21 August 2017 - Defence Minister as a force multiplier (By Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (retd), former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
INDEPENDENT India's short history has seen five of its Defence Ministers rise to be the Prime Ministers of India (Indira Gandhi, PV Narsimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and Chandrashekar), one Deputy Prime Minister (Jagjivan Ram), and two who went on to become the Presidents of India (R Venkataraman and Pranab Mukherjee).
Besides these, topical satraps like VK Menon, Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, AK Anthony and Arun Jaitely have adorned the office of the Raksha Mantri in the South Block of the Central Secretariat.
Yet this crucial ministry in the national narrative is not the most-aspired for or sought-after portfolio amongst the mainstream politicos. As the corridor-joke goes, it comes without the "votes or the notes"!
Ostensibly part of the critical Defence, External Affairs and Finance triad of national governance, currently it retains a lamentable status of “additional charge”.
The post of the Minister of Defence (MoD) is the singular nodal point for all matters pertaining to the defence forces — all historic and prevailing woes, concerns and challenges that require “governmental approval” are supposed to be articulated, proposed and championed by the incumbent MoD.
Therefore, notwithstanding the ceremonial position of the President as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces — the buck realistically stops at the desk of the MoD.
The preparedness and the systemic angst within the institution is indirectly reflective of the quality of political support lent by the MoD to the armed forces, as the institutional caretaker under the constitutional wirings of participative democracy.
The basic institutional woes of the Indian armed forces are:
Firstly, the material wherewithal. The lack of adequate weaponry, munitions, indigenisation efforts, wares etc..
Secondly, the personnel issues that include debilitating shortages of officer cadre, qualitative issues of intake, consistent down-slide in the official warrant of precedence, socio-economic degradation with issues like OROP and the successive Pay Commissions.
Third is the crucial struggle with strategic integration. This includes concerns on insufficiency of joint-command structures within the three services, appointment of CDS etc.
Lastly, the over-stretch of deployment, resulting in almost permanent deployments in insurgency-affected states, to now even in the realms of basic “policing” during civic disorders, in places like Muzzafarnagar and Rohtak.
From time to time, specific issues of the defence forces hit their peak-decibels, with specific circumstances warranting their public concerns, mainstreaming and prominence.
However, the specificities and emotional impulses of each of these institutional concerns bely the most fundamental issue concerning the defence forces in our form of governance — that is the historical absence of an empathetic, enlightened and powerful “voice” in the corridors of power, a “voice”, that in our constitutional-political-
administrative construct, can only come from the Minister of Defence in India.
Unlike, China or Pakistan, where the military apparatus and the accompanying “voice” of their defence forces are predominant and impactful, the tenets, instincts and compulsions of a democracy in India, relegates the bare necessities of the “voice” of the Indian defence forces to occasional faux-nationalistic fervour.
This is without any meaningful investments in addressing the increasing laundry-list of institutional concerns.
Reality is that from the inadequacy of fighter squadrons, basic infantry rifle procurement, OROP to even CSD-related concerns — the defence forces maintain a disciplined public silence.
This is mandated in the constitutional wiring of “civil supremacy over military matters”.
Whereas, the politicos and the generalist civil bureaucrats maintain an equally silent posture that basically exposes the defence forces to an unfair and undefended position of either misunderstood criticism, (for example the “Sahayak” system), disinterest (successive Pay Commission degradations) or even disagreements (annual budgetary allocations).
This dysfunctional marginalisation of the armed forces on matters pertaining to security and the decision- making process has a historical faultline of suspicion of the “uniformed” fraternity by the politico-bureaucrat combine.
This has been conveniently perpetuated by all political dispensations, irrespective of their ultra-nationalistic posturings.
Of the 20 incumbents as the Minister of Defence, none except for the short tenure of Jaswant Singh, could claim any professional affinity or having propounded or published any seminal work on strategic/security relevance or on any other larger security imperatives.
Also, unlike the Minister of Law (where 23 out of 26 incumbents have been lawyers), or in other ministries like ICDS, Tribal Affairs or Minority Affairs — where each and every minister till date has been from the respective domain, it is not essential that the Defence Minister needs to be an ex-soldier necessarily.
The position demands an individual to feel passionately, intellectually and empathetically concerned about the institution.
Former Minister of State for Defence, Arun Singh (Congress), like Jaswant Singh, (BJP) had a natural proclivity and sensibility on defence matters.
Similarly, the Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, though a civilian entrepreneur, has espoused the cause of the institution.
None of the political heavy-weights can claim to such a concrete body of tangible contribution —materially, intellectually or even emotionally.
From Baldev Singh (the first and the longest-serving MoD) to the military-despising VK Menon — the institution has steadily witnessed a free-fall in the decision-making hierarchy.
Today the essential “sword-arm” of the nation has regressed to a purely “requisitioned-arm” that is utilised for its pure functional abilities, kinetic capabilities and delivering results (irrespective of the cost to itself!).
While India essentially lacks a strategic-security culture per se, the current civil-politico-military relations are fraught with increasing tensions and suspicions as the much-promised reforms and corrections have so far eluded the services.
Today, as the nation undergoes its most ambitious and revolutionary fiscal reform via the GST, the same individual has the ominous charge of managing the parallel challenge of the ongoing stare-down at Doklam, in his capacity as the MoD.
All global-powers without exception, combine the economic-military prowess in their quest to protect their sovereign interests and future needs.
However India, with all its internal and external security challenges, has been consistently bereft of a passionate Defence Minister who could effectively subsume, address and allay institutional concerns.
The fundamental issue has always been the Minister of Defence, whereas the headline-grabbing noise of specific individual issues is only an outcome of this historic anomaly.
The following is something that was posted on the FB page of an army veteran. I cannot vouch for its authenticity; but those of you who live in Delhi may be able to find out:
QUOTE. With a Defence Minster like Arun Jaitley n the Defence Secretary like this, 1962 is sure to be repeated.
It was sheer apathy when DGIS was openly ridiculed yesterday by none other than Def Secy stating, "Gen saab ye wardi ki dhons dubara mat dikhana. You are just another organ of the govt. We know what we are doing. If army is not getting something it means some other organisation is being empowered to take on additional responsibilities".
This remarkable remark came in light of DGIS raising concerns that even top brass of IA is answerable to the jawans and it is getting difficult for fd cdrs to ans unavailability of critical stores especially war like stores.
Case in point was import of ATGMs. DGIS recommended import of only 50% of total defi and remaining can be developed by DRDO. He also told that DRDO has been incapable of producing effective ATGM since 2002 and even NAG has failed.
But Def Secy was unmoved. He persisted by saying, "We know what to do. Moreover, no war is likely to happen, foreign Secy is already on it". UNQUOTE.
No defence for the MoD
The defence relationship is said to be the strongest link in the India-US strategic partnership, bolstered by annual military exercises, growing arms sales and winsome rhetoric. Last year, the US declared India a ‘major defence partner’ to quicken the pace of cooperation and technology transfer.
A landmark development, no doubt. But are new declarations, frameworks, working groups or task forces the answer to the problem of bureaucratic inertia and political fuzziness around the whole enterprise? The short answer is no, since when the ground is full of rocks, it’s harder to grow things.
Frustration in the Pentagon is high because India is being, well, India. The inertia, the missed opportunities, the constant roadblocks, the procedural rigmarole, the control freak babus, the paranoia around civil-military separation and, above all, the lack of effective political leadership have brought India’s friends in Washington close to exhaustion. A degree of ‘India fatigue’ appears to be setting in among US officials.
India’s ministry of defence (MoD) has spawned a bank of stories in Washington, each more appalling than the last and all recounted with a tinge of sadness. The latest installment of sorry tales — the MoD missed the deadline for five free courses for Indian military officers at the US National War College. All three services wanted the courses.
But mysterious processes at the MoD resulted in the forfeiture of more than $225,000 in US government funds allocated for India. The one-year fellowship is the most sought after by defence personnel from around the world, including India’s neighbours.
Yes, the bureaucratic problems are not of today but of 5,000 years. But the BJP-led government was expected to enforce a greater degree of efficiency, look at the issues with fresh eyes and move smartly to the finish line. Yet, we seem to be repeating old mistakes, looking gift horses in the mouth and missing opportunities to deepen interaction, even as the Indian military craves more back and forth with their US counterparts to update their skills in every area, from cybersecurity to electronic warfare, from satellite imagery to signal intelligence.
Perhaps, the MoD thinks interaction leads to ideological infection. Why else would bureaucrats limit bilateral visits to ‘2 in, 2 out’ — two incoming and two outgoing visits a year per service? If the Indian Navy wants to host a third US delegation in a calendar year, it can’t even if the Naval chief sees a pressing need to discuss matters.
Indian military officers have embarrassingly limited powers to make decisions. They can’t even decide if they can attend a seminar or a conference without MoD clearance. US officials have told me countless stories over the years about how three-star US generals have not been allowed to meet their Indian counterparts. Instead, an MoD or foreign office mandarin takes a seat. This is just stupid.
Even the Defence Technolocy and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the fulcrum on which everything was supposed to spin and fly into the future, has, so far, been more a talk shop than a producer of tangible equipment. When the illequipped Indian soldier lacks both bullets and bullet-proof jackets, the DTTI is focused on jet engines and fancy electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS) even though US reluctance to part with these ‘crown jewels’ is well established.
The overly futuristic aspirations under the DTTI have worked to the detriment of fulfilling Indian military’s urgent needs. And because we are nowhere close to delivery on any front, DTTI is at the risk of losing momentum.
Perhaps, it’s time to turn the DTTI upside down, select a product that both sides need, and set a timeline for codevelopment and co-production.
Strangely enough there is no DTTI working group for the Army, even though both the US and Indian armies have similar needs and could more easily work together. Both need new assault rifles, mine clearance platforms, even anti-tank missiles.
The US may be more willing to share technology and know-how for these systems. Both armies also want a new battle tank — the story of India’s Arjun is a series of harrowing failures. The Army sent Arjun Mark 2 back to the drawing board last year.
Producing basic weapons quickly and well with US technology transfer will do more for India’s industrial base than nurturing futuristic dreams. As Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand, India’s Vice Chief of Army Staff, starkly reminded us, Pakistan has a better military industrial base and exports more defence equipment than India.
He bemoaned the lack of R&D in ordnance factories where they couldn’t even assemble products imported from abroad. Nepal has even refused free Indian rifles.
If Chand’s public comment and the recent CAG report don’t light a fire under the decision-makers, nothing will.(DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.)
(Source : Via Gp e-mail from Carl Gomes Army Vet)
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