Since May 26, when Arun Jaitley took charge of the ministry of defence (MoD) in addition to his primary job as finance minister, Room No. 104 in South Block – the defence minister’s office – has been occupied only in the afternoons, when Jaitley would cross the road from North Block.
At 4.15 pm on Monday, in a flurry of activity and camera flashes, Defence Minister Manohar Gopalkrishna Prabhu Parrikar entered the room, accepted a bouquet of welcome from the defence secretary, and seated himself without ado in one of the most powerful chairs in the country.
Thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “showing confidence” by entrusting him with “this very important and sensitive ministry”, Parrikar candidly admitted he had much to learn about defence.
“I’m coming from a state. Though (I have) exposures and good administrative experience… the type of requirement at national level may be at a different connotation or a different class”, he said.
Side-stepping a question about whether his training as a metallurgist in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai, equipped him for handling defence production, Parrikar responded, “I feel, as much as possible, we should manufacture here in India. Any country with a good manufacturing base… can come up economically by generating a lot of employment.”
Flagging the shortage of technological skills in the country, Parrikar said he would make use of the new ministry of skills development, which Rajiv Pratap Rudy heads after being sworn in on Monday as minister with independent charge.
Terming “very unfortunate” that equipment requirements of the armed forces have not been adequately met so far, Parrikar expressed confidence he could combine transparency with expeditious procurement.
“Whatever (acquisition) is there will be very transparent, but (will be a) fast process. I think that is one of my specialties but let me understand (the process) first.”
Insisting he needed some time to get to grips with his new job, the defence minister indicated he was worried by the spate of accidents on naval warships, the most recent being the sinking of a vessel off Visakhapatnam (Vizag) on Thursday due to flooding.
In what the MoD would see as a good omen, reports came in from Israel while Parrikar was assuming office, announcing the first successful test of the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), which the Defence R&D Organisation is developing in partnership with Israeli Aerospace Industries. Due to three years of delay in developing the LR-SAM, several frontline naval warships have been operating without protection against enemy anti-ship missiles.
Parrikar is the first IIT graduate to be the chief minister of a state, and now the defence minister. He passed out in the same batch as Nandan Nilekani, former Unique Identification Authority of India chairman. He is a long-time Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member, and was a sanghchalak (local director). He was active in the Ram Janambhoomi agitation.