Independence Day

     

Rajnath Singh takes over as Defence Minister

Defence Secretary Mitra's term extended by 3 months

June 1, 2019 By Vishal Thapar Photo(s): By MoD, Twitter / @rajnathsingh
AT HOME IN DEFENCE: The new Defence Minister seems to have struck an early rapport with the military brass

Rajnath Singh took over as the new Defence Minister on June 1 after paying homage at the National War Memorial in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too visited the War Memorial two days ago ahead of his swearing in on May 30 for a second term in office.

A big focus is expected on Defence during Modi's second term, particularly after Defence preparedness and the willingness to use military might against India's adversaries across borders played a central role in the bitterly contested election campaign.

The new Defence Minister along with the Service Chiefs paying homage at the National War Memorial before assuming office on June 1

Meanwhile, the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 31 extended the term of Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra by three months. His date of retirement has now been notified as August 23. Mitra's extension is intended for continuity in the Ministry of Defence, particularly with a new minister at the helm.

"Paid tributes to the martyred soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty, at the National War Memorial today," Rajnath Singh Tweeted after his visit. "These fallen heroes represent the character of India who (sic) has a long history of courage, sacrifice and patriotism. I salute them for keeping India safe," he added.

Rajnath Singh, who represents the BJP old guard, will have to go through a steep learning curve for political stewardship of this sensitive and high profile ministry. He will have to be quickly acquainted with the military challenges. The former Home Minister will also be required to speedily pick up the complexities of procurement procedure in order to navigate the arms bazaar minefield

Singh was received at the National War Memorial by the Service Chiefs.

Later, he was welcomed at South Block by Military top brass, Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence and his junior ministerial colleague Sripad Naik after which he formally took charge of the Ministry.

"Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh was given a brief presentation on the functioning of the MoD and all the four Departments of the MoD namely Department of Defence, Department of Defence Production, Department of Ex-serviceman Welfare and Department of Research and Development Organization. Raksha Mantri Shri Singh instructed the officers to prepare detailed presentations on all Divisions and set time bound targets to achieve the desired outcome," according to a statement released by the Ministry of Defence.

Veteran BJP warhorse Rajnath Singh being received at South Block by the Service Chiefs

Rajnath Singh, who represents the BJP old guard, will have to go through a steep learning curve for political stewardship of this sensitive and high profile ministry. He will have to be quickly acquainted with the military challenges. The former Home Minister will also be required to speedily pick up the complexities of procurement procedure in order to navigate the arms bazaar minefield. The Defence budget accounts for a significant part of the Central Government spending.

The Ministry of Defence is gearing up for the 20th anniversary of India's victory in the Kargil War in July. This will be Rajnath Singh's first major event as Defence Minister.

The situation resulting from US threats to impose sanctions against India if it goes ahead with the $ 5.5Billion purchase of the S-400 Triumf missile shield from Russia could also require deft responses and juggling of procurements to ensure that India's military readiness is not impacted. The sanctions have been threatened under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)

The major multi-billion dollar procurement programmes on his table include those for the acquisition of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters and 6 diesel-electric submarines under the ambitious Strategic Partner Model which is aimed at creating Defence manufacturing capability in the private sector up to global standards.

Other major programmes which will require his early attention include the acquisition of 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft and combat drones for the Indian Air Force, 24 multi-role helicopters small arms for the navy and small arms for the Army.

The new Minister will also need to give momentum to making the Defence Procurement Procedure speedier and more transparent.

Another major issue which has to be tackled is inadequate funding of Defence. India's biggest Defence PSU HAL came out publicly on the massive default in payments for aircraft and equipment supplied to the IAF for two financial years. The cash crunch at HAL shed the spotlight on the financial crunch in the Ministry of Defence. The interim budget for 2019-20 announced ahead of the elections did not make provisions for meeting even the committed liabilities of the services for contracts already signed.

OFF THE BLOCK: Rajnath Singh addresses the top military and civil hierarchy of the Defence establishment, and seeks detailed briefings on all important issues which require his decision

The situation resulting from US threats to impose sanctions against India if it goes ahead with the $ 5.5Billion purchase of the S-400 Triumf missile shield from Russia could also require deft responses and juggling of procurements to ensure that India's military readiness is not impacted. The sanctions have been threatened under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The Trump Administration has openly warned India that the Russian deal will "preclude" the broad-based and crucial defence relationship.

Quick decisions are also on the operational front, where tensions can escalate on multiple fronts from India's adversaries.

Besides the mercurial fronts with China and Pakistan, and situations in the Indian Ocean Region, Rajnath Singh will also have to coordinate with his successor in the Home Ministry Amit Shah for the security management in Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the assembly elections in the state, and the forthcoming Amarnath Yatra.