A shadow defence minister


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Senior Member
Feb 16, 2009
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A shadow defence minister

BJP must appoint one for (its own and) India’s sake.

Inspired by the way things happen at the Westminster, a Shadow Cabinet has been a long-standing demand of many well-meaning political commentators in this country. Now that most commentators are predicting the end of coalition politics in this country of last two decades, it is perhaps time for the BJP to step up and grab the space of the principal opposition party, which is willing to put forth an alternative agenda for governance. Rather than staging walk-outs from the Parliament over petty political issues and launching inelegant personal attacks, the BJP should focus on shaping the debate in parliament and influencing policy making.

A prerequisite for achieving this noble goal is for the BJP to not only privately anoint a loose group but publicly declare a Shadow Cabinet. Let Jaswant Singh take on AK Antony on issues related to national security. Let Mr. Antony answer to the nation [through Jaswant Singh] why the major recommendations of the GoM report submitted after the Kargil Review Committee haven’t been implemented so far. The parliamentary committee on defence has made many recommendations to the defence ministry and defence services in the last five years but they haven’t also been seriously considered by the government, forget about them being implemented.

Let the defence minister also explain his ministry’s pathetic record on defence spending under his watch. What, to his mind, is the optimum capital to revenue expenditure ratio for national defence? How can it be achieved, if capital spending is either being reappropriated into revenue expenditure or being returned unutilised? Should the defence spending be related to the national GDP or should there be a quadrennial defence review conducted by the government to determine the budget for the defence LTIPP?

A discussion on defence spending can only occur if the the government’s view on the geopolitical situation in South Asia is known to the nation. Where do the defence services fit in that scheme of things? Is it merely about more weaponry and more numbers — against China or whomsoever he perceives the enemy to be? What are the Indian armed forces readying themselves for? And how will they get there? Can the defence minister and the shadow defence minister agree upon a bipartisan committee or bipartisan studies to recommend the future course of action for India’s national security setup?

There are numerous other issues pertaining to national defence and security — from civil-military relations to Indian contribution to UN peacekeeping missions — that must be debated and publicly scrutinised via means of an informed debate in the Parliament. A shadow defence minister, dedicated to the subject — with a younger MP as his understudy — is sine qua non for improving the functioning of Indian democracy and holding the government accountable on serious issues of national importance. The shadow defence minister and his understudy have to be automatically nominated to the parliamentary committee on defence by the BJP, so that they can influence debate and policy making through a parliamentary fora available to the elected representatives of the country.

Such a measure will not only allow the BJP to reinvent itself as a center-right party focused on substantive issues of governance — rather than frittering its energies on frivolous emotive issues — but also act as a check on the political executive running amok. It will re-establish the primacy of the Parliament — as an institution of public debate and policy making — something which seems to have been appropriated by TV studios in this country to the chagrin of all well-meaning Indians. If the BJP can implement this, it would be doing itself and the nation a huge favour which many generations to come (and this nation’s voters) will express their gratitude for. Can the BJP rise to the occassion?

Pragmatic Euphony A shadow defence minister

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