India?s growing defence spending and poor masses By A Z Hilali 22 January 2011 India is one of the most populated countries in the world and looking towards becoming a global superpower in the presence of millions of poor people and poor social infrastructure. The country is under the grip of severe poverty and almost half of its population is underweight, many of them in the more serious categories of wasting and stunting. The country is badly facing the challenge of poverty which is one of the fundamental problems in relation to different socio-economic groups, geographic regions and rural and urban areas. The World Bank estimates that more than 40 per cent people of India are living below the poverty line and countless people fail to maintain a living standard adequate for their physical and mental efficiency. India still has the world largest number of poor people and millions are living in slums and has also higher rate of malnutrition among children under the age of three as compared to any other country in the world. So, the global challenge of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is disproportionately dependent on the fight against poverty in India. Food insecurity is also a major factor in India and investment is far away because there is no electricity available to the 220,000 villages. Irrigation infrastructure has not been maintained and poor controls over industrialisation have also contributed to the collapse of groundwater levels and the loss of cultivable land. On the other hand, Indias health and education system has also deteriorated and poor standards of nutrition undermine all health indicators. Almost half of Indian babies are born underweight and rates of infant and child mortality are falling too slowly to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets to reduce poverty and hunger, and to tackle ill-health, gender inequality, lack of education, lack of access to clean water and environmental degradation. Moreover, rural population has also no access to improved sanitation, hopelessly behind MDG targets. In this bleak background, it seems that Indian elites have no grand strategy to handle poverty and poor economy rather than they are ambitious to become a military power and swing state in the international system. The world started to take notice of Indias desire to becoming a great power when New Delhi signed a nuclear pact with the United States in July 2005 and this breakthrough is only one dimension of the dramatic transformation of Indian foreign policy that has taken place since the end of the Cold War. After more than half a century of false assumptions and unrealised potentials, Indian elites are thinking to match the global balance of power. In fact, the power hungry elites have deliberately shut their eyes from the economic poverty and are not willing to face the most critical issues of society and blindly moving towards the so-called destination of great power status at the cost of economic well-being. It is also a reality that to rise as a great power, India needs more than economic assets and indigenous sophisticated infrastructure to obtain economic, technological and military power rapidly which is hard to achieve in the near future. So, it is a difficult task to become a major global player even though New Delhi had signed 10-year defence agreement with Washington on June 29, 2007 and both has engaged in strategic partnership but still Indias strategy is contradictory. Moreover, Indias increasing power is also a part in the process of a major shift occurring in international relations, from US-based uni-polarity to a multifaceted multi-polarity, which could be the prelude of a new multi-polar order. It is surprising that India is facing worst type of economic crisis and poverty but its elites steeply hiked the budgetary allocation for defence to Rs 141,703 crore, a 34 per cent increase over the previous fiscal. The increase in real terms amounted to Rs 36,103 crore over last years (2008-2009) allocation of Rs 105,600 crore, and is apparently intended to speed up procurement of defence equipment and plug the security gaps exposed by the Mumbai carnage. Moreover, the 34 per cent increase is substantial compared to the increase of only 10 per cent affected in last years budget over Rs 96,000 crore allocated in 2007-08. In fact, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had allocated the same amount for defence in his interim budget presented in Parliament on February 16, 2009 before the Lok Sabha polls. Although in past years (2007-2009), the 1.1 million strong Indian Army has received the lions share of 41 per cent or Rs 58,648 crore, with the Indian Navy being allocated Rs 8,322 crore and the Indian Air Force Rs 14,318 crore. Furthermore, the allocation for the fiscal that began April 1, 2009 plan expenditure for defence has been pegged at Rs 86,879 crore against Rs 73,600 crore for the financial year just ended March 31, 2009. This includes Rs 54,824 crore for capital expenditure as against Rs 41,000 crore in the revised estimates for 2008-09. In fact, India has embarked upon a multi-billion dollars ambitious programme of modernization of its armed forces by acquiring advanced weapons from different countries, including Britain, France, Israel, Russia, and the United States. Indian government also allocated huge amount around Rs 45b for Paramilitary Forces, which is worlds largest paramilitary organisation. They have also given lions share of Rs 17b to Central Police Organisations (CPO) which is the umbrella institution of CRPF and it is playing a key role in assisting state governments to tackle insurgency, naxalism, terrorism besides internal security duties. The BSF, entrusted task of keeping vigil along LoC in Jammu & Kashmir and the countrys 6,622 kms borders with Pakistan, Bangladesh & Myanmar, got Rs 11.56b more compared to last years Rs 53.77b. In this regard, the CISF which is on threshold of a massive expansion programme and the institution will receive Rs 4.8b more than last years Rs 20.01b and the forces has recently been given additional responsibilities of guarding private and joint venture installations and maintenance of Indian foreign missions. Interestingly, the lions share would be spent on modernizing the worlds 4th largest military (1.23 million), which is scouting global arms bazaars for helicopters, artillery, armour and infantry gear, received the largest share of the cash, with an allocation of 11.79 billion dollars in the budget. The Indian Air Force (IAF), which is on the verge of handing out a 126-warjet contract worth almost 12 billion dollars and the government allotted 2.86 billion dollars. The reports are available that six global aerospace firms are competing to grab the rich fighter jet deal which stipulates India will buy outright 18 planes by 2012 and locally assemble the remaining units under licence at a state-run facility. In the same way, the Indian Navy, embroiled in a squabble with Russia over an aircraft carrier contract and allocated 1.66$ billion. According to IISS (London) and SPIRI (Stockholm) India is one of the biggest weapons buyer among emerging countries and it has imported military hardware worth 28 billion dollars since 2000. The defence establishment has also allocated another 30 billion dollars which will be spent by 2010 and it has included 3.5 billion dollars for 700 helicopters, 1.5 billion dollars for AWACS and an unspecified amount for drones, mainly from Israeli arms firms. In the circumstance, Pakistan has logical justification to react against Indias military spending because they are gradually increasing their defence budget which is clear indication of Indias hegemonic ambitions. Since 1950s, India has dramatically improved its military capabilities on land and sea, in the air, and in space. It has begun to project its military power beyond the borders and small neighbours are feeling insecure from its acquiring advanced weapons systems from foreign suppliers as well as trying to develop its own. Pakistans defence planners have greatest concern with the development of cyber and anti-satellite warfare, anti-air and anti-ship weaponry, submarines, and ballistic missiles. The modernization in these areas would certainly disturb the balance of power of South Asian region. The strategists agreed that Indias military modernization makes perfect sense of Islamabad concerns to Indias longer-term evil motives. Nonetheless, Indias economic and social disparity is alarming because of poor healthcare and education system. The civil society in India always forced Indian elites that money spent on arms not only fuelled tensions in the region but also diverted crucial funds meant for socio-economic development. Increasing more money for defence means that there will be no allocations for welfare schemes and infrastructure, while assuring high growth for the 1.2 trillion dollars economy once again. The economists argued that more allocation to defence will certainly affect Indias flagship rural reconstruction programme, urban development and energy sector. In addition, if India wishes to become an economic superpower then they have to tackle its worst economic problems and must address directly and earnestly and until these problems will settle down India will be domestically weak and insecure.