When India became free, one of the first tasks was to evolve a new structure for management of the Defense set-up. Therefore, it would be relevant to enumerate the broad principles on which the defense structure of a democratic country needs to be built:
- In a democracy, there has to be ‘civil’ control over military; But the word ‘civil’ means political (and only political) and not bureaucratic.
War is the most complex and specialized activity that a man engages in. What makes a soldier give his life (for the country) is an issue far more complex than even understanding the nature of God.
- War is the most complex and specialized activity that a man engages in. What makes a soldier give his life (for the country) is an issue far more complex than even understanding the nature of God. Over the ages, millions have claimed to understand the concept of God. But those who understood the motivation behind the soldier’s willingness to die would be in thousands, may be only hundreds. It is not claimed that all generals understand these issues, but some of them do. We have to identify them and bring them up. In short, issues of war have to be left to the generals. They must be listened to with respect directly by the politicians, not through the via media of bureaucrats. In any set up, lot of space must to left to the generals to plan and maneuver.
- Each cog in the defense structure which has some degree of power must have an equivalent amount of responsibility and accountability; and that must be defined in very precise terms leaving no room for ambiguity, and manipulability to escape responsibility.
All the above principles were violated with impunity in evolving the defense structure of independent India. In view of the luke warm interest (and lack of capability) of the politicians, bureaucrats took on the job. Of course, the politician reminded the bureaucrat of the principle of a ‘tight leash’. The Indian bureaucracy (the ICS and IAS) has some of the finest brains of the country. They set about designing a structure in which generals were pushed on to the periphery, from which they could:
- Neither participate in any meaningful way in the decision making process.
- Nor protest over being excluded.
In other words, the generals could be seen (occasionally), but were not to be heard.
In India, politician is the ‘mai-baap’ (all-in-all); he should be given 50% of the blame; the remainder 50% being shared equally between the bureaucrats and the generals
Service Headquarters were given the status of attached subordinate offices. An umbrella-type all encompassing Ministry of Defense (MoD) was created and put above these subordinate offices. All powers — organizational, financial and promotional — were concentrated in the hands of the bureaucrats at the MoD. The post of Defense Secretary was created, who soon enough assumed powers of an ersatz Chief of Defense Staff. The Defense Secretary and as indeed, the Joint Secretaries can walk in and out of the office of the Defense Minister several times a day. The Service Chiefs generally get to meet the Defense Minister only on weekly meetings.
With their close proximity to the politicians, bureaucrats in the MoD have the ear of the Defense Minister. Whenever they find him in a relaxed mood, they can always whisper a thing or two in his ear. The note for the selection of a new Service Chief is initiated by a Joint Secretary, in which he could cleverly build in the necessary biases. Defense Secretary would pen the final note in which he would, of course, keep the ‘pliability’ factor in view. The deputies to the Service Chiefs, called the Principal Staff Officers at Service Headquarters have no chance of interacting with the Defense Minister. Views of the generals cannot be conveyed to the Defense Minister, unless and until these have been edited, chipped and chopped by the Deputy and Joint Secretaries. An iron wall in the form of bureaucracy came to be built between the military and the politicians, between the Defense Minister and the generals.
In the foregoing, we have laid major part of the blame for the present state of affairs in the Indian defense set up on the shoulders of politicians and bureaucrats. We have, largely, spared the generals. That is not fair. Generals must also carry a good share of blame for their many acts of commission and omission. On the advent of independence, as stated earlier by us, the politicians gave somewhat of a cold shoulder to the generals. Far from being alarmed from that, the generals might have felt even a bit relieved. The might have argued, ‘Let us talk to the politician through the bureaucrat; he speaks our type of English’. The generals showed a singular lack of vision in not appreciating that the politician controls every lever of power. The overall blame could possibly be distributed as follows: — One third each to politician, bureaucrats and generals — In India, politician is the ‘mai-baap’ (all-in-all); he should be given 50% of the blame; the remainder 50% being shared equally between the bureaucrats and the generals.
When a hue and cry was raised, the government kept on deliberating over it for more than a year at various levels…
At this stage, it must be stated to the credit of the bureaucrat that he only moved in the space which the generals were reluctant to occupy. By the time the generals woke up, it was too late; the bureaucrat was well entrenched and had the ear of the politician. If a general was to express even a mild dissent with the state of affairs, he could be branded anti-national. Something on these lines appears to have happened to a Naval Chief, who was sacked most unceremoniously.
Throughout the history of independent India, generals have generally failed to put up their point of view with the required degree of clarity and emphasis. Is it possible that we have failed to produce generals of the right caliber? Irrespective of the actual position, the prevalent belief is that we did produce ‘good’ generals. Whatever, the generals did not assert when it was imperative to do so, sometimes even in national interest. There could be many reasons for that — the rat race for promotions being one of the important one. It is not easy to disregard the ‘goodies’ that come with the post. Another reason could be the intense Inter-Service rivalry. That exists in all countries, including the USA which even has a ‘Joint Chief of Staff’. However in India, the rivalry exceeds all limits, and is the most distinguishing feature of all Inter-Service interactions. That rivalry is not going to go away even if we appoint a ‘Chief of Defense Staff’, which in any case, would not solve any of the problems presently staring ‘India’s Defense’ in its face. It would just add another cog to the wheel, and make the issues even more complex (However, it is a bigger question, and needs a separate discussion.)
One way to put the Armed forces ‘in their place’, is through means of Pay Commissions. As such, a decision was taken at a very early stage not to allow a General anywhere near the outskirts of the Pay Commissions. The sixth Pay Commission submitted its report in early 2008. By an ingenious thought process, it upset the long established equivalence between the various ranks of the armed forces, vis-a-vis the para-military. Among other things, it pushed the police DGP of a state to a higher level than a Lieutenant General (non GOC-in-C). That meant that the DGP of even the smallest state (with a police force of say 7,000), and DGP (Housing) of UP, rank higher than a Corps Commander, with 60,000 troops, guarding the most sensitive part of the Western border.
In the present defense structure, whilst all power rests with the Ministry of Defense, they have no accountability worth the name.
When a hue and cry was raised, the government kept on deliberating over it for more than a year at various levels, i.e. Committee of IAS Secretaries (no generals permitted), Group of Ministers. Whilst some Relief Packages were announced, the question of status of the Lt Gen was further complicated. Displaying exceptional ingenuity, combined with rare depravity, the Lt Gens were further split vertically. It was decreed that only ?rd of the Lt Gens will be given a higher grade; the rest ? must rot at the ‘Low’ grade. That decree has created three tiers of Lt Gens (perhaps unprecedented in the world):
Lt Gen — GOC-in-C
Lt Gen — High grade (1/3rd)
Lt Gen — Low grade (2/3rd)
In the IAS, some 80–90% become Additional Secretaries, and about 60–70% full Secretaries. In the Armed Forces, only about 10% reach the level of Lt Gen. After that agonizing and hazardous journey, the Lt Gen is informed, “Please cool your heels in the low grade, till we get time to look at you.” That can shatter the most committed and the most loyal.
There is only one level each of (full) Secretary, and Additional Secretary. Why shred the rank of Lt Gen, all for a paltry few lakhs (hundred thousands) rupees a year; or is there a deeper scheme? It is these ‘low grade’ Lt Gens, who as Corps Commanders are at the cutting edge of the battle. In the final analysis, it is their plans and push and daring that determines the difference between ‘Victory’ and ‘Defeat’. No sane nation will put its generals with ‘a grievance on their mind’, to face the enemy in the actual battlefield. That is how the psychology and nature of war works, which as a nation we do not understand. A mindset which can think of this type of mischievous scheme (split Lt Gens into 3 grades) can do anything to destroy the cohesiveness of the Armed Forces.