India's hollowness and Pak’s perpetual war path
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Aug , 2014

“Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from defeat” – Jean-Paul Sartre

After many years, the nation’s retrieval of some lost territory astride the Kargil heights found endorsement as an event to be solemnly observed; previously, this national level military undertaking seemed to have been propagated or ignored according to political considerations!

By the year 1993, defence budget had been curtailed to such an extent that routine upkeep of weapons, equipment, ammunition stocks, even buildings, roads and parks – the hallmark of cantonment order – had to be severely curtailed.

The Kargil Conflict is a saga of supreme valour and grit displayed by young Indian soldiery, and its wholehearted appreciation by the people of India, thanks to the live media. But there rests in the conscience of many observers, a sense of loss, another story.

Strategic Deliration

Every country goes through occasional economic stagnations when it becomes impossible to keep their armed forces in best trim – equipped and modern. Matured governments negotiate through such problematic times with due forethought and wisdom. The military hierarchy is taken on board who, with equal measure of wisdom, respond by keeping the institutional ethos and core competences alive while finding ingenious ways to manage depleted combat power. In 1991, that however was not the case with the Indian Government, ruled as it was by politicians and bureaucrats who, if competent in most affairs, were evidently innocent of the nuances – and imperatives – of nurturing the nation’s military institution.

Neglect of the armed forces and their role in the overall security of the nation was in stark evidence from the year 1990. That was when drastic cuts in defence budget was negotiated between officials of the Finance and Defence Ministries; needless to state, the military hierarchy was not taken on board.  By the year 1993, defence budget had been curtailed to such an extent that routine upkeep of weapons, equipment, ammunition stocks, even buildings, roads and parks – the hallmark of cantonment order – had to be severely curtailed1. More crucially, by tacit understandings within the governing machinery over curtailment of defence expenditure, an atmosphere of avoidance of services related matters had been allowed to prevail – Ministries of  Defence and Finance mainly, but even others like the Home, the Railways and Surface Transport Ministries no less. This deliration manifested in the dismissive manner by which the political hierarchy and the bureaucracy responded to matters concerning the armed forces.

The DRDO had meanwhile appropriated an arbitrary authority to decide as to what weapons and equipment the soldier would have to fight with – and when. That was how the authority, but not accountability, to vet professional opinions of Generals was vested!

Policy Imbalance

Admittedly, in those days when bullion from the exchequer had to be bartered to keep the economy afloat, prudence did demand a curtailment of defence budget. But that compulsion could have been better managed through conjoined civil-military initiatives, as indeed  it is done in  matured  governments. Instead,  the  sanctified  practice of  close and routine interactions between the Service Headquarters, the Defence Ministry and the political leadership became rarer if not non-existent. Thus under an acquiescent political leadership, the attitude of the bureaucracy towards national defence had fallen into frivolity. “Military preparedness was not a priority; there would be no war in the foreseeable feature”, “the ever-demanding military hot-heads are incorrigible; their clamour for exotic ‘toys of war’ need not be taken seriously”, and such notions had become the common refrain among  power-wielders of the early 1990’s, and duly ‘justified’ by clichés and citations which were neither appropriate nor relevant.

With Ministry officials questioning nearly every requirement of the armed forces, even routine cases of replenishments and replacements found rest in the bureaucratic ‘pending tray’. Further, it became a norm to shove even the most desirable cases of improvements in military systems into an orbit of  ‘questions’, ‘further justifications’, ‘more clarifications’, ‘other opinions’ etc., till the issue was either dead or diverted for good. Notably, besides a few apparently better disposed IAS officers, the Ministry was mostly manned by officials on deputation from the Railways, Revenue, Audit and such cadres who in their zeal to save defence expenditure, went about blocking even the subsistence scales of the forces. The DRDO had meanwhile appropriated an arbitrary authority to decide as to what weapons and equipment the soldier would have to fight with – and when. That was how the authority, but not accountability, to vet professional opinions of Generals was vested!

Truly, there was fostered in the Defence Ministry, a policy of keeping the military matters at bay, and draw much satisfaction, even laudatory appreciations, from it. Consequently, when confronted with matters military, the barely-tolerated exasperations of the South Block Mandarins had to be experienced to be believed. By the year 1995, the inventory of war wherewithal had been allowed to deplete to a level that made it impossible for the armed forces to fulfill, even by the half, their politically sanctified mandate. During the next couple of years, while military concerns had been raised repeatedly at the highest level, these were deftly diverted every time by some bizarre, some distorted examples of bureaucratic red-tape. There were none to rationalise the deliration; having, in the post-independence era, divested itself of the benefits of statutory military counsel, the Government had left for itself no scope for balancing measures.

In a dynamic institution like the armed forces, this situation was gnawing at the soldiery’s core values and motivation.

Sulking Services

By 1998 or so, as the stocks of war materials had depleted below critical limits and realistic training turned farcical on account of various restrictions, many service officers grew indifferent, even skeptical, to the ideology of military security. Even the Service Headquarters had turned disillusioned with what they saw as an institutional apathy. Thus much of the military hierarchy, having found fruitless their exertions to maintain field formations in fighting trim, had started to give up; what little activity did continue, it was the due to the force of disciplined habit rather than any conviction. As disillusionment percolated down the chain of command, traditional discipline and values, the bedrock of the ‘call’ of soldiering, were afflicted with severe dilutions. In a dynamic institution like the armed forces, this situation was gnawing at the soldiery’s core values and motivation2. The only saving grace was the astute leadership shown by most of the Captains, Majors, Colonels and some remnants of the diehard order of the military brass who stuck regardless to their noble pledge and military ethos.

That was the situation which had prompted the Army Chief to tell the Prime Minister that the Army’s “heart was willing but the body was weak”, while the Navy Chief rued that policy makers were “innocent of the knowledge that it takes decades and centuries to build up a Navy”. Indeed, notwithstanding their mask of outwardly concern, successive Governments of the 1990’s had been complicit in this downslide  – despite their pronounced intent, they did nothing to improve the matters.  They all misled the nation when they parroted the cliché that, “armed forces are ready to face any challenge”, as they put it.

 ‘Hollowness’ in Military Force

Political and bureaucratic indifference had by now thrown up a peculiar situation – not unlike the 1962.  The million strong, fourth largest army of the world had been reduced to a capability for less than just a few weeks of warfare.  And as it is wont to happen, while the Army groaned under the weight of increasing shortages of war wherewithal and mounting losses of men and material in counter-insurgency operations – necessitated by the failings of the same governing system – the other two Services fared no better, engaging themselves in imaginary doctrinal castles and internal politicking.

The Army was being made to pay for the scam perpetuated by the politicians and bureaucrats.

It would be in order here to cite some examples which were widely debated before and after the Kargil Conflict:-

  • The only modern gun – Bofors – was severely afflicted by non-supply of spares. The Army was being made to pay for the scam perpetuated by the politicians and bureaucrats.
  • In the past one decade there had been no modernisation of any of the branches of the Army.
  • Ammunition stock levels had been depleted to such levels that a war of more than one or two week’s duration would not be possible to sustain.
  • Ordnance factories were starved of orders, and afflicted with dearth of skilled workers, were working at bottom capacity.
  • Military transport fleet had grown so old that its reliability to move under operational conditions had become suspect.
  • While gallant Jawans subsisted on coarse rations of sub-standard specifications, many of the entitled clothing and equipment, even physical training shoes and drawers, were denied to them due to paucity of funds.
  • Realistic and innovative training, collective training particularly, the very basis of military organisation, had been severely scaled down due to restrictions, if not ban, on transportation, weapon usage and various types of ammunition.
  • Procurement of even basic war-like stores had become tardy.  Acquisition of bullet-proof  jackets were delayed for years, need for snow-mobiles in the Siachen Glacier was questioned, over-due upgrade of tanks was stalled and only a few explosive handling equipment could be inducted after a delay of one decade while blast casualties kept mounting.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

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14 thoughts on “India’s hollowness and Pak’s perpetual war path

  1. Having served from TRI-JUNCTION OF ( then )BURMA-EAST PAKISTAN-INDIA,
    when INSURGENCY of MNA of LAL DENGA,EX-AOC HAVILDAR,in jungles of MIZORAM was just rrupted , 1971 INDO-PAK WAR,( on WESTERN FRONT -where entire DIVISION WAS ASKED TO STAY PUT,EVEN AFTER cease fire,(stayed in occupied territory
    Came in contact with CIVILIAN ADMINISTRATION almost at all places.
    I must say,the CANDID VIEWS expressed by GENERAL Sir,are of PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE !
    I SALUTE YOU Sir !
    Major Ravi Joshi ( CORPS OF SIGNALS )
    DOB-08-81942,Born on the eve of QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT !


  3. A very well written article. The author has also had practical exposure at the working level as to how the MOD and DRDO function.

    When the economy was in doldrums at the time of PV taking over as PM, he having handled the MOD earlier was aware that Military could be asked to wait for some time and he was capable of avoiding a major flare up in the near future. He had handled the external affairs also before.MMS was the FM. Unfortunately our higher leadership did not fight hard enough after the economy was stabilised.

    As far as DRDO is concerned they have had some positive contribution but in other cases it was only empire building at the cost of services. Simple question- why was the Bofors spares not indigenised? Accountability was totally lacking. There are numerous examples. Again the Services did not pressurise them adequately. SLR-how long to develop & produce. NAG ? DRDO was taking and taking credit for Prithvi.
    When budget was not adequately provided for preventing cold weather casualties in J&K, it was only when DGMO sent a note that the responsibility of casualties is not that of the Army but that of Ministry, was fund released in a weeks time.But these are exceptions. A study of utilisation of budgeted funds will high light how the files will be put on a snails pace till RE stage and then after FY ends amounts surrendered to adjust else where. MOD will repeat the,” Service headquarters has not been able to utilise the funds allocated”

    Army HQ has its own flaws and we have not had a Chief who could correct the system.Question is should we only go by the principle of seniority in appointing a Chief? It is essential that the Services also get their house in order-NFU was introduced in 5th CPC and no one bothered. 6th CPC implementation has had the worst impact on the Services where the Depts/Orgs were a mixture- Service officers suddenly were fighting for their place-MES,DRDO, BRO.ADG draws a higher pay than DG! Veteran think tanks have to play a role.

  4. OK, we have a choice. Continue to blame the past governance for failing or pen down a new doctrine. Starting with the goal, anything in the defense architecture that does not support stronger India, reject and replace. This means most of the bureaucracy that has grown like weeds in the absence of strong leadership. Stop fearing the armed forces of coups and start trusting professional development at the highest levels of command and control like in US and NATO nations. In the new world, there is less and less secrecy about arms and equipment. Most of the salient features of new weapon systems are available on the google and u-tubes. China is in bed with Russia on the most advance jet fighter technologies, and therefore India’s technological secrets are available to China when India procures fifth generation fighters with Russian collaboration. The difference therefore, boils down to capacity and skill to deliver punch. Weapons technologies, whether outsourced or procured in house, will be increasingly similar to the aps on the personal computer. It is the user and the application of such app that will remain the deciding factor. India’s work is cutout in terms of developing the first response strategy, management of this strategy and the tactical response parameters to operate under the strategy. This is where work must start with earnestness and the new government has a clean sheet to pen the ideas while the nation is waiting.

  5. An excellent and well meaning analysis which should serve as a wake up call to both the politico executive and the military hierarchy…instead of pointing fingers at each other, the urgent need is to address the issue and not personalities…a complete revamp of the system is required to restore the balance…the MOD needs to be scrapped in entirety, the DRDO should be taken out from the MOD and work under the Ministry of Industries, as it is eating most of the Defence budget…the men in uniform need to develop some spunk and spine and exert themselves to take a stand, where and when it matters….we need soldiers in uniform and not bureaucrats or future governors/ambassadors…its high time the ones in higher levels of hierarchy stop taking any nonsense from the civil establishment…but to start we have to introspect and reflect and clean the house within

  6. hello we are humans i don’t know why these 2 countries always fight while they have mostly common things colors,natures,languages and much more.But on small things they despite each other i think we need to leave war and go for peace.

    • Don’t you know they are separated by religion. One is an aggressive religion, came from Arabia and enslaved a nation in the seventh/eighth century, when peace had prevailed there for a millennium. People in India had lost skills of war fighting at Gautama the Buddha’s advice and had become passive. They were enslaved and murdered for seven hundred years, pretty well the same way as ISIS in Iraq is murdering people of different religions.

      British put an end to it in the eighteenth century to economic exploit the people in a different way. After independence the Pakistanis see the same dream of enslaving the nation as their kind saw in the seventh and eighth century. Kashmir issue or river water fight etc. are mere excuses to continue the fight. The real intent to rule over all of India one more time. They have lost three times but would continue as long as it takes, unless of of course they are annihilated first.

      Now in a nut shell, did you get your answer.

  7. Spend beyond one’s means and bankrupt the nation.

    Also please realize, the defence procurement delays begin the day the GSQR are written. It is forty years old procedure designed to bureaucratize the procurement process and added delays. It also allows corruption and bribery to creep in. If GSQR is specifically written to acquire hardware and follow it with ammunition and spares from abroad, it leaves no money to procure additional items. If an India made item is offered it is sent thru infinite tests and ridicule. Army exercise hands off policy on Indian items and pushes the clumsy GSQR to the limit to eliminate the local made item.

    Armed forces have holes in what they have been doing in last fifteen years. Other than critical of DRDO or Ordnance factories etc. they have not provided any useful input.

    Get smart Indian armed forces, there is a new man incharge at the helm.

  8. Excellent article. The only solution is to completely demolish MoD (like the Planning Commission) replacing it with a Department of Defence staffed by military professionals directly under the PM. The CCS note sent by DRDO is another attempt at commercialization and empire building. DRDO focus must be R&D not money making. DRDO-DPSU’s-OF need to be restructured injecting users (military) at every level including management and decision making. PM’s call for foreign investment and technology in defence sector has been quietly undermined by restricting FDI to 49% and not streamlining the DPP to enable absorbing foreign technology and make the defence sector lucrative enough.

  9. An excellent analysis. I hope and pray that the decision makers take note of it and the issue of hollowness is addressed on priority. In fact when Gen VK Singh had raised this issue with the PM, instead of addressing the issue people who were in the power, particularly in MoD and immature media bayed for his blood. I hope that the present hierarchy shows more maturity and necessary sagacity to address the issue.

  10. “Pakistan continues to enjoy the fruits of her aggression in 1947-48, occupying one-third of a state which had legally joined the Indian Union.” – Not fully accurate, since in 1971 war they overran Indian defences in the Chamb sector. And the territory there in Chamb is in their possession ever since. It is beyond my understanding why the corps commander there (Gen Sartaj Singh?) did not mount a counterattack to dislodge the Pakis from there and recover that territory. From my reading of the 1971 war analysis by various military related personalities, which have appeared over time in the open, I get the impression that the Indian Army made a poor showing on the western front in spite of having the edge in armaments over the Pakis (Gens Candeth, Shastri and others war direction and conduct?). Also, the callous attitude of the Army Chief in the initial phases of the Kargil episode as reported in the media points to a glaring lapse in performance on the part of the Army. It is true that the politicians and the bureaucrats are ruining the system all over, but the Armed Forces efficiency efficiency may not be up to the standard even with their resources in possession. For Siachin, they failed to occupy the base at the ground level although for snow-bound mountains there supply is a big problem at the top, but a post at the ground level would make life and military position far more manageable. So there are failures by all concerned, including the military.

  11. Gujral as PM reduced effectiveness of RAW to please Pakistan. Mummohan as Finance Minister drastically cut Defence Ministry budgets, and the results are for us to see. As for Mummohan as PM, he watched every minister LOOT India. What good Mummohan is, Deaf,dumb,Blind ???

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