This is a slightly longish post by blogging standards – and I will make up for it in my future posts. For now – you will just have to bear with me.
I have been a silent observer for the past month or two, reading and listening to the very intense debates that have been raging around the Chief of Army Staff’s actions. Firstly with regard to his date of birth, then his exposure of the bribery issue and finally about his letter to the PM.
These issues really relate to personal validation, corruption and structural faults in our systems. I won’t comment about personal validation – it is already settled, but I do want to discuss the other two.
A disturbing event happened yesterday: The TOI carried an article about a PIL being filed by the ex Naval Chief and the ex Election Commissioner against Gen. JJ Singh (the current Governor of Arunachal Pradesh), and his role in ‘orchestrating’ a certain ‘Operation Moses’ to ensure that Lt. Gen Bikram Singh becomes the next Chief. Coming from an ex Naval Chief, an ex Election Commissioner and three other ex Army officers lends it credence.
The Army Chief has removed his shackles and written to the PM directly because he was dissatisfied with the Ministry of Defense responses. There is nothing wrong with that. The article in the Times of India dated the 8th of April, quotes Mr. AK Antony ‘sympathizing’ with the Chief – but “his hands are tied”. Leakage of the letter is another matter – which should be inquired into and suitable action should be taken against the culprit(s). The real issue is not the leakage – it is the fact that the Chief of the Army Staff had to write a letter to the head of the government as a last recourse, which he is also a part of and the Defense minister ‘sympathizing’ with the Army Chief.
A bit of background:
The Army Chief has had a history of ‘inconveniencing others’. It seems that when he was to become an Army commander, he inconvenienced Gen. JJ Singh. When he was to become chief, he inconvenienced Gen. Kapoor and now – he is inconveniencing the Bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defense. While I am not close enough to the situation to ascertain whether the course is the correct one or not – I see nothing wrong with the inconveniencing per se – in fact, if it gets the right results – more such ‘inconveniences’ should be meted out.
We need to answer a very basic question: “Is it wrong today to expose corruption?” If yes – then the Lokpal bill will never be a success. If it is not – then what’s wrong with the Army Chief writing to the PM if he is not satisfied by the response of the Bureaucrats at the Defense Ministry? The question that comes to mind after all this back and forth is whether the PM can or will do something about it.
In this day and age of scams, it is important for us to understand why scams take place in the Defense services in the first place? There is no doubt that a country India’s size has to be equipped with the latest and best weaponry. The problem is the following: The DRDO has not been able to make world class weapons indigenously. We are the largest importer of weaponry. Israel is the largest exporter. Both of us gained independence around the same time. DRDO cant give us world class products (The Arjun tank – India’s Main Battle Tank was inducted after 30 years) and yet has the ability to delay purchases (There is an article in the TOI dated the 9th of April about the same issue). The most potent mix for scams is time, involvement of multiple people and sensitivity (which is extremely high in the case of Defense systems).
We need to understand the root cause of the issues that have been coming up recently. The issue is purely structural in nature. In his book “Arming without Aiming”, Stephen P Cohen talks about the fact that the Indian Army is totally under the control of the civilians and those civilians are not competent to understand or to guide the defense minister in the functioning of the forces. I agree completely. An IAS officer cannot understand the nuances and requirements of strategic Internal and External defense. They haven’t dealt with it. They don’t understand the requirements of the jawans who are sweltering in the heat or freezing in Siachen. With all due respect to the bureaucrats – military strategy is best left to the Defense professionals.
The discussion is not about the Defense Minister or Gen. VK Singh. Both of them are extremely honest from all records and counts. Both of them seem to be on the same side. Then what should the real discussion be about? To my mind the right discussion regarding the Army and Ministry of Defense need only include the state of the Defense Forces, the need to redefine & align the role of the both agencies, and to redefine the method of early decision making and how the preparedness of our defense forces can be better than that of an overzealous neighbor. I shall not comment too much on “the orders coming from above” to Mr. AK Antony – as I suspect that the story is yet to play out completely.
Having served in the Army for 42 years and been a MP (Lok Sabha) twice, I understand the issues on both sides, and would like to propose a few measures to rectify the issues:
- Immediate establishment of the Chief of Defense staff as the main professional advisor to the Defense Minister: The appointment of the CoDS has been pending for more than six years. This person has to be from the armed forces (either Navy, Air force or the Army). Though the MoD and Defense services headquarters are said to be closely integrated, in actual fact – at every level, all actions required are again reprocessed in the MoD by civilian officers who have little knowledge, commitment of urgency to see the issue through to the right & timely conclusion. You cant possibly expect an low ranking IAS officer to understand the gravity of the situation that exists within the armed forces, or what’s actually going to transpire if war were to break out. Even if the position is filled by a civilian – get an expert to fill it, not a Bureaucrat who will treat it as another ‘posting’.
- Put up a system to indigenize equipment manufacture: DRDO and Ministry of Defense production has not yet been able to provide us with world class weapon systems, and unless they can devise a quick and effective way of doing so – we would have to rely solely on international purchases. My belief is that we don’t need to. We have the likes of Tata and Mahindra and other great Indian companies, who understand the nuances of working closely with the Armed forces. Co-invest with them, do joint research with them. The same way that the rest of the world does with its enterprises. Unless there is an involvement of private enterprise, there is almost no way that we will be able to scale and become self reliant. Joint ventures, PPP partnerships and other ways already exist. Use them. Become self reliant.
- The level of knowledge about the Internal and External security issues need to be raised in the Parliament: Even though the Defense budget is the largest component of the Indian budget, the MPs are mostly concerned with their local problems and therefore neglect knowledge about national security. Bring it out through healthy debates. Unless the parliament doesn’t know the real issues – it will always be these ‘sensationalized’ issues that are the center of India’s collective attention. The other thing to do is to have two year budgets for Defense rather than one year. This allows for proper deployment and management of the funds.
- A direct helpline for the PM: The PMO must have a general officer (from any of the defense services) on the staff for immediate advise to the PM on matters related to defense. It is all too often that statements are made without the full picture. This results in more issues rather than solutions.
- Up the qualification of the National Security Advisor: The National Security Advisor needs to be someone who is highly qualified and an expert in matters related to defense. He can be from any field, but an expert on external and internal defense issues.
- Finally – Don’t let Casteism raise its head in the Armed Forces: It is the only segment of Indian society that doesn’t bother whether you are a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian. The Ministry and the Armed forces have a joint responsibility to ensure that the system remains a secular meritocracy.
The author can be reached at mrigank dot tripathi at gmail dot com.