Why Parrikar failed in Defence


(Parrikar with PM)

Few Defence Ministers began their tenure with such high expectations and ended it on such low key with almost nothing to show for the two-odd years spent as the military’s boss, as Manohar Parrikar. Returning to Goa without making the slightest ripple in a ministry crying out for hard political decisions and implementation of even harder solutions, may be something of a record.  Even so, were we all wrong in hoping Parrikar would do big things differently, logically, with oodles of practical good sense? For one as a graduate of IIT, Mumbai, it was expected that he would bring an engineer’s approach and problem solving methodology to issues of national security, especially those relating to the conventional forces that in many respects are mathematical in nature.

He started out promisingly. The MMRCA race was decided by the time Manmohan Singh demitted office. It only remained for the incoming BJP government to  sign on the dotted line of a contract for the Rafale aircraft that would enrich France, the French economy, the French aerospace sector, and specifically, Dassault Avions, without doing much for IAF’s fighting ability.  He did the unexpected, showing the greatest reluctance to sign a contract, Parrikar pondered more economical options in lieu of the Rafale. He came to the obvious conclusion that the entire ‘medium’ category in combat aircraft is bit of  a hoax perpetrated by IAF. This may be seen in his exploring a Hi-lo solution revolving around the Su-30 MKI license-produced by HAL in Nasik as the high end fighting platform, and the indigenous Tejas as the low end bulk combat component. His publicly observing that the price of a single Rafale can fetch the IAF three Su-30s, arguably the best multi-role fighter plane currently flying barring the F-22 Raptor, and his refuting the IAF’s charge propagated through the media that the Sukhois suffered from heavy downtime, by talking of its serviceability rate as comparable to any other aircraft in the fleet, suggested that here was a defence minister who was prepared to take Air HQrs head-on.

Then prime minister Narendra Modi’s Paris trip happened in April 2015 and, voila! just like that, there was the announcement of  a buy of 36 Rafales — a ridiculous figure because it meant the IAF could do very little with it in terms of strengthening its force posture or warfighting capability. They were too few in number to operationally matter, and too costly to risk in hostilities, but may prove useful to Vayu Bhavan as a wedge to wangle the resources to get an additional 100-200 Rafales in the future. This decision marked Parrikar’s slide. He could not in good conscience act gung-ho about Rafale, equally he couldn’t be seen,or even politically afford,  to oppose the PM.

This is a sidebar– but why Modi made this decision remains a mystery,  considering the Rafale makes little military, political, or economic sense. If, as is being alleged, President Francois Hollande lubricated the Rafale deal by promising Indian nuclear weapons designers access to the French inertial confinement fusion (ICF) chamber in Bordeaux so that India’s unproven and untested thermonuclear designs can be validated short of explosive underground testing, and also finessed, by triggering miniature fusion reactions in the ICF facility, then Modi has taken a big gamble. Paris has not always delivered on its contractual or even secret executive-level agreements. Assuming they do this time, where’s the guarantee that the French won’t pass on the Indian ICF data to its friends and allies, thereby compromising the Indian deterrent? Moreover, is a paper promise of access to ICF, Bordeaux, worth the escalating costs of the Rafale, considering Indian scientists continued to gain from access to the Russian ICF in Troitsk, outside Moscow?

In any case, Parrikar was never the same again. He chose thereafter to do what any lay politician has done as defence minister — surrender to the autonomy exercised by the civilian bureaucrats running his ministry. Leaving it to the babus to do all but formally make decisions meant he sidelined himself, and wound up enmeshed in the Gordian knots of red tape he had set out originally to untangle.

One is tempted to compare Parrikar’s fairly undistinguished time in office with that of the longest serving defence minister, AK Antony, in the preceding Congress Party coalition government. Unlike Parrikar, Antony, a lawyer, understood the pitfalls of decisionmaking and was wary of civil servants weaving a web to victimize politicians. Zealous in protecting his reputation for absolute propriety, he shunned all decisions concerning procurement of major military hardware — Project 75i, MMRCA, howitzers, etc. Consequently, in his eight years as defence minister nothing was decided on the big ticket items, nothing was bought.

In both cases, the usual rampaging waste of national economic resources was avoided but at the cost of weakening force readiness and modernization, by Parrikar because he permitted the civil servants to create an impasse at every turn, and by Antony because he deliberately avoided taking any decision at all.

Not sure which is better — Parrikar’s mode or the Antony operandi.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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14 Responses to Why Parrikar failed in Defence

  1. Shaurya says:

    Neither. Need a non-politican, non-bureaucrat, non-services civilian chief – who is not vested in the organization setup and yet understands Indian security needs. A person like Arun Shourie would be best to get to the root of corruption, i.e: Govt control of DPSU’s, DRDO, etc.

    The other thing do to is the educate the public that without security and pursuit of national interests has a direct effect on economic interests. It will help political space for budgetary allocations. The relationship between security and economy is not understood by many but is there in spades as part of our civilizational literature. Wonder why the message is lost.

    • S3 says:

      Won’t work.

    • Apna says:

      We give too much importance to IITs or Management courses for qualification in the ministries.
      The best defence minister that India ever had was Jagjivan baby in Bangladesh war.
      He was also the best agriculture minister and railwAy minister before that.
      Politicians need to win election and be rep of people’s.
      Politicians should not become functionaries.
      See the disastrous result from unelected functionaries who were imposed on India like unelectable mmsing and rubbish Arun jetley who reduced defence spending.

  2. andy says:

    Sad but true,what could have been a sterling tenure for Parrikar nullified due to an impromptu decision by the PM and as rightly pointed out he was never the same man again.Although one has heard whispers that he held out against clearing the Shinmaywa deal,citing its high price,contrary to the wishes emanating from the PMO.

    So its back to sunny Goa for the very cost conscious RM,who if left to his own devices would probably never have signed on the dotted line for the exorbitant Rafale deal,preferring the prudent option of more SU30MKI,although we need to be thankful to the man for not buckling to the IAFs sustained pressure of nullifying the Tejas program preferring instead to keep it going despite the blatantly obvious shenanigans of the IAF.

    What happens next with Jaitly{a proven mediocre FM}taking over the defence ministry is anybody’s guess,perhaps an early signing of the Shinmaywa deal?or worse still the F16,or even worse more Rafales!!!One gets a headache thinking about such eventualities.

    • Shaurya says:

      I personally think this idea of 36 Rafales was a Jaitley idea to Modi. Remember him making some comments on the lines that Rafale is expensive and hence lower numbers than the 126 being asked for by IAF would be considered. This was before Parikkar took over as RM. The rest is history.

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Parikkar is a prime example of what happens to a good man who hangs around aimlessly with the wrong sort of fellows. All through his 2 years it was easy to see what his personal choices were but in this yard fight between pseudo seculars and pseudo nationalists it is the good people who will always have to pay the price.

    Today Parikkar has little to show for his MoD stint and he ended up losing the overwhelming and well deserved trust he enjoyed in Goa too. God has given him a second chance and I hope he mends the situation in Goa, at least. With the benefit of hindsight, IMO, the MoD was a minefield that was laid out for people like him to trip upon, given that people like Jaitley were put in charge of MoD even before people like Parrikar could get started. Don’t forget our current CAG too who got the posting that would allow him to justify his decisions in the prior regime. This too was fixed before Parrikar could have had a say even while it was Parrikar who as expected to live with the decisions taken by the earlier Def. Secy. The matter of filling up the position of the army chief itself was managed a lot more crudely than that of the air force chief. The Ashwini Chandra episode was another case of smokes and mirrors where Parrikar could do little. The more impetuous people would remember the Loshali episode which did not need to end up the way it did.

    At the end they still raped his personal choices despite him trying mighty hard to fit into a team the did not belong to. Trying to achieve a financial closure for a LEMON. And today we have the signatures of somebody who would normally describe himself as a hindu nationalist, on LEMOA. What rotten luck for the man. But hey, cannot fall from inside the ditch now, can you? :D.

    Best of luck, Mr. Parrikar.

  4. Apna says:

    Well it was because Modi jee was anyway using defence acquisition to bribe Americans with billion dollar contract for dubious spy infested American kinks two weeks before he used to go to USA.
    So defence procurement was used not for defence needs but to buy so called allies and friend.

  5. buttwisecrack says:

    Sir, please share your views on carnegie international nuclear policy conference, here the Indian case is Put up by Vipin Narang which presents somewhat of a grim outlook to the India’s Nuclear Policy and its effects in the region. He also describes you as a “Fringe Extreme” forceat at 15:25. What are the repercussions of rethinking India’s NFU policy toward’s her Nuclear Wepons. : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChdTSSRlXB8&list=PL6YCxo9_b_mooHhinU30-NLIyN9-wEpWT&index=2

  6. Apna says:

    We give too much importance to Out or Management courses for qualification in the ministries.
    The best defence minister that India ever had was Jagjivan baby in Bangladesh war.
    He was also the best agriculture minister and railwAy minister before that.
    Politicians need to win election and be rep of people’s.
    Politicians should not become functionaries.
    See the disastrous result from unelected functionaries who were imposed on India like unelectable mmsing and rubbish Arun jetley who reduced defence spending.

  7. satyaki says:

    Bharat Sir,

    Do our scientists still get access to the ICFfacilities at Troitsk ? To what extent does this help validate our untested TN designs ? The French facility (Laser Megajoule) is more powerful than those at Troitsk, but French reliability ?…

    • On what basis do you say Megajoule is more powerful than the Troitsk ICF?

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Is this the one you refer to?
        Do you have something on it? Since it got reported first in 2012 only, may be it isn’t ready.

        In any case aren’t these big lasers a distraction. Do people really need such big lasers. Where is the need to test for ignition. What one would really need to test is the instabilities in the secondary. For the primary nobody ever reported an absolute need to test using lasers.

        Moreover to test you first have to have data. All the data that is there from our 6 tests is of the Primaries. The solitary secondary is contested both by insiders and outsiders. In any case is one secondary enough?

  8. Gp Capt TP Srivastava says:

    Fault finding and post event analysis is forte of Mr Bharat Karnad. Would you like to suggest as to who could be our next RM? Please read the actual accomplishments and failures of Mr Parikkar.

    Manohar Parrikkar as Raksha Mantri
    I had already predicted in beginning of March that the RM was headed for Goa. I planned to write his report card but waited for floor test in Goa Assembly. In the meantime Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi has pre-empted the issue by writing for The Tribune about RM’s tenure. In my opinion earlier Defence Ministers barring Krishna Menon were not even worthy of a report card, Mrs Gandhi included.
    I read his write up and it amused me. Before I proceed any further let me list out the accomplishment of Manohar Parrikkar.
    • During his brief 30 month tenure ELEVEN proposals were cleared by CCS. Please go to the relevant GoI website to see the details.
    • As RM he was instrumental in seeing OROP through and implemented albeit with certain deficiencies as perceived by defence fraternity. No one can take away the credit from him that it was during his stint as RM a 43 year old nemesis of OROP NON-IMPLEMENTATION was banished.
    • After URI fiasco if there was no visible action, entire nation including military leadership would have cursed the government, RM in particular. Hence if he ‘okayed/ordered’ a SURGICAL STRIKE, should he not get the credit?
    • The Defence Budget; media has been screaming that it has fallen to 1.6% of GDP is not only irrational but intemperate comment. Supporting it is even worse. For past 19 years military has not been able to spend entire capital allocation. To ask for 3% of GDP as defence budget is, therefore, absolutely irrational. In actual terms the current Defence Budget of over USD 50 Billion is nearly three times of what it was in the beginning of past decade. In any case RM alone cannot be held responsible for ‘perceived’ but inaccurate presumption in reduction of defence budget.
    • It was during his tenure as RM that NINE more proposals in respect of BIG TICKET acquisitions viz Fighters, Guns, Submarines, MTA, Helicopters have been fast tracked.
    Indeed there were avoidable blemishes as well. Most visible blemish was dis-honouring the former Chief of Air Staff by addressing him as ‘CHOTE AADMI’ during his speech in Lok Sabha on 4th May, 2016. Allowing CBI (The Caged Parrot) to arrest former CAS would remain the lowest point of the current government, which has otherwise performed brilliantly in all spheres. Without doubt he as RM alone cannot be held responsible for ordering arrest of former CAS, but he could have, rather ought to have influenced the decision making at the very top (read PM’s level) that such decision was detrimental to the image of military but he failed. It is of no consequence whether he was opposed to arresting former CAS in Augusta Westland case. Only he can, rather he must tell the nation.
    Manohar Parrikkar should be justifiably proud of his accomplishment and contribution to nation building as the first full time Raksha Mantri during Modi-1.
    Can we be a little more magnanimous before pointing out only the deficiencies?
    Gp Capt TP Srivastava
    16th March, 2017

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