An IDC Analysis by Ranjit B Rai


New Delhi, 22 January 2002

The news item that the No 2 Strike Corps Commander from Ambala had been removed for tactical errors has created waves in Military circles. Vishal Thapar in HT reported that it was at the behest of USA, which provided satellite photos to Pakistan of advanced movements of the Indian Army.

The same sort of fiasco took place during Brass Tacks and in 1990 when USA sent Richard Haas running to India. Sometimes the Government does not seem to realise the full implications of the orders it gives –– MOBILIZATION is serious business.

It was Adam Smith who said to provide for National Security was the first duty of the Ruler. Defence is serious business but if an analyst tries to fathom who is in charge in India for taking the major security decisions, formulate defence policy and execute it, even Harvard and IIM trained case study analysts will be flummoxed. In fact India’s defence structure could well form a most educative case study for what is not good for a country. It is ad hoc and skewed.

The BJP Government realized the system deserved an overhaul after the Kargil war but the manner in which the new scheme is unfolding holds more of Parkinson’s law in its fold. Since Independence there have been many examples to study and make corrections but despite the Jeep Scandal involving Defence Minister Krishna Menon, the unresolved Kashmir dispute where soldiers die daily, the lessons of 1962 and 1965 wars, the Sri Lanka foray –– OP Pawan –– which killed 1200 soldiers and more recently the Kargil war and exposes like Bofors, Tehelka and the Coffin purchases –– no one has been able to shake the sandstone structure of the MOD in South Block.

It was only Gen Sam Manekshaw who courageously told Mrs Gandhi he needed adequate campaigning time to mobilize his huge Army and acted as a de facto CDS with authority to win us the 1971 Bangla Desh war. He was able to achieve victory for he acted with authority which Mrs Gandhi gave him. She wanted to formalize a CDS concept by promoting him but ACM Pratap Lal torpedoed it.

This time around India’s Army was mobilized in a matter of days and one hopes the strategy and command objectives were made clear to the senior commanders. The No 2 Attack Corps Commander Lt Gen Kapil Vij, has for some reason called it a day and speculation is in the air and soon tongues will wag and the truth will be out.

In a recent TV show called “The Big Fight” two former Chiefs of the Navy and Air Force and a retired Maj General now a BJP Minister, educated the nation with their views on this very subject for over an hour. The retired and respected Chiefs on the show confessed they were unable to take any external action whilst holding charge of their Service and put the blame squarely on the apex body of politicians who have their way, invariably aided and abetted by the bureaucrats who truly wield most powers even today. The PMO is the other seat of power and the unfettered Czar is the capable National Security Adviser Brajesh Misra, but that is not written into the system as yet. The system is an adaptation and depends on personalities.

The rights and privileges of servicemen are fettered by articles 311 and 33 of the Constitution and vide article 53 the President is the Supreme Commander but he has no powers. It is Articles 74 and 78 that provide for Cabinet Control meaning the PM. However if the PM is not well versed or keen on Defence, or does not have the time for the portfolio to interact with the Chiefs, then willy nilly the full responsibility devolves on the likes of a Mulayam Singh –– who in his time trotted off more to Lucknow in IAF aircraft and had files translated into Hindi, or a George Fernandes –– who gloats that he has made 20 odd trips to Siachen and skillfully engineered the sacking of a Naval Chief as easily. 

In fact the Service Chief in the TV debate rightly called the first claim cheap popularity as every VIP visit throws operations out of gear, and the other Chief cited the sacking of a Chief as a pointer for others to toe the line. George Fernandes has also confessed his official house is an “open house” for his friends and political activities, including invitations to Tehelka operatives and he is the head of the 24 coalition parties which makes him indispensable and pre-occupied, though it is reported he comes to work early. He now plans to have single point advice from the proposed CDS who will be first amongst the four equal Chiefs and therein lies the catch. One more Chief but no Chief, Chief!

Having said that, it is accepted within the each Service that the Chief is supreme and can decide matters, but beyond that he has no powers and the simplest of policy has to go to the Ministry in layers of files and protocols. Therefore each Chief guards his turf, and joint services thinking for the National Good, takes second place –– hoping that the bureaucrat will do the needful –– but then not all bureaucrats are trained in defence matters and try learn on the job.

Those who are insecure use this lacuna as a weapon to divide and rule the Services and instances are many. The former Air Chief in the programme was quizzed on the near mutiny in the IAF on what is known as the Pilots pay fiasco, which affected the other two Services also. No joint action was taken and the former Air Chief squarely said the blame lay with the then Minister and the Ministry, and they kept telling him they would do something. Nothing happened till he retired under a cloud.

The former Navy Chief in the programme who was also Chairman Chiefs of the Staff Committee for OP Pawan, explained how Chiefs are impotent when the political bosses do something with the bureaucrat’s connivance, and gave the example of the Pay Commissions on which reams have been written. The Police and IAS have got away with the cream and the Services have lost their precedence.

The former Naval Chief passionately pleaded for ex-servicemen’s welfare, but evidently even 12 years after his retirement nothing seems to have progressed and medical benefits for ex-servicemen are still in the dumps. As of writing many Army doctors are mobilized for the front, and with shortages in hospitals, the joke of the taxi driver who drove a sick retired serviceman to the Military hospital was, “Sir, I have brought you alive here, but now you are more likely to die.’’ But jokes apart, the subject of medical attention and young servicemen retiring early and shortages in services manpower needs serious attention. It is part of national security.

Professionals today in and out of uniform are well aware of the lacuna that no service Chief can have his say in policy matters and many in uniform lobby and curry favour with the politicians who encourage them. Backs tend to be scratched by each other and even some undeserved promotions are ordained by MOD. It is to the credit of the Service Chiefs that they adhere to the democratic tradition but to be prepared for war the Chiefs must have their ways, and the politicians must know it is good for the nation. The fact that the three Chiefs are equal makes them vulnerable to the Defence Secretary and Minister.

Even the proposed CDS structure saw the Army demand a 7 to 2 Air Force/Navy ratio of posts and bad blood flowed. The IAF also rightly demanded the control of the Strategic force for starters, as the nuclear deterrent was mainly air transportable -- till the Agni II is operational, which put the Air Chief in a dissenting position -- though he had a point. The staffing imbroglio for CDS has been settled at a 5-3-2 (Amy/Air Force/Navy) ratio or thereabouts and hence the delays in the CDS appointment. The PM who had promised so is yet to consult the opposition on the appointment.

The then Chairman Chiefs of Staff in mid 2001 who was entrusted to frame the setup of the CDS withdrew his name from the race as he possibly saw the hand of politics in the appointment and was unable to secure consensus. Shri Arun Singh was brought in to make the template and twelve Flag rank appointments have ensued in the new CIDS interim set up, and that makes senior officers happy. Yet the short answer to rid India’s defence of the debility we have lived with, lies more in a CDS with some operational say over the other services and who holds a higher position in MOD –– and not a mere CDS, the first amongst equals.

This model has failed the world over. Otherwise it will be the same wine in new bottles with the same challenges, and this is the last chance for the opposition to take some interest for an effective CDS. But then it may be Karma dictating the issue as I have explained in my book, “Indians –– Why We Are, What We Are?” A soldiers life is still considered cheap in this land of the Gita.

Yet the Indian soldier will do his duty for his country. The Armed Forces are still the best followers of the highest traditions and the nation needs to think about them, before it is too late.

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