Given the mess India’s higher defence management is, the government must take steps to build an abiding civil-military relationship.
Much water has flown down the tributaries of mighty Brahmaputra since the fatal night of 19/20 October 1962 when the Sino-Indian war commenced. Yet, it has not washed away the shame of India’s humiliating defeat, caused by “unspeakably incompetent generals and the political leaders that had assigned them the commands for which they were unfit”, if the spate of recently published articles are to be believed.
After five decades, one could see similarities in the present scenario. Civil-Military relationship was dismal then and remains so because politicians and bureaucrats continue to adhere to the age-old notion of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Theirs is not to reason why, but to do and die.” (Charge of the Light Brigade-1854.) Union Minister of State of Defence while delivering the Field Marshal KM Cariappa Memorial Lecture in October 2012 virtually defined the relationship on above lines: ‘The military forces have remained loyal to the elected government and have been its obedient servant.’
Ironically, from the military side this relationship has been articulated by two Service Chiefs who were prematurely maneuvered out of office due to their refusal to be mere ‘obedient servants’. Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in his treatise The Soldier and the State (1998) has said: “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 decision making should be wielded by the elected representatives of the people.”
General VK 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.
Democratic Republic of India is constituted in order to secure to all its citizens “Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and opportunity” and to promote among them all “Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.” India’s professional Armed Force is meant to defend, protect and safeguard this Democratic Republic wherein live one-sixth of the human race.
An Alienated Military?
Such humongous responsibility notwithstanding, civil-military relationship is not even mandated in the governance system. 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 ‘top Secret’ letter from 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. President cum 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. President refused even to meet a delegation of retired General Officers and receive a Memorandum signed by over thousand veterans and concerned citizens. It is evident that despite 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!
But politico-civil establishment is not losing sleep and every stink is brushed under the carpet. In the event, civil-military relationship is marked by a pervasive sense of bitterness and animosity and is worsening further. So much so the notion of ‘Integrated Headquarters of Ministry of Defence’ drew contemptuous response from former Army Chief General VP Malik and the recent Government announcement of One-Rank-One-Pension was trashed as fraud by Generals and soldiers alike. Indeed, this situation, if allowed to continue, could imperil the security of the nation, both internal and external.
Bureaucracy or Adhocracy?
Despite shortcomings, Indian military is professional in its structure and functioning. It has primary and secondary roles. Former is to preserve national interests and safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of India against any 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. The present generation has seen Armed Forces, particularly the Army, 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, 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 merit-driven. Adhocracy on the other hand is nurtured through violation of processes and procedures to ensure that favoritism 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. Malfunctioning of this adhocracy has in recent years severely soured the Civil-military relationship.
Governance as the catalyst
Civil and military are both 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-one of 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’ as 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 of ‘security’ can strive towards and achieve excellence.
Once we broad base "defense" or "military" and move towards "security" sector, civil society participation becomes imperative in human/national security strategies, military affairs and expenditures. Governance then could really become a catalyst for civil-military relationships and adhocracies will have no place in such relationship. For this to happen a specific role needs to be assigned to the civil society so that the issue is dealt with in a democratic rather than adhocratic manner.
Theories on civil-military relationship abound. It is time we got practical and look at what is doable and what should be done.
In a ‘functioning’ democracy, Parliamentary oversight is the best form of ‘civilian control of the military' instead of the whims of individual ministers and bunch of bureaucrats. Such oversight could play a major role in defining a set of rules governing the relationship between civilian authorities and the military, and balancing the financial needs of defense and security with the needs of other sectors.
Given the mess that India’s higher defence management is, it appears best to emulate the model that centralises military’s operational authority through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as opposed to the service chiefs. With this concept at the core, following steps could be taken to build and sustain an abiding civil-military relationship:
- Re-visiting 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 recognize 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 MoD by replacing the archaic ‘generalist’ practice in senior appointments with domain knowledge/experience;
- Reconfiguring national security framework with inputs from all stake-holders and involvement of civil society;
- Bridging the distance between communities, academia, think tanks and the military through transparency and assistance from civil society.
General turned President Dwight Eisenhower made a statement that reiterated what Kautilya had said two thousand years ago: “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”. Nothing more need to be said on the criticality of an abiding and cordial civil-military relationship.
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.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.