His competitor, Dr A Sivathanu Pillai is well known as the relatively high-profile chief of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile programme. Apart from his redoubtable qualifications, two other points stand out for Pillai. And as is well known, appointments to sensitive offices in the government work as much on such intangibles as they do on gritty achievements on paper. For one thing, Dr Pillai is a personal friend of Defence Minister AK Antony, and this is somewhat beyond the obvious Kerala connection. In 2007, remember, it was Antony who personally intervened to rescue Pillai from definite superannuation by giving him a generous service extension. Second, and probably as importantly, Pillai supporters feel he has a stronger case considering that he was in the running in 2004 as well, but lost out to M Natarajan, the current DRDO chief, who retires at the end of this month. The veiled hostility between Natarajan and Pillai has become legend within the DRDO — sentiments that came to a head with Natarajan conspicuously left Pillai’s name out from a list sent to the Defence Minister containing recommended extensions for senior scientists. It was at this time that AK Antony jumped into the fray and rescued the BrahMos chief. It was a time of deep tension at the highest echelons of the DRDO, one that has not been seen before or since.
Sources say the government is comfortable with the prospect of appointing a missile man as the next DRDO chief, considering the critical stage at which almost every Indian missile development project currently is at. It is understood that the third contender Dipankar Banerjee, much younger than the other two, is out of the reckoning for two reasons — one, he’s young enough to be a contender for the top office the next time around. And two, the government is more keen to appoint a scientist involved in strategic systems than metallurgy, which happens to be Dr Banerjee’s area of expertise.
These are, of course, only indications. Ultimately, the government has its own way of choosing appointments. Anyway, it won’t be long before we know!