The guns have fallen relatively silent on India’s borders for the past few weeks. Even the Pakistani establishment seems to have reined in jihadis for now. Secularists may attribute the unexpected fall in the number of border incursions and infiltrations to the Obama visit, though the Indian Army said two days ago that 150 militants are waiting behind LoC to cross over. But the Olive Branch Brigade has conveniently forgotten that India now has a defence minister who neither barks without biting nor starts snoring when jawans are being maimed and civilians are massacred. And when he bites, it turns out to be fatal for the foe. Ever since 59-year-old Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar took over as the 24th defence minister, protecting the country and its men in uniform has become his Mission 24X7. For the past three months, his actions have been unconventional and his comments acidic, which have pained peaceniks. Last week, he stirred a hornet’s nest with the explosive revelation that some former Indian PMs compromised our deep intelligence assets in Pakistan. No other defence minister has ever charged any chief executive of the country of treason. But it was not just an off-the-cuff remark. It was a calculated strategy on Parrikar’s part to silence those who are out to sabotage and oppose India’s new aggressive stance against its inimical neighbour. For the past 10 years, the Indian defence establishment has been forced to face the enemy with both hands tied behind its back and mouth bridled. Now, through his frank statements and quick decision-making, Parrikar has changed the entire narrative and grammar of India’s defence and strategic policy. He hardly bothers about the nuances and spins offered to him by agents of Western think tanks.
On Monday, as India’s defence minister, he would be playing the host at the Republic Day Parade, for which US President Barack Obama is the chief guest. While Parrikar is busy in conference with backroom diplomats and defence officials to anticipate every possible hiccup in the execution of his plans, the media is more concerned about Obama’s Beast and his romantic but now aborted visit to the Taj Mahal. As a member of the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Defence, he has been chosen as the pointsman to finalise various defence and strategic pacts. PM Modi knows Parrikar wouldn’t be swayed by US mania and instead, would do some plain-speaking to the business-minded Americans.
Defence experts feel that Parrikar’s strong comments and inflexible approach towards Pakistan has forced the US and Western world to look at the insurgency-infested country with suspicion. Parrikar was uncompromising when he made it clear to the West that it has to choose between a democratic India and terror habitat Pakistan. Last month, the defence ministry read the riot act to US Secretary of State John Kerry that India wouldn’t be able to do business with the US unless it forces Pakistan to dismantle terror camps and ban terrorist outfits operating on its soil. It is not a coincidence that the Sharif government banned a few of them and Obama spoke against terror camps prior to landing in India. Such high testosterone actions were never expected from the US in the past, because of India’s wavering stand on Pakistan. The Americans were particularly taken aback by the threatening tenor of Parrikar’s repeated warnings to Pakistan. When incursions rose exponentially, he sent a clear message to the Indian armed forces. “Our (NDA government) response is: don’t hesitate. React appropriately without holding yourself back.” He mandated that they should retaliate “with double the force” against all ceasefire violations.
Parrikar’s security-minded preoccupation with Pakistan is not his only virtue. He is very impatient with the slow speed in procurement of defence equipment and the largely dysfunctional DRDO. Last month, when he terminated the services of DRDO chief Avinash Chander—who was on a temporary extension—it signalled his intent of promoting innovative thinking. Parrikar feels that it is the DRDO’s failure that has made India heavily dependent on defence imports. On Chander’s exit, he remarked: “I thought that at 64, a person (Chander) probably thinks in a more cautious way. The scientist world today requires probably a much younger generation.”
Another bold decision of Parrikar’s was legalising the role of defence agents, ignoring all possible adverse impact. Within two months in his job, he told officials to draw up a roadmap for legalising the role of these agents. Aware of the damage done to many politicians and civil servants through their dealings with them, Parrikar felt it was better to bring all hidden persuaders into the public gaze so that their connections become transparent to all. He says, “Several times we require feedback and also someone who can get us information. There are some foreign companies which want to come to India... They can’t go on sending their people here.” But he also made clear that it was just an idea, and a “clear cut” policy would be announced soon on engaging representatives for arms procurements, which will also provide for punitive action against firms found giving kickbacks.
As Goa’s CM, Parrikar dealt with various stake holders directly on all issues. He wouldn’t mind walking down to the hotels and offices of those whom he thought would be useful for his state’s development. He has carried this culture to the defence ministry. Soon after Modi approved the hike in FDI in defence, Parrikar invited a number of Indian corporates to Goa on December 27. He was assisted only by his private secretary at the meeting, which was attended by representatives of leading defence equipment manufactures like Kalyani Group, Bharat Forge, Godrej and Boyce, Ashok Leyland, Tata Advanced Systems and Larsen & Toubro. Parrikar is playing the role of a reformer for whom defence production is not a clandestine business, but a source of boosting the Make in India campaign. As CM, his mission was to make the tiny state of Goa a vibrant global tourist destination. Now as defence minister, his vigilant eyes are constantly examining every chink in India’s defence armour and seal it mercilessly. Parrikar’s idea of India is a nation, which is both feared and respected not just in the neighbourhood, but in the entire world.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla