NEW DELHI: Arackaparambil Kurien Antony might have been accused of gross indecisiveness while at the helm of affairs in the crucial Defence Ministry, but the astute politician from Kerala has become the longest continuously serving Defence Minister of the country - a distinction many would envy.
Antony, often referred to as ‘St Antony’ for his clean image, took over the reins of the Defence Ministry on October 10, 2006, after the then Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee had to take over as the Foreign Minister as Natwar Singh lost his portfolio following the ‘Oil for food scam’. Hence began the longest and most crucial stint of this Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament in the Central government.
Accused of being painstakingly cautious in approving the procurement of modern equipment for the Armed Forces to protect his ‘ultra-clean’ image, Antony has been the Defence Minister for five years and seven months now. During the second term of the Congress-led UPA government, the minister has been able to come around to put the overdue modernisation process of the Defence Forces on track.
“After returning a large chunk of Defence Budget unspent to government’s coffers for successive years since Independence, it was Antony who has managed to spend complete Defence Budget for two consecutive financial years,” a Defence official said while highlighting Antony’s achievements as the Defence Minister.
In the financial year 2011-12, the Defence Ministry has sought an additional amount of `3,000 crore to meet its budgetary requirements. And chances of the biggest Defence deal - dubbed as the ‘Mother of all deals’ - for purchasing 126 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) will also be inked during his tenure. During his tenure, the Armed Forces were hit by many controversies like Sukhna land scam, Adarsh Housing Society Scam, the age row of Army Chief General V K Singh and so on, but the reticent minister refused to have a public debate on any of these issues and sought to act with restraint in these issues owing to the sensitivities involved.
“The minister’s style of functioning is very different. He does not believe in publicising his work. He harps on transparency on the Defence deals and even goes to the extent of cancelling tenders if any discrepancy is found,” the officials added. Antony has not given a single interview since becoming the Defence Minister in 2006 even as he saw many unprecedented acts like the Army Chief moving the Supreme Court.
The closest competition that Antony got vis-à-vis the length of the tenure was from V K Krishna Menon and Jagjivan Ram. Antony has beaten Menon by a good one year. Menon served as the Defence Minister for 4.7 years, but his term was cut short by the debacle in 1962 Indo-China war. Jagjivan Ram was the Defence Minister twice and served for 6.8 years cumulatively.