“The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order; and its defences are impregnable from without; It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire for such title…..Republics are created-these are the words, which I commend to you for your consideration–by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them.”
Republic of India was structured on similar lines. But six decades in to its working, it is tottering and sinking because the “wise among her sons and daughters have been banished from the public councils for their honesty and integrity, and the profligates rewarded because they are venal and servile”. Democracy has shrunk and has been replaced by a creeping ‘Kleptocracy’ marked by slavish flattery, autocratic arrogance, unbridled greed and criminalized corruption. In the event, the First Republic, so painstakingly constructed by our Founding Fathers, is falling apart and is on the precipice of collapse.
Constitution (Article 52) places the President of India as head of the Republic with all power, perks and authority. Here is what the Constitution mandates:
“Art 53.(1) The executive power of the Union shall be vested in the President and shall be exercised by him either directly or through officers subordinate to him in accordance with this constitution.
(2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provision, the supreme command of the Defence Forces of the Union shall be vested in the President and the exercise thereof shall be regulated by law.”
The President has Executive Power to appoint and remove high constitutional authorities, including the prime minister, council of ministers, state governors and Supreme Court/High Court judges, CAG and election commissioners; Legislative powers to summon a joint session of Parliament, approve introduction of money bills and legislation dealing with fundamental rights and give consent to all bills passed by parliament before becoming law; Judicial powers to rectify judicial errors, and also seek the supreme court opinion on legal and constitutional as well as matters of national and people's interest and Military powers as Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces to appoint all officers including the service chiefs, declare war and conclude peace all emanating from his/her control and authority over parliament. Such vast power and authority is vested on the President not to function as a figurehead but to uphold on behalf of ‘We, the People’ Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equity of status and of opportunity and to promote among them all Frater-nity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.
Sadly, over the years, these core objectives have been mingled in dust. Justice has become inaccess-ible, distant, costly and purchasable; Liberty is ravaged by a spate of freedom-killing preventive detention laws and gross abuse of the IPC provisions of sedition and ‘waging war against the state’ as well as Section 66A of the IT Act; Equity is evaporating with governments selling/mortgaging country’s assets to MNCs and big businesses in the garb of ‘Reforms’ and Fraternity is faltering with dignity of the individual and integrity of the Nation being severely compromised. As for institutions and instruments of democratic governance less said the better: Political parties have become personal fiefdoms; ‘Council of Ministers’ function as surrogates of the rich and the powerful; Parliament has virtually turned into a trading house; Superior Courts have no accountabi-lity; CAG is abused for exposing humongous corruption; Election Commission is stalled from eliminating money and criminal power; Over-protected bureaucracy has turned into subservient adhocracy; CBI is used as blackmailing tool, Human Rights and Information Commissions are dump-yards for sinecure-seekers; Lokpal and Judicial Accountability Bills scuttled and RTI Act sabotaged from within!
On the Military side Government is sticking to the age-old colonial notion by defining civil-military relationship thus: “The military forces have remained loyal to the government and have been its obedient servant.” Military leaders of impeccable honour, who refused to be ‘obedient servants’, have been treated in a crude and hostile manner. This has severely damaged the integrity of the Armed Forces. Widespread perception among military is that to reach top ranks one need to be only an ‘obedient servant’, let merit and honesty be damned! Hence this disturbing view, circulating at many levels of military, that it is not worth fighting for a country that is in the grip of ‘conniving, corrupt cabals’. Cumulative effect of all these are that the First Republic is on a ‘governance cliff’ and could topple over the precipice any time.
Fortuitously, President Pranab Mukherji is well aware of the rot and his responsibility to remedy it. In his acceptance speech as the 13th President of the Republic he had famously said: “Corruption is an evil that can depress the nation’s mood and sap its progress. We cannot allow our progress to be hija-cked by the greed of a few” and then went on to add: “The principal responsibility of this office is to function as the guardian of our Constitution. I will strive, as I said on oath, to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution not just in word but also in spirit.” Unfortunately on both these counts-countering corruption and upholding the constitution – the President has been eminently inactive! This is probably because, despite being conferred with awe-some powers, the role of the President is stated to be nominal and ceremonial and he is supposed to exercise these powers only under the ‘advise’ of the ‘council of ministers’. Ironically all these mini-sters are ‘officers subordinate to the President’. Given the above narration of rotten governance, how does one expect the ‘council of ministers’ ever to advise the President to curb the evil of corruption and ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution? It is a legal hoax rammed in during Emergency (1975-77) that cannot be countenanced in free India.
As clearly brought out, the very edifice of the First Republic-Justice, Liberty, Equity, Fraternity–along with nation’s security stand severely eroded and corroded and faces danger of falling asunder with a rising ‘Kleptocracy’ looming large. This is openly manifest in the massive scandals/ misdeeds-2G Spectrum, Commonwealth Games, Gorshkov carrier, Adarsh housing, Coalgate as well as Air-India ripping, Antrix-Devas fraud, TATRA robbery, DLF-Vadra skullduggery, Wal-Mart bribery, HSBC Bank money-laundering and myriad others-all of which being pushed under heaps of garbage!
India of the First Republic is fast becoming a ‘failed state’ with all the characteristics described by Robert Rotberg in his Book, ‘When States Fail: Causes and Consequences’:
"Failed states offer unparalleled economic opportunity only for a privileged few. Those around the ruling oligarchy grow richer while their less fortunate brethren starve…. The privilege of making immense profits and fortune when everything else is deteriorating is confined to clients of the ruling elite....The nation-state's responsibility to maximize the well-being and prosperity of all its citizens is conspicuously absent....and escalating levels of venal corruption mark failed states."
It is time for the President to stand up and be counted and save the First Republic before it perishes forcing India’s parched millions to rise in anger and raise the Second Republic from its very ashes!
The Civil–Military Discord - Backdrop
The British East India Company rule in India effectively began in 1757 and lasted until the enactment of Govt of India Act, 1858 that led to the British Crown assuming direct control. The Company was dissolved in 1874 and its functions absorbed into official government machinery in the British Raj with its private army nationalised by the British Crown.
In the Madras Presidency there has been an anecdote about drill training for this private army. The raw recruits could not understand the command ‘Left-Right’ for marching during drill practice. So the trainers had to tie a piece of cloth (selai) on one leg and palm-leaf (olai) on the other. The drill command for marching then was a strange-sounding olai-kaal (left-leg) selai- kaal (right-leg)! The literacy levels of military recruits then was so abysmal. Those were the days of feudal-monarchy when lowly men, commanded by aristocrats comprised the military. It was in this era that Alfred Lord Tennyson came out with the dictum for the military men: “Theirs is not to reason why, but to do and die.” (Charge of the Light Brigade-1854).
India’s military today comprise of well educated and highly skilled men who have a mind of their own to distinguish good from the bad and right from the wrong. Officers who command them come through a rigorous selection process based on merit. Yet India’s political-bureaucratic elite function-ing in a seemingly democratic system is sticking to the Tennyson doctrine. This is reflected in the recent observations made by the Union Minister of State of Defence while delivering the Field Marshal KM Cariappa Memorial Lecture: ‘The military forces have remained loyal to the elected government and have been its obedient servant.’
It is not surprising therefore that successive governments have failed to define a proper and fair civil-military relationship. However, taking the initiative Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in his treatise ‘The Soldier and the State’ (1998) attempted a definition: “The modern military profession exists as part of the government insofar as the term 'government' includes the executive departments of the nation-state...Modern democracies therefore pay great attention to the supremacy of the political class over the military in governance, normally referred to as 'civilian control of the military'. This is clearly how it should be, since ultimate power and decision making should be wielded by the elected repre-sentatives of the people.”
Gen.VK Singh fully endorsed this (2012) but challenged the Tennyson dogma: “Civilian supremacy must always be rooted on the fundamental principles of justice, merit and fairness. Violation of this in any form must be resisted if we are to protect the Institutional Integrity of our Armed Forces.”
Combined views of former Navy and Army Chiefs go beyond ‘loyalty’ and ‘obedience’ and set forth certain non-negotiable imperatives for civil-military relationship:
Democracy functioning as per established norms;
Military profession existing as part of government;
Decision making and civilian supremacy by the ‘elected representatives of the people’;
Such supremacy to be rooted on the principles of justice, merit and fairness;
Violation of this can be resisted to protect the Institutional Integrity of Armed Forces.
Estrangement not Relationship
An institutionalised, well established civil-military relationship would factor in all the above imperatives.
But what is happening now is adhoc and patch-work and there is more of discord than accord! It was inevitable therefore that matters drifted, intrigues prevailed and things have happened that strike at the very integrity of Army as an institution. These include creating and pursuing ‘line of succession’ at senior echelons of the Army; the resultant pre-meditated manipulation of the date-of-birth of a serving Army Chief forcing him to move the Supreme Court where he was advised to ‘blow with the wind’; bribe offered to a serving Army Chief for defence deals in his very office; a corrupt PSU chief involved in TATRA scam, enjoying patronage at highest levels, issuing open threat to a serving Army Chief; leakage of `top Secret’ letter from Army Chief to the Prime Minister about the defence unpreparedness; false and fabricated accusations against Army Chief of spying/snooping on the Defence Minister and what is worse, insidious insinuation of military coup, casting aspersion on the Army Chief himself.
Fall-out of these sordid happenings on the Indian Army is best summed up by Def analyst Maroof Raza: “The system has closed around the chief and this will only embolden the bureaucracy. The fallout will be that at least for two generations, no military commander will raise his head. And the message for military commanders is that it isn’t merit or accuracy of documents that will get them promotions, but pandering to the politico-bureaucratic elite. The last bastion of professional meritocracy in India has crumbled. The damage will be lasting.”
Despite such damning indictment nothing was done to undo the damage. Instead the politico-bureaucratic agenda was rammed through and the ‘line of succession’ consummated. President cum Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces remained mute having become functus officio by allowing politicians and bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to gleefully misuse the delegated powers. The Lady President refused even to meet a delegation of retired General Officers and receive a Memorandum signed by over thousand veterans and concerned citizens. It is evident that despite President being the ‘Government of India’ as per General Clauses Act, is incapable of ensuring adherence to the ‘fundamental principles of justice, merit and fairness’, an essential prerequisite for cordial civil-military relationship.
This epitomises the near total collapse of the institutional framework and alienation between the civil and military hierarchies. The widespread perception is that while the rank and file is subjected to severe disciplinary action for even minor offences, those higher up, with the right connections, can get away with anything and get promoted to highest ranks as long as they remain ‘obedient servants’! Hence this disturbing view, circulating at many levels of military, that it is not worth fighting for a country that is in the grip of ‘conniving, corrupt cabals’. Lord Tennyson’s dictum is being turned on its head!
This is clear manifestation of civil-military estrangement and if allowed to persist, could imperil the security of the nation, both internal and external. Yet the political-bureaucratic combo aided and abetted by a group of groveling former military brass are pursuing activities that pose serious threat to nation’s sovereignty and integration. These include attempts to sell-out Siachen glacier through sinister means and the still-burning NorthEast cauldron due to Army’s Command failure.
Adhocracy, not Bureaucracy?
Despite shortcomings, Indian military is professional in its structure and functioning. It has primary and secondary roles. Former is to preserve national interests and safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of India against any external threats and the latter is assisting Govt agencies to cope with ‘proxy war’ and other internal threats and provide aid to civil authority when requisitioned for the purpose. In recent times Army is seen more in the secondary role than the primary one. It is in this context that we should critically look at national security, the role of military as well as civil-military relationship so that these could be mainstreamed into the governance architecture.
What are the factors that prevent such mainstreaming? First is the strong administrative, procedural and bureaucratic control over the armed forces without any expertise in military affairs. Second, exclusion of military from crucial decision-making forums, thus denying it a role in policy-making process, strategic assessments and weapons procurement, all having adverse effect on defence preparedness and national security.
Even so, military has considerable autonomy concerning its own affairs: training and education, threat assessments, force structure, doctrine, innovations, appointments (up to a certain rank) and miscellaneous welfare activities. This practice of strong bureaucratic control with military autonomy is paradoxical and could create more conflicts than it could resolve!
Is the control really bureaucratic? One wonders! Bureaucracy administers through laid down rules and is by and large merit-driven. Adhocracy on the other hand is nurtured through violation of processes and procedures to ensure that favoritism and nepotism prevails. Such adhocracy, which is antonymous to meritocracy, has substantially subverted the decision-making process and governance standards vastly encouraging corruption and dishonesty. It started with the civil services, spread to the military and blossomed into a joint-venture between civil and military adhocracies. It is this adhocracy that has severely soured Civil-military relationship.
Needed, a catalyst
Civil and military are both sides of governance. Though military should be an intrinsic part of India’s governance it is not so because there is an inherent conflict between two streams-one of mediocrity versus excellence. As always mediocrity keeps excellence at arm’s length and given the current civil-military equation the twain shall never meet! Instead, driven by self-interest, military, at least the higher echelons seem to be drifting towards mediocrity. This indeed is the dilemma.
The way out is to redefine governance and make ‘Human Security’ as a new paradigm for develop-ment and governance. ‘Human security’ combines and harnesses 4 vital elements-material sufficie-ncy, human dignity, democracy and participatory governance-that constitute the core of a civilised human society. Governance, structured around such concept can strive towards and achieve excellence.
Once we broad-base "defense" or "military" and move towards "human security" sector, civil society participation becomes imperative in national security strategies, military affairs and expenditures. Governance then could really become a catalyst for civil-military relationships and adhocracies will have no place in such relationship. For this to happen a specific role need to be assigned to the civil society so that the issue is dealt with in a democratic rather than adhocratic manner.
A few suggestions
Given the mess that India’s higher defence management is, it would be better to emulate the model that centralises military’s operational authority through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as opposed to the service chiefs and institute parliamentary oversight on defence management. With this concept at the core, following steps could be taken to build and sustain an abiding civil-military relationship:
Re-visiting the entire rubric of higher defence management and role of bureaucracy, factoring the reports of various committees;
Legislation to institutionalise the ‘fully joint force’ and Parliamentary oversight/involvement in defence management;
Amending Government of India Rules of Business 1961 to recognize the role of military in national security making them integral to the governance structure;
Scrutiny of the delegated authority of the President under Rules of Business and its rectification to prevent misuse for pursuing political and private agenda;
Abolishing adhocracy in MoD by replacing the archaic ‘generalist’ practice in senior appointments with domain knowledge/experience;
Reconfiguring national security framework with inputs from all stake-holders and involvement of civil society;
Bridging the distance between communities, academia, think-tanks and the military through transparency and assistance from civil society.
Two thousand years ago Kautilya famously said: “When diplomats fail to maintain peace, the soldier is called upon to restore peace. When civil administration fails to maintain order, the soldier is called to restore order. As the nation’s final safeguard, the army cannot afford a failure in either circumstance. Failure of army can lead to national catastrophe, endangering the survival of the nation”. The need for an abiding and cordial civil-military relationship cannot be put forth better.
Such relationship cannot float on shallow waters, but should be moored on an unshakable anchor. In war or conflicts military men do not offer the 'supreme sacrifice' just for money or rank. There is something far more precious called 'Honour' and this is embedded in the Chetwood Hall credo which most military leaders have passed through. Civil-military relationship moored on such anchor would subsist on equality and equity, not supremacy and subservience.
Military veterans should set the tone for this relationship by abandoning the current ‘petitioning’ approach to articulate their grievances and replace it with a pride-cum-principle strategy. Only then things will change.
(Thew author is a former Army and IAS Officer)