Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee has agreed to inaugurate the first phase of the Indian Navy’s new base at Karwar instead of naval chief Admiral Arun Parkash.
Protocol demands that the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) first invites the Defence Minister to be the chief guest at any major function and only when he declines the invitation does a service chief stand-in for his political boss.
According to official sources, Mr Mukherjee initially declined the invitation to inaugurate the Seabird Naval base but appears to have changed his mind and agreed to be the chief guest at the ceremony.
Mr Mukherjee was also conspicuous by his absence at last month’s landmark steel cutting ceremony for the air defence ship that is being built at Kochi. The 37,500 tonne aircraft carrier is the first to be built locally.
Political sources indicate that the defence minister was unable to preside over the event as the prime minister had asked him to remain in the capital for talks with the visiting Chinese premier, Win Jibao.
Indian Navy officials privately concede that the Defence Minister’s absence at an important function like the commissioning of the Karwar base would be “incongruous” and “upsetting”.
His presence, however, would serve as a morale booster to the Services as it would indicate a political interest and engagement in landmark security projects.
The Karwar base to be named INS Kadamba, will eventually serve to de-congest the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command by becoming the major hub of all Indian Navy activity. The navy’s newly acquired Russian Kiev-class 44,500 ton carrier INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov) will also be based at Karwar as will the MiG 29 K fighters that will form part of its air group. Once completed, the Karwar base will be also be the largest in Asia.