Dr A Sivathanu Pillai (in photo on right), the very visible CEO/MD of BrahMos Aerospace, also Distinguished Scientist and Chief Controller R&D at DRDO Headquarters, retires on July 31. As a Distinguished Scientist in the middle of important programme(s), Pillai would in normal course be given the traditional two year extension before he retires. For the record, Pillai turns 60 on July 15.
The procedure is fairly straightforward and has reasonably been passed on to leagues of Distinguished Scientists at DRDO over the years. The procedure begins with DRDO chief and the Defence Minister’s Scientific Advisor, Manthiram Natarajan, who initiates a file with a recommendation and forwards it with comments to the Defence Minister’s office. The file hasn’t been moved. Multiple senior colleagues of both within DRDO confirm in private that Natarajan has long been known to be vehemently against recommending Pillai’s name for a two-year extension, something that was considered a virtual given considering the very real achievements that Pillai and his team were perceived to have delivered by the government.
In an unprecedented move, the Defence Minister’s office recently raised a question. In a noting sent by AK Antony himself (with inputs by the Defence Secretary), Natarajan has been asked why Pillai has not been recommended for an extension, as would be the normal practice in the circumstances. Caught on the wrong foot, Natarajan has called for a peer review committee to convene on July 17 to look into the matter. In what supporters of Pillai within DRDO think is preposterous, Natarajan has invited his predecessor Dr Vasudev K Aatre to be part of the peer review as a special member. Pillai’s supporters insist that this is a very considered move considering that Aatre, like Natarajan is known to deeply dislike “Kalam’s missile boys”.
Speak to anyone at DRDO Bhavan now, and there’s a palpable sense of embarassment. Those who support Natarajan’s move insist that tenure extensions would discourage growth and freshness in leadership, though this doesn’t explain recommendations for two-year extensions for other Distinguished Scientists. BrahMos officials reveal that their boss has spent a very tense few months shuttling between getting things going for the air and submarine-launched versions of the weapon system, and thinking about the possible end of his own career at DRDO this month.