Friday, March 28, 2014

Crashing into Oblivion

With yet another accident - this time perhaps the most spectacular of all, the newly-acquired C-130J Super Hercules Transport Aircraft - the writing is as clear on the wall as it has ever been: India's armed forces are sitting ducks for the powerful forces that are growing in our near abroad. As if explosions in old submarines and cuts in supplies to troops in Siachen were not enough, we now have brand new equipment becoming scrap metal. Adding to those woes is the total failure of domestic military production to even take off, perhaps with the single exception of the BrahMos project.

By all accounts, AK Antony is set to go down in history as the worst Defense Minister India has ever had, beating even VK Krishna Menon, which itself is a grand feat. The fact that he held the position for ten long years makes no difference because he takes ten times as long as anyone else to take decisions. The Armed Forces faced several setbacks in his tenure during the illegal occupation of the Daulat Beg Oldi sector as well as the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pakistani soldiers. But none of that compares to the slow pace of modernization, the undue delays in procurement, continued suspicion of the Indian private sector in defense manufacturing (coupled with a general recession in manufacturing itself) and the dangerous spat the MOD had with Gen. VK Singh.

All this stems from Mr. Antony's failure to provide leadership. It is good to be honest and upright but if that comes at the cost of refusing to move a single file or taking some bold steps, then it is counterproductive. In many ways, Mr. Antony has been like the Manmohan Singh of the MOD: an honest politician who allowed institutions around him to crumble. Only in his case, the collapse of the Indian Armed Forces bodes very bad days ahead for India's security. In the face of an increasingly militarized Asia, with countries arming themselves to defend against an expansionist and extremely powerful China, that spells doom for India.

What is even more disappointing is that in the larger rhetoric of the elections, military strength is the last thing on people's minds. Indians are still wed to the romantic idea that the Himalayas are out great, impenetrable fortress and that there is no civilization beyond the Indian Ocean. Thus, when Narendra Modi talks about the collapse of the Armed Forces, people say he is not discussing 'the real issues' (read: so-called secularism)! If India has an unstable government in May, whether a UPA-III or some ragtag coalition, then it will be the death-knell for Indian Armed Forces; the time will not be far when China will come and seize what it perceives to be its territory. 

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