Friday, October 12, 2012

India's Higher Defence set up
Lt Gen SK Sinha
Oct 10, 2012
  •  S.K. Sinha
During British rule, His Excellency the Viceroy and Governor-General was the supreme authority in India. This appointment was invariably held by a peer of the realm and someone from public life. Senior military officers like Lord Cornwallis, Lord Harding, Lord Wavell and Lord Mountbatten held this exalted appointment. No civil servant, serving or retired, was ever appointed Viceroy. Next to the Viceroy was His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief in India (not C-in-C Indian Army). He wore several hats. He was the senior member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council functioning as a defence minister. Besides, he was C-in-C Indian Army, C-in-C British Army in India and the supreme commander of the Navy and the Air Force.
After Independence, this changed to conform to the requirements of democracy. Executive authority over the military was now exercised by the council of ministers. The military functioned under the defence minister. Hitherto the defence secretary was staff officer of the C-in-C in India, junior to the principal staff officers, who were lieutenant generals. The defence secretary now became the chief staff officer of the defence minister. The military role of C-in-C in India was now to be performed by the Cs-in-C of the three Services for their respective Service. Unlike the Railway Board which continued to remain free from control of civil servants, the three Service Headquarters were reduced to the position of attached departments controlled by the bureaucracy. A committee of three senior secretaries in the Government of India recommended that the defence secretary be accorded a higher protocol status than the Service Chiefs. The Service Chiefs, all British officers at that time, represented against this to Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor-General. Mountbatten advised Jawaharlal Nehru that the Service Chiefs must have a higher protocol status. Nehru agreed. The Service Chiefs continue to have a higher protocol status than the defence secretary. But this has not prevented their functional subordination.
The military has been increasingly isolated from the process of decision-making. Such functioning adversely affects defence preparedness and morale. Their legitimate dues are denied. The bureaucracy is perceived as inimical to the military. Such a sharp divide between the two exists in no other country. The Rules of Business of Government of India lays down that the defence secretary is responsible “for the defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence… and for the Armed Forces of India, namely Army, Navy and Air Force”. No mention is made of the role of the Service Chiefs!
Lord Ismay was a general with vast experience of the functioning of higher defence management. He had been the secretary of the Imperial Defence Committee for 15 years before World War II. During that war he was Winston Churchill’s chief of staff. In 1947 he was Mountbatten’s chief of staff and asked to examine India’s higher defence orgnisation.
In view of the troubled conditions of those times, ongoing Kashmir war, Indian Services vivisected in the wake of Partition and Indian officers who replaced British officers lacking seniority and experience, he did not recommend drastic changes in line with other democracies. He recommended a series of committees for coordinated functioning. At the apex level was the Cabinet Committee on Defence presided over by the Prime Minister with the defence minister and other ministers as members and Service Chiefs and civil bureaucrats in attendance. At the next level was the Defence Minister’s Committee with Service Chiefs and civilian bureaucrats as members. The secretarial support for these committees was provided by the military wing of the Cabinet Secretariat, with a military officer functioning as the secretary. After a few years these committees got wound up. The Cabinet Committee for Defence was replaced by the Cabinet Committee for Security with secretariat support provided by civil servants. Defence Secretary is in attendance at its meetings representing the three Services. Occasionally Service Chiefs are invited to attend. This has led to the isolation of Defence Services from the decision-making process.
Government decisions on recommendations of the Services are taken in files, with the last word resting with the bureaucracy. In 1962 a joint secretary verbally conveyed government orders to Gen. Thapar, the then Army Chief, to evict the Chinese from the Himalayas. He asked for this in writing. The Army Chief obviously had not been in the loop for taking this decision. In 1965 the then Naval Chief, Adm. Soman, complained that he was given operation orders to conduct operations without any prior consultation with him. The big reason for our debacle in 1962 was the isolation of the military from decision-making.
On March 25, 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru announced in Parliament that as in other democracies, India will have Chiefs of Staff replacing Cs-in-C and in due course Service Councils. The Service Chiefs were designated Chiefs of Staff as Cs-in-C, without any change in their functioning. This change of designation achieved nothing. No action was taken regarding setting up Service Councils. The Kargil Review Committee recommended the appointment of a CDS and integration of Service Headquarters with the ministry of defence. This was approved by a group of ministers. This was torpedoed by having an integrated defence staff without a head and integrated ministry of defence without any delegation of real power to the Services.
Now the Naresh Chandra Committee has recommended a full-time Chairman Chiefs of Staff and not CDS. A few military officers are to be seconded for tenures in the MoD. Such cosmetic changes will be of little help. Like democracies in the West, India must have a rational higher defence organisation, otherwise weapons acquisition, defence infrastructure and the morale of the Services will continue to suffer. One rank one pension has not been fully conceded after decades of representation. The status of military personnel has been persistently lowered. To this day a Field Marshal has not been accorded a higher protocol status than the Service Chiefs or Cabinet Secretary. While upholding the supremacy of the civil represented by political executives, the bureaucratic stranglehold on higher defence management must be eliminated.
The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

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