Indian Decade

Singh Govt all Over Place

A string of loose comments raises questions about control in the Singh government.

It seems constantly to be a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in Manmohan Singh’s second term as prime minister. There have been several instances in recent months where senior officials and ministers have made public statements either about their colleagues in the government or subjects that do not fall under their remit. Thus, Home Minister P Chidambaram has made policy statements about India-Pakistan relations, while External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has played second fiddle. Meanwhile, then National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, presently West Bengal Governor, made sweeping foreign policy-related statements, including openly blaming Chinese hackers for breaking into his and services chiefs computers. In all these instances, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kept mum.

But what happened earlier this week crossed all boundaries and embarrassed the Indian foreign policy establishment. Defence Research and Development Organisation Chief V K Saraswat made the tall claim that the 3000-kilomtre range nuclear-capable Agni III missile was ready for ‘induction’ by the Indian armed forces. He also said ‘there is no need to produce and store missiles in today’s world.’ Completing a hat trick of prattle, Saraswat said India is developing anti-satellite weapons and spoke about how Agni-III could cover targets in China and Pakistan with a nuclear payload.

This is brazen. First, how can a missile be battle-ready after four tests, one of which one was a failure? Second, Saraswat only has to look around and see how the world in general and the Indian neighbourhood in particular is teeming with ready-to-be-fired missiles and scores of such missiles are being added on an annual basis.

Saraswat, who also happens to be the Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister A K Antony, was in effect rebutting his own minister, talking of anti-satellite weapons at a time when Antony has been speaking against the militarization of space. What an indiscreet brag, especially when one sees it in the context of the Chinese! Beijing first tested an ASAT missile in 2007 and then in 2010 without making a song or dance about it. Saraswat’s diatribe also runs contrary to the Ministry of External Affairs’ campaign against an arms race in outer space at the just-concluded Geneva Conference.

What was the need for this bravado? And perhaps more importantly, who cleared it? Did Prime Minister Singh or Congress President Sonia Gandhi, viewed as the ‘Super PM’, summon Saraswat and ask for an explanation for his tall claims? A lack of clarification from the government on such sensitive issues would suggest that Saraswat had prior political clearance before he made these remarks.