Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi | DNA, Mumbai Edition Sunday, April 8, 2012
Ever since the Chief raised the issue of his wrongly recorded date of birth, some Ministry of Defence (MoD) bureaucrats have become the conduits of perverse and hair-brained leaks that are being fed to the media. The plan is to first put down the Chief and the army, and then through a denial of those leaks, to show how good they, the bureaucrats, really are. This is warped thinking at its worst.
Recently, one of the national newspapers reached the height of absurdity and published a so-called scoop with a banner headline, giving a perverse twist to a routine event, news which practically all newspapers and TV news channels had carried in January this year when the event had actually occurred. A simple training exercise for testing the ability of a few army units to move in the fog of north Indian winters has now taken sinister tones in their view. The newspaper has virtually accused the army, and hence the Chief, of plotting the overthrow of the government. I always thought that it was the likes of John le Carré; and other fiction writers who wrote mystery plots, but now we have these journalists and media persons beating writers of fiction at their own game.
The question to be asked is that if the army really wanted to take over — and let me hasten to add that it has never wanted to — would a piece of paper, saying ‘report all moves of units towards Delhi’ be enough to stop it? Secondly, when our mechanised forces move out for operations, they do not do so on slow and cumbersome tank transporters, but they do so on tracks and they carry ammunition. Thirdly, can two units of the army carry out a takeover; the mind boggles at the naivety of the media persons who were apparently taken for a right royal ride, especially when there are much larger forces already stationed in Delhi, plus the large number of contingents assembled for the Republic Day Parade. Lastly, it is farcical to think that the police by slowing down traffic or posting lookouts will be able to stop an army column. Such measures are for birds, but then our bureaucrats, with their well known limitations, neither have the imagination or capability to conceive anything different.
Military coups are to be avoided, not by instituting such puerile measures but by working together as equals, by respecting each other’s concerns, discarding and permanently burying the master-subordinate dispensation, the kind that prevails in bureaucratic thinking at present. Our army needs to be commended that despite a surfeit of wrongs committed toward it for decades and with political leaders abrogating their authority and power to the bureaucrats, the army has stood firm, utterly loyal and focused on its tasks. But how long can it continue to tolerate these assaults which are uncalled for?
We have a unique but absurd organisation for higher defence, where the MoD is wholly staffed by the bureaucrats and has been interposed between the political leadership and the military. Are our political leaders so incompetent that they are unable to deal directly with the military, without some bureaucrat holding their hand? This absurdity must end. We need separate Departments of Army, Navy and Air Force, presided over by ministers of state, and manned jointly and equally by military and civil officials. The military must be brought in the policy formulation loop and this is best done in our context by appointing a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who would render professional advice to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and more importantly to the Cabinet Committee on Security. The integrated staff under him must also comprise both military and civil officials.
We have still not been able to design a defence procurement agency that is able to procure arms, equipment and ammunition speedily and honestly. Unless this is done, no effective modernisation can take place. It is time the elected representatives take charge and ensure that the downgrading of the army and its vilification by some self-centered bureaucrats stops. The bubble of discontentment among the rank and file of the military, who have always placed service to the nation above themselves, can burst, if the political leadership fails to make changes as suggested. Neither political rhetoric nor delaying tactics like setting up committees are likely to help.
Those who think it will be business as usual after the present Chief demits office are sadly mistaken. The Chief Designate is a highly professional officer, steeped in army ethos. He would also do what is best for the army and the nation.
The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and former Founder Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).