The jury is still out on whether "acche din" (good days) are here for the economy and the common man, but on the issue of managing national security the Narendra Modi-led NDA government's first year in office has ended on a positive note.
The first test for the new government came in the field of border management. In July-August 2014, soon after the Modi government was sworn in, the Pakistan army and its border wing, the Rangers, decided to test its resolve and activated the LoC and the International Boundary (IB) in the Jammu-Samba sector. The government gave a free hand to the Army and the BSF to deal with the ceasefire violations. The Pakistani border troops were given a befitting response an order of magnitude harder than the provocation. They got the message and the guns soon fell silent.
In September 2014, even as President Xi Jinping of China was exchanging pleasantries with the Indian Prime Minister at Ahmedabad, the border guards of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), transgressed across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Chumar and Demchok in Ladakh. The Indian response was swift and of an appropriate scale to signal to the Chinese that they had no option but to withdraw. It took a while, but eventually the PLA decided that prudence was better than false bravado.
That was the last major incident along the LAC. However, the main lesson that has emerged again and again from PLA transgressions is that, like the LoC which is an active border, even a semi-active border like the LAC that is prone to frequent stand-offs and face-offs, should also be managed under the Army's operational control even though the ITBP - a home ministry border force - is actually deployed in the show window. This lesson does not appear to have been well grasped.
Manohar Parrikar, the new defence minister, has expressed his keenness to give a fillip to defence modernisation that had been stagnating for over a decade. Consequently, the Defence Acquisition Committee (DAC) chaired by him has moved quickly to accord approval in principle - known as AON (acceptance of necessity) - to defence procurement projects worth over one lakh crore rupees. Almost half of these projects had been given AON by the UPA government as well, but had not gone on to reach the stage of signing a contract.
The acid test of the minister's management acumen will lie in how soon contracts are awarded to acquire weapons and equipment that are critical for operational readiness. The time taken to finalise the G2G deal with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft will showcase the NDA government's ability to sign contracts for defence procurement in a timely manner.
The larger issue here is that the defence procurement system - the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), the Defence Production Policy (DPrP), the offsets policy, the formulation of the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) and quality assurance - has failed to deliver and needs to be overhauled. The minister has appointed a committee to undertake a holistic review of the procedures and processes with a view to removing the bottlenecks and making the system more responsive to the needs of the armed forces. The committee will also consider the measures to be adopted to "make in India" in weapons and defence equipment.
The long-pending issue of defence reforms has also been taken up in earnest by the defence minister. He has given himself three months to recommend structural changes in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Services HQ to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). A new tri-Service Command HQ is required for aerospace, cyber security and Special Forces.
A new organisation equivalent to a Corps HQ needs to be created within HQ Integrated Defence Staff to deal expeditiously with out-of-area contingencies and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. The aim should be to synergise tri-Service operational capabilities, enhance "jointness" in the armed forces, integrate them meaningfully with the MoD to improve civil-military relations and make day-to-day functioning smoother than it is.
Hopefully, the minister will recommend the creation of the post of a five-star Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with integrated theatre commands and not stop short at the halfway solution of a four-star permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC) who is the "first among equals". He must also take up the reorganisation of the DRDO in an early time frame. At the end of the restructuring process, the much-neglected, but crucially important, long-term defence planning to meet emerging threats and challenges will receive a boost.
The lack of adequate defence preparedness has come in for severe criticism. General VK Singh, the former COAS, has written about the "critical hollowness" in the Army's operational readiness to the then prime minister. This month the report of the CAG regarding massive shortages in authorised ammunition stocking levels has rung alarm bells. According to the CAG, the shortage of "high calibre" ammunition - for tanks and artillery guns and some missiles - is as high as 84 per cent. This merits the immediate attention of the MoD and the Services HQ.
Some of the softer issues that affect the morale of soldiers, sailors and airmen do not appear to have received the attention they deserve in the NDA government's first year in office. The foremost among these is "One Rank, One Pension" (OROP). The veterans are thoroughly disappointed that the Modi government has not yet been able to implement its election promise. Similarly, there has been no progress on the construction of a National War Memorial, which too had been very grandly promised.
Overall, the NDA government's first year's score on the national security front has been reasonably good after the policy paralysis of the UPA government. The government has erected a good base and expectations are high that it will build further on it in its remaining innings in power.