New Delhi: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Rajnath Singh has been allocated the charge of defence in the new Modi government, making him the first heavyweight after Manohar Parrikar to take over the reins of a ministry which is in the middle of a massive modernisation process.
Speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity, top officials in the defence ministry and the armed forces welcomed the appointment of Singh, saying that with his wide experience as minister, it would be easier for him to adapt to the working of the ministry.
Singh was home minister in the previous term of the Modi government.
The officials said Singh would be given an in-depth briefing over various national security issues and pending projects over the next few days.
Issues at hand
As Singh gets set to take charge of the defence ministry, his main focus will be to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to have an agile, integrated and modern armed force.
From big ticket reforms in the defence sector to Make in India, the new minister will have his hands full.
The creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and integrated operations for the three services will be a priority.
Efforts to untangle the multiple knots in the defence procurement process will be another major task for the new minister.
Procurement policy concerns
The private sector is eagerly looking at the new government to clear the confusion over Strategic Partnership Policy, which was considered a game changer for them.
Under the policy, the government was to select a private player and a Foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for four specified projects — construction of new conventional submarines, a new fleet of naval utility helicopters, armoured vehicles and combat jets.
However, after many delays, combinations and permutations, the Modi government allowed the participation of only the public sector in the four mega projects earmarked for implementation.
The private sector is of the opinion that the inclusion of the public sector has really put them at disadvantage.
These industry players have bet big on strategic partnership as the way to unleash the true potential of Make in India.
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Another critical area of focus for Singh will be defence acquisitions.
The Modi government has pushed for acquisitions in a big way, with a number of large and critically-sensitive projects in the pipeline.
The Indian Air Force (IAF)’s efforts to enhance its depleting strength of fighter jets still continue. Although the government had ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets in 2016 — delivery of which will start by September — the IAF needs much more.
The IAF has already issued a Request for Information for 114 fighter jets, but is awaiting clearance from the government for its next move — finalising the Air Staff Quality Requirements and a formal tender.
Other critical projects pending include new submarines and helicopters for the Indian Navy.
Another area of focus for Singh will be the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a subject that he has dealt with as home minister.
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