In our series on the performance of union ministers in the Modi government in the last five years, last of the ‘big 4’ ministries is the Defence Ministry. The defence ministry is tasked with the protection of India from external aggression and defend our borders and sovereignty. We take a look at achievements of Defence Ministry under Narendra Modi government. For previous articles in this series please click here.
Nirmala Sitharaman’s rise in the BJP and the government is nothing short of being called miraculous. Within 10 years of joining the BJP she rose to be the first full-time women Defence Minister which is the part of big four ministries in India. This proves that the BJP is the party which rewards talent, unlike Congress where dynasty, and proximity to 10, Janpath plays an important role in the person’s political career. Nirmala Sitharaman has an MA (Economics) degree from JNU, Delhi and also served as assistant to Economist in Agricultural Engineers Association in the UK. Later she also worked as a senior manager in PwC, part of the big four consulting firms in London, and later for the BBC. She joined BJP in 2008, and served as its national spokesperson. After Narendra Modi assumed charge as Prime Minister she was inducted first as Minister of State for Commerce and Industry. After Late Manohar Parrikar returned to Goa to take charge as Chief Minister, she was elevated as Defence Minister of India. She is the first woman to hold the office of the Defence Minister in India for the full time.
Though this ministry has seen a frequent change in leadership in the tenure of this government, it hasn’t derailed governments combat against terrorism, and welfare activities for armed forces. Here are a few achievements of the ministry during the past few years.
One Rank One Pension – This demand of armed forces was pending for the last 40 years, which has been fulfilled by this government. Remember that it was one of the first promises of Narendra Modi, at the ex-servicemen rally in Rewari when he started campaigning after he was declared prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in September 2013. Narendra Modi government fulfilled this promise after coming to power, giving pension benefits to ex-servicemen worth Rs 35,000 crore annually for which the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had allocated measly 500 crore rupees in his last interim budget before UPA government was voted out in 2014, rubbing salt on ex-servicemen’s wounds.
Surgical Strikes in Myanmar and Pakistan – India carried two surgical strikes in Myanmar and one in Pakistan to flush out terrorists after India was attacked. Further, it did air strikes in Balakot, crossing an international border for the first time after 1971 war, calling if nuclear bluff of Pakistan. Lesser said the better about all these punitive actions, but it did give a message to India’s adversaries.
Anti-Satellite Missile testing – DRDO and ISRO together tested Anti Satellite Missile. India became only fourth such country after USA, Russia and China to have such capacity. Further flutter was created by former DRDO and ISRO chiefs saying, India had such capacity back in 2012, but the then UPA government never gave go-ahead to DRDO and ISRO to test this capacity. Opposition parties tried hard to see foul of government doing A – SAT tests, after the model code of conduct was declared in the country, however, election commission cleared it saying there was no model code of conduct breach either by testing A – SAT missile or Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing it to the nation.
Kashmir – India has been struggling with Jammu and Kashmir since independence and particularly with terrorism, both foreign and Indian since 1989. Ever since the Modi government came to power, it has given free hand to armed forces to deal with terrorism and Pakistani Army, without any interference from the top. This has resulted in armed forces going on the extreme offensive and killing more than 200 terrorists each in 2017 and 2018. This killing is highest by forces probably after militancy started in the Kashmir valley and armed forces had killed hundreds of them in early years, as joining was also in thousands. Further government has banned organisations like Jamaat – E – Islami and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. Separatists’ leaders’ security was revoked.
Modernisation of armed forces – This government has cleared acquisition proposals worth over Rs 5 lakh crore This had become extremely urgent because of non-acquisition in previous government by ‘scam’ fearing ‘honest’ defence minister. Well, his fears were not completely off the mark; Congress and UPA government are well known for defence scams right from independence when VK Krishna Menon – high commissioner of India to Britain cheated country of Rs 20 lakh (a huge sum then) and 55 jeeps in 1948, which became known as Jeep Scandal. He was still rewarded with defence portfolio in 1956 by Jawaharlal Nehru. Equipment over Rs 5 lakh crore rupees has been approved for modernization of armed forces, including the conclusion of long pending Rafale deal. Other notable purchases decided by the government for the defence forces include the purchase of Apache attack helicopter and Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, decision to procure 72,400 SIG Sauer rifles and manufacture 7.5 lakh AK203 rifles to replace the INSAS rifles for the Indian Army etc. This shows that how our armed forces were in dire need of modern arms and equipment and government has fast-tracked the procedure to approve then showing no-nonsense policy when it comes to the defence of the country.
Indigenous Defence manufacturing under Make in India program – Government has opened up defence manufacturing for private players, ending the monopoly of public sector companies. These companies didn’t produce enough even to suffice for domestic needs, forget about exporting anything. This meant huge reliance on arms imports and spending precious foreign exchange on it. Now that this sector has opened up India should be able to be self-sufficient in this in about two decades, given the long gestation period of this industry. Two exclusive defence corridors are being set up one each in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for defence manufacturers. As a start, the government signed up with an Indian vendor to provide 1.86 lakh bulletproof jackets, demanded by armed forces for a long time in April 2018. Delivery of these jackets will commence from April 2019. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also inaugurated L&T Howitzer manufacturing unit at Hazira in Gujarat recently. This factory was set up after getting a Rs 4,500 crore order from Indian Army in July 2018 and the factory was inaugurated in January 2019, proving the turnaround capacity of private sector compared to the public sector. The defence ministry also has started the process to procure 111 naval utility helicopters under the strategic partnership model, which means the helicopters will be made by an Indian company in collaboration with a foreign OEM (original equipment manufacturer).
National War memorial – BJP had promised national war memorial in its manifesto for the fallen heroes of Indian armed forces post-independence. Current war memorial India Gate in Delhi has names of all Indian soldiers died in World War 1 fighting for British Indian Army. Now the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inaugurated new war memorial commemorating heroes of Indian armed forces post-independence. Armed forces were demanding National War Memorial for over last 60 years but the proposal never saw the light of the day due to politico – bureaucratic apathy. It needed Narendra Modi to fulfil a long-standing demand of constructing National War Memorial in honour of Indian martyrs.
India was the only major country to not to have National War Memorial in honour of the fallen heroes and it has now been corrected under Narendra Modi. It has built in a record time of eight months.
The author is journalism pass out from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. After dangerously flirting with the idea of left during his IIMC days, due to the proximity of the IIMC with JNU, a den of radical leftists, he became firmly aligned to right after realizing the futility of the left. He tweets at @kpophale.