Tuesday, April 10, 2012


By Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

Ever since the Chief raised the issue of his wrongly recorded date of birth, some bureaucrats of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have become conduits of perverse and hair-brained leaks being fed to the media. Once such leaks have run out of steam, the MoD officially denies them. Their convoluted thinking is that this way they will first put down the Chief and the army and then by denying it show how good they are! This is warped thinking at its worst.

Now, one of the national newspapers has reached the height of absurdity and published a so-called scoop in banner headlines and given a perverse twist to a routine event, which practically all news papers and TV news channels had carried in January this year, when the event had actually occurred. A training exercise for testing the ability of a few units of the army to move in the fog of the north Indian winters has now taken sinister tones in their view. The news paper has virtually accused the army and hence the Chief of plotting the overthrow of the government!!  I always thought that it were the likes of John le Carré and other fiction writers who wrote mysterious plots, but now we have these media persons who have beaten these fiction writers at their own game by writing the most intriguing and intricate plots! Is a book also in the works?

Ever since the Chief has started restoring the Indian Army’s credibility, marred by a surfeit of probity cases, he has been targeted by the corrupt bureaucracy of the MoD. The reasons for this are obvious. All corrupt persons can not countenance a person who is himself completely honest and a thorough professional, but more importantly who wants to cleanse the system of this cancer of corruption that has permeated every facet of our life.  These bureaucrats, without rudimentary knowledge about military matters, have been exercising undue authority without accountability and they do not want this apple cart upset by the likes of the Chief. I have no doubt that they are directly responsible for the murky events of the last three months and especially for this spooky story!

Let me state a few home truths so that the citizens of our country understand how these corrupt and incompetent persons have usurped the powers of the elected leaders and have managed to become indispensable. The bogey of a military takeover has been assiduously built up by the bureaucracy since independence, to ensure that the political leaders remain wary and suspicious of the army and place undue restrictions on it, besides lowering its status, importance and image at each opportunity. The bureaucrats had rightly concluded that this would enhance their importance and make them indispensable to the political leadership. It did not take long to achieve this. This is best reflected in the political leaders agreeing to interpose a layer of bureaucracy between themselves and the military, an amazing system no other government follows.

In the bargain, not only did they formulate rules of government business that were fully tilted for their personal growth, safety and security but they joined hands with the political leaders and later the arms mafia, which  soon resulted in the formation of the now well-known corrupt Neta-Babu-Dalal clique that has now reached a critical mass. The various scams that have been emerging on a regular basis since the formation of the present government bears testimony to this state of affairs, which on the one hand has made our nation one of the most corrupt in the world and on the other brought governance to a complete standstill. I need not highlight how adversely it has affected our growth rates, economic well-being, burdens on the ‘aaam aadmi and above all national security.

Let me dwell briefly on the so-called scoop. If the army really wanted to take over, and let me hasten to add that it has never wanted to do so, can a piece of paper saying report all moves of units towards Delhi stop it? Secondly, when our mechanized forces move out for operations, they do not do so on slow and cumbersome tank transporters but on tracks and they carry ammunition. Tank transporters are used for administrative moves to conserve tracks. Thirdly, can two units of the army carry out a takeover; the mind boggles at the naivety of the media persons who were apparently taken for a right royal ride, especially when there are much larger forces already stationed at Delhi, plus the large number of contingents assembled for the Republic Day Parade! Lastly, it is farcical to think that the police by slowing down traffic or posting lookouts would be able to stop an army column! Such measures are for the birds, but then our bureaucrats, with their well known limitations, neither have the imagination, nor the capability to do anything different.

Military coups or putsch’s are to be avoided, not by instituting such puerile measures but by working together as equals, respecting each others concerns, and discarding and permanently burying the master-subordinate dispensation, as it prevails in the bureaucratic thinking at present. Our army needs to be commended that despite a surfeit of wrongs committed on the army for decades and the political leaders abrogating their authority and power to the bureaucrats, the army has stood firm, utterly loyal and focused on its tasks. However, how long can it continue to tolerate these uncalled for assaults on it? 

The need of the hour is to carry out systemic changes at the earliest. Some of these are listed here. The aim must be to urgently halt the actions of these self-centered persons, which are debilitating the nation.

We have a unique but absurd organization for higher defence, where the MoD is wholly staffed by the bureaucrats and has been interposed between the political leadership and the military. Are our political leaders so incompetent that they are unable to deal directly with the military, without some bureaucrats holding their hands? This absurdity must end. We need separate Departments of Army, Navy and Air Force, presided over by ministers of state and manned jointly and equally by military and civil officials.  The military must be brought in the policy formulation loop and this is best done in our context by appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who would render professional advice to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and more importantly to the Cabinet Committee on Security. The integrated staff under him must also comprise both military and civil officials.

We have still not been able to design a defence procurement agency that is able to procure arms, equipment and ammunition speedily and honestly. Unless this is done, no effective modernization can take place. The agency , again under a minister of state, must be manned by both military and civil officials and procedures must be simplified and streamlined, so that corruption is removed (a tall order today), the arms lobby-bureaucratic nexus is broken and the military gets the ‘best bangs for the bucks’.

There is severe discontentment among serving soldiers and veterans due to drastic reduction in their status vis a vis officials in the civil services including the police. This must end and the elitism of the military must be restored. Emoluments of the military have always been much less than those in the corporate world, but people joined the military for status and ‘izzat’, as these made up for the reduced pecuniary benefits. In addition, the pay of the military personnel was always a shade greater than the civil officials, as well as the police. Once the political leaders abrogated their authority to the bureaucrats, the order was reversed. This has inflicted great damage on the psyche of the military personnel.

Those who think it will be business as usual after the present Chief demits office are sadly mistaken. The Chief Designate is a highly professional officer, steeped in army ethos. He would also do what is best for the army and the nation.
 The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and former Founder Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).

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