04 March 2014
If a BJP-led NDA Government takes over after the Lok Sabha election, one of the first real challenges it will face is the growing disarray in the country’s military preparedness and policy. Innovative ideas are the need of the hour
This fortnight saw the BJP induct around a 100 ex-servicemen into the party, including notably former Army chief VK Singh. One issue that has been raised is of propriety. Does this mean an increasing politicisation of the Armed Forces? This issue has been discussed far too often to dwell upon. Perhaps the more germane issue to ask is how will India’s national security benefit from ex-servicemen joining India’s only right-wing party. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not need retired servicemen to validate his sacking of Navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat, and had the requisite strong security credentials to go further down the path of peace than any Congress leader ever could.
In India, we somehow tend to confuse and conflate the terms ‘right wing’ on security and ‘hawk’ with a pointlessly bellicose and economically unsustainable defence posture. Being right- wing on security involves being smart, not necessarily reducing the defence budget but rather extracting the maximum bang for buck from it — making every single rupee count. Being a hawk does not involve pointless obstinacy on negotiations or suicidal spending on defence. Rather it involves being fleet-footed and pragmatic, with a willingness to take action when necessary. However the willingness to take action is based fundamentally on a sound economic structure — a structure that creates accountability, thinks outside the box, and forces large, inflexible, lethargic Armies to turn fleet-footed and responsive.
The much-trumpeted ‘revolution in military affairs’ is largely described in India as being about smart weapons. It is not; what it is based on is a revolution in mindset and a revolution in accounting affairs. Gen VK Singh’s tenure should be remembered for his one great legacy to the Indian Army — the new Mountain Strike Corps being created to take on China. Sadly, for those of us on the economic right, the creation of this corps flouts every single principle of good economics and good defence. Its creation could have been taken out of the worst economic blunders of the Soviet Admiralty under Admiral Gorshkov (the man who gave his name to the INS Vikramaditya in its previous avatar).
For starters, even the most generous estimates show it will end up gutting our defence budget for decades to come. Given that every major Army has been downsizing and getting ‘leaner and meaner’, the Indian Army is the only one that seems to be getting ‘fatter and slower’ morphing from a leopard to a labrador. The closest parallel to this comes from the Soviet Union in its dying days; spending non-existent money on luxuries like seven different classes of nuclear submarine and three types of aircraft carriers. As it turned out these submarines killed more of their sailors than any Americans, and ended up directly contributing to the collapse of the USSR than they did the US.