|By Air Chief Marshal PV Naik (Retd)||Published: October 2017|
I DO NOT know why but I like the new RM. I have tried to analyse the reason. She looks sincere and she has worked hard in her previous ministry. I first saw her as the Party spokesperson. She exhibited logic, patience and a good command over both Hindi and English. Her fighting spirit, toughness and bulldog tenacity were there for all to see. In effect she became a prominent public figure during the run up to the 2014 elections. Then she was given independent charge of Commerce and Industry ministry. What surprised me was that after becoming a junior Minister, she totally vanished off the TV screen. To me this showed simplicity and good judgement. Her appointment as RM was, indeed, a pleasant surprise.
The RM has done her graduation and Masters in economics. I expect her to be peripherally aware of Defence issues as much as any other Minister. Now the whole ‘khichdi’ is in her lap. She is a Cabinet Minister. She is a member of the CCS. Everybody will be watching her performance because she is the first lady to take charge of the Defence set up. Many would like her to stumble and fail. I am sure many more would like her to succeed. By now, definitely she is up to her ears in files and briefings and every second person must be telling her what to do and what to watch out for. It is a tough field. There has been a lack of continuity and the problems are pressing. The timing is such that I do not envy her. I would like to help, in my own little way, if I may.
Ma’am, the first thing you must have realised is that you do not have a lot of time. The General Eelections are less than two years away. Hence it is vital to prioritise issues that can be dealt with in this time frame. The second facet to understand is that the Defence Ministry is unlike any other. All other ministries have a singularity of purpose. All members of the ministry work towards the same aim. In your Ministry it is ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Through the Seventies, Eighties and the Nineties, the bureaucracy continued to acquire disproportionate powers vis-à-vis the Service Chiefs. The bureaucracy conveniently points to the “Government of India Transaction of Business Rules” framed in 1961 under the constitutional powers of the President of India. These documents continue to guide the conduct of business by the Government of India. It is instructive to read the document. Under these rules, the three Service headquarters were designated as “Attached Offices of the Department of Defence”, and are therefore placed in a position subordinate to the DoD. The Service Chiefs, as professional heads of the three Armed Forces and with an experience garnered over a period of at least four decades, found no mention in these rules. The Secretary Department of Defence on the other hand, according to these rules, is responsible for Defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination to effective Demobilisation. It is, in fact, a crying need that the Armed Forces must be integrated with MOD and become a part of the decision making apparatus. We should start small, say at Director level, and make it work before taking it further. This, ma’am, is the first step. Without this, the rest is cosmetic – just ‘lipstick’.
The next step is to ‘see the lie of the land’. You must visit Siachen. Visit Tawang and Arunachal. Visit Nagaland. Visit forward areas in Rajasthan. Go to the forward units. Mingle with soldiers. Share a cup of tea in an enamel mug. Eat fresh pakodas in a cracked plate. Do not give them speeches but talk to them and listen to them. You will get an idea of their life spent in the service of the nation. Appreciate the hardships. Please visit the forward Air Force and Naval bases. The aim is to gain the trust of the soldier. Promise them only what you can deliver. But deliver on your promises.
Learn to trust your Chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. These are officers who have been through the mill for almost four decades. They carry a wealth of knowledge and experience in matters pertaining to military security. Harness this wealth. Give them easy access to your office. I can, personally, vouch for all three, ma’am. Their loyalty is already absolute. As a corollary, you, too, must gain their trust. I am sure you have already started having briefings every morning. May I suggest you avoid this temptation. Do not concern yourself with routine. Nothing would please the bureaucracy more than to tie you up with routine and the mundane. I think a weekly meeting with the Def sec & the Chiefs would suffice, but do minute these meetings for follow up. For military grievances, ask military advice. For a solution, involve both the military and the babus. Please, for heavens’ sakes, do not take military decisions based solely on the shadow files created by Babus. Do consult the Chiefs.
The premier need of all three Services today is equipment – Tanks, guns, aircraft, ships, weapons, ammo. Please give it top priority. May I sincerely urge you not to fiddle around with DPP. Instead, remove the blockages. Find out who is responsible for delay and let the heads roll. Today’s procurement cycle is about six to eight years. The PM’s policy of ‘Make in India’ is vital for us. In the two odd years available to you, try to clear the way for Private sector to participate in Defence production. Try to create a level playing field. They are ever so willing to contribute. Ma’am, I would urge you to view HAL and DRDO with more than a modicum of concern. They are monolithic and need critical surgery. Ideally, they need to be sub-divided into manageable entities under professional management. Presently, just make them more accountable. The serious business, leave it for your longer innings.
Many will try to convince you that a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is the answer to all ills, a sort of panacea. May I suggest you not touch this subject even with a long barge pole. You do not have the time. Of course, a CDS is required in six or eight years’ time. After WWII almost every country had some sort of a CDS. The jointness, however, was conspicuous by its absence. In UK it was the Iron Lady, Maggie Thatcher, threatening dire consequences, that brought in a reluctant jointness. In the US they had to enact the Goldwater- Nichols Act through the Congress. Do you have the time? Best leave it to the second innings. The mantra should be re-equip and re-arm. Reforms can be taken up later.
I should like to paraphrase a passage from Chanakya’s advice to his king. “If ever things come to a sordid pass, O King, when, on a given day, the Mauryan soldier has to LOOK BACK over his shoulder (‘Simhawalokana’) prompted by even a single nagging worry about his and his family’s material, physical and social well being, it should cause you and your Council the greatest concern and distress! It is my bounden duty to caution you, My Lord, that the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will neither have arrived suddenly, overnight nor in vain. It will also bode ill for Magadha. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be Rajadhiraja! It will also mark the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!!” I think Chanakya brings out very clearly what the society owes a soldier. His self respect must never be trifled with. Do not be lulled by the term’equivalence’. A soldier’s task is a thousand times more onerous. The rest, ma’am I leave to your decency and judgement.
I saw pictures of your visit to the Navy. You also launched an all women sailing expedition to circumnavigate the globe. Perfectly fine. Just a small reminder. You are a lady RM and not a ladies’ RM. You are a soldier’s RM, both men and women. My wife says she has tremendous faith in you. In fact, I speak for all soldiers. We have high hopes in you. Whether you tow the Party line or represent the soldier constituency only time will tell. Let me candidly share with you, ma’am. Win a soldier’s trust and see what it feels like. It is a fantastic feeling.
God forbid that I should ever be so presumptuous as to offer advice to anyone holding such a high station. Shared above are just a few suggestions, offered in good faith, in my personal capacity, because I like the RM.