Empowering the Military by Lt Gen Prakash Katoch in IDR 3/3/2013http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/empowering-the-military/
Situations in counter insurgency environment cause their own stress on soldiers especially when politicians and officials play their dirty games.
How do you insulate the soldier from unwarranted surmounting stress of false accusations of serious crimes like rape including ignominy during the attachments and long winded inquiries while media cries blue murder and tarnishes the image of individual (s) and the Army? Can you gauge the effect of undue additional stress levels caused by regular spate of false human rights abuse allegations (94-95% as per NHCR) on soldiers in addition to combat stress? During 1990-91, a village called Kushan Pushpora in Kupwara District of J&K was searched during a winter night of continuous snow and rain. More than one unit was involved. Three days after the operation, DC Kupwara (under militant threat, militant sympathy or for money offered by militants) himself lodged an FIR that the army had raped 100 women in that single night including a 60 year old woman. It created a national and international furor. What followed was a spate of commissions and inquiries, eventually all proving after a year plus that the allegations were baseless.
More recently, media frenzy and State politics in J&K accused army personnel with the rape and killing two women at Shopian in J&K, later proved to be a case of drowning. In insurgency areas, media too at times is under terrorist threat or is available on hire – which may perhaps be a global phenomenon. However, a former joint Director IB writes in his book ‘Open Secrets’, “The susceptibility of the fourth estate to the intelligence community had tied our hands down. They are one of the too many holy Indian cows. Some of them, as described by a senior member of the fourth estate, ‘taxi on hire’. Any paymaster can hire this particular brand.”
As for insurgencies, neither the State nor the Centre actually have the will, or shall we say desire to finish insurgency because of the benefits that accrue – including unlimited funds sans accountability. Therefore, politicians continue to play their own games and actually enjoy the military being shown in poor light. So, where is the question of clamping down on a lower functionary like DC Kupwara from making false accusations or more importantly, take action against him when the malicious FIR filed by him proved grossly wrong.
During the obnoxious episode of General VK Singh, former Army Chief who refused to toe the corrupt, the murky dealings of the politician-bureaucrat-contractor mafia (land, arms and equipment) was investigated and aired by ETV. This had similarly emerged when another upright officer, Lieutenant General HS Panag, was shunted out from Northern Command in 2008. Then you had ‘up for sale’ type of media fellows, known to own properties beyond their means, who reported the conspiracy of an army coup. A slimy colleague even put the photograph of a serving military chief on the front cover, captioning it “Self Before Service” without a care what would be the fallout on the military. He was obviously rewarded handsomely by the mafia. This fellow would never have the guts to write anything in a similar fashion against even a low level police officer. The simple reason is that this so called editor knows that he would be bamboozled out of shape and breath should he dare to do so. But one can play upon the military anyway which you like, when the Defence Minister shrugs off saying his hands are tied and the Supreme Commander refuses to even meet delegations of military veterans with petitions written in blood and returning their medals including gallantry awards. Take the recent VVIP Helicopter scam, where media is focusing on a former military chief.
Do they have the guts to interview the then DG Acquisition of MoD? Surely the media is aware that the DG Acquisition is the lynchpin in any procurement and is the man who negotiates pricing and that every time an Empowered Committee flies out, the DG Acquisition or his representatives, flies out separately from the rest of the committee, stays separately while abroad, is the man whose signatures eventually seals the deal and ensures the pre-decided booty distribution. Neha Thirani wrote in the New York Times on 2nd April 2012, “Corruption in India’s Ministry of Defense runs deep and wide, judging by the accusations made by defense officials in the past few months. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. In the frequent cases of corruption that have surfaced in the ministry over the years, incidents of graft have implicated everyone from petty officers to the highest ranks in the department.”
The beauty of the set up is that the politician is dependent on the bureaucrat for advice and the latter is not accountable and couldn’t care less. That is why we don’t even have a National Security Strategy. In 2005, a three star officer heading Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) was briefing the NSA on how the military can help draft the National Security Strategy. After listening for about an hour, the NSA abruptly cut off the presentation saying all this was fine but could he be advised how to deal with Nepal? He was told that some five months back a net assessment study on Nepal had been forwarded to him replete with evaluation that events would play out in Nepal in five phases, and that the second phase was under play right now. The NSA was blank and admitted that he was not even aware of such a document.
During the first Indo-US DPG meeting held at New Delhi, the US delegation was flabbergasted to know that our MoD has no personnel from the military on permanent absorption or deputation. They wondered how our MoD could function in the first place. More recently, The Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Washington, highlighted the “Indian Defence Ministry’s (MoD) inability to discuss policy and strategy.” Antony as one of the longest serving Defence Minister is culpable of not undoing the hawkish negative bureaucratic control (without any expertise in military affairs) over the military, excluding the military from crucial strategic decision-making and not reviewing the entire rubric of higher defence management and role of bureaucracy factoring the reports of scores of committees – all of which adversely affects national security. He has made no effort to remodel civil-military relations and has gone for blacklisting firms at the first instance to push his clean image but without making alternative procurement arrangements to fill up critical deficiencies. He has not been able to remodel DRDO and the OFB and make them accountable, bringing us to a sorry state where the military has to import even assault rifles and carbines.
The Defence Minister (as the Prime Minister) may plead he is clean but he can hardly dust off the reflection of the murky dealings by his subordinates. That is the reason why HQ IDS has not been permitted to integrate with the MoD – so that bureaucratic accountability can continue to be avoided and more importantly the mafia links remain dappled.
There is a reason why today the MoD is being referred to as MAD (Ministry Against Defence) and MoD’s bureaucrat headed Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) called the Department of Stone Walling; ample proof of the negative and adverse stance by both existing. The 4th Pay Commission had granted military officers in 1986 rank pay (upto brigadier rank) in addition to basic pay. The MoD bureaucrats scuttled these orders and in conjunction the Controller of Defence Accounts deducted the rank pay from emoluments of thousands of effected officers despite appeal after appeal. It is only in September 2012, that the Supreme Court ordered that the blocked rank pay. The bureaucracy then pleaded citing financial constraints that arrears get paid not with effect from 1986 not 2006, and at only 6% interest. The Supreme Court order that all disbursement be completed within three months was circumvented on pretext of workload and unavailability of records though lakhs of rupees were allotted years back for automation of the Controller of Defence Accounts. Can you ever expect the Defence Minister to conduct an inquiry into the culpability of the bureaucrats of MoD for this gross injustice to the military or is he and his predecessors party to all this? Will the present ‘clean’ Defence Minister do this even now knowing that some of the affected officers have passed away, even martyred in conflict, and no arrears can reach their next of kin when the Controller of Defence Accounts wants every officer to submit a performa before any arrears can be allotted.
Ironically, when the case of rank pay was being fought in court, the Solicitor General of India told the court that Services Headquarters were opposed to giving back the rank pay to these officers – blatant and malicious lie to mislead the Court for which, he should have actually be held in contempt and perjury. Payment of these arrears not with effect from 1986 but 2006 (20 years gap) and that too at only 6% interest implies affected officers get perhaps only one third of what they should have actually got. There are understandably financial constraints but do keep in mind media reports of six paintings of the spouse of the ‘clean’ Defence Minister bought by Air India for Rupees 25 crores, even while incurring a daily loss of Rupees 5 crores. Significantly, MoD accepted that the Supreme Court judgment in rank pay case would involve re-fixation of not only the Fourth Pay Commission, but would affect successive pay commissions. However, they have now refused to implement what they admitted in court.
Just about 20,000 officers are being given arrears, that too from 2006 instead of from 1986 instead of benefiting all pay scales and pensions of service officers in all subsequent pay commissions. The Supreme Court judgement in the rank pay case is actually being deliberately defrauded by MoD through minimal implementation. The 6thPay Commission granted Non Functional Advancement to all central services officers but deliberately denied this to Defence Services. This is yet another example of intentionally harming the military. The manner in which the prestige of the military is being attacked and personnel denied their emoluments is unbelievable. One fine morning, media prominently displayed grossly false news – “OROP Sanctioned – Government Allots 2300 Crores”. The President of Indian Ex-Servicemen Association met the Defence Minister and points out the phoniness. The Defence Minister acknowledged the folly (which was obviously deliberate) but did nothing to ensure even a press note rectifying it. It is not that the public is unconcerned. TR Ramaswami, former banker with SBI Group and DSP Merrill Lynch Ltd writes, “We need a permanent solution to this tussle over emoluments so that the armed forces need only confront the enemies of the nation.”
What does the military do in such an environment? How can the military be empowered? How do they get the much needed politico-military connect; to make the politician concerned about the military, which in turn would reign in the bureaucracy, improve civil-military relations and bring the military into the inner hierarchical circle of all matters military that would in turn improve national security? Frankly no elaborate net assessment or appreciation is required. If you can appreciate the solitary factor that makes the politician drool, you know the panacea. Yes, unequivocally it is the votebank. The irony is that provision already exists for the military to empower themselves through this. The problem is that either the military is unaware or the commanders are too scared they might be labeled ‘political’. Nothing can be more stupid than the latter because exercising one’s franchise is a democratic right and in fact, denying it to your subordinates is being undemocratic where the Election Commission of India has authorized every soldier who is serving for six months or more on the day of election in any part of India to vote in the State elections (of the State he is serving in) as well as the Municipal Elections of the Municipality covering the place of the soldier’s current posting.Deliberate ill equipping and lack of modernization of the military is another aspect. If the deliberate leak of a former Army Chief to the Prime Minister sent shock waves in the general public, the deficiencies by themselves are drummed into the hierarchy (Prime Minster and Defence Minister included) during the Military Commanders Conference every six months, as also during the periodic Unified Commanders Conference. The idea of the leak was to reinforce the requirement of big ticket acquisitions from where hefty bribes accrue. We neither have a National Security Strategy or an Internal Security Strategy (latter apparent with the gross mishandling of the Maoist insurgency) which obviates the compulsion to look at procurements holistically. That is why we have aberrations like the over Rupees 36000 crores deal on 12 x VVIP helicopters while there is crying need for attack and troop lift helicopters. Arming and equipping of the soldiers at the cutting edge continues to be ignored across the entire security sector. Ironically, although a former Prime Minister was rumoured to be a CIA agent, no government or media functionary has ever been labeled an ISI agent other than low level functionaries caught for passing on military secrets. The straight answer is there is a whole bunch of them, working in cohorts with each other and the arms-land mafia, ensuring the military remains unprepared and attacking the military morale.
In 2007, when the UP State elections were announced, the army garrisons at Mathura, Allahabd and Kanpur notified the civil authorities that all ranks posted at these garrisons fulfilling the six month criteria will be participating in the State elections. The list of eligible all ranks were forwarded and voter identity cards requested. Simultaneously, some veterans took it upon themselves to send RTIs to concerned MLAs and MPs asking for details of what action had been taken by them in last five years for helping veterans and serving soldiers families in their areas, and what expenditure was made from the enormous area development funds at their disposal to improve the infrastructure in the cantonments. The effect was electric to say the least. The standing MLA (with a feline surname) at Mathura made a beeline to the Station Commander offering Rupees 10 lakhs (promising more would follow) and requested the Station Commander to issue orders for all ranks at Mathura to vote for his party. Needless to mention that the moneybag was returned and he was politely told it does not happen in the military like this. Eligible all ranks would vote but everyone is unto himself and no central orders would be issued whom to vote for. The MLA still wanted the Station Commander to keep the moneybag but the latter declined. At Allahabad, an illegal encroachment on cantonment land had just been removed after proper court order. The lady heading a political party in her quest to garner votes of the evicted rang up the party President in Delhi, who in turn rang up the Defence Minister. Lo and behold, HQ Central Command was asked to order an inquiry into the evictions. Obviously, nothing came out of it but when the army informed the civil authorities they would participate in state elections, the lady heading the particular political party ended up wanting to know when the Divisional Commander at Allahabad could find time to have a meal with her. Incidentally couple of years later, this lady’s house was ransacked and burnt by goons’ courtesy political opponents. There were demands by political parties to hold election rallies within cantonments but this was not permitted. The Army did take part in the 2005 UP State Elections. Civil authorities expressed inability to issue so many voter cards in such short span but set up separate special booths exclusive for military where individuals vote after showing their service identity cards. The MLA who won from Mathura, came to Station Headquarters subsequently and queried how could he assist in improving the roads, lighting etc over the next five years.
The military has the power to empower itself. Will the commanders take the initiative? Shouldn’t the Chiefs order that all ranks must not be denied their franchise? Empowerment will come a