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
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.