It’s a historic moment for India indeed. After a period of 35 years, she witnessed another woman becoming the defence minister of India. There has been universal praise from all sections of politics, media and civil society. With Nirmala Sitharaman becoming Union Defense minister and Sushma Swaraj handling External Affairs, it’s a rare sight to see two crucial portfolios of government being handled being handled by intellectually and experientially strong and capable women. Apart from Mrs. Sitharaman, worldwide countries such as Germany, Australia and France too have women defense ministers.
Apart from being a soft-spoken and no-nonsense speaker, Mrs Sitharaman’s academic background is noteworthy as well. Having passed out from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), she also worked for noted investment giant PricewaterhouseCoopers for some time and then joined the BJP in 2006. With hardwork and dedication, she rose in the party ranks and finally when the BJP formed the government after winning the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, she was given charge of the Ministry of Commerce. After working for a consecutive 3 years in the ministry and proving her mettle as a minister who believes in ‘doing’ rather than ‘talking’, she was awarded the coveted Defense portfolio. But more than the token symbolism that a woman has been given authority of a crucial portfolio, speedy, efficient and scientific advancements in the defense ministry is needed. That’s where Mrs. Sitharaman will now have to work and deliver.
Take the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s (HAL) Tejas for instance. HAL so far has only delivered four out of 40 Tejas Mark-I Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ordered by the Indian Air Force in 2005. Originally, all 40 aircraft were expected to be delivered by 2018. This has led to the Indian govt. signing an expensive deal with French Aerospace giant Dassault Aviation to import 36 Rafale fighter worth Rs. 60,000 Crore. If one were to go to for ‘Made in India’ fighter jets, then the production and delivery time will have to be optimized.
The same case stands for the Navy. In a survey carried out by IndiaSpend comparing the Indian and Chinese Navy, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) has 283 major surface combatant warships, four times more than those under the control of the Indian Navy (66).
For the Indian army, its crucial that more investment and innovation is centered on manufacturing indigenous weapons. Sadly, none of our special ops or even Black Commandos use Indian made weapons and depend entirely on foreign manufactured and imported arms. Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) as well as Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) need to equip our soldiers with weapons envisioned, created and manufactured within India. Rigorous tests also need to be performed to remove any and all lingering defects.
The Future Soldier programme also has been on the backburner for a long time and needs to see the light of the day. Superior assault rifles, bulletproof vest and Battlefield Management Systems (BMS) that have been approved by the Indian Army need to see on- field action else all is lost.
Apart from the obvious physical infrastructure that’s needed to boost the defense potential of India, strict political will and bureaucratic efficiency is needed as well. The infamous Choppergate scandal, Bofors Scam, Adarsh Scam amongst many others are big blots on the integrity and honor of the defense ministry and armed forces. These need to be dealt with on a priority basis.
Strict penal and regulatory standards too need to be put in place to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. It’s upto Mrs. Sitharaman to prove her mettle against these. We wish her all the best in this endeavor.