Antony Has Little to Gloat About as Defence Minister - The New Indian Express

Antony Has Little to Gloat About as Defence Minister

Published: 09th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 09th March 2014 12:58 AM

The defence ministry has unwittingly opened itself to close public scrutiny by the manner in which it has praised Defence Minister A K Antony’s stint in a 11,000-word press release.

The fact of the matter is that if a balance sheet were to be drawn up of Antony’s seven-and-a-half-years as defence minister, he would come out in unflattering terms.

Indeed, Antony would go down in history as a defence minister who starved the country of essential armaments which jeopardised the country’s defence and left it vulnerable to external aggression.

Clearly, civil-military relations have never been as bad as they are today and the morale of officers and soldiers is at its lowest ebb. It would be wrong not to apportion a lion’s share of the blame for this on the country’s defence minister.

It was during Antony’s time that an Army chief, General V K Singh, became the first serving Chief of Staff to drag the government to court as official records allegedly mis-stated the year in which he was born. The whole issue could have been handled much better.

While he was in office, General Singh wrote a secret letter to the Prime Minister, which leaked out, highlighting the critical deficiencies in equipment, weapon systems and ammunition and the toll that delayed purchases were taking on the country’s military preparedness.

Recently, during Antony’s defence ministership, Naval chief Admiral D K Joshi resigned when, in a space of six months, two submarine mishaps claimed as many as 20 lives after repeated representations for adding to the ageing submarine fleet fell on deaf ears. 

While the country was in dire need of modernisation of the armed forces and the augmentation of military equipment, during the current year, Antony acquiesced in the finance ministry diktat to cut spending by Rs 10,000 crore in the capital acquisitions for the Army, Navy and Air Force, arguing that fiscal adjustment was necessary since the economic situation was grim.

It is a matter of deep concern that the move has caused a major slowdown in the ongoing acquisition projects—from aircraft and helicopters to howitzers and missiles and further pushed back the already much-delayed $20-billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project to acquire 126 fighters which was to be inked by March 31.

The UPA government has not only failed to upgrade the ageing fleet of the Indian Navy but also the vital equipment of other armed forces to the level that even their immediate critical requirements are not being met due to lack of funds and bureaucratic wrangles.

If there is one attribute on which Antony can be lauded, it is in regard to his personal integrity but corruption in the armed forces and the use of middlemen to bag contracts continues unabated. Antony should have come up with a proper mechanism to legitimise and regulate defence agents, but he did not do that.

Antony debarred six global armament firms in 2012, to add to the ones blacklisted earlier; cancelled the VVIP helicopter contract; and referred over 100 cases to CBI during his tenure to send “a strong signal” to all vendors to desist from “resorting to unfair means to win contracts”.

But the fact is that all this has failed to stem the rising tide of corruption in arms deals, with shady middlemen continuing to merrily flourish and scams coming out into the open every now and then. The long-winded cumbersome arms procurement procedures provide much opportunity for wheeling and dealing at every stage. The entire system needs to be streamlined and simplified. Blacklisting has proved counter-productive.

All said and done, Antony has little to gloat about. 

k.kamlendra@gmail.com

The author is a former journalist

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