Dear Sri Antony,

It is not often that I take the liberty of  writing  public letters to eminent national leaders like you who have such onerous responsibilities to discharge – but please allow me this  exception.

At the outset  felicitations are due to you,  for  very soon (July 10, 2012 ) you would have the distinction of being the longest serving Defence Minister of India – surpassing the record held by the charismatic and controversial Krishna Menon. It is a coincidence that you belong to the  same state of Kerala  but the contrast could not be more striking.  Your political sagacity, natural modesty  and frugality,  personal probity and  innate courteousness is well-known and the affectionate reference to you as Saint Antony is not misplaced!  

However many  Indians also associate Krishna Menon with the ignominy of 1962 and the humiliating border  war with China  and  both catharsis and closure remain elusive after 50 years.  Having assumed office in late October 2006, during the concluding phase of  UPA I, you have now been at the helm  of the Indian defence establishment  for almost six years and the track-record Sir, is  disappointing.  I say this with candor and am following the dictum that on matters of national  security,  we on the outside need to speak truth to power – however unpalatable – lest the nation  inadvertently repeat the 1962 experience.

The image of the Indian military has taken a severe beating in recent months and while the more visible incidents are the controversy  over the Army Chief’s date of birth and the  Tatra  truck scandal,  the overall review of the  Indian defence and military profile remains uneven. Yes, the success of Agni V and the induction of the  SSN from Russia, the INS Chakra ( nuclear propelled submarine )  as also the launch of the indigenous Arihant are cause for pride and satisfaction but this does not  absolve you and the Cabinet Committee on Security Political Affairs from perceived   abdication  in decision-making.

In this brief missive, allow me to flag three major areas for your consideration.  UPA II assumed office  in 2009 with  the venerable Dr. Manmohan Singh as the PM  for a second tenure  and you as his trusted Defence Minister  against the backdrop of the successful conclusion  of the India-U.S civilian nuclear agreement . The estrangement in the bi-lateral relationship was removed and it was envisaged that a mutually beneficial defence relationship based on the Mukherjee-Rumsfeld  Agreement of June 2005 would  be progressively realized.

However in mid 2012 it is not evident if the political apex  has come to a clear and objective determination about India’s strategic and security relation ship with the USA,  against the  irrefutable realities of the Asian strategic framework over the next decade that include the rise of China , the imminent US withdrawal from the Af-Pak  theater in 2014 – and the steady deterioration in the internal dynamic in Pakistan.

India’s security concerns apropos China are well-known to the Indian citizen  and include the recall of 1962, the unresolved  territorial and border dispute, the Sino-Pak WMD cooperation with linkages to terror and  the steady erosion of India’s profile in the neighborhood.  Indian diplomats are doing a commendable job in keeping complex external relations on even keel but they would be  better served if India’s defence preparedness and military capacity  are more credible than  what they really are.

And you Sir, are the only person in India who knows the unalloyed truth about the material and moral texture of the Indian military. I will not allude to the Army Chief’s letter to the PM  that was leaked but raise a more fundamental question. What is the remedial measure you have in mind to redress the reality that India is the world’s largest importer of  conventional arms in the world – and that the reason is the lack of  appropriate indigenous capacity. Are the reasons to do  more with ineptitude or turpitude ?   The  Kelkar and  Rama Rao  committee reports for reform in this sector remain  cloistered. The task is Herculean  but  cleaning this stable this needs wide and informed debate – the reformation of the defense indigenization and production sector. 

 This is a HUGE task and  can be enabled only if the political apex can take an objective long-term  view about  how  India will engage with the major military suppliers in the world.  Will Moscow remain our most critical supplier ? Is  Paris the new choice ?   Has  India  jettisoned Israel  ? (If media reports are accurate,  you had  apparently discouraged the visit of the  Israeli Defence Minister for political compulsions. ).  Where does the USA figure in this matrix ? 
 India’s security predicament is distinctive,  in that the challenge from China is rarely articulated by the political  establishment  and the contours of the  engagement with the USA remain opaque and deliberately blurred. Whether such critical bi-lateral relationships can be nurtured by stealth remains moot and the need for your Ministry to define the security challenges and opportunities  for the nation  in a holistic manner is imperative.

The second area is that of stasis in  higher defence management.  The post Kargil review remains suspended  on the UPA  it was hoped that the gamut of civil-military relationship would  re-wired in a radical manner to  cope with the realities of a new century. Alas that has not happened and  one can only plead with you to accord this matter the highest priority in the two years that UPA II has before it.

And finally Minister – the morale of the Indian military remains robust – despite the recent  media reports about coups that did not happen and incidents of   indiscipline. But the need to restore institutional equipoise is urgent. In closing, the status of the ex-servicemen  over the last three years   does not  embellish your office. The sight of these veterans returning their medals to a Supreme Commander who is not ready to receive them is stark symbolism  - where comment  is  superfluous.

I hold you Sir, in high personal esteem and am confident that in your sagacious manner you will redress these matters.


Uday Bhaskar