The termination of Avinash Chander’s tenure as Science Adviser to the Defence Minister and head of DRDO was too sudden and created shock waves. The sotto voce explanation that Dr. Chander was a little tardy in following up on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advice to speed up ongoing projects, streamline the internal processes, and reward younger scientists with bigger responsibilities, and Mr. Parrikar’s statement that DRDO needed a younger helmsman, is all very well. But, it is also a misplaced punitive initiative because it presumes that radical changes can be readily and speedily affected, and that the working ethos transformation can happen overnight by diktat from DRDO HQ. And, ironically, it involves a man who unlike most of his predecessors in the post, was elevated to the position on the basis of a stellar record of success. Chander was previously Director-General of the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Hyderabad, the one stop design and development bureau for the Agni family of missiles — perhaps the most outstanding success story, other than the ATV programme to produce the Arihant-class SSBN, that DRDO can boast of.
ASL and ATV projects are fairly unique in their dogged pursuit of obtaining for the country deterrent reach and punch, ASL’s advanced Agni-5 IRBM/ICBM being among the most sophisticated delivery systems available anywhere with any country. ASL is also an organization fortunate enough to have enjoyed fine leadership starting with RN Agarwal, Chander, and the current DG, VG Sekharan.
DRDO is by and large a useless organization, like all the defence public sector units, it is true, and I have so slammed them all in my writings (see my blogs in the defence industry category) for being involved in jobbery. Many DRDO heads need to roll, and the bulk of DRDO programmes can be safely shut down to save the tax payer’s money and the rest handed over to private sector companies to prosecute more effectively and efficiently. But to tar a proven performer, such as Chander, as a laggard is to dump on an individual the ills of a system, and to do him grave injustice.
In the event, the Chander case should be the metric to judge all leadership in the government sector, by which standard the horde of senior IAS, IPS and other civil services officers as well as much of the armed forces brass — all of them perpetually gumming up the works — should likewise be summarily ejected, replaced by younger. more energetic, officers. In that event, the Chander dismissal, even if unfair, will be seen to have some merit. But because this last won’t happen, kicking out Chander will be seen especially by many in the defence science and technology sphere as a one-off whimsical move of the scapegoating kind. It will grow puzzlement and discontent in DRDO and destroy what go-go spirit prevails there, and thus do more harm than good.