Fight vacuum

The paucity of leaders with stature and skill to shoulder responsibilities of ministries as vital as defence is showing. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has assumed the additional responsibility of handling the key ministry.

The move is bound to slow down the defence ministry, which had been touted to have been marching quick time under Manohar Parrikar. While Parrikar had always been keen on returning to his home state, it is a particularly inopportune time for him to depart from the central responsibility.

And for Jaitley, handling the ministry of defence in addition to his existing responsibilities of Finance, which includes the ministry of Corporate Affairs, is obviously too much for any individual.

Lead-quality manpower crunch is not a problem unique to the BJP. Union governments under other parties in the recent past have all faced the same situation and it has been a curse for the central leadership.

The Centre has been denied the services of people such as Parrikar owing to their greater affiliation and affinity to regional or state politics. Although it must be admitted that Parrikar was no great achiever in his ministry.

It was during his tenure that the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ were conducted and the terrible multiple retaliations as aftermath by the Pak-backed terror outfits showed our armed forces as being in terrible conditions in terms of alertness and self defense capabilities.

The Indian Army’s inability to protect its own forward area bases showed how unmotivated it was. Crying out in favor of the dead soldiers as martyrs is one side of the ‘nationalist’ story.

The other being to perceive reality that an armed and formally trained army is incapable of standing its ground on its own territory against a bunch of informal but dedicated and armed group of ‘terrorists’.

The Modi government, with its abrasive attitude, will need to find a better replacement for Parrikar — someone who has an image as a person with foresight and knows what modern day armed forces require, keeping in mind the confrontationist path the present day government is preferring to adopt.

The task for the BJP is not easy as it has very limited space to experiment. The question being whether there are able hands waiting in the wings for Narendra Damodardass Modi to bank on.

No fresh face can be introduced directly into a ministry as vital as defence. Even seasoned ministers have been found wanting while handling the portfolio, owing to the complexities involved.

Parrikar failed to earn himself much goodwill during his tenure and has himself stated that it took him about a year to get familiar with the functioning of his ministry. Such a situation calls for the need to create a second line of leaders who can take over as and when the need arises.

However, that requirement is sadly missing in all political parties across India, both national and regional. The demise of J. Jayalalithaa showed what a vacuum the AIADMK could plunge into after she left the scene.

Similarly, the BJP under Damodardass Modi, unlike Vajpayee who allowed the Advani and Pramod Mahajan types to flourish, has no one else to fall back on. In reality, the Rajnath and Piyush Goyal genre has become a very marginalized force.

There are initiatives that need to be introduced by a new and capable defence minister. These are bound to be of extreme importance with the Line of Control on the boil and Pakistan baring its fangs. It is important that someone in the know of things is in the saddle.

A replacement will surely be found but effectiveness is a doubtful issue.
In a democratic system, such vagaries as a mid-term change in portfolio have to be accounted for.

But considering the unpredictability of the system, it is also important to have mechanisms to kick in when things change all of a sudden. Governments may be able to put in place stopgap arrangements that may address situations temporarily.

But long-term vision is essential to ensure that progress is not hampered. A system of succession needs to be put in place to ensure that any vacuum that may be created is filled quickly.

Else, there should be a mechanism to select from the entire legislature, the best person with the requisite credentials to handle a ministry of sensitive nature such as defence. Such a system could seem impossible now but may alter the scenario altogether.

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