Military & Aerospace

Ignorance of military matters in modern India
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Aug , 2015

I Love the Indian Army – but I must leave Now!

I stumbled into the Indian Army in the late seventies. The School which admitted us mid-session, when we returned from Singapore, where my father had a brief teaching stint at the Singapore University, was The Army Public School, Dhaula Kuan. With teenage sons of Army officers as friends, it was natural to apply to join the National Defence Academy. A friend filled my form and even paid the application fee. I wasn’t serious at all of pursuing a career in the military – much like Hrithik Roshan in Lakshya. I saw a movie with my friends, after each of the four NDA entrance papers, and argued with my father when he questioned me on my lack of commitment to the exam.

Are we as a nation doing enough to ensure that we have the best men and systems in place to guard our sovereignty and security interests?

Surprisingly, I qualified on the Service Selection Board standing 19th in the Army all India merit list. I then chose to join the National Defence Academy, as a career was assured at such an early age.

Astonishingly, within a few days of joining the NDA, at pristine Khadakwasala, I began my life long affection and admiration for the Indian Army. The NDA was awesome and I took to it as if the place was always meant for me. It was, and probably still is, a remarkable institution where everything works like clockwork, and boys transform into enthusiastic, self confident young men with fire in their belly and an idealistic vision to contribute meaningfully to the security challenges that India would face in the future.

Three years later at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, I learnt that toughness and fitness was not just about well developed physical abilities, but also as much about mental strength, and that the IMA motto of ‘Service before Self’ was not some Gandhian mumbo-jumbo, but the very edifice of life in uniform as an officer.

The many years in my Infantry battalion were even more memorable. Not a day was spent as “work”. Every day was enjoyable with a huge family of 800 men; the love, respect and camaraderie was astonishing especially in this day and age. A life of great honesty of purpose; lived simply and with great pride, respect and honour.

…we have no clearly enunciated and documented national counter-terrorism policy. In a nation where the threat of terrorism looms larger with every passing day, it is a matter of shame that we havent formulated one yet.

I had a tour of duty in Kashmir in every rank I have held. As a Lieutenant in Baramulla before the militancy, as a Captain in the Siachen Glacier at 20,000 feet, as a Major and company commander in Kupwara fighting terrorists, and as Lt Col as second-in-command of my unit in Badgam in a counter insurgency deployment on the outskirts of the Srinagar airport. Finally as a Colonel and Battalion commander, I had three different innings in the Kashmir Valley, first as part of the offensive plans during OP PARAKRAM in 2001, then fighting militants in Anantnag during the 2002 Amarnath Yatra and during the state elections, and finally on the Line of Control in high altitude in the majestic Gurez Valley.

Interspersed between these challenging times was an opportunity to serve with the United Nations in Iraq-Kuwait as a Military Observer where I saw closely officers from 34 different nations from around the globe and learnt from them about their militaries and the relationship between the State and the soldier in other countries.

I also had instructional assignments at the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun and at the Infantry School teaching young infantry officers. I then had an enriching year at the Army War College at Mhow during the Higher Command course in 2004-5, learning the art of higher command in the military and traveling to every corner of the country, expanding knowledge, visiting not just our various military headquarters, but also the citadels of economic power of our nation.

After the one year sabbatical at Mhow, I moved, in Apr 2005 to a dream job, to the seat of power of the Army in Delhi – the Army Headquarters with an office in South Block and an appointment in the personnel Branch of the Army dealing with postings and promotions of officers of our Army.

After three years at Delhi, a Brigadiers rank was round the corner in mid 2008. The sixth Pay commission too was promising salaries to meet with the aspirations of soldiers and government officials who had been made to feel like poor cousins to their corporate friends in the galloping India of the 21st century.

When I met him in the hospital a month later he said he knew that his company commander would come to rescue him. It taught me a lesson in trust, faith, camaraderie and leadership which I shall never forget for the rest of my life.

Inspite of such a bright future, I felt I must I leave the Indian Army.

The three years in the nation’s capital left me with a strange emptiness which refused to go away. All the years, I felt that the many years I spent away from my immediate family, in remote corners of India, were for a cause which was noble and worthwhile. I always felt huge pride for my soldiers and brother officers. I felt there is a grateful nation behind all of us stationed so far away, battling the vagaries of weather and the uncertainty of life.

I remember in SIACHEN, in 1988, just before we started our deployment on the main Glacier, the shy 17 year old soldier, no more than a kid, who met me, then the Adjutant, and requested me to be posted to the transport platoon after this tenure, as he was very fond of motor vehicles. Four days later, he was violently taken ill at KUMAR our Headquarters at 16000 feet. We tended to him the whole night, as the helicopter could come to rescue him away only in the morning. Sadly, the High Altitude Pulmonary Odema which afflicted him was faster. He was dead before the copter arrived at the crack of dawn. It was a sad loss so soon after our induction on to the Glacier, but we took it on our chin as the accepted dangers of a soldier’s life. We shed not a tear, and proceeded to do our duty for the next six months, battling the odds and the enemy, in incredibly difficult conditions.

I recall when a soldier, who had slipped and fallen towards the enemy side was rescued at Bana top, at 20,000 feet by a brave and courageous officer who went across single handedly at grave risk to his life, to get him back. The soldier spent four hours exposed to temperatures of below minus 40 degrees C, (later both his arms were amputated). When I met him in the hospital a month later he said he knew that his company commander would come to rescue him. It taught me a lesson in trust, faith, camaraderie and leadership which I shall never forget for the rest of my life.

…if our mother was taken ill, we would look for the very best hospital and doctor that we can afford. The critical question is; do we do enough as a nation to ensure that we have the best military India can afford?

I also recall the young soldier who bravely jumped into a building, unrelentingly chasing three dreaded terrorists who had hidden there. We were on the outskirts of Srinagar airfield and fighting a fierce gun battle through the cold winter night in Dec 2000. He killed two of them but in the process was hit by a bullet through the head. He died in my arms. What was even more poignant was the gesture by his father when we honoured him on our battalions Raising day, the following year. In an age where money means everything, the old man broken by his young son’s loss, refused the money we as a unit of 800 had collected as a gesture of our sympathy and concern. He said he had no need for the money and the unit could put it to better use by honouring his brave son in any appropriate way.

What I observed over these three years at Delhi, unfortunately have been a sad revelation of the nature of the relationship between the Indian soldier, the State and the people of India. Like RK Laxmans common man, I have observed silently the ignorance and apathy of the establishment towards all issues military.

As our expectations from our cricket team, we expect the very best from our military in critical moments of our history, like the 71 War or the Kargil conflict.

If we were to build our home, we shall obviously get the best builders and architects we can afford, if our mother was taken ill, we would look for the very best hospital and doctor that we can afford. The critical question is; do we do enough as a nation to ensure that we have the best military India can afford?

Are we as a nation doing enough to ensure that we have the best men and systems in place to guard our sovereignty and security interests? Do we do enough to recruit and retain the brightest men and do we have the structures in place to meet the security challenges within and across our borders in the coming years?

For a start, the inability to put in place an integrated Chief of Defence Staff is the foremost of our weaknesses and is symptomatic of the apathy and ignorance of military matters in modern India. It is often dismissed as a peripheral issue, one that can wait till the services themselves resolve it. The hard truth is that without true integration of the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, a modern military will be grossly inept and incapable of prosecuting a modern day war. To use the cricketing analogy a bit further, the Kargil war was T 20 cricket and can hide a few fatal flaws, but a full scale war will be like a Test match, only synergy; balance, close integration and team spirit will ensure success.

You cannot blame the Defence Secretary or the civilian staff in the Ministry of Defence for the lack of awareness of these issues – very often the Defence Secretary would not have a days experience in the ministry till he joins as the head of the Ministry of Defence. He may have arrived from the commerce, railways or whichever ministry, the senior most bureaucrat is available at that time. The Defence Minister too often has no experience on defence matters till he becomes the Defence Minister. It is like appointing a CEO in a telecom company who had spent all his life in the cement industry!

We cannot quite expect them to understand the vital need for integration of the Services. As a comparison to our system, the United States has a long tradition of appointing secretaries of Defence and Presidents who have spent years soldiering or they choose from retired Generals with vision and an impeccable record of service for these assignments. In fact, even in India it would be inconceivable for the Foreign Secretary to be appointed from amongst the bureaucrats in say the coal ministry, so this assumption that the defence ministry can be managed by amateurs is an insult and an affront to the security needs of India.

There are many such concerns that we must address as a military, as a society and as a nation. There are individual and collective responsibilities that we must fulfill.

To cite another example, we have no clearly enunciated and documented national counter-terrorism policy. In a nation where the threat of terrorism looms larger with every passing day, it is a matter of shame that we haven’t formulated one yet. With the best minds in the Army, with years of experience in counter terrorism retiring every year, it is a pity we have failed to capitalize on their experience and set out a clearly laid out document. The alarming growth of the Maoists in the Red Corridor, will test the ability of the Indian state to respond to this challenge in the coming years. Policing being a State subject and internal threats being the concerns of the Home Ministry, there is an urgent need to look at counter terrorism holistically outside the confines of individual perceptions of States and various ministries. We must radically alter the narrow confines of each ministry when we define the policy for internal threats. There is apparently a visible lack of statesmanship and professionalism on any macro issue concerning national security.

An oblique pointer to India’s concerns on national security and how embedded the military leader is in the psyche of the educated Indian is the representation at various Leadership summits and Conclaves. The ‘who is who’ of India and other countries are invariable present. There will be national political figures, corporate leaders, media barons, and of course movie moughals. So while we have the likes of Aiswarya Rai and Sharukh Khan telling us their take on leadership – the practicing military leader, whether a senior General or the young Major who is an Ashok Chakra winner – shining examples of leadership in its many hues – are conspicuous by their absence.

From our fiercely independent and vibrant media, one would have expected greater maturity in their coverage of security affairs. It is revealing that a study in the USA suggests that the gradual erosion of coverage of international issues by their media networks was possibly a reason for their flawed international security interventions as the American public was not capable or knowledgeable enough to question their leadership. The Indian media must ask itself – do they exhibit enough concern on the larger dimensions of national security and do they have enough knowledge of military affairs to fulfill their role as the watchdogs of the nation? Will the increasing trivialization and localization of news affect our security?

There are many such concerns that we must address as a military, as a society and as a nation. There are individual and collective responsibilities that we must fulfill. Will India and Indians meet the challenge of the future? Time, and the collective will of the nation, will tell.

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16 thoughts on “Ignorance of military matters in modern India

  1. With the ongoing suicide and indiscipline rate in the army and voluntarily retirement by jawans it is clearly evident that rank structure or we can say seniority is affecting the organisation badly.

  2. A very well written article. I recently read the book “India’s Most Fearless” and it compiles such stories of bravery that you have shared in your write up sir. Very rightly pointed out that in countries like The USA, Canada, people from the same field/area of expertise have been given the crucial leadership roles to manage various ministries. The reason they are able to work for a cause they know the basics, the ground realities of their areas of expertise and hence better decisions and strategies are developed for the efficient functioning of the system. We are yet to follow suit. I wish to see someday a successful agriculturist being given an opportunity to head the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, a Retd Senior officer of the Armed Forces to be heading the Ministry of Defence.

    Recently, the government has given an opportunity to the people from different fields to join the Indian Administrative Services. Those professionals are being invited to join who have expertise in different fields such as technology, agriculture, etc. Hope someday these people without any personal interest move up the ladder to become future leaders. Leaders with the knowledge of working for the country and it’s development rather than focusing on personal profits.

    Again it was great read.


  3. I stay in Gurgaon. In my colony there are many houses that belong to Generals. Most of them seem to be dislocated from Pakistan during partition. If their pay and pensions were so poor how did they make such palatial houses and how do they own three cars.

    • Mayank, if you are referring to OROP, let me clarify that we are asking for equal pension with current retirees, not for more pension. Secondly, please note that our children have done well in life and many of the houses that you see have been bought or built with their money. Thirdly, the govt does give loans for house building. Fourthly, many of the people you see have sold rural land that appreciated in value (Refugees from Pakistan were compensated with evacuee property in proportion to what they left behind).

      Each case is different.

      • How is it that only Generals have worthy children to build mansions for their worthy fathers and colonels have such useless children that they have to live in AWHO flats. Have you in the Army come across one Sardar officer in the army who is honest. I have not in my 32 years of service in in the army. And now these thieves are trying to become leaders of OROP.?

        • You are a sad person if you think like that. Sikhs are as honest if not more than others. The tales of their valour, courage and honesty is something you certainly haven’t read. Anyways, if u feel that the general’s houses are too big and hurt u, build a bigger one. Just stop whining about it. Loser.

          • Who is your role model JJ Singh or Bikram Singh or Manmohan Singh or Sahbeg Singh? A sardar gets two ranks more in the army than he deserves and that is why they should be kept out of OROP.

        • The fact that you all are only able to see the petty side and infinity of such comparisons shows the state of mind. If you feel so strongly about people being opportunists who’ve made their money through means that you are not sure about, you should try something like that too. Believe me the fact that this ill comparison is coming up, you too will take short cuts to make your lief easier when you come across such chances. Raising such foolish accusations in public is no discussion. These threads are read by random readers /some even international readers . why in the all mighty’s name do you all want to show your self as helpless people. This is the peril of an open democracy. Learn to live with it and improve your selves. I too am a retd. fauji’s son. I do not see my father cribbing about issues online or discussing with friends about the lack of govt. support. Infact at age 65 he still works in a remote region of India trying to put resources together for his children. Not that its required but then he says something which now makes perfect sense………..:”karam hi dharam hai”. So get busy, no matter wht age . its the best you can do to stay clean and ready for any thing that comes your way rather than going off track after reading such a wonderful article published by Col. Gopal Karunakarn.
          Infact my best friends who is a sikh. His fathers retired from the army a few years ago along with my father. He and his entire family lead a very simple life and theres limited resources in hand talking about sikhs like that in general is painful enough on top of that this damn discussion is no where linked to the article written.

          • In almighty name sardars from Jantar Mantar should stop communicating directly to handlers in pakistan, and then asking them to display banners asking our troops to go to Jantar Mantar and incite sedition. So Mr Sameer keep your wisdom to yourself. Sardars can go to Kanada, Emrikha, or Heathrow but will not be allowed to indulge in anti-national acts in the name of fauji. It is a very sacred word for the rest of us.

  4. Well written article. This is the first time, I have come across an article written by a an Army officers without blaming the defense ministry. I am also carry the same opinion. So I would like to share with you some of my studies about defense forces. We require people like you in the Army. I am interested in the war since my child hood. and Mahabharat Yudh prompted me to read the war strategies adopted in various wars. But my first preference was engineering. So I joined Railways. I regularly writing comments in this site. You might have read so me of my comments. I am an admirer of Smt. Indira Gandhi. In 1971 war PM gave only guided missile boats to our Navy. Whereas she equipped the Army and Air force to the maximum extent possible. When she offered the guided missiles boats to Navy they did not accept. Later on PM found that in Israel- Arab war in 1967, Egypt used similar guided missile boat against Israeli frigate and sunk the same. Then she told the Navy to accept eight numbers of missile boats. I have not seen any other Prime minister having similar caliber and war strategy .These missile boats performed much better than any other warships and air craft carrier, which “even Russian designers could not have dreamed of”-Vice Admiral G.M. Hiranandani writes in “Transition to Triumph”
    But the fact is that Smt Indira Gandhi did not give much importance to our Navy during her meeting with the three Service chiefs during the 1971 war. So they might have thought that by increasing the inventory of naval vessels they may get the same importance as the other two services are getting. It is natural because only those who are having money and assets get better respect. Unfortunately, our Navy lacked proper planning and war strategy. During the period of Indira Gandhi, they could not change her policy.
    “ In 1971, when the three service chiefs would meet the prime minister (Indira Gandhi), she would ask the army chief first, then the air force chief, about their views on the situation. And then she would look at her watch and say, ‘Admiral, you have anything to say?’

    And I’d say ‘No ma’am, I have nothing to say.’

    Read more.
    But after the death of Smt. Indira Gandhi, subsequent Governments started following a policy just opposite to what she had followed. Her son Rajiv Gandhi undid all the good that she did. He went and purchased another Air craft carrier ( 2nd hand) from Britain. He had purchased submarine from Germany and that was the 1st Defense Scam. Majority of Ship building yards are being used for constructing warships, frigates and submarines. She adopted the correct policy and she gave importance to missiles. This has saved the country and the Army from a similar situation like 1962 war in future. After the death of Smt. Indira Gandhi Army could not purchase any modern equipments. The problem in the Army is the Ego and superiority complex among the majority of Army officers. More over they still think about conventional war. When we have various missiles why do we require Bofors or M777 howitzer guns. Since the development of weapon locating radar no country expect India is interested in field guns. We should have large number of helicopter gun ships rather than tanks. Tanks and Jawans are required to guard the captured enemy land .The ground force should move to occupy the enemy land, after neutralizing the enemy power fully. We should develop good electronic Jammers to to Jam enemy .radars. We will get the full picture of the ground position from GPS. So we will be fighting a different war all together. So we are in far better position than a few years. To day we are a super power in the field of missiles. The first think we should do is stop blaming each other . Navy could have prevented Mumbai terrorist attack if they had purchased or manufactured high speed missiles boats to guard the coast lines. All the Aircraft carriers are white elephants. But the present defense mister will different from previous defense ministers. He gets good suggestions from the general public which no one thought of in the past.. Any future war against Pakistan should be like we captured East Pakistan in 1971 war. Otherwise we will never be able to stop terrorism. This is possible and it will be a great war like Mahabharat Yudh.

    • The problem in India is that there are hardly any journalists and defence experts with real knowledge out of personal experience serving in the military . Result is write ups based on mental calisthenics , ancient history available in the form of mythology and smattering of gathered gossip and information which the individual is not capable of either assimilating into a whole or integrating into worthwhile stream of thought .

    • My dear Mr Govindan, normally I do not comment on the comments/ observations posted by other, but your sheer lack of knowledge and understanding on a professional subject that you have carelessly commented on compelled me to defy my own restriction.

      In fact your knowledge about maritime warfare in present day context and the tri service synergy in the present day concept of Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMA) is so shallow that one really doesnt know how to broach the subject to you in the first place. Your concept like patrolling the coast with missile boats are so ridiculous that it doesnt even deserve to be a topic of discussion leave alone its implementation. Just to come down to your level, are you going to engage a fishing boat with a missile. A balanced force must be able to operate along the complete spectrum of warfare with varying intensity. Thats the reason you require missiles as well as field guns whose employments are different again to cover the spectrum of operations. The same logic applies to Air Force and Navy as well.

      In fact you are so naive and lacking in basic military knowklege that it would be a herculian task to even attempting to educate you in the first place before engaging you in a meaningful discussion. I would suggest you to read up the maritime doctrines of the Indian Navy ( similarly for other services also) which is available in the open domain. Try and understand the nuances first and then come back on this portal for discussion.

      Wish you happy reading first, understand a bit of the complexities involve and then come back with your comments. You will be surprised to discover that how ignorant you were and made such sweeping comments. All the best and Au Revoir.

  5. Sadly Amit this entire OROP agitation has been hijacked by Sardars. I was sitting on the dais on the back row, and some of these agitationists were carrying bundles of 1000 rupee notes. A lot of anti-nationals have infiltrated the movement.

  6. One sardar retired brigadier at Jantar Mantar has given a interview to a news channel and said that OROP agitation is going to be widened and many muslim organisations have offered their support , he also said that lot foreign funded NGOs have also offered support. Will someone arrest this b-a-s-t-a-r-d immediately. He seems to be an ISI agent.

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