Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Defence sector needs to be streamlined and reformed to stay relevant in a changing India

By T R Ramaswami

The leaky-weaky-snafu-cum-imbroglio in the defence sector has provoked very interesting reactions and suggestions. Historically, armies have been around millenniums before the words 'democracy', 'parliament' and 'civil service' came about. 

Democracies were created when the king ceded power to the people and, as in the US, the army won independence and created a democracy. US Congress and most parliaments follow Robert's Rules of Order - written by Gen Henry Martyn Robert - a US general! In nations whose independent history is not even the length of a human life, democracies have survived only where the army is apolitical. Like ours. Let's keep it that way. 

There are unstated fears that the army is getting too big for its boots. The truth is that the army has already taken over this nation. They ensure that elections are held without fear. They are fighting on the borders, fighting insurgency (police work) within the borders, handling floods, earthquakes, tsunamis (all civil work), finishing stadiums and even winning medals. 

They run some of the best schools, A-class medical and engineering colleges. Each institution - RIMC, NDA, IMA, DSSC, AWC, NDC, HAWS and CIJWS - is AAA+ where the world comes to learn. Their cantonments match Singapore and Shanghai. Last but not least, their betis dominate Bollywood and beauty contests. 

They are effectively in charge without sitting in 10, Janpath (Race Course Road and Rashtrapati Bhavan are rubber stamps) because the other arms of state have proved to be totally inept. Even babies falling in borewells trust only the army.

The no-love-lost relationship between the neta, babu and jawan goes back to pre-Independence days. The neta, of course, claims to have fought for Independence though the British knew which neta really fought and these were either bumped off, hounded out of the country or sent far away to the Andamans so that their josh, methods and patriotism, etc, didn't spread within the mainland. 

Some netas contrived to get into jails like Nainital, Allahabad, Yerawada and so on from where they could write letters which became books. Unfortunately, it is this brand of netas who became leaders post-Independence and wrote history to suit themselves. 

Many think that the army did not have a role to play in the Independence struggle. The truth is that two armies played a huge role in our Independence, deliberately not acknowledged. First, the Imperial Japanese Army that swept the British from Singapore to the tennis court of Deputy Commissioner Charles Pawsey's house in Kohima (hence the name, Battle of the Tennis Court) and showed that Asians can defeat Europeans on land too. 

Earlier, the Japanese had demonstrated this on sea when in 1905 in Tsushima Bay, under Admiral Heihachiro Togo, they plastered the Russian Navy. And don't forget Pearl Harbor. 

The second army that played a role in Independence was our own British Indian Army - by pushing the Japanese from the tennis court and culminating in the Second Battle of Sittang in July 1945, the last major land battle in WWII, they sent a terse and firm message to the British: you cannot rule Indians any more.

One institution sat pretty throughout the Independence struggle and the war with its contribution equal to zilch: the Indian Civil Service - the daddy of today's IAS. The neta, too busy holding annual talk-shops, was unprepared for Independence that was suddenly handed over within five months of Mountbatten's arrival. 

The political leadership continued with British armed forces' chiefs and babus and the Prime Minister wanted them to continue for 15 years. So much for the preparedness of the political class for Independence, which they claim to have been 'fighting' for decades. 

Thus, an unprepared neta class with a zero-contribution civil service were suddenly scared - and are - of the only force that had and still has not only a pan-India image, cohesion, organisation and efficiency that none can match, but also the respect and backing of the people. We elected the first elected Communist government; will we also have the first democratically-elected military government?! 

Questions have been raised regarding the reorganisation of the armed forces and the defence ministry. Some have looked at the US Goldwater-Nichols Act model of 1986. But that requires a level of political and civil maturity and expertise that is unavailable here. 

Further, that model is only suitable for a country that has no enemies on its borders and all campaigns are overseas. Here, with every inch of the border and even the coast a hot zone, we need a model that suits our problems. 

The Railway model suggests itself. With a CoDS or chairman of the Defence Board (MoS status like NSA) at the helm with the chiefs and the defence secretary as members and everyone on the same side, we can avoid a repeat of today's tragicomedy. In fact, do we need a separate army, navy and air force? Can we at least start integration by coinciding the borders of commands? 

The defence budget will also be separate. What about indigenisation? One does not expect aircraft-carriers and planes - the huge investment and our minuscule demand makes it unnecessary - but what about rifles, bullets, bulletproof jackets, night-vision equipment, all-weather boots and small artillery? 

Is 65 years too little even for this or is there a cabal among all sections that prefers status quo? Lastly, when defence equipment takes 10-20 years to design, develop, test and induct, you cannot do it with five-year plans and two-year chiefs/defence secretaries. We need a rolling modernisation and acquisition board with industry, armed forces, finance and other luminaries where one-third retires every five years. 

Only then can a long-term perspective plan be developed, sustained and implemented. Otherwise, even if recent TV telecasts and newspaper headlines were rebroadcast/printed 10 years hence, they will still be relevant. Considering the status of the Kargil Report implementation - this is a safe bet. Any takers?—


  1. Interesting post. I was recently talking to a few individuals who work on technology solutions. They lamented about how the Govt will only buy from public sector and ignore any private player in India. Ergo, they were able to sell surveillance to hotels, but not to railways.

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