Monday, April 16, 2012

DefExpo 2012

Lamp lighting Inaugural Ceremony of DefExpo 2012 by Defence Minister A.K.Antony (from R-L) Shri  Shekhar Agarwal, Dr. MM Pallam Raju, Dr. Vijay Kumar Saraswat, Shri RV Kanoria.
Day 2 of  DefExpo was literally a walk in the park.
Peoples enjoying a ride on T-90 at DefExpo 2012.
Plenty of youngsters were present during the business days.
Black Shark & Flash Black torpedoes at display on FINMECCANICA stall during DefExpo 2012.
BrahMos is an exceptional cruise missile and demonstrate the best in partnership between India & Russia.
NEXTER system CAESAR highly mobile 155mm self propelled gun.
T-90 Tank on display during DefExpo 2012.
Arjun was planned to be the MBT. It lost it to the Russian T-90S tank. Arjun is still around hoping to get more regiments in the Indian army.
Upgraded Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher for PINAKA Rockets .

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Coup That Never Was

Here are Pravin Sawhney's reasons why an army coup is not possible in India.

It was a coup by the media and Indian Army (IA) got blamed for it. It did not happen on January 16-17 night, but on April 4, when the news of the commissioning of nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra into the Indian Navy was eclipsed, and any hopes of restructuring of the defence ministry were laid to rest. The powerful bureaucrat was the winner and the Indian military the loser.
More incredible than the news was its analysis on television channels where experts pontificated on deteriorating civil-military relations, the patriotism of the IA, disconnect between the army and the defence ministry as continuation of Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General V.K. Singh’s age problem, the lack of army’s war preparedness, letter leak and so on. None spoke about the basic issue: A coup, even if an army chief desires, cannot happen in India. This would have shredded the fantasy to smithereens.
The star on April 4 was the editor-in-chief of the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta. Notwithstanding denials from all relevant quarters including PMO, defence minister, army chief, and the defence secretary, Shekhar stuck to his by-lined coup story basking in the new found glory as a crack reporter. ‘Well,’ he repeatedly said on several channels, ‘the facts are correct’. Two army units did move towards the Capital on the night of January 16-17, following the COAS’ going to the Supreme Court in the daytime; and the defence secretary, Shashi Kant Sharma did cut back his Malaysian trip to return home. Shekhar, who started his journalism career covering defence, was beaming because he probably does not know that an army coup is impossible in India. Had he known this he would have nipped the fictitious story in the bud rather than lend his weight to it. Or, maybe, he had other designs in mind.
To place the coup in perspective, let’s look at the factors that assist the Pakistan Army (PA) — equally professional as the IA — to overthrow its civilian political leadership. As majority of the PA troops come from the single province of Punjab, the homogeneity helps them rally under their army chief, usually from Punjab itself. This is not the case in the IA where heterogeneous troops come from across the country.
Unlike the IA, the PA has deliberately not created the designation of army commanders responsible for a war theatre. During peacetime, the nine corps commanders of the PA report directly to the COAS; this is operationally undesirable, but necessary for the army chief to maintain a firm grip. An army commander with three or four corps commanders under him would become too powerful for the COAS’ comfort. The way found by the PA is to have temporary army commanders in war; the senior-most corps commander holds the additional change of the Army Reserve North and Army Reserve South, each equivalent of a theatre. The IA has army commanders with enormous command authority; they are free to meet the defence minister bypassing the COAS if the situation so desires.
The Pakistani COAS is not one amongst equals, but has unprecedented clout as compared to his air force and navy counterparts. He is not dependent on them; they look up to him for directions. The Pakistan COAS is in an enviable position where he controls the entire spectrum of war. The nuclear weapons are under him, and ballistic missiles, also with him, are the preferred delivery vector. The PA has a variety and range of ballistic missiles so that the COAS is not dependent on the Pakistani Chief of Air Staff beyond conventional war. The COAS also controls irregular war elements through his DG, ISI.
The IA COAS, on the other hand is one of the service chiefs with little possibility of the other two services’ supporting him if he oversteps his authority. He is neither in the security policy-making loop nor does he control nuclear weapons. This is not all. Having always been on the fringes of the defence ministry, the IA COAS has all the responsibility without authority, the latter resting with the powerful bureaucracy. Why would bureaucrats agree to serve the COAS when they are already the boss and run the show by keeping the three services divided? And last, not the least, when 18 army regiments were already in the Capital on January 16-17 night in the run up to the Republic Day, what was the need for the army to raise hackles by requisitioning two more regiments?
A close look at the spooky story suggests that intelligence agencies have had the last laugh. They outmanoeuvred veteran journalists and South Block mandarins resulting in police barricades being erected against the coup which was not to be. Where does all this leave us? For sure, if there was any hope of defence ministry reforms for better integration of the defence services with their parent ministry, these will not happen. Let alone a Chief of Defence Staff or an equivalent rank officer, the long outstanding need to staff the defence ministry with service personnel will remain in cold storage. The bureaucrat will continue to rule the roost by serving himself and his political masters. The Indian Express story has certainly not helped the defence services’ cause.

Let the Summer Bloom

By Ghazala Wahab

Another summer is upon us. Hopefully, it will not be very different from the summer of 2011 in Kashmir. The army, police and the CRPF will run a series of events to keep the Kashmiri youth busy and beyond the reach of stones till the harvest season commences in the middle of August; when all hands are needed in the orchards. Then autumn would set in and people will get busy preparing for the long winter. Yet another year would go by and nothing would change.
For decades now, people in Kashmir have been living their lives piecemeal, from one season to another, from one round of talks to another and from one promise to another. Having hitched their future to an illusive dream, which may never be realised, people treat the current reality as transitory. Forever waiting to reach, what they hope would be their destination. Like the protagonist in the Walt Disney animation film Tangled, you can’t really fault a Kashmiri when he/she asks, “When will my life begin?”
This state of mind (as opposed to the state of affairs) makes a Kashmiri different from the rest of us. In this transitory phase of life, survival is of paramount importance — though often for the so-called larger goal it is put on the line — making people lead conflicting and contradictory lives. They live astride the political divide, balancing themselves precariously between the law-makers and the law-breakers, between the police and the Separatists, between the army and the terrorists, earning for themselves the sobriquet of opportunists and fence-sitters. But what choice do they have; when they are in transition, they have to preserve their body and soul for the destination.
The government of India does not see Kashmir like this. Or even if it does, it fears to admit it. Rubbishing the transition argument, it believes that Kashmir needs to be managed on a day to day basis, sometimes by dangling a carrot, sometimes by wielding a stick, sometimes by a fanciful promise and sometimes by humouring the local people by indulging them in conversations about their future. From the government’s perspective, the good thing about this approach is that even though you give the impression of moving forward, you always end up at the same spot from where you start. Your holding position is never compromised. The trouble is when the government talks of moving forward, some gullible Kashmiris actually start walking. So, then they have to return to the starting point and the rage boils over.
Since this strategy has seen the government through the worst phase of violence, there is no great compulsion for it to abandon it. Hence, there is very little possibility that any action would be taken on the report submitted by the three interlocutors last year. There is even less possibility of any review happening on the AFSPA, forget about its revocation, partial or total. Even the employment generation measures like Project Himayat and Project Udaan for which the government has allocated Rs 2,000 crore over the next five years are likely to lose steam once the initial fervour subsides because the government and the Kashmiris view the future differently. Kashmiris will grab jobs, go as far as to Bangalore to work in business process outsourcing units and then return to ask for azadi.
While the government is contend to stay where it is, with a manageable level of conflict, which it believes the army, state police and the CRPF can handle without much loss, the people want to move. They may not want to move as far as they once did, but they do want to move. Move to a position which shows that violence, deaths and uncertainty of decades meant something, that from the transitory they are now at a permanent place; that their lives have begun.
Two peaceful summers in a row is as good as it will get. If the opportunity thrown by this long window does not move the government, it may move the Kashmiri once again. And let’s not forget the external handle in Kashmir. The quietude on the west signifies neither change of heart nor weakness. At best its tactical retreat. But even that’s good enough to push through some heavy-duty domestic measures. Economics is not the answer to political problems. Political initiatives are. Greater autonomy, AFSPA and reforms on cross-LC trade etc are all on the table. A sincere action on any of these would suggest that two summers have not gone waste. To think that the Kashmir issue will continue to simmer but not boil over is fool-hardy.
President Zardari’s spiritual quest in India will mean little for the Kashmir issue. That is not his brief. The businessman President can only talk trade with the economist Prime Minister. Only Musharraf’s successor can hold court on Kashmir, whether we like it or not. So keeping Zardari’s health in mind we must give him food that he can digest without external aid. And while we wait out the transition period in Pakistan, let’s make our own moves to reclaim the people of Kashmir. The weather looks promising, let’s make it better.

Heading for Disaster

By Ghazala Wahab

In 2011, 33 BSF and 36 CRPF personnel killed themselves, taking the number of suicides since 2007 to 152 and 184 respectively. Same year, there were two cases of fratricide in the BSF and 10 cases in the CRPF. Of those who did not take this extreme step, 4,852 BSF and 2,333 CRPF personnel sought voluntary retirement from the service in 2011. Same year, 229 BSF and 406 CRPF personnel, mostly officers, quit the service after paying the government the conditional three months of pay and allowances or the training charges (whichever is higher).

Listing these figures, an internal document of ministry of home affairs offers reasons for this disturbing trend. It says that the services and the ministry have not been able to ‘address the problems of the personnel; provide them with a conducive and motivated work environment and is thus losing a trained workforce’. In addition to job dissatisfaction and stagnation at work, it cites inadequate grievance redressal mechanism within the service as another cause for distress among the personnel. Poor work conditions (including inhuman habitats in remote areas) and long separation from families bring up the rear.

This document was circulated among all the central armed police forces (CAPF) before the meeting of director generals of BSF, CRPF, ITBP, SSB, Assam Rifles and CISF on 27 February 2012. The minister of state for home affairs, who chaired this meeting, wanted the DGs to internally discuss the document within their services so that some remedial measures could be initiated. What transpired during the meeting is not known but the figures speak of the enormity of distress in the two key Paramilitary forces of the country. Apparently, in the first two months of 2012, 11 CRPF officers have already put in their papers and are willing to give amounts in the range of Rs 200,000 plus to the government as their training costs to get release from the service. Most of these officers with less than seven years of service form the important fighting arm of the force which is heavily committed in three disparate theatres like Jammu and Kashmir, Left-wing Extremism areas and the Northeast.

While all the factors assessed by the MHA are valid, the most important reason, according to a middle-level BSF officer, is the service conditions, whereby with each passing day, the prospects of career progression for cadre officers are becoming bleaker. “I made the biggest mistake of my life by joining the BSF,” says an officer who has often considered putting in his papers but has been held back because of personal reasons. “When I joined the service, I was drawn by the images of BSF personnel chasing smugglers on camels in Rajasthan. There used to be a television show on Door Darshan (National television channel) when I was a child. That image got imprinted on my mind. Though I had family members in the army and the police, I was determined to join the BSF,” he tells me. But disillusionment was quick to follow. “I had no idea that the government of India had envisaged the Paramilitary forces as an inferior service,” he says.

The sentiment that paramilitary forces are perceived as inferior by the government is becoming widespread among the ranks and files of the services. One CRPF officer, who opted for the service after a degree in engineering, narrates a conversation he had with a CRPF driver a few months ago. The subject of the chat was a fellow officer who had recently resigned after getting a job in a private sector company with the annual package of Rs 12,00,000. Ferrying him one day, the driver referring to the officer who had resigned, remarked, “Sahab knowledge-wala insaan hai... apna bahar achcha se set kar liya... aaj ki date me jo bhi achcha hai woh bahar nikal jaata hai (Sir is intelligent. He has fixed himself very well outside. These days, anyone who is good leaves the service). His insinuation was that those who are still stuck with the CRPF are not good enough to get jobs outside. Says the CRPF officer narrating this incident, “I was shocked at his inference. It took me 30 minutes to explain to him that those who are staying back in the CRPF have more guts than those who are leaving. Even we have high qualifications and potential, but we are sticking around because this job gives us the satisfaction of playing a direct role in nation-building.”

Nobler the sentiment, greater the disappointment. Even though all the paramilitary services under the ministry of home affairs have various degrees of crisis, the situation in the CRPF is worse than others. In the last five years, as the government of India woke up to the grim reality of Left-Wing Extremism poaching on the mineral and forest wealth of the country, there was a need for rapid induction of central forces in to the affected areas. The state police forces of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa — the new contiguous battleground for the Maoists — neither had the numbers nor resources to take on this existential threat.

Till 2009, the Union government had deployed only 33 battalions of the CAPFs in all the nine LWE-affected states as compared to over 70 battalions of CAPF (mainly CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir alone. After 2009, as conflict in central India deepened, the government rapidly inducted 39 more battalions in the sector in three years (roughly 46,800 personnel), taking the total number to 72 battalions in the theatre. While some CRPF battalions were pulled in from J&K and the Northeast, a substantial number was cleared to be raised in a hurry. Unlike the Indian Police Service (IPS), where the governing rules stipulate annual new raisings of only three per cent of the existing cadre base to keep pace with the training and promotional pyramid, unmanageable numbers were recruited in the CRPF without any thought for their training or subsequent promotions. The situation came to such a pass that the CRPF personnel were compelled to undergo training in Group Centres, apart from the training academies of other forces.

One former home secretary told me a year ago, “What choice did we have? We had to raise the numbers rapidly.” Giving a sense of what numbers have been raised in what time frame, one CRPF officer recently told me that more directly appointed gazetted officers were recruited from 2005 to 2011, than were recruited in 15 years from 1990 to 2005. Incidentally, directly appointed gazetted officers coming through the competitive UPSC examination are better educated than their predecessors and hence their aspirations and level of expectation from the service are higher than the earlier stock.

Going back to the numbers, at the last count, since 2009, 10 battalions of the specialist counter-Maoist force CoBRA and 10 general duty battalions of the CRPF have been raised. At the moment 219th battalion of CRPF is under raising, making the force the largest paramilitary in India. Since raising of CoBRA was the greater priority at that time, the general duty battalions were poached upon to fill the ranks of the CoBRA battalions, creating severe shortfalls in the former.

Last year, a CRPF 2IC (second in command to the Commandant), posted in J&K told me that a group of young officers had made a petition to Director General CRPF’s office that the new raisings be used to fill the existing vacancies in the service instead of adding the number of battalions. Nothing came out of the petition. The funds were allocated for new raisings and not to plug the gaps. As a result, a large number of battalions are operating without the requisite number of officers. This leads to operations not being led by officers and thereby inviting criticism from other forces which decry the CRPF culture of officers not leading their men. Viewed dispassionately, it appeared that the government was seeking security in numbers and not capabilities. A very dangerous inference from here is that it didn’t really care about endangering the lives of men by throwing them in difficult operational areas without adequate training, equipment or secure infrastructure.

In the Maoist-affected areas, the CRPF (even the BSF and ITBP) troops do not even have the basic infrastructure, let aside secure infrastructure. Investigating the massacre of 75 CRPF personnel on 6 April 2010 at Tadmetla, near the Chintalnar village in Chhattisgarh, E.N. Ram Mohan was appalled at the way the CRPF posts in the remote areas were rendered defenceless without any perimeter security. In J&K, while they do not have this vulnerability, the troops are forced to live in inhuman conditions with even officers having to share toilets. Despite the extremities of the weather, a large number lives out of tents.

The CRPF 2I/C I had met last year said that these service conditions are creating a chasm between the men and their officers. “The men blame us for their poor living conditions, without realising that we are completely helpless and dependent either on the state government or the senior brass sitting in Delhi,” he said.

However, the long-term fallout of this rapid raising has been that the CRPF’s bottom is becoming wider with non-proportional ascent, when viewed in terms of a pyramid. Realising that this was a major cause of heartburn among cadre officers (directly appointed gazetted officers), the MHA constituted a cadre review board last year, fourth since the CRPF came into being. Though supposed to have been held once every five years to assess the health of the service, the first CRPF cadre review took place only in 1981. The purpose of the current review is to reorganise the officer cadre in such a way that bottlenecks are removed and career progression aspirations of officers are addressed.

For instance, at the moment, there are 2,204 assistant commandants in the CRPF. Of these, 979 rise to become deputy commandants, 273 become 2I/C, 295 become commandants, 166 DIGs, 28 IGs, four ADGs, 3 SDGs and one director general. Till the rank of commandants, the positions are entirely reserved for the cadre officers. The lateral entry of IPS officers starts at the level of the DIG, where the ratio is roughly 80:20 between the CRPF and IPS with a couple of positions earmarked for the army. Thereafter, promotion prospects of CRPF cadre officers are progressively reduced. At the IG level the ratio becomes 50:50. It becomes 1:3 at the level of additional director general, 0:3 at the level of special director general and 0:1 at the level of the DG.

The cadre review board has partially tried to address these bottlenecks by widening the centre of the pyramid. Raising the number of assistant commandants to 2,299, it has created more positions progressively. For instance, it has proposed 1,049 deputy commandants, 352 2I/Cs, 344 commandants, 206 DIGs, 51 IGs, 11 ADGs, four SDGs and one DG. Even though the lateral induction of the IPS and a couple of army officers would continue in the position of DIG and above (but not beyond ADG, which is the reserve of the IPS alone), the prospects for the cadre officers would also brighten. Apparently, MHA is hopeful that in the next few years the ratio that is skewed against the cadre officers would be reversed.

In fact, the 6th Central Pay Commission had recommended that 50 per cent of all the posts of IG and above should be filled by cadre officers by promotion. Going further, it suggested that even the director general of CRPF should be appointed on a rotation basis, implying that the post should be filled by IPS officer followed by the CRPF cadre officer successively. While the cadre review board accepted the recommendation in spirit, on the ground it still falls short, as its recommendations show.

But strange things seem to be happening within the CRPF’s top echelons. Responding to the cadre review board’s recommendations, the organisational directorate of the CRPF has apparently prepared its own recommendations on cadre review. According to its suggestions, the number of assistant commandants will be 2,298, deputy commandants will be 1,024, 2I/Cs ought to be 362, commandants 348, DIGs 126, IGs 58, ADGs 29, SDGs five and one director general.

It is not difficult to see what is being recommended. Basically, the promotional pyramid has been divided into two. One level from assistant commandants to the DIG is for the cadre officers and the second level from IG to the DG for the IPS officers. Interestingly, since the DIG is a field rank and bulk of CRPF is increasingly getting committed in the difficult Left-Wing Extremism areas, the IPS officers are not very keen to come into CRPF at this level. Currently, of 166 DIGs, 30 positions are reserved for the IPS, of which half are vacant. Instead of filling them up by cadre officers, the CRPF policy-makers are trying to do away with these numbers; hence, the proposed reduction in the number of DIGs from the current 166 to 126. Beyond this, the numbers increase, with the maximum growth in the rank of the ADG. Here the ratio favours the IPS officers. Very few CRPF officers rise to become ADGs (despite the earmarked vacancies for them) because the stipulation of doing a certain number of years in each rank, exhausts their service years by the time they reach the rank of IGs. In lower ranks, those of deputy commandants and 2I/Cs, many officers get stuck for several years for want of vacancies in the middle rung. Even the handful of CRPF cadre officers who find themselves on the chair of IGs or ADGs are relegated to non-operational, non-policy-making streams.

Calling the exercise of cadre review a mockery, one CRPF commandant says, “Whose review is this? Is this review meant to improve service conditions of the CRPF cadre officers by ensuring timely promotions or is it to create more senior ranks for IPS officers who want to spend a few years in Delhi?” It is difficult not to conclude that vested interests are at play here. To say that cadre officers are not trained or capable of handling greater responsibilities which would come with higher ranks is to reinforce the belief that the government treats CAPFs as an inferior service. After all, why can’t cadre officers approved for higher ranks do specialised courses or undergo additional training to equip them to handle bigger responsibilities; unless of course, the government deems them as inferior services. In that case, shouldn’t it then classify them as such so that those who join it set their sights lower? Besides, how can then the government leave the biggest internal security challenge — the LWE — in the incapable hands of the CAPFs.

I wonder if we realise the severity of the ailment that is crippling Indian Paramilitary forces, especially the CRPF, which is turning into a force where men have little confidence in the officers who lead them, and officers have no confidence in their seniors who make policies for them. Is this not a recipe for disaster?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

DefExpo 2012 Opens

By Ghazala Wahab
Pragati Maidan, New Delhi: Three pieces of news emerged from the inaugural ceremony of DefExpo 2012. First, increasing the ambit of defence offset banking, the government now offers three more options -- civil aviation, internal security and training -- to the original equipment manufacturers to fulfil their offset obligations. Mentioning this in his inaugural address, defence minister A.K. Antony said, “Offset banking is permissible in our defence offset policy, the scope of which has now been expanded to include civil aerospace, internal security and training within the ambit of eligible products and services for discharge of offset obligations.”

The second bit of news is that the government is in the process of finalising the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) for the Indian armed forces. Once this plan, covering a period of 15 years, is ready, a public version of it would be uploaded on the ministry of defence’s (MoD) website. “This would enable the domestic industry to plan investment in the defence sector and take up research and development, technology upgradation and forge tie-ups and arrangements of collaboration with their associated foreign industry partners in order to meet the future requirements of the armed forces,” hoped minister of defence M.M. Pallam Raju.

The third news is that DefExpo 2014 would be held in Pragati Maidan from February 6 to 9. Hopefully, this time the MoD would remember to block the space well in time.

Beyond these, the inauguration ceremony hovered between fantasy and reality, with a substantial part of it falling in the domain of wishful thinking. There were several ‘if only moments’, where one held one’s breath hoping that something which has not been said so far would be finally be uttered, but in vain. Treading the tried and tested, all the protagonists of the inauguration chose to be safe than sorry.

Even though the DefExpo event manager, FICCI has added internal security to the land and naval systems show, it seems to have done so as an afterthought and primarily to cash on the growing homeland security market. Both the Antony and Raju referred to DefExpo as land and naval systems show in their addresses. There is no denying the fact that internal security is a very important aspect of national security and given the increasing vulnerabilities in the homeland, DefExpo should factor it in. Ideally, ministry of home affairs should have been co-opted. If MHA joins hands with the MoD, it will only add to the stature and size of DefExpo.

Coming back to the ministerial duo, both Antony and Raju spoke about how the defence procurement procedure is being constantly evaluated and revised and how the government was committed to giving equal opportunity to the private sector. Even as the defence minister intoned that, “The government allows the private industry 100 per cent participation in defence sector and 26 per cent to the foreign companies,” a very senior private industry player sniggered: “It is nothing but fantasy. When it comes to signing contracts with the private industry, the ministry sits on the projects for years, even if the value of the programme is a mere Rs 300 crore. But for the public sector, programmes are cleared overnight with hardly any scrutiny.”

Perhaps, sensing all-round scepticism and growing impatience among the foreign OEMs who have invested substantial amounts in India in the hope of future work, the defence minister once again dangled the bait of growing Indian economy and the modernisation of the Indian armed forces. “We invest two per cent of our GDP in defence,” he said, adding that, “Given that our economy is likely to grow at the rate of eight to 10 per cent in the next two years, substantial amount would be available for modernisation of our armed forces.”

However, lest one construed India’s aspirations for modern armed forces as a desire to exercise power, Antony did not forget to qualify this bait with, “India has always been recognised as a responsible power and a stabilising factor in this region, in the face of various security challenges originating from different sources around us. India has traditionally been a peace-loving nation. However, we have to be ready to meet any challenge to our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

No Private Affair

By Ghazala Wahab

Chances are the visitors to DefExpo 2012 will not immediately notice the presence of the Indian private sector companies at the Show, despite their numerical strength. Looming larger than life would be Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), offering itself as the one stop shop for all systems pertaining to external defence, internal security and of course aerospace.

Close behind the DRDO splash would be the Indian public sector companies, which usually end up as prime for majority of defence contracts that the ministry of defence signs with foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Most of them will have expansive displays and will also be found on the pages of half a dozen Show Dailies (through advertisements/advertorials/editorials) that visitors to the Show will be accosted with. Conspicuous in this medley would be the fastest growing sector in defence manufacturing: Indian private sector companies.

And this will be the irony of DefExpo 2012, which has recorded 20 per cent growth in terms of space and participation over its last chapter in 2010. Of the total 570 exhibitors, 335 are Indian participants. To enhance the scope of the exhibition, the organisers, FICCI, have added internal security as the third prong of the land and naval systems exhibition. In the words of one FICCI representative, “The idea is to make the exhibition more comprehensive. Besides, internal security is an important element of focus in the country now.” A truism that nobody can underplay. Except that, at FORCE, from the time it was launched in August 2003, external and internal challenges were seamless extensions of one another which together determined the state of our national security. But that’s another story.

The focus here is the Indian private sector defence industry and its twisted relationship with the media, especially the trade media, which globally is used as a vehicle to disseminate information on new technologies, capabilities and products along with comparative analysis. In that sense, FORCE goes a step further. It also puts in perspective the operational environment where these technologies may be required. In addition to this, it also assesses the power play between global players which may impinge upon this environment. This is the reason that readers of FORCE hold it as a credible source of both information and objective analysis. But that’s yet another story.

Meanwhile, Indian private sector companies seem to believe that trade media comprises a bunch of mercenaries whose only interest lies in the money that can be grabbed through advertisements; as such they deserve neither respect nor advertisements. Like any other industry in India, in the media as well there are wannabe publications that have sprung up in the last few years primarily in the hope of getting some slice of the defence business pie. As always happens, the spoilers hang around as long as some slices continues to fall in their plate. Once the pie shrinks, they shut shop. It does not require genius to distinguish one from the other. Their editorial speaks for themselves.

Given this, one can understand the hands-off approach of the Indian private sector vis a vis trade media. However, the twist in the tale is that, while they do not consider trade media good enough for advertisements, they are good enough to carry their press releases or interviews of their senior management staff, including the top guns like CEOs, presidents and chairmen. All gratis of course. If you ask for advertisements in support of these noble activities you are guilty of indulging in paid journalism, an abhorrent disease in these times of nobility.

This betrays their lack of understanding about what media is or does. Media is not only the source of information but the primary opinion-maker. Majority of people form their opinion or judgement based on what they read in the media. While this capability gives enormous powers to the media it also bestows upon them a sense of responsibility towards their readers, which is why at FORCE a clear distinction is made between editorial and advertorial. Editorials are sacred; advertorials are paid. Having said this, advertising is a big source of revenue for independent media and not just the trade media. People advertise for a number of reasons (to create awareness about their products, to develop a relationship with the media in the hope that it will support the company through non-paid articles which have greater credibility and so on) but for media, advertising has only one unambiguous purpose. That is survival and retention of its independence. Moreover, the relationship between the advertiser and the publication is not quid pro quo. It grows in the realm of long-term mutual trust and sensitivity towards one another, implying that even if a company does not advertise for a long time, once a relationship is established it only gets strengthened.

Unfortunately, because of this lack of understanding, Indian private defence industry sees no purpose in establishing this relationship. They view advertising in crude transactional terms and as means of doling out favours. The irony is that as much as they are judgemental about media’s greed and subsequent lack of independence, they find it safe to advertise with the most non-independent media, a media that takes pride in being the mouthpiece of the government. And who does not know that publication at DefExpo? When you aim higher, your vision has to broaden too.

Having done that, they then unleash an army of public relation personnel armed with promises of future advertising to get space in the same media they shunned earlier for being greedy. Sorry, but there are no free lunches, neither in life nor in media.