An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 07 November 2006  

India’s economy is on a roll and rising, tax collections are up 38%, India’s foreign policy is paying off and if the nuclear deal with USA comes through it will give a boost to India’s image as a non NPT signatory but with NPT privileges. Dr Manmohan Singh, is an accomplished economist and acknowledged as the Finance Minister who deftly averted India’s default on its external debt in 1991, and set India on a middle path of economic growth and implemented a dual rate of conversion of foreign exchange. There were no dearth of doubting Thomases, yet it worked and it was soon acknowledged by the world’s financial markets that ‘India’s economy was out of the woods’.

It was Dr Singh assisted by Montek Alhuwalia presently Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission, and a team of economists that propelled India on its present path of liberalisation. He admitted he had changed his approach from being a Fabian economist to a realist modern day believer in globalisation, but with a heart for the poor, groping for a middle path. He has little experience of dealing with military issues of the command and control of India's mighty machine and has left it to Pranab Mukherjee and NSA MK Narayanan. One wonders if the 'Rules of Engagement' have been drawn up to deal with contingencies as that is the weak point in India and the Special Powers Act (Armed Forces) even in peace is under question. All three services are independent and their Chiefs even more so. Therein lies the catch.

In 1991, Singapore was witness to the beginnings of Manmohan’s quest to learn about Singapore's defence. Dr Singh arrived from Bangkok with Montek after attending the Paris Club meeting where he successfully secured a $3b loan, to bail India out. There were of course IMF conditions attached, and PM Narasimha Rao was informed of the details in a coded dispatch sent by telex from the Singapore Mission. Montek Ahluwalia fluently dictated the note in confidence in two full-scale pages in the DA’s office.

A large team of bankers, industrialists, economists and civil servants including bright secretaries like N K Singh who later worked in PMO for PM Vajpayee, Geetakrishnan in charge of the power ministry now an energy consultant, and economist Deepak Nayyar later Chancellor of Delhi University, had flown in from Delhi with the then Commerce Minister P Chidambaram. The mission was to garner funds, loans and investments in power projects including Enron as Foreign Direct Investments. In those days the hurdles for FDI were many and yet Dr Singh succeeded in his quest, and liaison duties to the two Ministers and large team were made easy. Dr Singh was undemanding and unassuming, and the two Ministers had a delightful husband-wife economists’ team as their personal Secretaries, who coordinated excellently and confidently took decisions on their behalf on routine matters. There was good command and control. Dr Singh’s secretary was his student at D school of Economics, and both husband and wife team got foreign assignments as their well deserved rewards.

Dr Manmohan Singh with some free time waiting for Mr Chidambaram to arrive surprisingly took great interest in the briefing given to him on Singapore’s large 750,000 strong reserve military and Asean’s security concerns, which were many. When he was told details of Singapore’s defence budget of $ 2.8 bill in 1991, which was almost one third of India’s, for a mere 2.5m people and the 625 sq miles island state he posed many questions. The High Commissioner had to explain how the budget was used for Singapore’s concept of ‘Total Defence’, whose architects were Lee Kuan Yew, Goh King Swee and Rajaratnam.

Later Aviation Minister late Mahdav Rao Scindia, and Defence Minister Sharad Pawar also showed interest during security briefings and today the India–Singapore defence relations are the closest. It may be relevant to mention on another occasion, around the same time during his three hour stopover, a similar briefing was arranged for the then Foreign Minister of State Natwar Singh, at a Changi airport VIP suite, when he was transiting to Indonesia. He cut the briefing short to watch Wimbledon. The High Commission had requested for a large screen to be provided for Natwar as tennis was his passion, though presently he is very much in focus for his involvement in the oil for food scam and had to relinquish his Foreign Minister berth.

Dr Manmohan Singh is once again in search for that middle path antidote to globalisation, and all his energies are focused on this. The RM and PM must appreciate, that it is India's higher Defence Management and control during emergencies and war that needs immediate attention. Art 52 stipulates that Defence is to be managed by Cabinet control and theoretically the PM has to get Cabinet approval for almost any decision in an emergency. This is not possible in today's scenario where speed of decision making is of the essence. During the Kargil war ACM Tipnis has bared in his book that not one of the Chiefs knew whom to turn to as there was no system. The NSA Brajesh Misra –– who was an Adviser and had no Defence responsibility except to advise on security –– de facto became a decision maker as did the then Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, whom the Chiefs looked up to as their NDA senior. Fourteen days and many lives were lost because of lack of command and control.

In Tipnis's outburst on our site there is no mention of the Defence Secretary being consulted before 24th May 1998, possibly as he was considered junior to the Chiefs. India has no C-in-C, no CDS , no Joint Operational Commands except the Andamans and as a new Defence Minister has taken over he should immediately look into this matter. Even in Japan which has a pacifist Constitution, the PM is nominated as the C-in-C in the Constitution and permitted to take decisions but mandated to get it ratified by the Cabinet as soon as possible thereafter. Such a clause must be included so that the PM feels involved, and the Chiefs must have access to the PM if needed and the NSA's role vis a vis the Chiefs must be specified in writing.

During  the Tsunami disaster no one was able to give clearance to CNS Admiral Arun Prakash who had planned to sail all operational ships, as it was a Sunday, save NSA J N Dixit who was close to PM and said he would get the clearance. The higher Defence Management of the country needs to be codified as the nuclear deterrent is also involved, and with Iraq and Afghanistan in a quagmire, Bangladesh in uncertainity, Sri Lanka in a low intensity war with use of air power, we foresee some sudden unexpected developments which may arise needing speedy military decisions by India. This is paramount and we welcome comments.

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