CHINKS IN THE ARMOUR
Strategic partnerships in defence manufacturing take shape, but reforms in the ministry are still overdue
T HAS BEEN AN unprecedented revolving door at the South Block in the past three years. Finance minister Arun Jaitley held additional charge of the ministry for the first six months till Goa CM Manohar Parrikar could take over. He held the post for two years and four months before heading back to Goa, leaving Jaitley at the helm again. One can only guess the impact of this instability on the ministry as well as on the Modi government’s thrust to modernise the military and revitalise the domestic arms industry to generate jobs and technical knowhow. Hikes in the military budget have been miserly in the Modi regime; the defence budget as a percentage of GDP at its lowest since the 1962 war. Even that is not spent efficiently, given the ponderous procurement process and recent defence scams. However, a crucial policy for strategic partnerships is in its last lap. Indian private sector giants will tie up with foreign defence majors to produce fighter jets, submarines and battle tanks. The first contracts for howitzers were signed over the past year; a 7.8 billion Euro deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets from France gives the IAF muchneeded muscle. But reform of the defence ministry is still held up. This includes appointing India’s first Chief of Defence Staff. It could be the cornerstone of the reform process. But we have to have a fulltime defence minister first.