The Draft Indian National Defence University (INDU), 2015 has been placed online for public comments. The Ministry of Defence website among other things says that the Bill proposes: to establish a world class fully autonomous institution of national importance under defence ministry; it will be a teaching and affiliating university for the existing training institutions of the three Services, which will develop and propagate higher education in National Security Studies, Defence Management and Defence Technology and promote policy oriented research on all aspects relating to national security, both internal and external. It would also cater for open and distance learning program for service personnel deployed in far flung areas and it will inculcate and promote coordination and interaction between the Armed Forces and other government agencies including friendly foreign countries.
Considering that the idea of INDU was first conceived in 1967, endorsed by the K Subhramanyam headed Committee on the National Defence University (CONDU) in 2002, and the fact that it was to be established in seven years time (by 2008), passage of the Bill will be a feather in the cap of the Modi government, akin to sanctioning OROP notwithstanding controversy whether a single OROP or multiple OROPs was granted. Public comments on the Draft INDU Bill 2015 are reportedly being sought after it has already been approved by the defency ministry, Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Home Affairs. It would have been useful if public comments were asked before approval of these ministries. In all probability, the defence ministry will seek Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approval of the Draft Bill without making any worthwhile changes and then table it in Parliament during the forthcoming winter session. Land for INDU was acquired at Manesar, Gurgaon in September 2012 and infrastructure development has reportedly commenced in December 2015.
The Ministry of Defence would naturally maintain that discussions on INDU have been held with the Services, which is true. But what the public will never know is what was discussed, what the military recommended and how much of it was rejected by the bureaucracy. For example while the National Defence College (NDC) under the defence ministry is to be affiliated to INDU, military wanted the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) also functioning under the ministry also be affiliated to INDU but this was rejected. But then the defence ministry is adept in such stonewalling. The military’s recommendations for the 7th Central Pay Commission were shot down at the defence secretary level. On the behest of the defence ministry the 7th Pay Commission sought recommendations from Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) but used only a miniscule percentage of what IDSA recommended. The service chiefs combined letter protesting acceptance of 7th Pay Commission bringing armed forces below civil services has been palmed off to some committee without ever having addressed anomalies of 6th Pay Commission. These are routine bureaucratic ploys endorsed by the polity by default or design.
Recently, the director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania and an assistant professor in S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore wrote about the proposed INDU. They observed that the tri-services institutions for professional military education (PME) in NDC, College of Defence Management (CDM) and Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) exist in India. INDU was to augment existing PME capacities and provide intellectual underpinnings for "jointness" among different services.
Jointness can’t be forged just by building another empire but requires new ways of thinking and bringing actors across a wide spectrum to build networks of trust that reach across narrow bureaucratic and service silos – which the INDU as currently constituted does not appear to meet. More public debate is needed after releasing documents like CONDU and DPR. DPR preparation by an ill-equipped public sector enterprise has killed conceptual creativity – the report represents virtue of Indian babudom who see higher education as an extension of their own mores.
INDU requires some 300 civilians for its faculty but student profiles of 29 Indian universities offering defence studies are depressing. More talent exists in the think tanks but without civilian talent INDU will become another babudom masquerading as deep thinking. Armed forces should have the largest representation in INDU but should not be a monopoly of the armed forces. These observations are undoubtedly very critical and reportedly have been trashed by the hierarchy. However, there are issues that need deeper examination.
The US National Defence University at Washington DC has a clear mission that states, "US National Defense University (NDU) supports the joint warfighter by providing rigorous Joint Professional Military Education to members of the US Armed Forces and select others in order to develop leaders who have the ability to operate and creatively think in an unpredictable and complex world."
In contrast, the Draft INDU Bill lists out some nine objectives, while preamble of the says: INDU will propagate higher education in National Security Studies, Defence Management and Defence Technology and promote policy oriented research on all aspects relating to national security, both internal and external. INDU will inculcate and promote coordination and interaction not just between the three Armed Services but also between other agencies of the government, civil bureaucracy, PMF, CAPF, intelligence services, diplomats, academicians, strategic planners, university students and officers from friendly foreign countries. So, does the Draft INDU Bill create ambiguity and would defining a focused mission be more appropriate? Is INDU meant for armed forces ‘and’ for promoting jointness and training with others (as in case of the US NDU) or is it meant for ‘all’ with armed forces a parallel entity? If latter is the case, then would it be more appropriate to name INDU as INSU – Indian National Security University.
The Draft Bill has lengthy elaboration about the top functionaries of INDU but no elaboration whatsoever on the three proposed Schools – National Security Studies, Defence Management and Defence Technology. If public comments are required then it should be mandatory that full details of the three proposed Schools are released for any meaningful inputs - management, courses to be run, course capacities, duration and the like, not just degrees that would be granted by these institutions. Release of such details would indicate who exactly we propose to educate but more significantly who will we eventually end up training? For example the public is unaware that most of the proposed course are generally of 120 capacity, with proviso that 50 percent vacancies are for the military and balance 50 percent for others. But considering that INDU will be augmenting existing PMEs like NDC, CDM and NDC and the shortage of officers in the military which is unlikely to be bridged, it is highly unlikely that military will be able to utilize 50 percent of the vacancies.
K Subhramanyam was very impressed when he visited CDM, Secunderabad but his observation was that student should be of Major/Lieutenant Colonel level, not Colonels and Brigadiers which was too late in Service. If military were to implement this, then even lesser students would be available for sending to INDU. Additionally, not many would know that the Senior Defence Management Course (SDMC) at CDM has two vacancies for joint secretary level officers from IAS, which have never really been utilized aside from detailing an undersecretary level officer sometime. The severe shortage of IFS officers is also well established. On face value it appears that the military may not be able to utilise more than 15-20 percent of the course vacancies.
With minimal bureaucratic participation in courses, bulk vacancies for courses among security forces will be utilised by the police and CAPF. Is this what we are looking at? What needs to be done is that to ensure adequate military representation at INDU, course vacancies military vacancies at NDC, CDM and Higher Command Course and divert these officers to INDU, the present situation being that officers on NDC and attending HC, SDMC, HDMC are not sure of further promotion because of lack of vacancies. The elite nature of these courses can only be maintained if we have lesser numbers attending. INDU must also have exchange programs for faculty and students with universities, IITs, IIMs as well as institutions abroad like the US NDU etc.
Only three tri-Service institutions (NDC, CDM, DSSC) being affiliated to INDU gives an impression that INDU is primarily meant for armed forces, which will anyway get diluted by the scale of attendance as discussed above. The bureaucracy may contribute to small number of students but will bag the lion’s share of running INDU. Whatever the top level military posts in INDU showcased can easily be manipulated through QR’s and shear obduracy. Witness the top post of IDSA which was supposedly rotational but is sans a military head past decades.
Take the proposed School for Defence Technology – why are the Institute of Armament Technology, Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics or for that matter the DRDO not affiliated with INDU? Is this denied because it would expose their inadequacies or is it to give them additional posts through the backdoor with IITs restricted to contributing students? What about affiliating IITs, other training establishments? Why is it that neither the US NDU nor the Chinese NDU have Schools of Defence Technology? With INDU under defence ministry (don’t mind the fully autonomous bit) who will be the faculty in the School of Defence Technology – scientists of DRDO to legitimise what the DRDO is doing? Should the School of National Studies be renamed as School of International Studies? Should we review the course strengths in the School of National/International studies considering post course employment opportunities? Lastly, why this elaboration on caste, creed religion etc – hope this is not a roadmap for reservations in future.
Unless the above issues are addressed, we are likely to end up with a dysfunctional bureaucratic monolith with the focus on policing India, with the military kept away from policy and decision making - like the Ministry of Defence, with the government making no move to induct military professionals in the latter. How are we talking of forging jointness in defence at the national level through INDU anyway without forging jointness within the military? INDU in present shape may well turn out to be another bureaucratic coup at the cost of the nation’s defence!
The author is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.