Challenges Before Modi’s Defence Mini
The Modi government will be confronted with five major challenges that affect the credibility of our armed forces. These are leadership, morale, accountability, integration and capability, writes Danvir Singh
MODI, MOODI, MOOODI, is not one of the chants by the crowd which we all have heard in India during past six to eight months. This euphoria was not just like that; it was actually based on hope of Indians out of sheer desperation and hopelessness prevailing all across the country at large. Armed forces also, amongst all others, have pinned a lot of their hope on this change that the country witnessed this summer of 2014.
Over past few months one has been trying to understand the expectations of our military from Narendra Modi. In this quest this author did speak to a large number of those in active service and also those who have long hung up their boots. The wish list is definitely long and these expectations vary from a soldier to a general. The soldiers and their young officers would prefer better living conditions, improved infrastructure in border areas and of course a more promising pay scale. These aspirations may find voices of concerns with the middle and seniorlevel officers as well, but there is a difference.
While the present lot of the generals will be keen on early implementation of one-rank-one-pension, the most imaginative and objective lot is that of colonels and brigadiers and there equivalents in the Air Force and the Navy. It is this lot who will largely be holding the fort and carry the burden of defence of India upon its shoulders at the turn of the next general election in the year 2019. They would by then be the two-star and three-star general officers, answerable to the men they command and the nation they swear by.
What has emerged out of my series of interactions are five major things amongst many that challenge the credibility of our armed forces. These are challenges related to leadership, morale, accountability, integration and capability.
There is a big question mark over our leadership in the armed forces as it raises doubt over the ways the senior leadership is selected. The corruption scams related to VIP helicopters, Adarsh and Sukhna are some of the glaring examples of the rot prevailing. It raises a question mark over the probity and credibility of those in high offices. Amidst all this, what misses the glare is the fact that a trend has been established over a few years of repudiating, evading and shirking the responsibility by our top military leadership. Is it not ironic that General Bikram Singh passed the buck onto the field commanders when the reporters asked him of the Army’s response to the infamous beheading of our soldiers on the LoC last year?
A trend started by General Bikram Singh as the Eastern Army Commander followed by Lt General Dalbir Suhag who replaced him as the Army Commander in Calcutta, will further convince you to question the selection process. Within the Army it is a well known fact these two gentlemen have avoided taking decisions just to ensure non-culpability, just in case the decision went wrong. This philosophy of work practised by Bikram Singh as the Chief has demoralised the staff and commanders at all levels having a cascading effect. Lt General Dalbir Suhag as the Army Commander Eastern Command followed the footsteps of his predecessor. The growing worry is that the army may well have to suffer from this decision-making paralysis for next two and a half years more.
Beyond doubt, this model of inaction has damaged the operational and administrative functioning of the army. Indecisiveness arising out of fear of committing a wrong is something dangerous. The military commanders have to take risks as over-cautious approach leads to general demoralisation of the force which is clearly evident across the board. The commanders these days at different levels avoid shouldering responsibility; this is an alarming trend. This model unfortunately is becoming the preferred template to rise in career without committing errors. It is high time the process of selecting chiefs just by seniority following the line of succession was done away with and replaced by a deeper selection process. It is high time when character was placed higher than competence. For Modi to shake up the system so well entrenched may not be easy. Requirement from military leaders having decisiveness, moral courage, high probity are some of the attributes desperately required.
It may be true that the blame of all the ills in the armed forces cannot be levelled against the leadership alone. But the unfortunate incidents like the ones seen at Leh in 226 Field Artillery regiment in May 2012 and later at Meerut in 10 SIKH LI in Oct 2013 are a matter of grave concern and the leadership cannot be exonerated. In both these cases the situation got so much out of hand that the Jawans ended up beating up their own officer, something never heard before. Such incidents seriously lower the morale. The incidents of suicide and fratricide are also not uncommon any more, which can be seen as an index of low morale.
A brigade commander in the North-East in 2012, was caught taking bribe from his commanding officers to write a favourable Annual Confidential Report(ACR), an incident that was widely reported on the leading television channels, shaking the basic faith of officers and men in the system. The beheading and killing of our soldiers on the LoC and numerous other occurrences of similar nature, badly affects the self-confidence of our troops. These incidents may have been brushed aside as trivial when compared to the large size of our Army but then they definitely reflect the down side in the organisation. Such incidents adversely affect the morale of the leaders and the lad alike. Raising the morale of the third largest armed forces should be the top most priority of our generals and political masters alike.
The recent case of resignation by the Naval Chief Admiral DK Joshi over continuous mishaps within the Navy may be a rare but a classic example in the highest traditions of the armed forces of taking the moral responsibility. Later on the government superseded Vice Admiral Sinha for RK Dhawon as the next Navy Chief, thus fixing the responsibility of mishaps on correct shoulders. Admiral Sinha who was the Western Fleet Commander all the while when the series of mishaps took place was rightly overlooked for the top job which is again one of the rare case of fixing accountability at highest levels.
But then the story does not end here. What about those in the Ministry of Defence who are responsible for delay in procurement of equipment, timely up-gradations and modernisation despite repeated requests from various service chiefs? These delays have resulted in mishaps due to malfunctioning and failure of the equipment. The famous case in point is that of the survivor of a MiG-21 crash, Wing Commander Sanjeet Kalia, who had to take the legal course for seeking justice. The honourable High Court of Delhi has apportioned the blame of this accident resulting in debilitating injuries to the pilot upon manufacturing defects and poor workmanship by HAL. So what about the accountability of Secretary, Defence Production, and the head of HAL? Somebody has to be questioned for the loss to the exchequer. Someone has to answer for the loss of life and limbs of many a great warrior of our country lost due to the apathy and neglect of those responsible.
Narendra Modi has a Herculean task ahead to identify the dead wood. He has to ensure that simple and effective procedures are put in place so that the complete apparatus works like a well-oiled machine. A system is desirable where those responsible are equally answerable.
Today no doubt the Army Headquarters is referred to as the Integrated Headquarters of MoD (Army) and likewise for the Navy and the Air Force. Unfortunately this is nothing but mere semantics with no worthwhile integration. Implementation of Kargil Review Committee Report in the right earnest and appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff backed by necessary parliamentary sanction would be a true integration. In doing so the aspects related to accountability, modernisation will automatically get streamlined. However the most important aspect accrued out of this transformation would be the formalisation of a strategic thought process, derived out of synergy between defence and other ministries. A measure desperately needed by a country which is standing at the threshold of a predicted Asian age of twenty-first century. This can very much be facilitated by this integration.
Integration of the service headquarters with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be on a very high priority agenda for the Modi’s government. Since our Independence the service headquarters have been adjunct to the MoD merely out of the fears of Jawaharlal Nehru originating out of a much hallucinated military coup. Though every effort recently during the tenure of General VK Singh was made by the then Defence Secretary Shashank Sharma to revive such fears by jointly concocting a false story of a coup along with a leading national daily, all this was done with an aim to discredit the Army Chief and in turn the Army. The immediate fallout would have been mistrust and further isolation of the armed forces. It would have provided a reason enough to suppress the legitimate desire of the armed forces for proper integration with the MoD. Will the safeguards to prevent a repeat of such an exercise by the bureaucrats put in place? How will the civil military relation build on trust and faith needs to be seen in the days to come?
Finally, the greatest challenge would be in ensuring strong and capable armed forces. This can only happen by rapid modernisation. It is high time the management of our defence on our borders was technology-driven rather than being based on the antiquated troop-intensive philosophy which is of attrition in nature. Today the fighter strength in the Air Force has alarmingly depleted. The submarine arm of the Navy is virtually left with no punch. The Army has night blind armoured with limited ammunition just enough to fight one and a half days of intense battle. Air defence is defunct and artillery left with obsolete guns and systems. Infantry man is starved of basic equipment and seriously looks forward to a good rifle at least to match up with the enemy on the borders. The list is very long.
Narendra Modi intends good relations with our belligerent neighbours and in his own words, “by looking straight into their eyes”. This can happen only if the country is strong. Military is the manifestation of that strength that comes out of strong economy and sound leadership. It is high time the equipment-starved armed forces did not suffer from the neglect of bureaucrats and the lack of commitment and accountability of the DRDO and the Defence PSUs. India deserves a strong armed force, an expectation of every patriotic Indian.