India’s tipping point
by R Hariharan on 05 Apr 2018 3 Comments

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is probably happy to see leaders of foreign governments, one after the other, making a beeline to New Delhi because it indicates increasing recognition of India as an important global player. Modi has partly succeeded in managing India’s strategic influence from being overwhelmed by China’s increasing power play in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. The Maldives slipping into China’s fold, disregarding India’s objections, has shown that India’s fulfilling its strategic dream is still in the making.


The Chinese dragon will continue to roll on because President Xi Jinping is trying to live the China Dream. His strong global pitch is not only backed by deep pockets but the People’s Liberation Army’s military muscle to defend China’s increasing global assets.


Though India has overtaken China’s in its GDP rate of growth, surprisingly its armed forces are still to make up their decades of deficiencies even to meet the essential needs to defend the country, let alone safeguard India’s increasing global assets. Nothing illustrates the crisis situation better than the army informing the Parliamentary Standing Committee that it does not have enough money to pay for ongoing schemes, emergency procurement and weaponry for ten days of intense war, future acquisitions and also strategic roads along the China border. The report, which the committee tabled in Parliament, quoted Lt General Sarath Chand’s deposition that the defence budget “has dashed our hopes” and “marginal increase in it barely accounts for inflation and doesn’t cater for taxes.”


This year’s defence budget has been increased by only 7.81 per cent to Rs 295,511 crore from Rs 274,114 crore last year. The defence outlay is about 1.58 per cent of the GDP, the lowest such figure since the 1962 war with China. It had been steadily declining in percentage terms as the economy expanded. With the chances of collusive threat from Pakistan and China, we need to double it if armed forces are to manage the current threat.


The annual defence budgets have shown declining outlays for modernisation affecting new projects. About 80 per cent of the outlays are for committed liabilities for financing arms deals inked in earlier years. This has meant that the armed forces will continue to grapple with critical operational shortages even to wage conventional war.


It is not about money, but more to do with the mindset of those in government. Successive governments have been tall on talk but short on making the armed forces fit for war. Otherwise, the Raksha Mantri’s operational directives and the 15-year Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan have never received the attention they deserved from the government. There is a clear disconnect within the government; otherwise it difficult to explain the Finance Ministry failing to approve the 10th (2002-07), 11th (2007-12) and 12th Five Year Plans formulated with the existing threat perceptions.


I am writing this with a feeling of déjà vu; I remember what former Army Chief, General V.P. Malik, wrote in 2012, twelve years after the Kargil war. Twenty days after taking over as Army Chief, while addressing the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security in a combined Commanders’ conference on October 20, 1997, the General described the state of the Army as “the spirit is strong but the body is weak,” indicating the high deficiencies of arms, ammunition and equipment.


In March 1999, just before the Kargil war, he wrote to the then Defence Minister George Fernandes stating, “The army is finding that major acquisitions get stymied for various reasons and a feeling of cynicism is creeping. By and large, the prevailing situation is that nothing much can be done about the existing hollowness in the Army. By denying essential equipment, the armed forces would gradually lose their combat edge, which would show adversely in future conflict.”


And it showed up during the Kargil conflict when ammunition for the Bofors guns was procured from the international market and rushed post haste to the battle front. Are we waiting for another “Kargil” to happen?


Winston Churchill once said, “Generals are always prepared for the last war.” Our generals have belied him; they want to fight today’s wars with modern weapons. However, whether the government is even prepared for the last war is a disturbing question.


There is no point in finger pointing, because the problem is past that stage. Though I am no great admirer of Churchill, I cannot but quote his War Memoirs, “United wishes and good will cannot overcome brute facts. Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.”


So our priority should be to immediately make up ten days war reserve to start with; we can talk of two-front or two-and-half-front wars thereafter. Otherwise, India’s failure to attend to these long standing deficiencies may well prove to be Prime Minister Modi’s tripping point in realising his strategic dreams. 


I hope the Prime Minister realises the urgency of the crisis the armed forces are facing, particularly when the situation along the Line of Control has become incendiary, with the Army hitting hard at Pakistan army bases supporting terrorist infiltration, under the gaze of China – Pakistan’s strategic partner – which keeps reminding us of Doklam.


Courtesy Col R Hariharan 

User Comments Post a Comment

Back to Top