Budget 2018: Sadly, Modi government has let down Indian soldiers
National security and development of military power has been given a short shrift, when elections appear to be around the corner.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address in the Raisina dialogue was noteworthy and realistic. He stated, "The weak don’t survive. The strong survive. You make peace with the strong. You ally with the strong."
It, thus, implies that the nation is only as strong as its military is. It is also a well-accepted fact that a nations economic and diplomatic power only bear relevance if they are backed by resolute military power. If a nation’s military lacks capability and capacity, it would no longer be a voice in the international environment. No nation can be a military power with ageing equipment and if it is unable to ward off immediate threats.
The Budget announced by the finance minister clearly missed the mark as far as defence preparedness was concerned. It appeared to be a budget to satisfy the voting majority, considering elections being around the corner. Announcements were aplenty. However, availability of funds and its actual implementation would be determined with time. Defence barely got a mention with the minister stating that the nation respects the armed forces for their role in ensuring national security.
In figurative terms, the defence budget got an overall flip of a measly 7.81 per cent to Rs 2,99,581 crore as compared to last year’s 2,74,114 crore. However, it was just 1.58 per cent of the GDP, the lowest since the 1962 war. The armed forces have been hankering for a minimum of 2.5 per cent of the GDP. Trump had realistically cautioned his NATO allies that they need to expend a minimum of 2 per cent for defence, to ensure that capabilities do not deteriorate. The Indian Budget capital outlay which caters for modernisation and new procurements was Rs 99,563.86 crore. It was dwarfed by a revenue figure of Rs 1,95,947.55 crore, which caters for maintenance of the force and assets.
The most important part of the Budget is the capital expenditure which is utilised for enhancing capabilities and capacities. Out of this figure, almost always 80 per cent is meant for earlier procurements, payments for which are guaranteed and must be made. Thus, only about Rs 20,000 crore is available for new procurements during the current financial year. In percentage terms only 3.6 per cent of the defence budget is available for modernisation.
It does appear that national security and development of military power has been given a short shrift, when elections appear to be around the corner. Although the figures have been declining each year, yet this lowest percentage puts a major stumbling block in military modernisation. It also goes completely against the present governments international outreach of enhancing defence cooperation and projection of military power in its area of interest and influence. It also impacts the preparedness of the force to meet future threats and challenges.
Defence modernisation and procurements are time-consuming. Equipment being contracted today would only commence entering service a few years hence and would be completely inducted after a longer time span. Hence, delays at the procurement stage would impact the armed forces for a considerable period of time. Threats are on the rise, the holding of assets to counter the threats are ageing and moving towards the obsolete stage.
It is also that the "guns versus butter" battle is always at the forefront when the defence minister plans and issues his budget. Social schemes are as important as national security, especially for a developing nation. Yet the words of the late president APJ Abdul Kalam bear relevance that national security and national development always go hand in hand. One cannot happen without the other. Butter would have lesser value if the nation remains under threat.
India has in recent times faced increasing Chinese assertiveness and enhanced tensions along its border with Pakistan. Competition with China in Asia and the Indian Ocean region is only likely to increase. Simultaneously, the government has been reaching out to nations in the Indo-Pacific seeking to enhance military to military cooperation. Instability in Pakistan would continue and the military’s control over the state would be complete with the conclusion of elections this year. If India is to cater for immediate threats and meet the aspirations of the government, then it must make up its increasing shortfalls in capacities and capabilities.
The national leadership is aware of the gaps which exist in India’s defence preparedness. The air force is way below its sanctioned strength of squadrons. More aircraft are in the process of being phased out of service due to vintage in the coming years. The existing capacity of the navy preclude it from fulfilling its mission of providing security in the Indian Ocean region as also interacting with world navies. It immediately requires helicopters and fighter aircraft.
The Army lacks even the basic assault rifles, bullet proof jackets and long-range artillery. If it must maintain a credible domination over Pakistan, then its armoured fleets also require an overhaul. The Army in general desperately needs modernisation and upgradation. With this Budget the defence ministry has very limited money for procurements.
The government has been keen on promoting, "Make in India", which despite multiple amendments to policy has failed to take off. If the intention of setting up two defence industrial production corridors, as announced by the finance minister, is a step in this direction, then it may further delay defence modernisation, as establishment of policies, selection of vendors and setting up facilities would take immense time.
In a final analysis, it is surprising that Arun Jaitley, who has been the defence minister twice during the term of this government, hence aware of the critical shortfalls has failed to address core issues. The nation needs a strong and robust military for ensuring national security and warding off threats. The stronger the military, the less would nations seek to tamper with the nation.
If it is the man behind the gun which counts, then he must have a gun, not a spear as he possesses today.