By Prakash Katoch
The Congress Manifesto for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 relating to defence and security promises that Congress will reverse the trend of declining defence spending under the NDA government, and increase it to meet the requirements of the Armed Forces; expediting modernization programs of Armed Forces and improve security, education and health facilities for Paramilitary Forces (PMF) and families.
The action plan, in addition to making reinforcing above, makes following major promises: one, taking strategic and hard measures to defend territorial integrity of India and ensure safety of the population; two, individually address and evolve suitable policies for expanded threats of national security in the 21st Century beyond defence of the territory to include data security, cyber security, communication security and security of trade routes; three, establishing the CDS; four, provide statutory basis to the National Security Council (NSC) and office of National Security Advisor (NSA), and make NSA accountable to the Parliament; five, reestablish National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and provide it statutory basis; six, rapidly expand domestic capacity to manufacture defence and security equipment; seven, establish National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and National Grid (NATGRID), and; eight, reinforce border security and accelerate development of border infrastructure.
Through the manifesto, Congress also congratulates itself for accepting necessity of one rank, one pension (OROP). In this context, it is difficult to forget AK Anthony, then defence minister clapping with joy in Parliament when Chidambaram announced Rs 500 crore towards OROP. The BJP has given only a one-time pension increase (OTIP) instead of OROP, but the Congress manifesto does not promise grant of full OROP. Similarly, the manifesto is silent on the issue of NFU will Congress also grant it to armed forces or withdraw it from all? But most importantly, Congress is silent about how it will rectify the denigration and degradation of the armed forces, as reported in ‘Indiandefencereview’ website, especially when izzat is what the soldier places above everything else.
Whoever drafted the manifesto appears ignorant about the difference between PMF and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Besides, there are no comments on MHA taking unprecedented steps to look after the CAPF and families, while MoD is working assiduously against interest of armed forces, including employing a battery of lawyers to deny pension to disabled and widows. What is the stance of Congress?
Talking of national security, it appears to be construed predominantly as military security. National security encompasses individual security, social security, economic security, political security, food security, energy security, cyber security and many other aspects in addition to military security. Could the manifesto have not talked about how it intends to combat the proxy wars India is fighting over two decades at sub-conventional
A major lacunae in our defence set up is a Ministry of Defence sans military professionals. Why has Congress not talked about reorganizing the MoD and merging HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) with MoD, as intended when HQ IDS was established? Promise of CDS is good but will he be given full operational powers or will
he be kept toothless? Increasing defence spending has no meaning unless it is reinforced with figures. Scholars and diplomats have been writing that with successive negative defence budgets in actual terms, the armed forces have been reduced to the state as in 1962. The requirement for the next few years is an annual defence budget to the tune of 2.5-3% of GDP with an assured annual increase of 14.5%. Is Congress
willing to promise that? And, what about combatizing civilian-defence employees who cost five times their uniformed counterparts both serving and veterans?
Making appointment of NSA statutory and making him responsible to Parliament is good but perhaps utopian considering Manish Tewari, Minister of Information and Broadcasting during UPA II, tried his level best to bring RAW and IB under parliamentary oversight but was ultimately given the shut up call. Expanding indigenous defence production is good but what about privatizing the mammoth governmental defence-industrial set up that is guzzling enormous amounts of tax-payers money without commensurate output and selling products to the military at double-treble the costs of what is available of the shelf?
How about the Congress making amends for the biggest anti-national act by UPA II in shutting down Army s Technical Support Division (TSD) under pretext of bugging the office of Defence Minister AK Anthony s and activities of the TSD in J&K State. But an intelligence unit of this kind could hardly undertake operations against a State Government without political approval. Closure of the TSD and UPA s deliberate media
leaks compromised operations, enabling Pakistan to launch countermeasures to neutralize TSD assets cultivated over a period of time.
Finally, reviewing AFSPA is preposterous. Instead Congress is welcome to remove J&K and other states from Disturbed Areas and watch state administrations guard their own backsides.
(The author is veteran Lt General. Views expressed are author’s own.)