Civilian supremacy and
defence reforms: The Hindu
Prime Minister Narendra
Modi should appoint a defence minister — a full-time one — and demonstrate a
great deal of administrative acumen and political will if he is serious about
his declared intent to strengthen India’s national security and defence preparedness.
Indeed, the absence of a full-time defence minister is merely symptomatic of a
larger set of serious structural problems being faced by the country’s higher
defence management today, which is in urgent need of innovative reforms and
radical restructuring. Mr. Modi’s address to the Combined Commanders Conference
in New Delhi on October 17 found no mention of structural reforms in higher
defence management whereas his predecessor did mention it from time to time
even though the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had
sidestepped implementing the crucial reforms.
The disturbing reality today is
that in the absence of a full-time defence minister and by not introducing
defence reforms, it is the civilian bureaucracy — having generalist IAS
officers whose expertise in defence matters is questionable — that has a major
say in the country’s defence planning and decision-making. This needs to
The demand for reforms in India’s
higher defence management is a long-standing one and has grown in strength ever
since the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) recommended a number of reforms. In
2000, the then National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government
appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM), with four task forces on intelligence
reforms, internal security, border management, and higher defence management,
to review the country’s defence preparedness in the light of the KRC’s recommendations.
Many of the recommendations made by the GoM were only partially implemented.
And the most important one, of creating the post of Chief of Defence Staff
(CDS), was ignored.
As a result, it has been
widely perceived over the past decade or so that the country’s defence sector
needs further restructuring. In response, the UPA government appointed a task
force on national security under the chairmanship of Mr.
Naresh Chandra in 2011; it submitted its report a year later. Although
classified, some of its content has been leaked to the press. Many of its
recommendations were not to the liking of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the
Defence Minister. As a result, the UPA government lost an
opportunity to introduce crucial reforms. The report was to have been taken up
by the Cabinet Committee on Security in February this
year — after the government sat on it for no less than one-and-a-half years,
but it was too late by then as the UPA government felt that it should not take
key national security
decisions in its final days in office. It’s now the turn of the NDA government
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