Manohar Parrikar – This active defence minister will be missed
- He had the ear of the Prime Minister, and PM Narendra Modi’s trust meant things got done, fast
- The soldiers got their due in the one rank one pension policy case
He will be missed.
He had the ear of the Prime Minister, and PM Narendra Modi’s trust meant things got done, fast. This allowed for the most important aspect - hitherto missing in South Block – action.
The minister's achievement list is impressive.
His biggest feat was the cross border surgical strike.
The flawless operation that resulted in the loss of security and of status for Rawalpindi. The ultimate resolution, though inevitably for such a large issue, with irritants, of the one rank one pension policy that had been festering for nearly 30 years, was his second major achievement. The soldiers got their due.
On a strategic level, he deepened the relationship with the United States.
By becoming the co-signatory to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) allowing US and Indian militaries to use each other’s bases for replenishment as well as repair, a new beginning was made for a deeper engagement. This is a political as much as a military agreement- it has no fixed time period for mutual military visits for stated purposes. Manohar Parrikar made India and US militaries come closer together than ever before.
As defence minister he approved nearly ten billion dollars in deals. Some as basic as correct helmets for the infantry regiments had been pending for over a decade. It may come as a surprise to readers, but for 20 years under the Congress - India had not purchased a single field gun, helmet, tank or air defence radar.
It was different under this defence minister. Under his watch, $11 billion (75,000 crore) worth of defence equipment got the go ahead.
This does not include emergency purchases reportedly worth another $2 billion.
This list of purchases is long. It includes about 80 light combat aircraft for the air force, 500 T90 tanks from Russia - these being one of the top second generation tanks in service anywhere; 600 lightweight drones for tactical use for the army that give situational awareness and 140 ultra light F777 howitzers in the final stages of approval. These howitzers can be airlifted and located in tough terrain vis a vis China and Pakistan. The list goes on.
As Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar faced the problem of one and the many. More than once, soldiers took to social media to raise issues from food quality to the colonial “Sahayak” system - including a suicide. The Defence minister was not nimble on the social media. It was a rout. The perception that poor food and sometimes humiliating work requirements persisted.
He also ran out of money as the defence budget rose by only 5 % - far from meeting the threat perception. Whoever succeeds him beyond Arun Jaitley, needs to be a full-time minister – and needs the budget. India is in a dangerous dynamic neighbourhood and continuity will bring rewards.
As Defence minister Manohar Parrikar achieved more than most. For that reason, he will be missed.
(The author is a Delhi-based security analyst for defence, foreign policy stories. He was also a visiting fellow at the Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi)