Before moving off the subject of the Services’ role in procrastinating over the CDS issue, perhaps it would be best to let Air Mshl Adi Gandhi (Retd) have the last word from his, as yet unpublished, paper “CDS a Non-Starter”. It typically spells out the focus of the resistance of the smaller services, specifically the Air Force.
“One of the irritants that has created inter-services conflict is the lack of recognition of each services’ individual expertise in the element it operates in. This has caused a lot of heartburn within the armed forces. It is necessary to leave each service to operate in its own element and not create conflict situations by wanting to take over assets to keep them under command. Only one exception need be made here, and that is, the air power assets carried on board by the navy since they often operate beyond assistance from land. There is no reason why the army cannot provide all land based expertise to all the three services, the navy all sea based, and the air force all airborne expertise.”
As I understand it, originally, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) was meant to be a buffer and liaison between the military and the political system. The MOD dealt directly with the political establishment and the military was kept free of any political buffeting. Under our system, Service Chiefs were never a part of the Government’s decision making process – that was reserved for the political hierarchy and rightly so. However, gradually politicians seemed content keeping aloof from the military and were reluctant to interfere almost to the point of indifference – as can be seen during debates on the Defence Budget or defence related issues, where it is reportedly a problem collecting a quorum.
One of the reasons could have been as a result of the backlash caused by too much tinkering and political interference during the events leading to the 1962 fiasco. It was perhaps also the effect of events in 1971, when the late Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw stood his ground and rightly advised Indira Gandhi on matters of preparedness and timing. It could also be put down to ignorance and indifference as the military is not an electoral or vote garnering issue. Besides, the military have earned the reputation of being reliable doers who can undertake and deliver on any task given to them – this could range from maintaining law and order during disturbed times, helping out during national calamities, organising national events and even as recently as the Common Wealth Games, coming to the rescue and putting up an overbridge in record time when the main bridge collapsed! Though this may all be music to people in uniform, the fact is that since the Chiefs were out of the Government’s decision making machinery and with the politicians not keen to interfere, decisions gradually became the prerogative of the MOD and this in turn gradually turned the system of civilian control into one of bureaucratic control.
Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) has in his paper “India’s Higher Defence Organisation: Implications for National Security and Jointness” published in the Journal of Defence Studies, August 1970, aptly summed the situation:
“….the three Service Headquarters (SHQ) could have, with time and further experience, become separate Departments of the MoD (like the Departments of Defence Production or Defence Finance). Alternatively, the three SHQs could have integrated themselves completely with the Department of Defence within the MoD.
However, not only did this not happen, but within a short period of its implementation, the senior civil servants of the time intervened to completely distort the concept of “civilian supremacy” to give it their own interpretation of “bureaucratic control” over the armed forces. This was done by the simple expedient of designating the three SHQs as “Attached Offices” of the Department of Defence, giving them (as per the GoI Rules of Business) a status exactly on par with organizations such as the Salt Commissioner, Commissioner for Handicrafts, CRPF, and CISF, etc.
The SHQs, in keeping with their status of Attached Offices, found that they were reduced to adjuncts of MoD, and also placed completely outside the Ministry, which they could approach only through the medium of files. Having submitted a case on file, all that the SHQ could do was to wait like a supplicant for the wheels of MoD to grind at their leisurely pace, while targets and deadlines slipped, steadily but surely.
The administrative effectiveness of the Service Chiefs steadily eroded, to the point where their recommendations to the Defence Minister began to be routinely sent for scrutiny and comment to the Director level, and would then slowly work their way upwards, open to comment (or even rejection) at every level of bureaucracy!”
The other problem with bureaucratic control is lack of expertise. The bureaucrat is a migratory bird, here to-day, gone to-morrow. There is no dedicated cadre and the bureaucracy is most allergic to having any military presence in the MOD. As others have pointed out, if the Home Ministry can have IPS officers posted to it why can’t the MOD have service representation? Where is the harm in having expertise available at your door step instead of having to pass files between the ministry and Service HQs over simple queries? Besides it is just not the MOD. When the MOD runs out of queries the matter is then passed on, in many cases, to the Finance. Then it yo – yos between the MOD, Fin Ministry and the three Services HQs. Loads of paper work bereft of any positive action.
An Integrated Hq would simplify so many other problems of logistics, procurement, transportation etc etc. For example, there is a lot of commonality in procurement by the three services. In each case there are separate files and an individual case shuttles between the Service HQs and the MOD. Mr Vinod Anand in his paper “Integrating the Indian Military:Retrospect and Prospect” published in the Journal of Defence Studies, Winter 2008, has enumerated various examples of this duplication and additional expenditure:
“There seems to be a pattern in acquiring common systems independently; Oxygen-cum-Communication Mask worn below the helmet by the pilots of the Air Force and Army Aviation was procured independently by the two Services. The Army procured the Mask ex-import at four times the cost at which it was procured by the Air Force indigenously. Similarly, Sniper Rifle SVD for Special Forces was obtained by the Army and Air Force independently, which resulted in avoidable excess expenditure. In 2003, the Army took almost a year to evaluate Underwater Diving Equipment while the same had been acquired by the Navy much earlier in 1999. HQ IDS was expected to streamline the process and evolve JSQRs for common equipment but it has not been able to overcome the disconnection between the Services because of attitudinal and structural issues. However, it appears that in December 2006, HQ IDS had taken action to constitute an Inter Services Equipment Policy Committee (ISEPC) for procurement of systems and items common to the three Services. ISEPC would also look into the issues of developing JSQR.”
Many analysts and strategists have also made mention of the fact that the political hierarchy has this bee in its bonnet about a military take over being facilitated and being more probable with a CDS or higher military authority. Even though everyone has debunked it and the Indian military has a well earned reputation of being scrupulously apolitical, it does not seem to have helped calm political nerves. Unfortunately, events in our immediate neighbourhood have merely helped to further spook the political psyche with adequate encouragement from ‘other’ sources. So while they may be content to let the military run itself operationally, the political leadership seems averse to creating any more power centers.
So while everyone accepts the necessity of changing India’s Higher Defense Organisation, the unwritten rule is to make haste slowly. One more committee is being instituted, the Naresh Chandra Committee, to go into the subject. This will in all probability be followed by deep examination of the recommendations and tossing of files between various concerned agencies, followed by another GOM being formed and we shall continue to plod on till its time for yet another committee. Mr Amit Mukherjee, in his very comprehensive paper “Failing to Deliver” quotes Ashley Tellis on the state of our existing system:
“…the weakness of this (civilian) control system are widely recognized in India, but being content with the protection afforded by the country’s great size and inherent strength relative to its adversaries, India’s security managers – historically- have constantly refrained from altering the structure of strict civilian security control no matter what benefits in increased military efficiency might accrue as a result.”
Admittedly, the reorganising process is not as simple as solving a few problems of turf wars, egos or the insecurities of those involved in the process. Just instituting a CDS or an Integrated Service HQ or the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and a change of heart amongst political leaders will not complete the process. There are indeed many mountains to climb. Most service analysts talk of theatre commands, functionality issues, rank structure etc etc while the bureaucrats will say enough is done and raise more queries, the politician will have their own inhibitions to overcome as also decide on numerous conflicting stands from all the concerned players.
None can deny the enormity of the task, yet the attitude must change from treating each problem as insurmountable to treating it as a challenge that must and will be overcome. We need to move on from committees and their recommendations becoming a cause for more committees, to implementing the recommendations, not merely discussing them for ever and ever.
“Politicians enjoy power without any responsibility, bureaucrats wield power without any accountability, and the military assumes responsibility without any direction”
(Qouted from Amit Mukherjee’s, “Failing to Deliver”)
————————————————————————————————————- 1. Higher Defence Management of India: A Case For The Chief of Defence Staff
V.K. Shrivastava, Senior Fellow, IDSA
2. INDIA’S CHIEF OF DEFENCE STAFF: a perspective analysis
by Dr. Subhash Kapila
3. The Chief of Defence Staff
4. JOURNAL OF DEFENCE STUDIES
Integrating the Indian Military:Retrospect and Prospect
5. Management of Defence: Towards An Integrated And Joint Vision
6. Challenges in Defence Planning
7. Journal of Defence Studies
India’s Higher Defence Organisation: Implications for National Security and Jointness
Adm Arun Prakash, Aug 2007
8. Failing to Deliver: The Post Crises Defence Reforms in India
9. The Kargil Committee report