence minister comes from Goa which never had a 'martial race'. And then take this surgical strike. This was a different kind of combination. Maybe the RSS teaching was at the core."
Even though the surgical strikes had brought in appreciation from different quarters, a few days after the strike Parrikar had wiped it all off by saying, "Pakistan’s condition after the surgical strikes is like that of an anaesthetised patient after a surgery who doesn’t know that the surgery has already been performed on him. Even two days after the surgical strikes, Pakistan has no idea what has happened… If Pakistan continues with such conspiracies, we will give them a befitting reply again."
Parrikar had courted controversy when he had had said that going to Pakistan is the same as going to hell. Hindustan Times reported that Parrikar's statement, made during a BJP meet in Rewari, came shortly after news broke that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would skip the Saarc meet of ministers in Islamabad next week. The defence minister had said this in regards to a failed infiltration attempt on Monday in which Indian troops had returned five terrorists.
Firstpost author Ajaz Ashraf had said, "He is increasingly coming across as a war-monger, intemperate and irresponsible, whose public pronouncements reveal the chauvinist lurking in him."
Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari on Monday said the decision to send Parrikar, who was doing a "tremendous good job as defence minister," back to Goa has been endorsed by BJP Parliamentary Board.
With inputs from the agencies
Published Date: Mar 14, 2017 07:54 AM | Updated Date: Mar 14, 2017 07:54 AM