CLASH OF THE TITANS: A HISTORY OF THE INDIAN DEFENCE FORCES
heard there is a saying in Pakistan, that their clock ticks because of
Allah, Army, and America. I wonder what makes India’s clock tick?
have an old grandfather ‘Cuckoo clock’ which I inherited along with an
old hand wound gramophone with just one 33 rpm record that has a song
sung by Lata Mageshkar to help fund collection, on a national scale,
sometime after 62 war. When I feel dejected or depressed, like the silly
thoughts on what makes India tick, or when my wife calls me a ‘useless
bugger,’ I go fix myself a rum and cola. Then I wind up both the Cuckoo
and the gramophone and listen to Lata’s rendition of ‘Aye Mare Watan Ke
Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’
After I have had couple of Rum and
Cola and listened to the Watan song couple of more times, and see the
old Cuckoo pop it’s head out like the President of India, I am convinced
that God and America have little to do with what makes India tick, it
just needs frequent winding up like my Cuckoo clock’.
I also get
convinced that it is the
military that has the responsibility to go and wind up the Republic’s
stupid clock. I get the unreasonable feeling that the Indian Military is
the pillar on which the Indian Republic stands. I get the feeling that
the Sarnath Lions are the face of the military.
Sometimes, if I have had too many rum and cola, I roar like the MGM
Lion. My wife usually locks the bedroom door and makes me sleep in the
drawing room after that. I think someone may read this and lock me up in
the heck, I may even get intellectual company if I am sent to Tihar and
may learn about what makes politicals tick from criminals lodged there.
this afternoon, I went through my home library and took a look at the
history of the world from it’s inception. I found that men in uniform
have had a profound role to play in governance. The man in a uniform was
always at the apex, whether it was monarchy, anarchy,dictatorship,
communism, Marxism, feudalism, or democracy.
Democracy came about in
Rome around or before 3000 BC, with a senate and a Cesar. The Cesar was
always a General. In later English history the feudal lords were
military, King of England was military type, even Queen Victoria was
somewhat a military person.
In Indian context from Porus to Nadir Shah,
including Ashoka and Gautam Budha, they were all Generals. The entire
leadership of the world during WW-II was military types (Roosevelt,
Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, you name it, even
Emperor Hirohito of Japan).
Democracy was built on
the bull work that the chief executive of a state or an empire would be
a General, or at least one who has had some military background. I
agree that some Generals were bad, the Idi Amin types (he was actually a
Sergeant who proclaimed himself a Field Marshall). But I can also line
up a whole lot of Generals and Chiefs who are very fine gentlemen,
erudite, wise, very patriotic, exceptionally brilliant administrators
and above all those who believe that the country comes first, and their
selfish interests last.
About 162 of them were in NDA with me, some senior, some my peer group and some of them junior and still serving.
the second world war, I think after they got rid of John F Kennedy, the
world at large and America in particular redefined democratic
leadership profile, they did not want clean, honest, strong, intelligent
leaders who could govern with a strong heart and a mind of their own.
They wanted puppets, and idiots.
The democratic world is now led by
pliable, spineless people who can easily be manipulated by other
internal mechanisms of their own country, the secret coterie including
corporations like East India Company, media barons, arms merchants or
the self seeking sycophant bureaucrats.
The military has been downgraded, degraded to a foot mat, or at best a
well heeled Alsatian dog on a leash held by bureaucrats. One hopes that
in India the military continues to enjoy some level of popular respect.
In most other countries, the military is looked down upon by the people.
Colonial India, till Dalhousie came to rule, the Governor General was a
person with military background (all of them). India was ruled by a
secret conclave within the board of directors, all of them ex or serving
military. See my blog ‘NamakHaram’http://cyclicstories.blogspot.com/2011/07/namak-haram.html.
The C-in-C (army chief) was part of the inner group.
Dalhousie was the
first exception (he was a lawyer) and he started to down grade military
by making Lord Gough (C-in-C) redundant during second Punjab war
(1848-49) and afterwards getting rid of Charles Napier (next C-in-C). He
cut to size Col Henry Lawrence (father of Sanawar school) who may have
The C-in-C’s were expelled from the inner council. GGs
from civil service (predecessor of ICS) were made Viceroys (or Vice –
Kings, reporting to the King/Queen of England). John Lawrence (Henry’s
younger brother) was the mastermind of the first bureaucratic coup
d’état. John was a dipped in wool Indian bureaucrat.
1864 the military languished in the outhouse till Field Marshal Wavell
came to rule India in 1943. It was a war time government, military was
supreme. He relegated the civilians to Secretary status, like personal
assistants to take dictations or do the paperwork so that the military
Venerable Field Marshal Cariappa (the first Indian Army Chief) was from
that generation of Wavell. Cariappa lived in the largest house, Tin
Murthi Bhawan, only smaller than the Viceroy’s house on Raisiana hill
where Mountbatten an Admiral lived. The second largest house, next to
Vigyan Bhawan, where the Vice Prez now lives, it was the house of C-in-C
IAF (Gerald Gibbs). He lived there till 1954. The size of their house
and it's proximity to the Viceroy's house will give you an idea of the
power base, who the Titans were in those days.
was a man who had been arrested and jailed innumerable number of times
by the British Military Police, many of them Indians in British uniform.
It was inevitable that he hated the military with as much zest as the
military hated him. At the turn of independence the reluctance of the
Indian Army to get themselves involved in stopping the genocide did not
go well with Nehru (the Indian Army was confined to the barracks by the
British commanders who feared that British officers would be called upon
to fight other British offices who were part of the Pak army).
The initial reluctance of the Army in 1947 to immediately mobilize and
go into Kashmir, simply on his orders as the PM, also did not endear the
Army to Nehru. As Karan Thapar said in a recent article in HT, the man
in uniform including his father called the politicals as ‘Dhotiwalas’.
This hatred was inflamed further by venerable Mr Malick who was then the
boss of IB who carried horrific tales pertaining to the Army to the
I think the only Lion amongst the poltical wolves those years
was Sardar Patel, he had a good rapport with the military and in turn he
was held in high esteem by them. It was inevitable that a tussle took
place between the political and military – there were two sets of people
in uniform, the Gen Kaul types (62 war infamy) personally loyal and
subservient to Nehru and the Cariappa type King’s Commissioned Officers
(KCIOs) who were absolutely non-subservient to Nehru but whose loyalty
to the country was unquestionable (my late father-in-law was one of
these KCIO oddballs).
There were others who played snakes and ladder like Karan Thapar’s
father (Army Chief in 62) who got their heads bitten off by the
political (he was removed after 62 war). There were also very senior ICS
officers (KPS Menon for example – an old colleague of my father) who
saw the opportunity to create a second bureaucratic coup d’état. They
inserted themselves in between the military and the political – the
military opened their arms and welcomed them, so that the service HQ did
not have to deal with the highly confused and unfocussed politicals
Thus the Ministry of Defence (MoD) came about in earnest,
staffed not by military, but by Secretaries of several hues and shades,
all of them with typewriters around their necks.
Cariappa was asked to vacate Tin Murti Bhawan in 1953 because it galled
the political establishment that Nehru used to live in an outhouse
somewhere behind present day National Defence College (30 Jan lane).
Before he remitted office, in protest, Cariappa moved to a tent in an
open field that is now the Signals enclave. He took the whole Army HQ
there with him into tents (the Sena Bhawan was built later, I think
those days part of Army HQ was in Red fort and the rest in South Block
now occupied by the foreign office).
At that time the Army Chief was
supreme, enough guts even to tell the PM to piss off. Maharaj
Rajendrasinghji Jadeja (the man who gave us the ubiquitous RSIs) was a
very moderate man who kept the army as well as the politicals happy.
Rajendrasinghji and Srinageesh had more or less an easy time with mild
mannered Baldev Singh and Katju as Defence Ministers,
every one forgot about the army.
All the administrative actions,
including promotions, awards, rewards, expenses, deployments, defence
procurements, all these issues were all sorted out internally in the
service HQ, they did not have to ask a Babu whether to promote a Lance
Naik to a Naik, or whether they could go outside the HQ to the pavement
shop and buy themselves a rubber stamp.
You will not believe this, but
the service records of the officers in the Pak army were still kept and
maintained up-to-date by Indian Army HQ I think till around 1953-54 and
they used to come to Delhi to sort out their discrepancies !!!! I think
the relationship soured between Pak and Indian Army only around 1953-54
over approx Rs 52 lakhs that was to be paid to Pak by GOI as
compensation to them for some military stores that were not partitioned
or left behind in 1947. GOI did not pay, for whatever reasons.
then in 1957 the vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, exigent and
incredibly dictatorial VK Krishna Menon came to rule as the Def Min.
Krishna Menon was being groomed as Nehru’s successor. As late Bomb Mama
(the father of Indian N bomb, venerable K. Subramaniam) once told me,
under Krishna Menon both the bureaucracy as well as the service chiefs
ran for cover.
Thimayya and then Thapar (the TV jock’s father) bore the
brunt of it. COAS was practically made redundant, Krishna Menon took
over as the ex-officio army chief after Ayub Khan took control of
Pakistan in 1958. The political establishment was mortally scared that
Thimayya may emulate Ayub. In those years most of the senior military
officers in India as well as Pakistan were friends and on talking terms,
they served in the same regiments before partition and were therefore
So the political and bureaucratic lobby completely distrusted them,
though the military were the very guardians of the Indian Republic. It
is sad but true that, in private, most of the military establishment had
a very poor opinion of the ability of Indians to govern themselves.
This was partly because of old British disdain that they had inculcated
in the British army and of-course the disarray and disunity amongst the
Indian political establishment was as bad as it is now.
not on the political mind, they simply wanted accommodations, to be
democratic ‘Kings’ after getting rid of Princes, Kings and Emperors of
all hues, white as well as brown.
1958, as a result of political asylum being granted to the Dalai Lama
and assistance to establish a Tibetan Govt In exile at Dharamsala,
political decisions taken by Nehru and Krishna Menon without consulting
anyone, probably based on the advice and manoeuvring of Mr BN Malik, the
boss of IB quite under the thumb of CIA, there was more friction
between Army HQ and the political establishments.
The Babudom fanned the
flames further by questioning the very rationale of Army HQ
interference in decisions related to foreign policy. In those years,
Thimayya, like his predecessors, perceived that the Army HQ must have a
say in foreign policy issues since military is ultimately the tool of
Army HQ evaluation of the scenario perceived that China’s territorial
ambitions would extend beyond Tibet to Aksai Chin, Sikkim and NEFA,
indefensibility of the border, and hence they sought augmentation of
defence budget, force level and defence equipment to deal with threats
that emanated from India’s abetment of Tibetan aspirations.
Unfortunately Nehru and Krishna Menon had their heads stuck in
socialistic ideals and scoffed at Thimayya’s views, suggestions and
requests. Thimayya offered to resign. There was some wheeling dealing
because Nehru felt that his Govt will fall if Thimayya resigned. Finally
Thimayya gave in to the perceptions of Krishna Menon that China was no
threat to India (a perception that was enforced by the MoD even as late
as 1994 when I was last in uniform).
I believe it is still the main bone
of contention between the military perception vs that of the GoI.
Army HQ was permanently delinked from a newly formed Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MoFA). I think it was around this time that the Chiefs
were pushed to 16th on the protocol list. Four years later, the 62 war
vindicated Thimayya’s foresight. To quote an old conversation with Mani
Dixit (before he became the NSA), so many near catastrophes that faced
India down the ages (65 war, 71 war, Sri Lanka, Maldives fiasco, Agra
Talks, Kargil to name a few) may have had less disastrous consequences
had the political establishments or the MoFA and later version Ministry
of External Affairs (MEA) had ever consulted any of the Service Chiefs
before they took any decision.
But by 1958, as far as the political and
bureaucratic establishment were concerned, the service HQ, a few hundred
meters away from their own offices, had been turned into a dog house.
It is another story how the creation of R&AW (Kao Boys) over took
the MEA and converted the MEA to Jeeves for VVIPs when they went on
frequent foreign jaunts. About the R&AW, lesser said the better.
Foreign policy now became an intangible subject for GoI, whose
blunderbuss consequences had to be borne by the poor military with their
blood sweat and tears. I think JN (Mani) Dixit has written many volumes
Personally I don’t think Mani died a natural death. I perceive that he
was administered a slow acting poison by R&AW in his drink during an
official party because he had become an obstructionist as NSA for their
grandiose megalomania (his pronouncements on TV during Kandahar hijack
were perceptive and he was determined to use a broom to clean the Augean
stables of R&AW).
inter services problems started with Gen JN Chaudhury (I think-that is
what ACM PC Lal said) mainly because of JNC’s overbearing nature and
also as a result of the not too brilliant performance in 65 war. By then
the ICS were all gone and the IAS took control with a vengeance to not
only undo the military but also undo the memory of ICS.
The IAS was a
product of Indian political mind and they competed with each other to
better the sycophancy expected by the political. Chavan, a very non
obstreperous and pliable man who took over as Def Min after 62 was
completely in awe of the IAS lobby, who dictated policy for Chavan.
military was pushed back further down the line. After Chavan came
Jagjivan Ram who surprisingly was a strong man and well placed with
Indira Gandhi. So the bureaucrats got less elbow room. Indira was
politically weak so she required support from the three
chiefs and hence she gave them adequate importance.
J’Ram used to have
direct interaction with service chiefs on weekly basis in south block. A
large part of the success of the 71 war probably resulted from this
strong bond, freedom and direct interaction with the PM as also the
personal friendships between the 3 chiefs.
the 71 war the inter-services rivalry heated up once again, defence
spending was downsized, armed forces were once again sent to the
dressing room in every respect. For some strange reason the IB reported
to the PM that Manekshaw was planning a coup d’état. Quite possible that
it may have been due to a news paper article which said that if Sam
stood for elections, with a service officer in each constituency, the
Army would win a democratic election in every constituency and the right to rule.
India without any
coup d’état. I have heard that Indira called Sam and asked him on his
face, ’Sam are you planning a coup?’. His answer I believe was,
‘Sweetie, you can have my resignation on grounds of insanity’. I think
Indira had balls and Sam was an incredible man. In later years I can
think of quite a few other venerable Generals (Bhagat, Sinha, CNS
Pereira, CNS Bhagwat, recently VK Singh) all of them incredible people
with impeccable credentials and integrity who scared the political, the
bureaucrats and the arms merchants. Hence they were sidelined or got rid
of though they never once questioned the democratic system, only the
lack of wisdom of the ruling class.
For them their loyalty was to the country and not to their political master. Their only crime
was that they refused to do stupid things that the political asked them
to do for their own parochial reasons. Their integrity could not be
bought with post retirement perquisites. I have heard of a Naval Chief
who formally wrote to the GOI that no service chief should be tempted or
offered a post retirement gubernatorial post so that his loyalty would
be to the nation and not to the
ruling party. I am told that an ‘Under Secretary’ in MoD informed him
that his request has been accepted and that he would not be considered
for any such post after his retirement, but others would be entitled to
such posts !!!!
Lal (75-77), Indira, and R Venkatraman (82-84) came to rule MoD as
Defence Ministers. This was a terrible time for the service
The worst was to come later when India was ruled by a series of inept
PMs starting with Desai to Gowda. There was not a single meeting between
the chiefs and the Def Min or the PM, or consultations on matters
related to security of the country or on foreign policy. The chiefs
mostly sat in their HQ and whiled away their time, the services rotted
and the bureaucrats ruled the roost.
Frankly no point in castigating the
bureaucrats, it is the service HQ that needs to be blamed. The Chiefs
felt ignored and slighted, they did not wish to ruin their gubernatorial
aspirations and hence there was no attempt by the service HQ to make
any decisions, they began pathetic whining, everything including the
most mundane things began to be referred to the MoD for their approval.
The service HQ became a decorative organisation, with no authority.
There could have been nothing more despicable than to seek free rations,
that broke the camel’s back, the man in uniform was
now expected to eat the bloody ration and wag his tail at the
changed for the better once again when Rajiv Gandhi took over as Def
Min in 85 with the brilliant apolitical Arun Singh and the incredibly
soldierly KP Singh Deo in MOD. The three chiefs La Fontane, Tahilani and
the awesome Sunderji got along fine with the politicals promoting the
inter services camaraderie. The bureaucrats simply fell in line.
first time after 1971 the services began to brush up their uniforms as
well as professionalism. In many ways I personally think Sundarjee
devised Siachen, Chequerboard (Tawang) and finally Brass Tacks to down
size the MOD and get the services back into lime light with some
dignity. ( I agree, it is a wonky interpretation).
Rajeev Gandhi, the services went back to the boondocks especially due
to all the scams (Bofors, HD Submarine, so many of them those days) –
the MOD came back with a back swing.
Vohra the Def Sec stepped out of
line at India Gate line up on Republic Day and started to introduce the 3
chiefs to the PM. Can you imagine his contempt for protocol, like
introducing the PM to the President ? The Service chiefs went further
down on the protocol list. The Sri Lanka war was thrust on the services
without even consulting with the 3 chiefs. The RAW and the IB overtook
the services. I am given to understand that the IB keeps a file on every senior
service officer and that only those ones are promoted on whom they have a
Why else would a man who went and gave a fully armed Gnat
to the Pakis become the chief of IAF intelligence and an Air Mshl ?
para military was taken away and put under Home Ministry so that they
can now wage war against the political dissidents and opposition party
rallies in the socialist democratic republic of India where freedom is
guaranteed by constitution. The Police are alright with Danadas and
silly fellows like Ram Dev, but you need para military with rifles to
handle some stronger ones like the Maoists or the insurgent Nagas.
rest is recent history. I took a premature retirement in 94 out of
disgust against the system. Afterwards I have not been privy to what
happened in the corridors of power except gossip and conjecture. My
personal, less than successful interaction with Babudom while I served
in Air HQ is there on my blog
Kargil Committee under Bomb Mama and Arun Singh tried to bring sanity
and parity in MoD, creation of a CDS and a sandwiched MoD with both
civilians and the military. But do you think the Babus will ever let go ?
Just the way Anna thinks that the political will become honest if he
goes on a fast. I think it is us the ordinary people and the soldiers
who have to change and rewind the Cuckoo clock of the Republic. How, I
But we have to stop dreaming about utopia, that political and bureaucratic establishments will reform itself. The hell it will.
two yrs ago when some of my course mates got AVSM and PVSM, I was
invited as a personal guest to Akash Mess where the Def Min Anthony was
giving an official reception and dinner. The brass from all 3 service
were there in their finery, medals, collar tabs, auguets, gold
burnishing, gold buttons, Sam Brownes, what have you – some even had
their swords. In spite of a smart business suit and my miniature medals,
even I felt undressed in front of such an august and very impressive
Anthony arrived late after we had already drowned 2 Ls
down the hatch. He was wearing a simple white bush shirt with a
traditional Malayali dhotie, luckily not at half mast. He was taken
around the august collage of military brass and introduced to them by
the Def Sec. Afterwards I saw Anthony standing in a corner with the Def
Sec. His knees were shaking. I went to say
Sare,’ I said with due diligence. ‘Why are you standing as if you have
swallowed a spear, your knees are shaking ?’ (Literally translated from
Malayalam), I asked without tact.
Kartavu Sare’, he replied equally frank. ‘I am frightened of all the
costumes here, it looks like Satan is having a party’ (Malayalam
At that moment I think I understood the crux of the
polico-military problem. If only the services dress up like very
ordinary people, say like the Chinese Army in the 60s, with drab
uniforms and less frightening pomp, I think the political may even get
to like the military.
I have noted on TV that when Gen Kayani goes to
meet the Paki PM, or the Paki Prez, he goes in a simple jersey without a
frightening visage. He doesn’t even seem to carry a cane / baton. I
think we must learn to emulate the Paki man, though Kayani is
frightening even when undressed. Why do we insist on wearing the
frightening ceremonials when we go to meet uncouth politicals ??
bureaucrats, they are the boss, they are in control for now and
forever, we need to make an effort to get to like them. It is a
universal problem, all over the world. It is a new world order in which
the military is a simple service provider. That is the unpalatable truth
whether we like it or not.
Having said that, I continue to dream about a proud and exemplary
military, and about a bureaucracy who will become kind enough to revert
my quota of rum from the canteen to 12 units and not keep reducing it
and making it more expensive with unnecessary tax. With 8 units I can
barely say cheers to MM Singh –don’t much care about OROP, it is bloody
peanuts and a waste of time.
believe there is talk of shifting Sena Bhawan to Manesar or elsewhere.
If that happens, I presume the Army Chief as well as other chiefs will
probably get to live in a 2 bed room flat on Sohana Road, quite a
distance from Raisiana Hill where Cariappa once lived. I am sure this
will never happen. But that is the way the world may go.
Gen VK Singh took over as the COAS, I had great hopes in him. Ever
since NDA days I have credited him as a man with steel balls, integrity
and courage. I thought that he would bring back some dignity to the
armed forces. When he stood up to Omar Abdullah and refused to repeal
the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) I cheered. I believe that
AFSPA is necessary even if simply to ensure that an Army Chief or any of
the Army Commanders are not tried and convicted like a common criminal
for war crimes that they did or did not commit like the Serbian Slobodan
Milosevic because of some self seeking political who uses the Army (AF
or Navy) for political expediency.
When VK told the Home minister to
bugger off and refused to send tanks and attack helicopters to massacre
Maoists in Dhantewada, because they were simple rural misguided
countrymen and not secessionists, I cheered for
When he court-martialled several generals (those who objected to
his DOB), ketch-up artists and rum thieves, very senior officers, some
of them my close friends which brought adverse publicity to the forces, I
told myself that it may be good for the system.
When he took up the cause of the date of birth after he became the COAS,
I was quite pissed off because he had cheated the system by joining
NDA underage, probably fudging his own dad’s signature. Yet it did not
reduce his image in my eyes, after all he had turned out to be a good
general with long meritorious service.
In my overdeveloped sense of
propriety I hoped that he would resign before he went to court. Yet I
liked his style, he had more clout to fight in court when he was in
uniform, he would have looked silly wearing a tweed coat on TV. Like all
of his peer group, I too followed his escapades, but I was most
disappointed that he withdrew his case in the Supreme Court.
If he had
continued, even if he had lost, I would still have cheered him. I would
have maintained my belief that he does indeed have balls of steel. Now I
am not too sure whether they are steel or made of chrome plated brass
bought from Vohra Brothers in CP.
It is not the
Chief who lost, it is the Armed Forces who lost. It is not the
politicals who won, but it is the bureaucracy which got more entrenched
and gained control over Haji Pir Pass.
The Armed forces would now have
to fight battles not against an external threat but the line of control
(LOC) with bureaucracy.
The international date line is between MoD and
Service HQ. Beware, be prepared, a Desk Officer in MOD can now issue
warning letters to the Chiefs, even if he were to couch it by saying, ‘I
have been directed by the faceless GOI to tell you to bugger off.’
lament that there is none left to wind up the Cuckoo clock ’ of the
Republic. The President, the Supreme Commander, will look silly to pop
his head out of the GOI clockwork to say ‘Cuckoo, Cuckoo’, or whatever.
‘Clash Of The Titans’ simply petered out without a whimper. The Babus
in MOD is now the Kings of the Bubudom, forget the myth of the CDS.
have had couple of rum and cola. I have woefully listened to Lata’s
rendition of ‘ Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’
several times. I tried to roar like an MGM Lion. But tonight, it is
sounding like the mewing of a cat, a disgusting noise even to my wife.
For a change she cuddled up to me because I really deserve a hug, like
all the soldiers and ESMs out there. I hope you are fortunate like me,
with someone to give you a hug.