New Delhi: Taking the reins as the first woman Raksha Mantri or the Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman started by changing the work culture in the ministry of defence. Among the first has been the directive to hold daily meeting with the three chiefs of the defence forces along with the defence secretary. For Sitharaman, who dedicated her elevation to 'cosmic grace', her palate is loaded with umpteen challenges and problems.
Sitharaman's appointment has raised people's expectations from her due to her proven career track record. Subedar Rattan Singh Poonia, 89, retired from 9 Para-special Forces, shares, "The media carried a lot of stories regarding the gender of the defence minister. I participated in the 1971 Bangladesh war, fought under then defence minister and prime minister Indira Gandhi. The victory in the 1971 war is an example of how a woman defence minister created Bangladesh on the global map. For lasting results in MoD, the tenure of the defence minister is paramount. Again, the incumbent defence minister shall have only around 20 months before the country goes to general elections and much cannot be expected from her."
Change in perceptions in the defence ministry take time. Lt Gen Shantonu Choudhary (retired), former vice chief, Indian Army, says, "The gender equality and women empowerment are the most talked about subjects these days. Undoubtedly, the present defence minister is among the most capable persons but the perception of subordinate ranks will not change easily."
Adds further Choudhary, "Meeting the three services chiefs and the defence secretary on a daily basis does not sound a good idea as the chiefs have to periodically visit the widely spread-out command elements and cannot be in attendance, everyday, though, this can be achieved by the defence minister by meeting the vice-chiefs of the three services. And, the defence minister should rely more on the experts of the three services in procurement rather than on bureaucracy and politicians."
Defence ministry is the only ministry where a person at the highest echelon must not blow his own trumpet. Lt Gen JS Verma (retired), former Army Commander, Eastern Command, says, "Sitharaman, earlier as the commerce minister functioned extremely efficiently and that too without any high decibel publicity. These are the required traits for heading the defence forces. The goals are to be accomplished without blowing your own trumpet. For quite some time, the defence forces are equipment-deficient besides having antiquated equipment. The forces need immediate modernisation. Organisation like DRDO and defence PSUs have utterly failed in their mission to deliver required equipment and the defence minister should look at it.
Armed forces must get their legitimate due which is getting diluted. Verma, further adds, "She has to work hard to win the confidence of the armed forces. She comes with an impeccable record and this should act as a tool in cleaning the corruption."
Corruption is one of the focal areas in the defence forces and acts as a deterrent in procurement of arms and ammunition. Lt Gen BKN Chibber (retired) and former Punjab Governor, says, "Bofors guns were purchased by the MoD in 1987 and since then no major guns have been procured by the army. Almost sixty percent of Bofors guns are stranded because of non-availability of the spare parts. The procurements have been delayed on the premise that corruption charges will be framed in procuring the equipment.
The defence minister is an intelligent woman and must exercise her mind when briefed, especially by the bureaucrats because these officers are posted for a short tenure and does have expertise about procurement.
After the Dokalam issue, General JJ Singh (retired) and former Arunachal Pradesh Ggovernor, says, "We are glad that the country has a full time defence minister and this is also good that the PM has reposed faith in a woman to head the defence forces. It is also prudent to mention that an emerging power, India can no longer be transgressed or trespassed as have been reflected by prompt and effective military response in Dokalam and before that in the Sumdorong Chu region, north of Tawang in 1986. To further strengthen the arms of the defence forces, the defence minister will have to accelerate the modernisation, re-structuring and integration of the armed forces, all three being the need of the hour."
Singh, further adds, "In the comity of nations, India's image is rapidly rising because of a strong democratic polity, vibrant economy and modernising military machines and all these aspects are going to be further emboldened by the present defence minister."
Comander Jalaj Kakkar (retired), Indian navy, says, "Today's defence forces adopt and use the information technology in every field of function and experts in these domains are of utmost importance rather than relying on MoD's civilian officers who have a shorter stint. The defence officers who work for a few decades in the system come with unfathomable experience in areas of equipment procurement, man-power planning and other potent acquisitions, the use of their services are paramount for bolstering the functioning of MoD."