India Requires Robust Defence Funding

The latest SIPRI report shows India’s defence budget is USD 84bn compared to China’s USD 296 bn.

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Indian forces [File Photo]

India’s Twin Challenges Warrant Active Deterrence: Achievable through Investment in Defence BJP’s defence and national security manifesto is  Modi ki guarantee for Surakshit Bharar.  It launched a massive 15-day campaign to invite suggestions through face-to-face meetings and the NaMo app from around 10 mn supporters. The election manifesto is immersed in Modi pictures and a surfeit of Modi ki guarantees. There is plenty the BJP is taking credit for. Eliminating terrorism though attacks occurred only last week in J&K. Cross Border Terrorism has a tragic history:    attack on Parliament in December 2001 (under BJP rule) and Mumbai 2008 under United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dispensation. In 2001 BJP applied coercive diplomacy -Operation Parakaram- which was partially successful. In 2008 UPA exercised strategic restraint — doing nothing. Its zero tolerance for terrorism was demonstrated by Uri and Myanmar surgical strikes in 2016 and Balakot air strikes in 2019. These created deterrence against spectacular terrorism. BJP’s claim of no attack in the last decade is wrong: terrorists struck at Pathankot, Pulwama and Uri Brigade Headquarters and 2950 civilians and security forces were killed in terrorist-related incidents between 2014 and 2023.   BJP’s inventory of achievements is impressive: revocation of Article 370, 52 per cent reduction in Left Wing Terrorism, with Home Minister Amit Shah declaring it will be crushed within three years. There is an overall decline of 73 per cent in the insurgency in the northeast but no mention of Manipur where violence has continued for one year and repolling ordered twice. Manipur, a serious embarrassment for the Government will reignite insurgency.  Given the violent situation on the India-Myanmar border, with the Junta fighting a losing battle with rebels, Myanmar will present a major threat to the North East.  Hailing CDS as an achievement, the BJP  emphasised the completion of theorisation soonest. Further infrastructure development in the northern borders is matched by a thrust towards the security of the Indian Ocean Region. Defence manufacturing and Atmanirbharta figure prominently under Making India a Global Manufacturing Hub. There is no mention of China or Pakistan and dealing with the twin threats they pose even as the opposition has attacked the Government for loss of territory in east Ladakh which the Government has denied emphatically. Clean chit to China will resolve the border dispute on India’s terms difficult if not impossible. Restoration of status quo ante (April 20, 2020), demanded by successive Army Chiefs, is also not realizable. The lack of political guidance to the Armed Forces is a major deficiency. The first indication in four years that agreement on theorisation is nearing came from  RM Rajnath Singh this month.

Leaving it to the CDS whose operational role is unclear to obtain consensus on the allocation of resources, the job profile of service Chiefs when theatre commanders are in place and operational command and control of theatres is unworkable without inputs from RM and NSA to CDS. Equally, NSA Ajit Doval and the National Security Council Secretariate have to update the National Security Strategy submitted by Integrated Defence Staff in 2021. Surprisingly, the Government has not taken these two interlinked issues — Theatrisation and NSS— seriously enough. Speculation is rife these will happen within one year of BJP 3.0. During the UPA rule, NSS was prepared thrice.The issue most befuddling is the static of defence spending on which the 2024 BJP manifesto is silent.

The Congress on the other hand has Stated in its current manifesto that it will arrest the decline in defence spending and allocate sufficient funds.  Sufficiency of funds is a challenge no Government has addressed.

Defence allocation has plummeted from a high of 3.5 per cent in Congress rule in the late 1980s when I was a member of the Defence Planning Staff to less than 2 per cent today even when the GDP has risen exponentially. The latest SIPRI report shows India’s defence budget is USD 84bn compared to China’s USD 296 bn. In defence allocation, for 2024-25, defence outlay was increased by 4.7 per cent which is the lowest in ten years (except in 2020-21) when it was 1.45 per cent of the GDP. As a percentage of GDP defence spending has not reached even  2 per cent at a time when two full-fledged wars are being fought along with several skirmishes. The capital budget for modernisation best illustrates the parsimony: the gap between the amount demanded and the amount allocated in 2015-16 was Rs 16,646 crore while in 2022-23 it rose to Rs 63,328 crore. Government officials offer the perennial excuse that defence forces can’t spend the money. Amit Cowshish who was financial advisor (Acquisition) a decade ago says the 1.9 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal is 13 per cent of Government expenditure. A defence spending budget which is 3 per cent of GDP alone can begin to catch up with China in military capability.

The rest of the world is investing hugely in defence with 31 Nato nations committed to reaching 2 per cent of GDP with the UK pledging to reach 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2027. Even pacifist Japan has decided to put aside the 1 per cent spending on defence constitutional limitation and will spend 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2027 and invest   USD 315 bn to augment capabilities and deterrence. The capital cost of catheterisation and attendant reforms have to be factored in. Modi has to bite the bullet to deter China and with  Jaishankar try to make the twin threat challenge one-front. Modi’s This is not the era of war is day-dreaming!

Ashok K Mehta

Ashok K. Mehta is a radio and television commentator, and a columnist on defence and security issues. He is a former Major General of Indian Army. After joining the Indian Army in 1957, he was commissioned in the 5th Gorkha Rifles infantry regiment in the same year. He had fought in all major wars India went into, except the Sino-Indian War of 1962. And he was also on a peacekeeping mission in Zaire in the year 1962 and in the Indian Peace Keeping Force, Sri Lanka (1988-90) and it was his last assignment in the Indian Army. He is also a writer of several books and a founder-member of the Defense Planning Staff in the Ministry of Defence, India.

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