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Impact of Karnataka Polls on Defence Acquisitions

Representative picture

Firstly let's begin with a caveat that this is not about the politics behind the elections outcome in Karnataka, India’s frontier state aerospace, defence and cyber. This is about the impact of the Karnataka elections outcome on India's defence acquisitions and in turn modernisation.

With general elections less than a year away polls in Karnataka which has seen the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP] humbled by the main opposition and its bete noire Indian National Congress (INC) it is evident that the outcome will have significant impact on the campaign agenda of the BJP the national elections.

While there is a difference in the approach to defence and security by the two major political parties in India the BJP and the Congress, it has become apparent as far as defence acquisition and modernisation is concerned the pace has failed to pick up despite otherwise muscular projections by the ruling party. Defence indigenisation may have received a policy fillip with programs such as Make in India in Defence or positive indigenisation list and so on but where major acquisitions are concerned which impact defence capability of the armed forces the progress has being slow.

For instance, the Indian Air Force which is looking to build up its combat fighter strength from approximately 30 to 42 continues to search for a solution for 114 fighter acquisition programme. A similar situation exists where 75 I submarine acquisition programme of the Indian Navy is concerned. While the strategic partnership programme [SPP] was announced with much fanfare almost six years back it appears to have been abandoned begin impractical and unworkable.

Demand of transfer of technology for indigenisation from foreign companies is a non starter as was anticipated. Cutting edge technologies are not shared by companies or countries as these are national proprietary strategic assets despite all the brouhaha of major defence partner etc. Thus attempting to acquire these is a futile exercise which has only resulted in wasting precious time even as the combat configuration of the armed forces continues to deplete each day.

So what does the outcome of the Karnataka elections mean in this scenario.

Karnataka along with Telangana or more precisely Bengaluru Hyderabad and Pune in Maharashtra are the three critical defence technology and manufacturing notes where major DRDO labs as well as the public sector undertakings such as HAL, BEL and BDL amongst others are located.

It is a given that any party which is in government at the centre is focused for development of defence industry where believes there will be political advantages. This is the backdrop against which the Uttar Pradesh and the Tamil Nadu industrial corridors were proposed and developed in the past few years.

To that extent Karnataka may take a backseat in terms of promotion of defence industry in the state.

However the momentum existing with the defence public sector undertaking such as the HAL and BEL is expected to continue as these are money making enterprises fetching rich dividends to the central government from captive orders of the three services.

Importantly one of the main themes in the Karnataka elections flagged by the opposition was corruption. “It helped that CM Bommai’s government was hobbled by allegations of inefficiency, but the creation of a slogan around “40% sarkaara”, a reference to alleged cuts taken by middlemen, and the “PayCM” campaign drove the point home,” as per a report in the Hindustan Times. Another issue has been crony capitalism flagged by the Congress in a different context.

While countering corruption was a theme of the BJP, it seems to have been picked up by the Congress in Karnataka deriving benefits from the message

This has made it more important for the BJP to enter the Lok Sabha elections with a clean image. It may imply that critical defence contracts involving foreign partners may go into the limbo till the next elections. Where such buys are off the shelf without transfers of technology that these will go into the back burner for now.

On the other hand indigenisation projects may gain a phillip and much will be made of these particularly those undertaken by the DPSUs and key defense private sector enterprises.

Indeed it can be presumed that the taste of defence modernisation where major political interventions are involved will only pick up post general elections in 2024, even though there is a urgency for defence capability development.


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