New Delhi: The incident to a second naval submarine in six months and the departure of the navy chief should be understood for what they are, which is the collapse of the system. In government, Manmohan Singh and Arackaparambil Kurien Antony are to blame for this, and without, Sonia Gandhi. The defence bureaucracy is also complicit, to the extent that it enforces illegal orders and partakes in the loot.

Anthony is a replica of Manmohan Singh without his learning. Manmohan Singh was needed to give a cover of honesty and integrity to two United Progressive Alliance administrations. The country knows what happened in them. Mammoth scams took place. Manmohan Singh may be personally honest. But he has headed two terms of India’s most corrupt government since independence.

Anthony is like Manmohan Singh. He has no control over the defence ministry. He cannot appoint officials of his choice. Senior-level appointments are approved by 10 Janpath. His job is to manage the shop window. On the outside, the defence ministry is to have a clean image, where shady deals are not struck, where all the transactions are aboveboard. Don’t ask what happens indoors.

Indoors, the rot of the 1980s, the degenerate age of Bofors, has returned. Agents and middlemen have overrun the defence ministry. Many of them are former military officers. But the really powerful ones, who even determine the choice of the chiefs, are linked to overseas arms cartels. They twist acquisition plans, de-prioritise essential purchases low on kickbacks, and find pliant chiefs to do their bidding.

Retired General Vijay Kumar Singh had avoidable differences with the government. But no one can doubt his honesty and integrity and his nationalism. What shocked General Singh was that a middleman walked into his office and offered a bribe. The audacity of the act shook him and left the country seething. But this is par for the course. The middleman dared to do this because he had previously succeeded with other chiefs. So much for the clean ship that Anthony is supposed to run.

The contrary is true. Anthony skippers a leaky, badly mauled boat. He is unfit to be defence minister. He does not read. Most of India doesn’t read. But an illiterate defence minister is the summit of disgrace. He has no use for files. He has no understanding of or interest in strategic matters. He does not care for the armed forces. His brief from 10 Janpath is to prevent a Bofors-like scandal from bringing down the government. He is a guard outside a particularly notorious nightclub, where he is occasionally instructed by the management to double as bouncer.

India’s higher defence management is a train wreck. Modern wars are joint operations. India is unprepared for joint operations. On its present man and material strength, training and strategy, it cannot fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan. Every state is geo-strategically unique and must craft its own grand strategy. India does not have a grand strategy. A country rises seaward and India has neglected its navy, an area in which China has made rapid progress.

Unless the next government takes emergency measures to arrest the decline, India is headed for military catastrophe.