How the anti-military constituency is preventing India from becoming global defence player
The MoD has often been called the MaD (ministry against defence), but the time has come to intervene before the anti-military constituency does more damage.
Alongside the business of exporting terrorism, it seems that Pakistan can also throw up periodic howlers; the latest one being Imran Khan's accusations against Nawaz Sharif, blaming him for “isolating” the army. This comes as no surprise as Imran's constituency is itself a militant stronghold and because two army guys are always seated behind Sharif, trying to obfuscate their assassin countenance.
But, leaving aside the cliché that the Pakistani army owns their country, what can be said about India? A recent article in a national daily lambasted the politicisation of the ‘surgical strikes’ and the recent arm-twisting of Bollywood producers, forcing them to donate money to the Army Welfare Fund for hiring Pakistani actors. The article also highlighted some crucial, unsolved and sensitive issues that need to be resolved if India is to become serious about its defence.
Apart from the lack of military modernisation and the need to address welfare problems (pay anomalies, controversy over disability pension), issues like keeping senior military posts vacant; Cabinet’s Appointment Committee ignoring merit; lack of CDS; little military say in strategic security formulation; bureaucratic control over military instead of political control, etc. also need to be looked into. Especially since India is currently facing serious challenges on both the Pakistani and Chinese borders.
The recent row over the Ministry of Defence’s 30 September notification, drastically lowering the disability pension of military personnel by converting the percentage based system (as effective under the sixth Central Pay Commission) to a fixed slab system, has been in the news. The fact that this notification was issued two days after the surgical strikes made it even more cynical, especially when coupled with certain boisterous and comical pronouncements by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
The government has since been forced to refer the disability pension case to the Anomalies Committee, but the mere fact that the notification was issued implied that either the defence minister had no idea about it all (as he talked of VRS at the time of the press briefing for One Rank One Pension scheme) or he was party to it indirectly.
Then came the letter purportedly written by the serving DGAFMS to the defence secretary, that stated that the military generals were misusing the provision of the disability pension. All these accusations were duly trashed and rebutted, though it is still not clear whether this was deliberate mischief.
But lo and behold, an old letter from the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to the Chief of Army Staff, written in September 2015, has emerged saying that a large number of army officers belonging to the “non-fighting corps” have been getting the disability medical grading.
The said CGDA should have actually been awarded a Padma series award for making such a path-breaking discovery, even though the CGDA wouldn’t be able to identify which are the “non-fighting corps” in the army. Of course, the CGDA would have no observation about a civilian defence employee of MoD tripping on a banana peel, losing an eye and claiming disability pension. After all, the CGDA, as the MoD employees, can well be categorised as ‘fighting corps’ – for fighting with the military all the time.
Another article published in a national daily cites a government letter that talks about rank “equivalence” between defence officers and “armed forces headquarters civil service officers”. The equivalence defined reportedly implies: A civilian Group B section officer is now equated with an army captain; a civilian joint director, who till now was equated with an army lieutenant colonel, will now be equal to an army full colonel; a civilian director, earlier equated with army full colonel, will now be equated with army brigadier; and a civilian principal director, earlier equated with army brigadier, will now be equated with an army major general.
This letter, signed by a joint secretary, states that the rank equation laid down in it is to be followed in assigning duties/functional responsibilities and for all purposes such as channel of reporting, detailing of officers for training courses, providing stenographic assistance etc. According to the article, this letter has the approval of the MoD. If this be true, then Parrikar has done more damage to the military than even AK Anthony.
Anthony ensured that the equipping of our military came down to 1962 levels, but Parrikar, together with the present government, appears to be hell bent upon denigrating the soldiers and denying them their dues. Taking cover behind ‘mischievous bureaucrats’ can’t work anymore; responsibilities will have to be taken for such deliberate misdeeds.
Nukkad talk generally has some basis but the following can’t really have any basis: That the prime minister is indifferent to the military, hailing from a state where not many still join the military; that the defence minister has little knowledge of matters military, even though he boasts he made the military realise their capabilities and that the RSS is behind the success of the surgical strikes; the finance minister continues smarting because of the inglorious electoral defeat he suffered at the hands of an army veteran; and, the National Security Advisor is getting back at the army for not promoting his father beyond the rank of major.
Such ludicrous and loose talks would continue to figure in the ‘free speech’ paradigm, but the important question is why is the anti-military constituency prospering in India and who is behind it?
The dual China-Pakistan threat has enlarged as never before, pan the spectrum of conflict, yet the government has made no move to define a cohesive national security strategy, nor has it undertaken a comprehensive defence review. China’s entire border with Myanmar, India and Afghanistan have been placed under its newly constituted Western Theatre Command, backed by the Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force.
There is no move to synergise our military. Following the Kargil Review Committee Report, the Group of Ministers (GoP) headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani had strongly recommended the establishment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) but this has been ignored.
BR Ambedkar is always praised for drafting the Constitution but his missive to have reservation in small percentages only for a decade plus has been drastically reversed. While reservations are increasing because of the insatiable hunger for votes, does the government realise that the CDS is vital for the defence of the country. Establishment of the CDS and replacing the MoD with a department of defence (DoD) manned by military professionals should have been the first priority of the Modi government.
The ‘Make in India’ programme, ironically, is focused on big ticket projects only, neglecting the cutting edge where the battle is actually being fought. A holistic appraisal of the requirements is missing altogether. The users (military) is deliberately kept away from the defence-industrial complex, whereas they should have been integrated as part of the design, planning and decision making levels of these organisations.
The indigenous 5.56mm INSAS assault rifle, with its numerous faults, took 15 years to be produced despite the fact that 17 state-of-the-art rifles from 11 countries were handed over to the DRDO at the very beginning. Army’s attempt to import assault rifles were consistently scuttled, while some CAPF were permitted to do so.
The defence minister announced in 2014 the “emergent” procurement of 50,000 bullet-proof jackets for the army. But, till date, not a single one has been procured, while the army’s deficiency of this item has shot past 3,50,000 already. It is ironic then that the John Hopkins School of Advanced Studies (SAIS), US, is undertaking a project study on ‘why isn't the Indian defence industry a globally competitive defence player’, something that should have been another priority of the defence minister.
The study will include several aspects of the problem, including: How should the Indian defence industry position itself in the market by anticipating the global security environment; and, how ought the Indian defence industry lobby the Government of India to shape foreign policy and defence diplomacy.
The MoD has been referred to as the MaD (ministry against defence) in military circles for the past several years now, and for good reason as well. But, clearly the time has come for the prime minister to intervene before the anti-military constituency does even more damage.
The author is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.
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