Sunday, January 29, 2012

It is time we defined Civilian Control over the Military

Brigadier V Mahalingam (Retired)

Mr Raj Chengappa in Part 4 of his article titled A Matter of Honour Vs Propriety, The General’s Gambit” published in The Tribune dated 26 Jan 2012 has quoted Mr Julka Joint Secretary (G and Air) as having written to General Deepak Kapoor, the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) thus:

 “It is an oddity that the officer has continued to stand by a date of birth, which is not officially recognised and thereby revealing an attitude apparently questionable and not reflective of the qualities expected from an Army Commander. In view of this, the question of suitability of Lt Gen VK Singh as Army Commander calls for a revisit.”

The theme behind this note reflects a number of issues connected with the institution of the COAS.  It is time we made up our mind on the type of military leadership the country’s Armed Forces need, the qualities expected of them and the role of the bureaucracy in the concept of “civilian control of the Armed Forces” besides the whole gamut of civil military relations.

What are the qualities expected of a military commander? What is this official recognition of a date of birth? The bureaucrat seems to feel that the country needs a pliable yes man as an Army Commander, the senior most rank after the COAS in the Army hierarchy. Can any army in the world deliver under such a military leadership? Without confusing with the concept of discipline, there is a need to understand that an army officer is neither trained nor intended to be a yes man.

Is it improper for the Chief to stand by his conviction?  Is it beyond the scope of civil military relationship, or the Constitution of the Country to seek justice and fair play in respect of an issue which adversely affects the faith and trust of the junior officers and the troops on military leadership? How is it that seeking justice from the highest court of the country provided for by the constitution not good for the country? Does an Army Officer forgive his right to justice and fair play just because he happened to become the COAS? If that was the need why not put it down in the Army Act? Have we not learnt a lesson from the insistence of General Sam Manekshaw that he be allowed to launch the 1971 war at a place and time of his choosing? Weren’t the attempts to negotiate with the chief to accept the Government’s version of his date of birth an attempt to convert him into a self seeking yes man? Shaping and conditioning military commanders’ into spineless statues, we need to remember, will rebound in the face of the country at crucial moments. 
Officers of the rank of Army Commanders are selected by the Cabinet Committee on Appointments. How in this case has a junior bureaucrat of the rank of Joint Secretary hijacked the issue from the elected members, to pass judgment on the suitability of a Corps Commander, a field commander of almost one lakh troops, for promotion to the rank of Army Commander? What, may I ask does this file pushing babu know about command of troops or about shaping and fighting a war? Isn’t it preposterous? Have we not seen the way the Prime Minister was made to look in the eyes of the public in the CVC case?   
See the veiled threat and the tenor of the language of a Joint Secretary writing to the COAS in office. Does it not speak volumes for the attitude and arrogance of the author? Isn’t there something called propriety? Have we adopted a system which grooms bureaucrats into such haughty officials between the people’s representatives and the military? Have our people’s representatives failed to control our bureaucracy and allowed them to run amok? Haven’t we seen cases of bureaucrats letting down the country and the political leadership?

The fault does not end with the bureaucracy. The Armed Forces are to be blamed as much for allowing the bureaucracy to dwell beyond their domain. Why did the COAS not question the appropriateness or the arrogance of the note written to him about a field commander or go up to the Prime Minister and tell him what he felt of the bureaucrat? Was he scared or has been converted into a yes man by the system? Or was he frightened to put up his papers to set things right in the interest of the country and the Armed Forces?

It is time this subject is publically debated and a suitable model and code of conduct for Civilian Control of the Armed Forces evolved failing which this army will be reduced to nothing more than a leaderless crowd of numbers.  


  1. I TOTALLY agree with Brig Mahalingam's mail. Read for yourself.

    It is the sheer arrogance and behind scenes parleying of the bureaucracy that has landed up the country where it is - law and order, corruption, farmer suicides etc. How, one may ask, can IAS generalists - one day in Rural Development, in Finance the next and Defence on an odd tenure, be expected to 'run' the country.

    Politicians as we know hop in and out of power. The blame squarely lies on the Bureaucracy, inadequate and poor advise is definitely to blame. What else can one expect from a relay race employment? Why for instance should MOD not be manned by specialists in the field- the services? OR the Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare not be manned by ex servicemen? Like wise all others. Railways seem to be getting along well enough with their own manning.

    Pakistani President Ayub Khan wrote "Friends NOT Masters". The MOD would do well to take a cue from a dictators' attempt to at least pretend to be friends. And come to think of it, where is the need for a sibling - Civil Services, to try and be a master of the other- Defence Services. Each has a charter.

    Power corrupts. And Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

    With Warm Regards,
    Col RP Chaturvedi,

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