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India's defence budget dips to 2.1% of GDP from 3.5% in 1980s "despite" Modi rhetoric

By Our Representative
A senior expert with the conservative US thinktank American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, has regretted that India is behind China in Asian arms race, and it's "high defense-spending totals mask the weakness of its weapons systems" as "the threat is growing".
Ethnic Indian, Sadanand Dhume, senior fellow with the Institute, writing in the top US business daily "Wall Street Journal", however, says, "When it comes to military spunk, no Indian politician shows it off like Narendra Modi." But, "Unfortunately, Modi’s spending priorities do not match his rhetoric."
Giving the example of the last week’s interim Union budget, Dhume says, "It underscores his habit of choosing butter over guns", criticizing Modi for donning the "camouflage to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with troops on the borders with China and Pakistan."
In fact, the expert recalls how, while inaugurating a film museum last month, Modi greeted the audience with a catch phrase from “Uri: The Surgical Strike,” the recent "Bollywood hit about a 2016 military operation in which Indian soldiers entered Pakistani-controlled territory to take out purported terrorist training camps."
In fact, adds Dhume, "The prime minister often cites the episode to contrast his muscular leadership with the allegedly feckless opposition."
All this, says the expert, comes even as the defence budget allocation was $60.9 billion earmarked for defense, "most ever in absolute terms... an 8% increase over last year", has actually "dipped to a modest 2.1% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Says Dhume, "That decline is made worse because much of India’s military budget is consumed by salaries for its bloated 1.4-million-strong army, rather than for buying weapons and investing in new technologies. Inflation and a weakening rupee — India imports about two-thirds of its military hardware — crimp the budget further."
According to the expert, "For the US, which is cooperating more closely with New Delhi as a hedge against Beijing’s expansionism, the long-term risks of India’s tight military spending ought to cause concern. Each year India falls further behind China’s rapidly modernizing military."
Continues Dhume, "On the surface, India’s military spending looks robust: It ranked 10th in the world in 2007, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. By 2017 it had climbed to fifth, behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia and Russia. India is also the world’s largest importer of arms."
"Yet", he underscores, "This may not be enough..." He adds, "Thanks to populist politics, defence spending has declined steadily, from 3.5% of GDP in the mid-1980s." On the other hand, "China’s vastly larger economy allows it to allocate almost four times as much to defense as India — $228 billion in 2017."
"Then", laments Dhume, "There’s the quality of spending" with approximately $14 billion India being spent each year "on defence-related pensions, including for civilians who work in state-owned defense companies and research organizations" , which "exceeds what it spends on weapons."
According to Dhume, "As recently as 2011, the military managed to hold personnel expenditures to 60% and leave 40% for weapons... Personnel costs now consume two-thirds of military spending."
"At the same time", he adds, "The rupee has declined about 12% against the dollar over the past 13 months, meaning even less money to acquire expensive ships, aircraft and submarines from overseas. Take inflation into account and India’s generals and admirals command less resources this year than last."

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