T The Civil-mil­i­tary Fric­tion

In re­cent times, the Army is seen more in the sec­ondary role than the pri­mary one. It is in this con­text that we should crit­i­cally look at na­tional se­cu­rity, the role of mil­i­tary as well as civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship so that th­ese could be main­streamed i

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In re­cent times, the Army is seen more in the sec­ondary role than the pri­mary one.

THE BRI­TISH EAST IN­DIA Com­pany rule in In­dia ef­fec­tively be­gan in 1757 and lasted un­til the enactment of Government of In­dia Act, 1858, that led to the Bri­tish Crown as­sum­ing di­rect con­trol. The com­pany was dis­solved in 1874 and its func­tions ab­sorbed into of­fi­cial government ma­chin­ery in the Bri­tish Raj with its pri­vate army na­tion­alised by the Bri­tish Crown. In the Madras Pres­i­dency there has been an anec­dote about drill train­ing for this pri­vate army. The raw re­cruits could not un­der­stand the com­mand ‘left-right’ for march­ing dur­ing drill prac­tice. So the train­ers had to tie a piece of cloth (se­lai) on one leg and palm-leaf (olai) on the other. The drill com­mand for march­ing then was a strange-sound­ing olai-kaal (left­leg) se­lai-kaal (right leg)!

The lit­er­acy lev­els of mil­i­tary re­cruits then was so abysmal. Those were the days of feu­dal-monar­chy when lowly men, com­manded by aris­to­crats, com­prised the mil­i­tary. It was in this era that Al­fred Lord Ten­nyson came out with the dic­tum for the mil­i­tary men: “Theirs is not to rea­son why, but to do and die.” (“Charge of the Light Bri­gade”, 1854)

In­dia’s mil­i­tary to­day com­prise of welle­d­u­cated and highly-skilled men who have a mind of their own to dis­tin­guish good from the bad and right from the wrong. Of­fi­cers who com­mand them come through a rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process based on merit. Yet In­dia’s po­lit­i­cal-bu­reau­cratic elite func­tion­ing in a seem­ingly demo­cratic sys­tem is stick­ing to the Ten­nyson doc­trine. This is re­flected in the re­cent ob­ser­va­tions made by the Union Min­is­ter of State for De­fence while de­liv­er­ing the Field Mar­shal K.M. Cari­appa Me­mo­rial Lec­ture—“The mil­i­tary forces have re­mained loyal to the elected government and have been its obe­di­ent ser­vant.”

It is not sur­pris­ing there­fore that the suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have failed to de­fine a proper and fair civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship. How­ever, tak­ing the ini­tia­tive, Ad­mi­ral Vishnu Bhag­wat in his treatise, The Sol­dier and the State (1998), at­tempted a def­i­ni­tion: “The mod­ern mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion ex­ists as part of the government in­so­far as the term ‘government’ in­cludes the ex­ec­u­tive de­part­ments of the na­tion-state...Mod­ern democ­ra­cies there­fore pay great at­ten­tion to the supremacy of the po­lit­i­cal class over the mil­i­tary in gov­er­nance, nor­mally re­ferred to as ‘civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary’. This is clearly how it should be, since ul­ti­mate power and de­ci­sion­mak­ing should be wielded by the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple.”

Gen­eral V.K. Singh fully en­dorsed this (2012) but chal­lenged the Ten­nyson dogma: “Civil­ian supremacy must al­ways be rooted on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of jus­tice, merit and fair­ness. Vi­o­la­tion of this in any form must be re­sisted if we are to pro­tect the in­sti­tu­tional in­tegrity of our armed forces.”

Com­bined views of former Navy and Army Chiefs go be­yond ‘loy­alty’ and ‘obe­di­ence’ and set forth cer­tain non-ne­go­tiable im­per­a­tives for civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship: Democ­racy func­tion­ing as per es­tab­lished norms Mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion ex­ist­ing as part of government De­ci­sion-mak­ing and civil­ian supremacy by the ‘elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple’ Such supremacy to be rooted on the prin­ci­ples of jus­tice, merit and fair­ness Vi­o­la­tion of this can be re­sisted to pro­tect the in­sti­tu­tional in­tegrity of armed forces

Es­trange­ment not Re­la­tion­ship

An in­sti­tu­tion­alised well es­tab­lished civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship would fac­tor in all the above im­per­a­tives. But what is hap­pen­ing now is ad hoc and patch-work and there is more of dis­cord than ac­cord. It was in­evitable there­fore that mat­ters drifted, in­trigues pre­vailed and things have hap­pened that strike at the very in­tegrity of the Army as an in­sti­tu­tion. Th­ese in­clude cre­at­ing and pur­su­ing ‘line of suc­ces­sion’ at se­nior ech­e­lons of the Army; the re­sul­tant pre-med­i­tated ma­nip­u­la­tion of the date-of-birth of a serv­ing Army Chief forc­ing him to move the Supreme Court where he was ad­vised to ‘blow with the wind’; bribe of­fered to a serv­ing Army Chief for de­fence deals in his very of­fice; a cor­rupt PSU chief in­volved in Ta­tra scam, en­joy­ing pa­tron­age at high­est lev­els, is­su­ing open threat to a serv­ing Army Chief; leak­age of a `top se­cret’ let­ter from the Army Chief to the Prime Min­is­ter about the de­fence un­pre­pared­ness; false and fab­ri­cated ac­cu­sa­tions against Army Chief of spy­ing/ snoop­ing on the De­fence Min­is­ter and what is worse, in­sid­i­ous in­sin­u­a­tion of mil­i­tary coup, cast­ing asper­sion on the Army Chief him­self.

Fall-out of th­ese sor­did hap­pen­ings on the In­dian Army is best summed up by de­fence an­a­lyst Ma­roof Raza: “The sys­tem has closed around the Chief and this will only em­bolden the bu­reau­cracy. The fall­out will be that at least for two gen­er­a­tions, no mil­i­tary com­man­der will raise his head. And the mes­sage for mil­i­tary com­man­ders is that it isn’t merit or ac­cu­racy of doc­u­ments that will get them pro­mo­tions, but pan­der­ing to the politico-bu­reau­cratic elite. The last bas­tion of pro­fes­sional mer­i­toc­racy in In­dia has crum­bled. The dam­age will be last­ing.”

De­spite such damn­ing in­dict­ment noth­ing was done to undo the dam­age. In­stead the politico-bu­reau­cratic agenda was rammed through and the ‘line of suc­ces­sion’ con­sum­mated. The Pres­i­dent, also the Supreme Com­man­der of the Armed Forces, re­mained mute hav­ing be­come func­tus of­fi­cio by al­low­ing politi­cians and bu­reau­crats in the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) to glee­fully mis­use the del­e­gated pow­ers. The Lady Pres­i­dent re­fused even to meet a del­e­ga­tion of re­tired Gen­eral Of­fi­cers and re­ceived a mem­o­ran­dum signed by over thou­sand veter­ans and con­cerned ci­ti­zens. It is ev­i­dent that de­spite the Pres­i­dent be­ing the ‘Government of In­dia’ as per Gen­eral Clauses Act, is in­ca­pable of en­sur­ing ad­her­ence to the ‘fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of jus­tice, merit and fair­ness’, an es­sen­tial pre­req­ui­site for cor­dial civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship.

This epit­o­mises the near to­tal col­lapse of the in­sti­tu­tional frame­work and alien­ation be­tween the civil and mil­i­tary hi­er­ar­chies. The wide­spread per­cep­tion is that while the rank and file is sub­jected to se­vere dis­ci­plinary ac­tion for even mi­nor of­fences, those higher up, with the right con­nec­tions, can get away with any­thing and get pro­moted to high­est ranks as long as they re­main ‘obe­di­ent ser­vants’! Hence this dis­turb­ing view, cir­cu­lat­ing at many lev­els of mil­i­tary, that it is not worth fight­ing for a coun­try that is in the grip of ‘con­niv­ing, cor­rupt ca­bals’. Lord Ten­nyson’s dic­tum is be­ing turned on its head!

This is clear man­i­fes­ta­tion of civil-mil­i­tary es­trange­ment and if al­lowed to per­sist, could im­peril the se­cu­rity of the na­tion, both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal. Yet the po­lit­i­cal-bu­reau­cratic combo aided and abet­ted by a group of grov­el­ling former mil­i­tary brass are pur­su­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that pose se­ri­ous threat to the na­tion’s sovereignty and in­tegrity. Th­ese in­clude at­tempts to sell out Si­achen glacier through sin­is­ter means and the still-burn­ing North­east caul­dron due to Army’s Com­mand fail­ure.

Ad­hoc­racy, not Bu­reau­cracy

De­spite the short­com­ings, In­dian mil­i­tary is pro­fes­sional in its struc­ture and func­tion­ing. It has pri­mary and sec­ondary roles. The former is to pre­serve na­tional in­ter­ests and safe­guard sovereignty, ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and unity of In­dia against ex­ter­nal threats and the lat­ter is, as­sist­ing government agen­cies to cope with ‘proxy war’ and other in­ter­nal threats and pro­vide aid to civil author­ity when req­ui­si­tioned for the pur­pose. In re­cent times, the Army is seen more in the sec­ondary role than the pri­mary one. It is in this con­text that we should crit­i­cally look at na­tional se­cu­rity, the role of mil­i­tary as well as civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship so that th­ese could be main­streamed into the gov­er­nance ar­chi­tec­ture.

What are the fac­tors that pre­vent such main­stream­ing? First is the strong ad­min­is­tra­tive, pro­ce­dural and bu­reau­cratic con­trol over the armed forces with­out any ex­per­tise in mil­i­tary af­fairs. Sec­ond, ex­clu­sion of mil­i­tary from cru­cial de­ci­sion-mak­ing fo­rums, thus deny­ing it a role in the pol­icy-mak­ing process, strate­gic as­sess­ments and weapons pro­cure­ment, all hav­ing ad­verse ef­fect on de­fence pre­pared­ness and na­tional se­cu­rity. Even so, the mil­i­tary has con­sid­er­able au­ton­omy con­cern­ing its own af­fairs: train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, threat as­sess­ments, force struc­ture, doc­trine, in­no­va­tions, ap­point­ments (up to a cer­tain rank) and mis­cel­la­neous wel­fare ac­tiv­i­ties. This prac­tice of strong bu­reau­cratic con­trol with mil­i­tary au­ton­omy is paradoxical and could cre­ate more con­flicts than it could re­solve!

Is the con­trol really bu­reau­cratic? One won­ders! Bu­reau­cracy ad­min­is­ters through laid down rules and is by and large mer­it­driven. Ad­hoc­racy on the other hand is nur­tured through vi­o­la­tion of pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures to en­sure that favouritism and nepo­tism pre­vails. Such ad­hoc­racy, which is antony­mous to mer­i­toc­racy, has sub­stan­tially sub­verted the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process and gov­er­nance stan­dards, vastly en­cour­ag­ing cor­rup­tion and dis­hon­esty. It started with the civil ser­vices, spread to the mil­i­tary and blos­somed into a joint-ven­ture be­tween civil and mil­i­tary ad­hoc­ra­cies. It is this ad­hoc­racy that has se­verely soured civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship.

Needed a Cat­a­lyst

Civil and mil­i­tary are two sides of gov­er­nance. Though mil­i­tary should be an in­trin­sic part of In­dia’s gov­er­nance, it is not so be­cause there is an in­her­ent con­flict be­tween the two streams—medi­ocrity ver­sus ex­cel­lence. As al­ways, medi­ocrity keeps ex­cel­lence at arm’s length and given the cur­rent civil-mil­i­tary equa­tion, the twain shall never meet! In­stead, driven by self-in­ter­est, mil­i­tary, at least the higher ech­e­lons seem to be drift­ing to­wards medi­ocrity. This in­deed is the dilemma.

The way out is to re­de­fine gov­er­nance and make ‘hu­man se­cu­rity’ a new par­a­digm for devel­op­ment and gov­er­nance. ‘Hu­man se­cu­rity’ com­bines and har­nesses four vi­tal el­e­ments—ma­te­rial suf­fi­ciency, hu­man dig­nity, democ­racy and par­tic­i­pa­tory gov­er­nance— that con­sti­tute the core of a civilised hu­man so­ci­ety. Gov­er­nance, struc­tured around such con­cept can achieve ex­cel­lence.

Once we broad-base “de­fence” or “mil­i­tary” and move to­wards the “hu­man se­cu­rity” sec­tor, civil so­ci­ety par­tic­i­pa­tion be­comes im­per­a­tive in na­tional se­cu­rity strate­gies, mil­i­tary af­fairs and ex­pen­di­tures. Gov­er­nance then could really be­come a cat­a­lyst for civilmil­i­tary re­la­tion­ships and ad­hoc­ra­cies will have no place in such re­la­tion­ship. For this to hap­pen, a spe­cific role need to be as­signed to the civil so­ci­ety, so that the is­sue is dealt with in a demo­cratic rather than ad­ho­cratic man­ner.


Given the mess that In­dia’s higher de­fence man­age­ment is in, it would be bet­ter to em­u­late the model that cen­tralises mil­i­tary’s op­er­a­tional author­ity through the Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs as op­posed to the Ser­vice Chiefs and in­sti­tute par­lia­men­tary over­sight on de­fence man­age­ment. Fol­low­ing steps could be taken to build and sus­tain an abid­ing civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship: Re­vis­it­ing the en­tire rubric of higher de­fence man­age­ment and role of bu­reau­cracy, fac­tor­ing the re­ports of var­i­ous com­mit­tees Leg­is­la­tion to in­sti­tu­tion­alise the ‘fully joint force’ and Par­lia­men­tary over­sight/ involvement in de­fence man­age­ment Amend­ing Government of In­dia Rules of Busi­ness 1961 to recog­nise the role of mil­i­tary in na­tional se­cu­rity, mak­ing them in­te­gral to the gov­er­nance struc­ture Scru­tiny of the del­e­gated author­ity of the Pres­i­dent un­der Rules of Busi­ness and its rec­ti­fi­ca­tion to pre­vent mis­use for pur­su­ing po­lit­i­cal and pri­vate agenda Abol­ish­ing ad­hoc­racy in Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) by re­plac­ing the ar­chaic ‘gen­er­al­ist’ prac­tice in se­nior ap­point­ments with do­main knowl­edge/ex­pe­ri­ence Re­con­fig­ur­ing na­tional se­cu­rity frame­work with in­puts from all stake­hold­ers and involvement of civil so­ci­ety Bridg­ing the dis­tance be­tween com­mu­ni­ties, academia, think-tanks and the mil­i­tary through trans­parency and as­sis­tance from civil so­ci­ety

The Way Out

Two thou­sand years ago, Kau­tilya had said: “When diplo­mats fail to main­tain peace, the sol­dier is called upon to re­store peace. When civil ad­min­is­tra­tion fails to main­tain or­der, the sol­dier is called to re­store or­der. As the na­tion’s fi­nal safe­guard, the Army can­not af­ford a fail­ure in ei­ther cir­cum­stance. Fail­ure of Army can lead to na­tional catas­tro­phe, en­dan­ger­ing the sur­vival of the na­tion.” The need for an abid­ing and cor­dial civilmil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship can­not be put forth in a bet­ter way. Such re­la­tion­ship can­not float on shal­low wa­ters, but should be moored on an un­shak­able an­chor. In war or con­flicts, mil­i­tary men do not of­fer the ‘supreme sac­ri­fice’ just for money or rank. There is some­thing far more pre­cious called ‘hon­our’ and this is em­bed­ded in the Chet­wood Hall credo which most mil­i­tary lead­ers have passed through. Civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship moored on such an­chor would sub­sist on equal­ity and eq­uity, not supremacy and sub­servience.

Mil­i­tary veter­ans should set the tone for this re­la­tion­ship by aban­don­ing the cur­rent ‘pe­ti­tion­ing’ ap­proach to ar­tic­u­late their griev­ances and re­place it with a pride-cum-prin­ci­ple strat­egy. Only then will things change.

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