Military & Aerospace

The Debilitating Politico-Military Disconnect
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Issue Vol. 30.2 Apr-Jun 2015 | Date : 02 Sep , 2015

Mrs. Indira Gandhi with Manekshaw

The security imperatives for India are multiple and dynamic with a volatile neighbourhood including an aggressive China and an irrational Pakistan that refuses to stop following a state policy of terrorism. The last decade has been characterised with utter neglect of the defence sector and we need to take focused corrective actions. For this, a major reason has been the politico-military disconnect. Only time will tell if the Defence Minister can take the bull by the horns.

It didn’t matter a thing to the British that Partition along the Radcliffe Line ended in violence…

Much has been written about the politico-military disconnect in India. British India had no such qualms. To start with, in the British Indian Army, British officers were disconnected with the native rank and file even at the lowest echelons. And so, the rank of Junior Commissioned Officers (Indians) was introduced to bridge that disconnect. The question of politico-military disconnect did not arise. But then came the steadily increasing influx of King’s Commissioned Indian Officers. The British, who never trusted the Indians, therefore, termed the Services Headquarters as “Attached Offices” in the ‘Rules of Business’ of the Government. This was a masterstroke of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) that preceded the Indian Administrative (IAS) as they could keep the military on a tight leash while reaping all the benefits – power, pelf et al. It helped the British deprive India of its wealth and bring the industrial complex to nix while keeping the military aloof and do their bidding.

Much as the British trumpet the Commonwealth today, their disdain for undivided India was more than evident when barrister Radcliffe arrived in British India for the first time on July 08, 1947, given exactly five weeks to draw the borders between an independent India and the newly created Pakistan, chairing two Boundary Commissions (one for Punjab and one for Bengal) with two Muslims and two non-Muslims lawyers. None of these five including Radcliffe had obviously seen a map earlier.

Many would not know that the resulting boundary award was announced on August 17 while Mountbatten had announced Independence two days earlier because the latter was obsessed with August 15 – the date of Japanese surrender in World War II. Radcliff sailed back for England on August 18 and it didn’t matter a thing to the British that Partition along the Radcliffe Line ended in violence that killed one million people and displaced 12 million, not to talk of the British deceit at Skardu that gave Pakistan control of Gilgit-Baltistan and a border with China.

India does not lag behind in political machinations…

Nehru’s Legacy

India does not lag behind in political machinations. It is common knowledge that Nehru forced Mahatma Gandhi to coerce Sardar Patel to withdraw his nomination for the Prime Ministership of Independent India; threatening otherwise that he would split the Congress. While this indicated the wily and stubborn character of Nehru, unfortunately he turned out to be quite naïve in matters of military strategy, geopolitics and diplomacy. The 1,000-strong ICS to start with was completely British but by 1905, about five per cent Indians had joined the ICS, mostly from Bengal.

At the time of Partition in 1947, the ICS consisted of 322 Indians and 688 British but bulk of the latter chose to get back to England. While the ICS was divided between India and Pakistan, what remained with India was renamed IAS. It was the same brood that had enjoyed keeping the Services away at arms distance and divided. The question of military equipping did not go beyond provision of rifles that were considered enough to quell rebellion and were bonanza in situations such as Jalianwala Bagh where unarmed natives could be cruelly and effectively massacred.

To the joy of the newly formed IAS in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), new developments were taking place. To the Western educated, scotch sipping, Mountbatten’s friend Nehru, the military was an anathema that he said should be disbanded because as per him, police forces were more than adequate to safeguard the country. He had even gone to the extent of stating later that NEFA (now Arunachal) could be guarded by the Chinese friends. IAS officers were no different from the Radcliffe Boundary Commission who had probably never seen or more importantly never understood a map, and any training for strategy formulation was out of question.

The issue of making any strategic advice did not arise when the basic understanding of military matters was missing in the first place…

The issue of making any strategic advice did not arise when the basic understanding of military matters was missing in the first place. So, when Nehru made his first strategic blunder in stopping the Indian Army from pursuing the fleeing Pakistani infiltrators in 1948 and going to the UN, the bureaucracy simply applauded. But what happened in the bargain is that by not making Pakistan vacate Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), Nehru gave away the following:

  • Pakistan got a border with China, it never had
  • Pakistan got an opportunity to continue occupying 78,114 sq kms of Indian territory (POK) legally acceded to India by the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1947
  • Pakistan illegally ceded 5,080 sq. km. of Shaksgam Valley (part of POK) to China getting nuclear technology and defence equipment in return
  • India lost a border with Afghanistan and in turn, land corridor to Afghanistan and CAR through the Wakhan Corridor
  • China favoured Pakistan for land route to the Indian Ocean whereas it would have wooed India instead
  • Provided handle to Pakistan to wage a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir
  • Changed the course of Sino-Indian relations, Indo-Pak relations and the future history of the sub-continent forever

Nehru made his first strategic blunder in stopping the Indian Army from pursuing the fleeing Pakistani infiltrators in 1948…

It is obvious that India’s response to newly established Pakistan occupying 78,114 sq. km. of Indian territory would have emboldened China to invade Tibet, carry out the massive invasion of 1962 and claim large swathes of India territory including 90,000 sq. km. of Arunachal Pradesh.

If Junagarh and Hyderabad remained with India, it was purely because of Sardar Patel and his orders to the military. Left to Nehru, this would have not happened. Sans any strategic military advice, Nehru brought Article 370 in to Jammu and Kashmir, terming it just ‘temporary’ when questioned by Sardar Patel, then Home Minister. There was no Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in those days and Nehru even kept his Home Minister in the dark on Article 370 on the plea that this was part of his sphere of foreign policy although the latter was totally illogical.

But had the bureaucracy analysed the long-term effects of Article 370 on the country’s security with POK adjacent to it? That India defaulted in virtually blocking Tibet’s appeals to UN in face of the Chinese invasion and occupation is well known because Nehru gave precedence to India’s chairmanship of the Neutral Nation’s Repatriation Commission in Korea, in pursuit of a Nobel Peace Prize for himself. But it was yet another blunder to ignore Sardar Patel’s warnings on Chinese intentions towards India. Again, Sardar Patel being Home Minister, what was the advice of the MoD to Nehru besides absolute silence?

Then was the induction of V.K Krishna Menon, as the Defence Minister who had already broken all government rules in personally signing a contract for import of jeeps for the military as High Commissioner in London before returning to India, ostensibly with the knowledge and consent of Nehru. Between the two, they were responsible for keeping the military starved for weapons, equipment and personal clothing. More importantly, the institutional integrity of the military was broken by giving the command of an Operational Corps to B.M Kaul, an ASC officer in the face of Chinese aggression with disastrous consequences just because he was a personal favourite of Nehru.

If Junagarh and Hyderabad remained with India, it was purely because of Sardar Patel and his orders to the military…

So where was the bureaucratic advice of the MoD? V.K Krishna Menon not only kept the military, particularly the army, starved of basic equipment but initiated the arms mafia in the MoD by masterminding the infamous jeep scandal, importing jeeps at triple the actual price, procured less jeeps than the number contracted and pocketed huge profits. Whether Nehru shared the booty is unknown but Nehru did not reprimand Krishna Menon for this blatant corruption that went public.

The fact remains that the nation and the military were ridiculed in 1962 to put it mildly and Krishna Menon who should have been castigated for bringing such shame to the country was rewarded with a road named after him in the capital, replete with his statue that is garlanded annually on his birthday. This whole drama was observed well by the bureaucracy, who surmised there was much profit in continuing with this arrangement. If they could continue to rule the roost (forget military issues) and make profits like the jeep scandal, what better situation? The involvement of the political hierarchy would make the polity hostage to the bureaucracy, the latter knowing all the secrets, which aside from money making would secure equally or more lucrative, post retirement assignments. Damn strategy, the military could always be banked upon to put their lives on the line to save the honour of the country to the best of their ability. After all, why have these fellows joined the military if not to sacrifice their lives?

Civilian Control vs Bureaucratic Control

Civilian control over the military has various connotations. In China, the PLA is under the direct control of the CCP, not the Chinese government and military generals form part of the powerful Politburo. Pakistan is a different kettle of fish with the country’s political authority and administration under the military irrespective of whether the country is officially under military or civilian rule. But by and large, civilian control over the military globally alludes to the political authority having control. This is not the case in India.

An essential element for the IAS to retain control was to keep the military at bay…

Here, we have the President anointed as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces whose powers and functions hardly go beyond presiding over ceremonial parades, presentation of awards and colours, and the appointment he holds granting commission to officers as mentioned on the parchments. Being a democracy, we have a Prime Minister and a Defence Minister but the civilian control over the military is exercised by the bureaucracy in the MoD, which itself is not accountable.

An essential element for the IAS to retain control was to keep the military at bay. So no one notices that the ‘Rules of Business’ adopted from the British mentioned the Services Headquarters as “Attached Offices”. Not changing this gave the handle to not only keep the military away but also absolves the MoD of whatever happened in the Services. In British India, the Defence Secretary was charged with the defence of the country because their Defence Secretary was also the Defence Minister. This language too was not changed in the ‘Rules of Business’. So the top bureaucrat of the MoD, the ‘Defence Secretary’ to date is the person in charge of the defence of India.

The Defence Minister, not being responsible for the defence of India was more gainfully employed to make money in wake of the infamous jeep scandal, with successive scams growing increasingly larger and profitable, in sync with the arms mafia masterminded by the bureaucracy in tandem with other tentacles in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) – Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) – Ordnance Factories (OFs) and abroad. Little wonder why our defence indigenisation is so pathetic and despite the 1995 Dr Abdul Kalam-headed Review Committee laying down the target of 70 per cent indigenisation by 2014, 19 years later we are still importing over 70 per cent of our defence equipment – no inquiry for lapses, no blame apportioned, no heads rolled.

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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 Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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6 thoughts on “The Debilitating Politico-Military Disconnect

  1. South Indians need to wake up and unite against the racist bigots like Prakash Katoch. If someone hurls the kind of filth and slander against a North Indian like the kind Katoch hurls against Krishna Menon, it would be considered blasphemy. I don’t blame North Indians like Katoch as much I blame South Indians who prostrate before likes of Katoch and help perpetuate their racist North Indian agenda. Krishna Menon gave us freedom from British. Krishna Menon secured Kashmir from evil designs of Pakistan. Krishna Menon added Goa to Indian Territory. Krishna Menon built housing soldiers and families. Yet Katoch wishes Nehru “castigated” and “reprimanded” Krishna Menon. How insulting is it to this poor bigot North Indian to salute while a lowly South Indian’s statue is garlanded? How humiliating is it to this racist North Indian to carry on with life knowing there is a road named after a black and ugly South Indian? There has never been any Jeep Scandal except sabotage and betrayal. The Jeeps were bought at HALF the price and NOT 3 times and claimed by lying Katoch. Those Jeeps were bought for ‘Kashmir and Hyderabad campaigns’ in 1948 which ignorant Katoch claimed Nehru never pursued. But the Jeeps were held back in Madras and could not be used for intended purpose because of saboteurs like Prakash Katoch deprived Army of much needed Jeeps. Then this same crook Katoch turns around and accuses Krishna Menon of “keeping the military, particularly the army, starved of basic equipment”. Due to just concluded WWII there was acute shortage Jeeps and hence Krishna Menon bought 2nd Jeeps. India needed Jeeps in a hurry because of Kashmir and anticipated Hyderabad campaigns and hence Krishna Menon dealt with middlemen to expedite the process. Krishna Menon did not make a single rupee and hence there was no booty for Nehru to share. When the dust settled, the Army retrieved the Jeeps, cleaned the rust and used them for 10 Years. THAT was the ugly truth.

  2. If Nehru was a mountain, Sardar Patel was a blade of grass. Jawaharlal Nehru becoming Prime Minister was never in question after 1929 when Congress declared Purna Swaraj under his Presidency at Lahore. In Congress, the only person who could win elections across the country was Jawaharlal Nehru and he swept every election from 1937 till his death. Claim of Mahatma Gandhi deciding PMship between Nehru and Patel exposes Katoch’s ignorance of history and Indian political process. He claims it “common knowledge” which probably is true in his own parallel universe. It is sad that our generals neither have book sense nor common sense. Nehru became Prime Minister since Congress won 70% seats in Parliament (Constituent Assembly) under Nehru’s own Presidency and leadership. Even if Gandhi chose Patel, it would still be up to Nehru to win him enough MPs to become PM. Nehru became Congress President in June 1946 and Congress won election in August 1946. Even after Congress winning elections hands down, Muslim League went on “Direct Action” and killed a million people just to prove that League will not play second fiddle to Congress. If Gandhi really decided on PM just to save Congress Party, neither Muslim League nor any other party would sit back and clap. Nehru formed his first government on September 1946. At that time the post of Prime Minister did not even exist. Further, it was National Government and NOT a Congress Government. Non-Congress leaders like Ambedkar, Baldev Singh and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee were in Nehru cabinet while Liaquat Ali and other Muslim League members joined later.

  3. Pres R. Venkataraman (a Defense Minister himself) credited military’s remarkable performance in 1965/71 wars to Krishna Menon’s vision. Menon began production of aircraft and high altitude goods for soldiers. The submarines, helicopters, Gnats, MIGs, INS Vikrant that won 1965/1971 wars were procured by VKKM. VKKM was instrumental in expanding HAL, BEL, Avadi tank factory and Aircraft Manufacturing plant (AVRO) at Kanpur among others. India manufactured supersonic HF-24 under VKKM. Shaktiman truck owes its birth to Krishna Menon. DRDO which produced missiles that we’re so proud of was founded in 1958 under VKKM. Menon secured UN grant for ISRO at Thumba. Menon revitalized NCC and started Sainik Schools. While ungrateful officers like Katoch demonize him today, Menon developed welfare systems for soldiers including Armed Forces Medical College at Pune. 1/3 soldiers had no housing in 1957 and VKKM built that housing. In December 1961, Krishna Menon defeated NATO Member Portugal and liberated Goa, in backdrop of warnings from none other than JFK. Katoch’s claim of “Defence Minister, not being responsible for the defence of India” is a lie. But Katoch stoops really low with accusations of VKKM “being gainfully employed to make money”. Krishna Menon did not make a single rupee. Neville Maxwell considered Krishna Menon to be the only honest and upright of all Indians he knew.
    VKKM gave his entire salary to India League and slept on a bench in its office. When someone politely asked what work he did for living, Krishna Menon replied, “I don’t work for a living. I work for India’s freedom”. Had Katoch said this nonsense about a Gujarati or Bengali, hell would break loose. But in India, South Indians don’t count as human beings. North Indians cannot stand a road being named after a South Indian nor the blasphemy of his statue being garlanded even once a year. Instead, they’ll rob our tax money and build hundreds of tall statues of their own leaders.

  4. Katoch exploits the sympathy Indians have for soldiers for a political agenda. The lies are meant to undermine the credibility of our political system. In Pakistan after Jinnah died, there has not been a single inspiring political leader while Liaquat Ali was killed by the Army. In the vacuum, the people of Pakistan turned to their Army for leadership and we know the consequences. For India, there was Nehru and that is Katoch’s problem. Katoch’s claim of “Nehru forcing Mahatma Gandhi to coerce Sardar Patel to withdraw his nomination for the Prime Ministership of Independent India; threatening to split the Congress” is laughable. Gandhi wanted entire Congress disbanded. Why would he care if Congress splits? When PM was elected, Gandhi was in Bengal busily stopping communal violence. Claim of “Nehru stopping the Indian Army from pursuing the fleeing Pakistani infiltrators in 1948” is a lie! India went to UN in Dec 1947. UNSC Resolution came in April 1948. But Pakistan refused to comply and the war continued. Timmayya deployed tanks in Draas in Nov 48. As LP Sen writes, the war was a stalemate and bilateral ceasefire was implemented in Jan 49. Sardar Patel abdicated his responsibility and busy with less important Hyderabad and Junagarh while Raiders invaded and occupied PoK. Katoch’s claim that “Sardar Patel gave orders to the military to annex Junagarh and Hyderabad” are shockingly stupid! Doesn’t a Lt Gen know that a Home Minister cannot order military to invade? Until Jan 1949, military had British commanders while Mountbatten was Governor General until June 21, 1948. Junagarh was annexed in Oct 1947. Why would military take orders from Patel? Hyderabad annexation was delayed until Sept 1948 because Kashmir had to be secured first. Hyderabad was 90% Hindu and surrounded by Indian territory hence not going anywhere. Army was ordered to Hyderabad by Gov Gen Rajaji – not Patel. How scary is to trust our borders with Don Quixotes like Katoch?

  5. The biggest problem facing India is the corrupt and incompetent politicians who wish to have the final say on matters of defense and security while not being accountable to any. Their egos have ruined possibilities of learning from other nations on how to manage the modern techno-military-industrial projects. The problems faced by India on the matter of poor industrialization, delays in approval of investments and simply bad decision making were also faced by nations like Britain, France, Germany and USA in their past history. They overcame and stood up to the need of the hour. Chances are there are expert consultants in friendly countries who can shorten the learning cycle for India. Modi’s new leadership must include leveraging from any and all resources, including beg, borrow and steal like China did, to move forward. There is not a moment to waste.

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