Q. You are a first-time MP handling a very important portfolio. How do you look at the degree you have, people’s expectations and your new job?
A. Sometimes destiny forces you to do certain tasks in life. I wanted to be a doctor, I was lucky my dream was fulfilled. Politics was never my life’s aim. My parents, who came from rural background and not very educated, supported me all the way. I did medicine and super speciality in cancer surgery from Mumbai’s Grant Medical College in 1986. Most of my colleagues settled for well-paid jobs in Mumbai but I returned to Dhule since there was no cancer specialists around.
After years of medical service, I earned popularity and the BJP offered me a ticket to contest against a businessman (Ambrish Patel) from the Congress. I won with a big margin and within two years, I was made a minister. My constituency is agrarian, but backwards. People believed in me. In the past three years, I managed to get the Manmad-Indore railway line, kept in the backburner for 40 years, sanctioned. I also got a big irrigation project worth Rs 2,363 crore cleared thus benefitting 150 villages. Approved by Uma Bharti’s ministry, I got the NH-3 widened into a four-lane highway and added Dhule to the DMIC project. But when I joined the Defence Ministry, I was slightly nervous since I did not know much about its nuances.
Our army is the world’s third-largest force. Over a period of time, I learnt its strengths. Our research facilities are world class and officers and jawans extremely dedicated. Ordnance factories, PSUs like HAL, BEL and shipyards such as the Mazagaon Dockyard and other such facilities are doing a great job.
Q. What have been your priorities after joining this ministry?
A. It’s a collective work. We have simplified many processes for Indian firms to make arms and ammunition. We want indigenously designed weaponry wherever possible. The industry was asking for level-playing field and we gave it to them. We have encouraged MSMEs to come forward to produce defence equipment for us.
Besides providing them seed money as advance up to to Rs 10 crore, we are entering into strategic partnership with the private industry. We are promoting joint ventures between foreign manufacturers and the government. We want to enhance production of fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and tankers. Wherever needed, we are importing machines from companies like Rafale. Our goal is to improve R&D and create skilled manpower. All this will improve the defence ecosystem.