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Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Stop marginalising the military
Stop marginalising the military
Apart from marginalisation of the military and the consequent adverse effect on our military potential and neglect of armed forces’ legitimate interests, the syndrome of ‘we’ and ‘they’ instead of ‘us’ prevails in the ministry
Supremacy of the civil over the military is a fundamental requirement of a functioning democracy. However, subordination of the military to civil authority doesn’t mean the military must be subservient or a service chief has to be denied direct access to the top civil authority. In no democracy does a civil servant act as an intermediary between the armed services and political executive, and what’s more has the last word. This happens only in India.
In 1947, our higher defence organisation had to be modified to meet the requirements of a democratic polity. A committee of three senior ICS secretaries recommended the defence secretary should have a higher protocol status than the service chiefs and the three service headquarters should function like attached subordinate offices of the defence ministry, like other ministries. Lord Mountbatten advised the government to reject these recommendations. The service chiefs kept their higher protocol status than the defence secretary. But over the years, functional superiority of the defence secretary has got firmly embedded, marginalising the service chiefs.
Lord Ismay was Lord Mountbatten’s chief of staff at the time of Independence. He had long experience of the functioning of the UK’s higher defence organisation, and had served as Winston Churchill’s chief of staff during the Second World War. After the war, he was invited to the United States to advise on the Pentagon’s reorganisation. In view of Partition riots, the war in Kashmir, vivisection of military units and junior Indian officers with no experience of working at the national level suddenly succeeding senior British officers, he did not recommend any drastic changes. He suggested setting up a series of committees in the existing structure to ensure supremacy of the political executive, joint functioning and prompt decision-making. There were two types of committees, governmental committees in which political executives presided and inter-service committees, comprising only military officers.
The two apex governmental committees were the defence committee of the Cabinet (DCC) and defence minister’s committee (DMC). The former was headed by the Prime Minister, with the defence minister and selected ministers as members. It also had the service chiefs, the defence secretary, the financial adviser and scientific adviser as members. The DCC was presided over by the defence minister, with these same officials as members. Secretarial support for these committees came from the Cabinet Secretariat’s military wing. This also served the inter-service committees, including the chiefs of staff committee, with a rotational chairman.
On March 25, 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru said in Parliament that like other democracies India would have chiefs of staff and service councils. The designation of service chiefs was changed to chiefs of staff but there was no change in their functions. They continued to remain heads of their service, working under the MoD without becoming a part of the ministry. Thus, it is a misnomer to call them chiefs of staff. As for service councils, that never came into being. Playing on the bogey of the man on horseback, the bureaucracy has kept marginalising the military from the decision-making process. As a result, civil servants exercise supreme authority without any accountability and without the requisite knowledge.
The DCC has been replaced by the Cabinet Committee on Security, with a wider and more comprehensive role. The service chiefs are no longer required to be in attendance at all meetings and secretarial support is now provided by civil servants. The service chiefs attend when invited to do so. Often the defence secretary represents the three services at CCS meetings. The DMC had a vital role in the defence ministry’s working. It was made to wither away well before the 1962 war. Prime Minister Nehru’s order to throw the Chinese out from the Himalayas was conveyed to the then Army Chief by a joint secretary. The chief asked for a written order, which was duly given. This shows the chief was not in the loop when this vital decision was taken. Despite the 1962 disaster, nothing was done to rationalise the higher defence organisation.
Despite this, we thwarted Pakistan’s offensive in 1965, securing an edge over it. Then Army Chief Gen. J.N. Chaudhuri worked directly with Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. In 1971, Gen. S.H.F.J. Manekshaw (later field-marshal) established a close personal equation with Indira Gandhi. When ordered to launch an immediate offensive in East Pakistan in March 1971, after the Pakistani military crackdown, he advised this be delayed till the onset of winter and a favourable geostrategic environment. He even offered to resign if the Cabinet wanted an immediate offensive. PM Indira Gandhi, however, accepted his recommendation. We won a most spectacular victory. The higher defence organisation has to provide for such direct civil-military interaction.
After the Kargil War, a review committee was set up under top security expert K. Subrahmanyam, an IAS officer with long service in the MoD. It recommended the appointment of a chief of defence staff and integration of the three service headquarters with the ministry. This was approved by a GoM headed by then deputy prime minister L.K. Advani. Soon after that, the NDA government fell and the UPA came to power. These recommendations were watered down. A headless integrated defence staff was set up and token integration of some inconsequential subjects carried out, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise. In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Committee recommended some ineffective measures, a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff with four-star rank but not a CDS, and inducting a few junior military officers in the MoD but not full integration.
Soon after taking over as defence minister, Manohar Parrikar announced that a CDS would be appointed very soon and the service headquarters would be integrated with the MoD. Over a year has elapsed, and nothing has happened. It is reliably learnt only the Naresh Chandra Committee’s recommendations will be implemented. Like Nehru’s announcement in 1955, Mr Parrikar’s plans too will be derailed and the marginalisation of the military will continue.
In my 40 years of service in the Army, I worked in South Block in a key junior appointment prior to Independence. After Independence I held key appointments in every rank from major to lieutenant-general in all three main branches of the staff and the penultimate rank of vice-chief. I had an opportunity to see the functioning of the War Office in London for a few days. Apart from marginalisation of the military and the consequent adverse effect on our military potential and neglect of armed forces’ legitimate interests, the syndrome of “we” and “they” instead of “us” prevails in the ministry. This is unlike pre-Independence days in India or what I saw in the UK. It is important that along with CDS and integrated headquarters, we have theatre commands and the defence ministry functions as a close-knit team to further national goals. Turf wars must be eschewed. We have two hostile neighbours at our doors.
The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir