Mr Parrikar, a message from Bihar… - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 9 November 2015

Mr Parrikar, a message from Bihar…

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Nov 15

The Bihari voter has spoken and his message is being read as: “We want results, not divisive politics. Deliver reform, or you’re out!” Amongst those who heard this on Sunday would be Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar whose realm is simultaneously the country’s most complex and, when something goes wrong, the most emotive. In his one year on the job, Mr Parrikar has attempted ground-up reform of a badly broken planning and procurement system. The results have not been encouraging. Barring a few helicopters, Mr Parrikar has not succeeded in procuring the kit his military badly needs. His ministry’s announcements of big-ticket buys after every meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council are mere sophistry; they relate not to contracts signed, but to procedural milestones like “acceptance of necessity”, “categorisation”, or “financial sanction”. The defence procurement procedure (DPP) has many such milestones in each acquisition, but weaponry only reaches the soldiers after completing internal sanctions, trials, price negotiations and contracting. And since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed the government, no new equipment has come in.

On the plus side, Parrikar has quickly grasped two issues central to long-term equipment policy. The first is that militaries obsess about building immediate operational capabilities and are, therefore, opponents of indigenisation, which yields capabilities in the long-term. That means indigenisation needs to be rammed through even against military advice, and Mr Parrikar has done precisely that in coercing the air force to induct more Tejas fighters. The other lacuna the defence minister has grasped is that our procurement procedures are unworkable since they seek to guard against every wrongdoing. One of the wisest things the defence minister has said is that lack of trust within the ministry is the biggest hurdle for quick procurement.

Yet, this wisdom has galvanized neither procurement, nor indigenisation. The cause is a deplorable lack of understanding of how a defence industry is built. On August 22, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) summoned a few captains of private defence industry, along with bureaucrats from the defence and commerce ministries. The PM’s principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, began by upbraiding private industrialists for slothfulness in defence production, even though the government had raised the cap on foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence to 49 per cent (from 26 per cent earlier), pruned the list of items needing defence manufacturing licences, and increased the validity of a defence licence from three years to 15 years. After an awkward silence, one private industry chief asked, “But where are the orders?” It had apparently not struck the PMO or the defence ministry that, since defence industry serves a single customer, government orders are essential for defence manufacture.

If Mr Parrikar wishes to perceptibly improve his ministry’s performance, here are five simple measures that different wings of his ministry must implement right away. Step One is for the Acquisitions Wing to identify at least 15-20 equipment projects to be tendered out in short order to domestic defence industry under the “Make” category of the DPP. With the defence ministry financing 80 per cent of the project cost, this would unleash a wave of development activity across the industry. So far, only two “Make” projects (the Tactical Communications System; and the Battlefield Management System) are under way; and a third, the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle, was recently tendered. Besides these large platforms, “Make” projects should target small and medium enterprises (SMEs), where the high-tech innovation occurs.

Step Two involves the fast-track clearance of pending acquisition programmes that could galvanise indigenous manufacture, and design and development (D&D). Ripe for the plucking are several indigenous shipbuilding projects, such as the one for building four landing platform docks (LPD) in private and public sector shipyards; and 16 shallow water anti-submarine vessels. So are contracts for land systems like various artillery guns; and for aircraft like the light combat helicopter and light utility helicopter (soon to fly), with clear instructions to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to develop and nurture Tier-1 and Tier-2 sub-vendors.

Step Three relates to policy reform in the department of defence production, where Parrikar faces unbending resistance from his ministry bureaucrats, who are resorting to the artifice of “death by committee” --- i.e. slowing down reform by channelizing it repeatedly through committees. Even so, the Dhirendra Singh Committee has submitted a reasonable report that moots identifying private sector “strategic partners” in each of six areas, including as aerospace, warship building, armoured vehicles, etc. With one or two strategic partners at hand for each field, the procurement cycle could be slashed dramatically. The “strategic partner” model must be quickly implemented, preventing monopolies, while creating 12-18 large defence players for an acceptable level of competition. Following the Dhirendra Singh Committee, the Aatrey Committee is finalising norms for selecting “strategic partners”. With this done, no time should be lost in selecting “strategic partners” and kicking off projects.

In Step Four, Mr Parrikar must instruct his moribund “department of ex-servicemen’s welfare” to consciously drain the swamp of disaffection within the large pool of ex-servicemen across the country, which has cost the BJP a traditional constituency: ex-servicemen. The defence minister must order his bureaucrats to weigh the consequences of appealing adverse judicial verdicts. Currently, the objective is to win the case at all costs, even by dragging to the Supreme Court a poor veteran who might have a perfectly valid plea, but no money to pursue it. Alongside this, Mr Parrikar needs to swiftly resolve the One Rank, One Pension agitation. The government has issued a notification, which ex-servicemen groups have rejected. The movement will inevitably gather momentum and further alienate the community.

Lastly, Mr Parrikar should go with his own conviction and take up the case for appointing a chief of defence staff. The CDS, a five-star rank officer, appointed for a three-year tenure, would oversee manpower and equipment planning of the army, navy and air force. Currently, the three services jostle for money and turf and, with no overall commander to prioritise between competing service demands, the tri-service 15-year equipment plan is a worthless wish list that is unrelated to the availability of funds. A CDS would also provide unified command in war, and the ministry with single-point advice in peace. Last year, at a public function, Mr Parrikar promised to send his proposal for a CDS to the National Security Council by June 2015. Like so many other promises, this remains unfulfilled.


  1. LOL So Bihar was about the pace of reforms was it Mr Shukla ? What "pace" was set by Mr Nitish Kumar for them to opt for him instead ? Not a SINGLE Fortune 500 company or for that fact Fortune 1000 company has an office in Bihar - the very idea of it itself is absurd to most industrialists in India - yet you want peddle a narrative of what this "election says"?

    And how is it that no matter the government, no matter the pace of its functioning - we have these familiar (step1 - do this, step2 - do that..) narrative from you. The "if only you do what I say, everything would be great" conceit of yours borders on meglomania if not ignorant delusion. Have you worked in the MoD Mr Shukla to be so prescriptive in your articles ?

    If doing all that you ask was so simple - so easy, why did AK Anthony do even a TENTH of what MR PArrikar has gotten done in the last 10 years before the NDA ? Why didn't the OROP- regardless of the whining of a few veterans, get passed ?

    If the Veterans think they can bilk yet more money out of this government from "medal-wapasi" and other such charades - I doubt Gul Panang or any other circus act they can get will change their fortunes . If they are so dissatisfied with the current OROP - I'm sure there would be PLENTY of beurocrats in the MoD and the Ministry of Finance who could make BETTER USE of the money elsewhere and they might as well scrap the entire thing if the veterans are going to behave like petulant children .

    Your tired old cliches and venom against the IAS and the officers of the MoD is as tedious as it is ill-informed. The fantasy you have cooked up that the civil service spends all its time plotting Machiavellian schemes against the "innocent" military officers is plain fiction. The civil servants at the MoD as civil servants anywhere else want their departments and consequently the country to succeed - but success comes through deliberate and careful planning not the Defense Minister signing checks with blind patriotism and self-righteous naivete the Finance Ministry can't cash.

  2. Hopefully he should get to read this..... i think the Bihar results will definitely catalyze work ethic....... i always felt that with an IITian leading the ministry, he would cut through and force multiply efforts and cover substantial ground in 5 years........ alas.too slow and mired in mediocrity

  3. again starts the rant
    where was your fair criticism when congress was in power
    stop being a retard

  4. You are obviously biased in your assessment of the RM, but of course you are entitled to your opinion (no scope for intolerance here!!) The RM has had a tough job of repairing the slumber years of his predecessor. Completely agree with you on indegenisation vs procurement. The services especially the IAF have been behaving like a child denied a lollipop on the cancellation of the Rafale deal. Glad the RM has adopted a strict headmaster approach and told every body to get on with the job of indigenisation. This will serve the country well in the long run.

  5. Ditto what Anonymous at 15:34 and Rahul Sharma said.

    The rot occurred under AK Antony's watch for the last 6 years and he did nothing about it. Parrikar has only been at the helm for one year and is trying to undo a decade's worth of malpractice conducted by the Congress Party.

    Parrikar has been making all the right moves so far. He has addressed the immediate need of the IAF while at the same time, boosting the indigenous weapon development and production efforts. See how he solved the LCA issue by giving an order for 120 LCA Mk 1.5 solving the beguiling production issues and costs. He is implementing the "Make in India" program across a wide variety of weapon programs.

    Change does not come easy, but under Parrikar's watch, it is indeed coming and it is unstoppable.

  6. I think you can blame MP for El Niño of this year too. Or for increased orca sightings in California. What other irrelevant issues do you want to use to blame Mr Parikkar?

  7. Media keeps saying Nitish has won in Bihar...But numbers say RJD is the single largest party.
    This is despite the clown being convicted and banned from contesting elections.
    Seems they have clear choice of what they want......So this speaks how bihari mindset works and thinks....

    Coming about the party you do has manged to get 1/2 the half the seats of your most hated party.

  8. I think Mr. Parikkar has done a good job in giving an initial order of LCAs, even if he has gone against the advice of the IAF in doing so. The IAF, as a force, would obviously choose the best of the weaponry available. But if the nation wants indigenization to happen on the ground, the IAF will have to accept comparitively below standards systems, so that the indigenous programs get more life. Spending a huge amount of money on an LCA Mk2 will be meaningless if they don't go for the production of LCA Mk1. If they don't produce LCA Mk1, then even the LCA program will go the Marut (HF-24) way. Also, I think no defence minister can perform as poorly as Mr. A K Antony who has done nothing in spite of being the longest serving defence minister. Just remember the kind of disrespect the UPA Govt. gave to Admiral Joshi, when he tendered his resignation after the submarine accident.

  9. @ Rahul: " The civil servants at the MoD as civil servants anywhere else want their departments and consequently the country to succeed..."


    There are always a few bad apples in every organization, In the case of IAS, only the bad apples want their departments and consequently the country to succeed. Otherwise, India would be like Singapore today.

    First, Look at the number of cases the the the Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare, has fought AGAINST wounded veterans (whether innocent or otherwise is none of anybody's business, the fact is he has sacrificed for the sake of the country) and old aged men who gave their youth for the country, in court even after AFT ruling.

    Then look at the slow pace of buying critical equipment,needed for protection of ordinary soldiers at the border.

    Then come and give us a sermon about planning and other nonsense. else you are welcome to join the troops at the LOC, when the firing is intense, or hop in a 30 year old Mig 21.

  10. substandard article from an otherwise good writer. bad on your part to justify the non-ending cribs for OROP.. now what? a person who leaves at his own wish with pension also needs additional benefit of OROP? even this has been sanctioned for people who had already left earlier..

  11. @Jean Luc Picard

    A job in the armed forces is a means to get out of poverty into a life of privilege and relative luxury. Millions are waiting for a chance to join the forces. So please cut the crap of "sacrificing youth for the country" when vast majority enjoy subsidized hooch, food, education, medical and what not.
    If you are not happy with the salary of a sarkari naukri, you need to look for better alternatives.

  12. A lot of rants here by uninformed people with little or no knowledge of how our armed forces work. If anybody thinks our civil services do a good job, then they live in a fools paradise. Incidentally OROP is already available of these IAS types who never leave the comfort of their offices . The only thing left which works in our so called government is the Armed forces. Lets support and respect them and give them their due. Parrikar has made a start but its a weak attempt . He needs to do much better

  13. @Ajai

    Bihar ranks at the bottom of the scale just barely above kashmir and north eastern states on the tax revenue chart

    I doubt whether indians elsewhere took the outcome positively. To the contrary, people were making fun of the sad state of bihar after they voted lallu back into power. Lallu smses started flowing on whatsapp groups like these: Laloo teaching his children spelling of assassination - One ass behind another ass, behind that I, and behind me the whole nation

    When nitesh and lallu won in bihar, the common public on the streets on mumbai said "bihar refuses to change(from backwardism)". That's how they interpreted the outcome. The hindi speaking people in mumbai were explaining to non-hindi speakers that bihar was 3/4rd dalit and that bjp shouldn't have allied with ram vilas paswan etc etc.

    I don't know about bihar but hindi speakers here were offering excuses to the locals for the outcome.

  14. @Anonymous 00:02

    Any Job is a "means to get out of poverty into a life of privilege and relative luxury."

    Its what you do in return separates the the wheat from the chaff.

    1. No other profession expects you to die in the line of duty, if required.
    2. You know that personnel and even sub organizations in the armed forces rotate right ? So you must also know that the ones you see in your tier 1 or tier 2 cities, enjoying the "subsidized hooch,food, education and medical" are on rotation or leave to do so. Side note - I dont know what kind of person will have a problem with people getting food, health and education in a county like ours where

    3. Im sure you know the, Vast majority of the Military population is in the fighting arms right ?

    No ? Please spare us your pointless argument.


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