LT GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI | 19 JANUARY, 2018
‘Civil-Military Relations’ are getting bad to worse and modernisation remains stuck
A new year has dawned on us all and hopes have risen that it will bring the long-awaited ‘change’ promised when the present government assumed power and consequently the destination of the nation. The Indian Army is particularly anxious as the last nearly four years have seen a downward slide across the board.
The present government has nothing remarkable to show on the security front.
The armed forces, especially the Army, continue to wait for the long awaited
-additional funds in the Defence Budget;
-at least some forward movement in the much-needed restructuring of both higher defence organisation and the integration in the Ministry of Defence (MoD);
-the much needed joint endeavours among the armed forces;
-restoring the status and élan of the armed forces and granting them their legitimate status and dues;
-laying down strategic defence and security policies for both external and internal threats and challenges;
-and above all cleaning the augeon stables of the sloth of defence PSU’S, Ordnance Factories, DRDO and the huge army of non-productive civilian defence employees.
Perhaps one should also add that there has been enough playing around with the appointment of a defence minister, as the present incumbent is the fourth in the last over three years of this government.
Stability is needed by all ministries, but it is essential in a ministry that is responsible for the defence of the nation. While on the subject, may I appeal to the present Minister of Defence not to fritter away the strength of the military, especially the army on non-military tasks, for which plenty of ministries, entities, departments and offices exist?
The above is only a broad list of the very urgent subjects, which have largely been ignored, some for decades and others of more recent origins. Since space is unlikely to permit going into great details, it is intended to only flag the most important issues, as details, statistics, relevant data and so on are well known, having been periodically stated by many analysts.
Since the Union Budget is planned to be presented in about two weeks, let me commence with that. Considering that successive defence budgets since the last over two decades, including by the present government, have been in a southward move, a change for the better is unlikely. This year’s budget is a measly 1.5 percent of the GDP or as the Finance Minister expansively stated- “an increase of 6.5 percent from the previous year’.
The coming one, shorn of cosmetics, promises and the like, may well be the same or even less. The reason is not that threats have suddenly vanished or decreased, but since the budget is likely to be a populous one, considering the general elections early next year, it is unlikely to be any trend-setter for security issues! In any case, when the main focus is on elections, defence is the first to be axed. Add to that the lack of professionalism and understanding of security issues by the politico-bureaucratic ruling elite and the stage is set for a lacklustre defence budget.
Let us now see how the relatively new incumbent on the Defence Minister’s chair is able to help/assist the armed forces in meeting their aspirations. Let us leave aside the stop-gap Defence Minister, Arun Jaitely (on two occasions) who had more important functions to perform and hence wasted one crucial year for the armed forces. His first successor Manohar Parrikar, despite being a light weight in his party, tried to learn the ropes of the Ministry and bring about badly needed changes, but could not get the better of entrenched MoD bureaucrats, as well as the by now fossilised ‘kharants’ (to use a desi word) of the BJP hierarchy, who PM Modi finds difficult to get rid of.
Parrikar fell into the bureaucrat trap of setting up a host of committees, whose recommendations are mostly languishing in the MoD cupboards. Even the high –powered Shekatkar Committee’s recommendations have been only partially accepted, while the real hard-nosed ones have been quietly buried. Unfortunately, the new Defence Minister, besides doing the equivalence of a ‘Bharat Darshan’ and photo-ops riding tanks, submarines and fighter aircraft, has not yet indicated how she is going to meet the aspirations of the armed forces in 2018. Hopefully, she will surprise us all!
Our higher defence structure is not just flawed, but is dangerously close to becoming a fossil. Despite elaborate directions by the Group of Ministers (GOM) enunciated in 2001 (BJP Government), after extensive and detailed deliberations of the Kargil Review Committtee, we seem to remain frozen in space and time.
The CDS remains an elusive entity; the MoD has not been integrated; theatre command are nowhere in sight; the only geographical joint command has virtually regressed to a Naval Command; and wonder of wonders, the National Security Adviser (NSA) has become the big gun, wielding authority on the three Chiefs, even though his is a non-constitutional appointment.
Perhaps no one has informed the new Defence Minister that the correct and established hierarchy is the CCS presided over by the PM, followed by the Defence Minister and then the three Chiefs. Even the Cabinet Secretary is not in this chain, let alone a NSA.
A related issue is that there is not even an inkling that the government, despite its nearly four years in office has any plans for formulating a national security strategy; or a strategic security policy relating to our main adversaries – China and Pakistan; as well as policies for major internal challenges like Kashmir, the Maoists and so on. To be fair to the party in power, no earlier government has also done so. Does it imply that for a country aspiring to be a great power, it is inconsequential?
A most important issue is the hollowness of our military. One can boast that the Indian Army is the third largest in the world, but does it have the wherewithal and the power that this position implies. The answer is of course a resounding no. No modernisation has taken place in decades and if this state of affairs continues, the Army may need to take recourse to police equipment like ‘lathis’ and shields to secure the nation!
The Army’s shortages of weapons and equipment keep mounting. In broad terms, bulk of its weapons and equipment are either in an obsolescence or obsolete state. As an example, the largest arm, the infantry that is the backbone of counter insurgency operations as well as for fighting battles and wars, has no modern weapons and equipment.
A recent announcement of procuring about six lakh rifles, initial instalment by outright purchase from abroad and later productions in-country, are only pronouncements at this juncture. Even if they materialise, it will take a number of trials, feasibility studies, funds and most importantly time.
A similar case had occurred only a few months back relating to procurement of Spike Anti Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM’s) for the infantry. The US $ 500 Million deal, in the offing since 2009 was scrapped at the instigation of the DRDO by saying they will supply them within three years; ha-ha! The deal was for buying 321 ATGM Launchers and 8,356 missiles, with 30% offsets and a transfer of technology clause. In anticipation of the deal, Rafael had entered in a joint venture with the Kalyani Group for missile production in India.
The result of DRDO machinations (given their past records) is that the project will not fructify for the next 10 to 15 years and at ridiculously high cost over-runs, while the Army will remain short of 68,000 missiles and no War Wastage Reserves! This is not how the PM had envisaged bringing in private participation in defence.
As this is being written, it is now reported that following the visit of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, the Spike Deal is being resurrected again; voila! The saga continues among the leaders while the army starves!
All Arms and Corps are in a similar state. Reserves of ammunition of all types are also at a record low.
Despite the above, talk of wars on two fronts and even two and a half fronts have been articulated by highly senior persons, who should know better!
A word about the state of ‘Civil-Military Relations’ would be in order, as they are getting bad to worse.
It is reported that the PM has little time for the senior hierarchy of the Army, as well as the other services. One recent case is the tantrum of a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari castigating the Navy at a public event in Mumbai and making invalid and almost bizarre assertions about who is the real ‘government’ in the current dispensation.
Sadly, the PM let it pass, conveying that bad-mouthing the military is alright with him. This has now been followed by the PM, the Vice President and the Raksha Mantri not attending the At Home of the Army Chief on the occasion of Army Day on 15 Jan 2018. This is unprecedented and in awful taste.
The social media has also pointed out that the PM had not attended either the Navy Day reception in Dec 2017, or the Air Force Day reception in Oct 2017. A hat-trick no doubt, but the arrogance stands noted by the electorate!!
Welfare and morale are two fundamentals that ensure a happy, satisfied and professionally strong Army. In this area too, the Army is lagging behind. It is highly doubtful that the shortage of officers in the Army, the blame for which lies squarely with the government, will be reduced in 2018.
Within the Army, although the criterion for promotion to the C-in-C rank has been reduced to 18 months from the earlier 24 months, it is unlikely to reduce the short command tenures of flag officers in other command appointments. It is also debatable whether mere change of residual service will enable the government to base its selection only on merit, which needs a strong will, as opposed to the present system.
The Army has recently tweaked some of the criteria for selection of officers for higher ranks. Let us hope it works and a better system emerges. Although the selection system for promotions in the army is as fair and comprehensive as is possible, yet aberrations result when promotions are changed for extraneous reasons or at the behest of arrogant political leadership.
While a cadre review for JCO’s and Jawans has been announced, there is also a need for additional slots to be created within and outside the army, otherwise there will be severe command and control problems on the one hand and stagnation in different ranks at different times.
On a proposal mooted by this writer, the Army Chief has declared 2018 as the ‘Year of the War Disabled’. However, a new amendment now received, possibly at the behest of the MoD to confuse everyone, states that the correct nomenclature is “Year of the Disabled Soldier in the Line of Duty: 2018”; undoubtedly bureaucracy lives and flourishes!!
The bottom line is that with the government steeped in ‘Election Phobia’, it is unlikely that defence issues will receive the attention they deserve. Periodically, the political leaders will make re-assuring statements, which the paid media will dutifully cover, but it is highly unlikely that any substantive issues, as pointed out above, will be resolved this year too. However, because of efforts of the army and not the government, there is better appreciation of the army and the tasks it performs for the nation.
There is a definite need to reduce tasking of the army on internal tasks, so that they get adequate time to train for their primary task and also have a better quality of life.
As India rises in stature economically and technologically towards a more eminent position in the region and the world, it has to concurrently build on its military power. The political leadership must take this issue seriously, lest the country is found napping when ‘push comes to a shove’!
(Lt General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)
(Cover Photograph: Passing out from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun (file))