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Under-fire Antony releases success record

New Delhi, March 5: Faced with mounting criticism from within the armed forces and from the Opposition, A.K. Antony’s defence ministry today issued a 26-page statement on his record, coinciding with the announcement of general election.

In “Shri A K Antony as Defence Minister — A Look Back”, the ministry is not even seeking to be unbiased. The manuscript is not a balance sheet. It is a list of all that the forces have got since Antony took over in October 2006 and went on to be the country’s longest-serving defence minister.

There is no mention of the disaster that overtook the Indian Navy’s INS Sindhurakshak for instance — easily India biggest peacetime military loss — that sank in the naval dockyard in Mumbai last August, killing 18 of the crew.

But the list opens with the navy. The commissioning of the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier that joined the fleet this January is ranked no. 1 in Antony’s achievements. Earlier known as the Admiral Gorshkov, the carrier was contracted in January 2004, at the time of the NDA regime, and was originally slated for delivery in August 2008.

It sailed into Indian waters six years later and after Antony approved an upward revision in price by the Russians even after the contract was signed.

The ministry also lists the “criticality” of the nuclear reactor that powers the submarine Arihant and the launching of indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant among Antony’s top achievements.

The Arihant and the Vikrant are not commissioned into service. The Arihant is about to go into sea trials and the Vikrant hit water in August last year and is expected only in 2017.

But perhaps the biggest achievement Antony can justifiably claim is the decision to raise a Mountain Strike Corps (MSC), which will ultimately be the Indian Army’s largest formation, to be headquartered in Panagarh, Bengal.

The decision broke “India’s strategic planning out of the cocoon”, claims the defence ministry statement.

“Reflecting the country’s widening strategic horizon”, the decision to raise the corps for “decisive lightening offensive capabilities” on the frontier with China in the Northeast will involve a cost of Rs 65,000 crore.

For the first time, the defence establishment has officially acknowledged that the MSC will be supported by IAF Sukhoi 30 combat aircraft being based in airfields in Bengal and Assam: Hashimara, Bagdogra, Jorhat, Tezpur, Chhabua, and Mohanbari. The army has also raised two mountain infantry divisions in Nagaland and Assam.

The MSC is the first genuine force accretion by the army. New corps that have been created in the past five years were carved out of existing formations.

Antony’s ministry has claimed that since the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 — in itself a failure by coastal security forces — it has ramped up measures and acquired new radars and sensors to bring India’s 7500km-long coastline under watch.

Claims on development of indigenous defence technologies, such as the Main Battle Tank Arjun Mark II and the Light Combat Aircraft ring hollow. Both projects in which the Defence Research and Development Organisation is deeply involved have languished through changes of government. They are not with the users — the armed forces.

The ministry statement gives a wide berth to the issue of civil-military relations that have loomed large over Antony’s tenure. An army chief (General V.K. Singh) had challenged the government in court and last month a navy chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi, resigned in a move that his friends say was “a cry of despair”.