ONE fine day, the top brass of the Ministry of Defence went to meet PV Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister of India, regarding the procurement of weapons for India. Rao asked the officials, “Is there any war imminent in the near future with any neighbour or an unseen enemy?” There was no answer from the officials. Rao replied, “So, why is there such a hurry to buy weapons.” The officials were dumbfounded at the mindset of a Prime Minister, who thought that weapons should be procured only if there is a threat of war or possible escalation of war. This, even as the 13-lakh-strong manpower of the Indian defence forces were clamouring for the modernisation of the forces. Global experts are aghast and pointing out that despite ranking No. 4 among the forces of the world, India is lagging behind as a modern force by almost 25 years. The Indian defence forces recently witnessed the seven-and-a-half-year regime of the self-claimed ‘honest’ Defence Minister AK Antony, wherein nothing moved.
Defence procurement is a critical area as ‘public money’ is spent on the security and safety of India. The history of Indian arms procurement can be roughly divided into four phases: (a) from independence in 1947 till the mid-1960s; (b) from the mid-1960s, that is, after the 1962 Sino-Indian and 1965 India–Pakistan conflicts, till the mid-1980s; (c) from the mid-1980s to 1996; and (d) 1996 to the present day. The first phase was characterised by off-the-shelf procurement through imports, predominantly from France and the UK. During the second phase, efforts were made to build up domestic defence production, mostly through assembly under licence from the Soviet Union and the UK. The controversial phase started with large purchases by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Government (1984–89), while gradual improvements were made in research and development (R&D) and systems integration for in-country assembly of weapons. The current dispensation is working with a policy of ‘Make in India’ and the new procurement policy revolves around this dictum. gfiles’ cover story on the new Defence Procurement Policy (DPP) by the NDA regime indicates a major shift. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has stressed that the new policy will ensure that the modernisation of the defence forces remains unaffected—and least due to procedural intricacies. “Every word (of the DPP) had become a gate” to stall projects during the previous government, he alleged. K Subramanian writes, “The new DPP gives preference to the private sector and most importantly, gives preference to equipment designed and developed in India as against just manufacturing in India. Designing and developing in India would in large measure deal with the issues of absorption of technology and intellectual property rights as well.” Excluding the defence pensions, an amount of `258,589 crore has been allocated for defence in the Budget this year. Apart from this, `78,586 crore has been allocated for capital expenditure of the defence services. This makes India the biggest arms importer in the world. It appears the new DPP should be galvanised by the ‘Make in India’ policy in such a way that not only are the defence forces modernised, a new sector for job creation is created so that in future, 1.7 per cent of GDP expenditure on defence can be optimised. If this happens, it would really make the Indian Army competitive, at least in Asia. Nothing would be better for the nation. Let us wait and watch.