I think one of the symptoms of the DRDO malaise, such as it is, has been its refusal to address the real problem head-on. For example, a knee-jerk reaction to the DRDO series which the Express did in late 2006, was an order by DRDO for a reputation management cell — one that would conduct round-the-clock PR and publicity for the organisation. Not for one moment was this a bad idea — in fact, in the last year, DRDO has received more positive and authentic publicity than it probably has in all the other years of its history combined. Being open, DRDO has realised, can sometimes help. On the other hand, the prudent pruning of programmes has been touted as something that has been in DRDO’s blood from the very beginning. The press conference of Dr VK Saraswat about the IGMDP being a case in point. The venerable Chief Controller made it seem like the closing of the IGMDP was a logical and seamless step that the DRDO was just waiting to take, and that foreign joint ventures the obvious next step.
The truth is somewhat different, if still a little diffused. The pressure on DRDO to deliver has only increased. The move from being a state-industrial complex insulated from accountability to a flexible and dynamic organisation with willing tentacles in the private sector (not the token component and sub-system contracting ones) needs to be rapid. That’s all there really is to it.
And finally, there’s still a massive mindset change that has to come forth. It’s nowhere near being complete. I remember when I went to Avadi for the MBT Arjun special report, there were posters plastered all over the CVRDE campus saying “Rama Rao committee go back”. Well, the Committee won’t go back, that’s for sure. In fact, it will hopefully be full of real, actionable improvements to the functioning of DRDO as a whole. Recommendations almost certain to be part of the final report are: a solution to the HR mess, focus on core competencies instead of diversifying into areas best left to competitive private players (the cost benefit) and a host of others. Will be watching out for this one.