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OPEN SOURCE LETTER TO THE HONORABLE PRIME MINISTER ON TRANSFORMATION OF ARMED FORCES BY LT GEN P R SHANKAR (RETIRED)

Shri Narendra Modi
Prime Minister of India
Honourable Prime Minister,
At the outset, a very good day to you. I am a retired Army officer, presently in the Aerospace Engineering Department of IIT Madras and have been trying to bridge the yawning gap between our brains and our brawn.  
Sir, when you became our PM in 2014, you took a farsighted decision to establish the NITI Ayog to transform India. It has started showing results. However, the Armed Forces were left out of this ambit.  Were they not part of India or were they considered holy cows, or did they not need transformation? This question has always troubled me.  I am writing to you in this connection after considerable thought and reflection with the twin hope that this reaches you and you will have the time to consider the issues I am highlighting.
The Need – The Stomach
As India grows rapidly, its international roles, regional responsibilities and domestic necessities are expanding. It is axiomatic that it requires very strong and modern armed forces in the environment and surrounding we exist as a nation. While our Armed Forces are good and solid, they are not modern. The gap between national growth and that of Armed Forces is widening and compounding daily.  They need transformation to keep pace with India’s emergence as an international power.  Their functional environment keeps them in a state of inertia as per Newton’s first law. They need an external impetus to transform.
Force Integration and Jointness – The Head
Armed Forces officers start jointly in NDA, train together in DSSC, CDM and NDC but function disjointed at apex levels. The MOD has earned a dubious reputation of working against the interests of Armed Forces for which exists. It is often spoken of as the Disintegrated HQ of the MOD. The politico – bureaucratic – military gaps have remained almost constant. When you compare the organisational structures of Armed Forces of leading powers with ours, the difference is stark. Historically, lack of jointness has costed the Nation at critical junctures – 1947 J&K ops, 1962 Chinese Conflict, 1965 Indo Pak War and OP PAWAN. The Kargil Review Committee enunciated formally that a Chief of Defence Staff for India is a must. However, we have only taken half measures, born out of compromise, including in the recent past. Results have remained marginal. From all perspectives, our Higher Defence Organisation lacks vitality and needs transformation to achieve unity and a sense of common purpose.
Defence Procurement and Preparation – The Body
Your recent public statement “Agar Rafale Hota” encapsulates everything that is wrong in our defence procurement and preparation – delayed, exorbitant, inadequate and often substandard. To put it mildly, our system has multiple silos which put their ends above national interests.  Our Make in India program concentrates on the brick and mortar technologies of the industrial revolution rather that mastering the disruptive technologies of the digital revolution; for which we have immense capability and potential. Our ability to identify and ingest technology is abysmally poor. It is especially galling to see Indians educated here go out to head Multinationals dealing with cutting edge technologies. We buy the same technologies back at immense cost. Every foreign equipment we buy is at the cost of our Strategic Independence which we have never gained. Is it not ironic Sir, that we have mastered Rocket Science whereas the simpler technologies are beyond us? The present system has kept us in mental bondage and will continue to do so. Redemption requires tectonic transformation.
Military Leadership – The Limbs
Our Armed Forces are officer led. No other nation has such a high and enviable tradition. While our junior leadership has stood up to be counted, I cannot say the same thing about our higher military leaders. Visionary and wise leadership of highest merit at the top echelons of our military has eluded us due to systems which will make Shri Mandal proud. It is your prerogative to pick a Chief from a panel of many. No questions.  However, the question is that are you getting the best to pick from? NOT NECESSARILY.  Our system of selection of senior officers is such that while the best can be pruned, the lesser talent has an excellent chance of making it into any panel. Also, the tendency /drift towards developing political affiliations amongst senior officers bodes ill for the nation. It is cancer. Any analysis of 1962 ops will tell us that a General Officer of dubious merit with political affiliations costed the nation dearly. I believe that the Armed Forces officers, when in service, are supposed to protect democracy and not practise it through political affiliations. Ensuring highest standards of apolitical merit driven by a transparent system in selecting military leaders is in the best interests of the nation.  Poor Generals will inflict heavy damage to the nation.   
Status of Armed Forces – The Heart
Most developed nations put their Armed Forces Personnel including veterans on a significantly higher pedestal. Even now, in some countries, wedding vows are exchanged in a national / local war memorial!  In many countries Indian Armed Forces personnel are held in higher esteem than their own. In our society and country, the societal status of armed forces personnel is quite the opposite and going downhill.  Many issues like pay and allowances, privileges, facilities like CSD, civil military equations and so on are grabbing adverse headlines and occupy social media space vituperatively. This is affecting grass root level morale of the last bastion of the nation. Not apparent at the top, but it is palpable below surface. How would you feel/ react if you had to get some certification from a municipality on the death of your father but must pay a bribe since you had to get this done within your limited time of leave? The frustrations of a soldier to get small things done needs an outlook transformation rather than physical or a monetary one. However, the significance is huge.
External Impetus
Sir, I have highlighted the four core areas needing transformation. It cannot be done by those in chair since they are caught up in the day to day transactional BOX and Newton’s First Law cannot change. In many cases any transformation is against their current interests. I would therefore recommend to you that the NITI Ayog (with suitable expertise) or any other suitably structured entity, OUT OF THE BOX, be entrusted with this task of transformation to be carried out on a time bound basis.
Nehruvian Mindset?
Lastly sir, it is for your consideration that in 1971 we were a poor nation but with a very modern military (of that time). We created a nation through a 14-day blitzkrieg. An event the world has not seen before or after. Today the Armed Forces of the fastest growing economy cannot even dream of this. Why?  Neglect of the core issues of Armed forces. They are begging for transformation.  Is there a mindset that economy, diplomacy and soft power will guarantee achievement of our National interests? That was the Nehruvian Model which brought us humiliation. The rest I leave to your best judgement.  
Jai hind
With Best Wishes and Warm Regards
Yours Sincerely
Lt Gen P R Shankar (retired)
Ex Director General Artillery and  
Professor, Aerospace Engineering
IIT Madras
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10 responses to “OPEN SOURCE LETTER TO THE HONORABLE PRIME MINISTER ON TRANSFORMATION OF ARMED FORCES BY LT GEN P R SHANKAR (RETIRED)”

  1. Just as healthy man takes his body for granted, the Armed Forces are also treated similarly by the Nation which has won its freedom without struggle involving the majority of the population. Just like the body is abused by addicts, the Armed Forces are similarly treated by the Administration thst is addicted to Notion of peace and passivity. The Armed Forces are starved of the latest equipment like the people who fast and keep themselves hungry to fill their coffers. The Armed Forces are dishonoured and their hearts are broken just as wicked people break the hearts of people who love them. It is high time that Indian Citizens and their Government make real efforts to become worthy of the Armed Forces that protect them

  2. In order of national precedence gradual degradation of Armed Forces and up-gradation of bureaucrats has multi-fold effect on the moral of Armed Forces. Armed Forces has risen to the occasion at every time on call of its duty, which has sent a message to the Govt and citizens of that all is well in the Armed Forces. Some curtailing steps by the current Govt has further indicated the priority of Armed Forces vis-a-vis other Govt Services.

  3. Great sir. Hope the Government learns from it.

  4. Can we expect govt to actually force its way for appointment of actual CDS/CinC Armed Forces. There should be three theater commanders, all operations are under these three commanders. Respective services are responsible for man power provision, basic training, postings and retirement. All aspects in MoD are placed under him, e.g. DRDO, Ordnance factories etc etc so that they function for the services and deluver what is required, in time and of good quality. CDS/CinC directly responsible to the RM and to the cabinet.

  5. Most relevant issues looming large on the organization have been so concisely highlighted. Iam sure respected PM will not miss to act on these inputs which merit due consideration.

  6. Not bothered to highlight the basic requirement of proper representation of men in uniform at various levels, especially in MOD for decision making by those who know the pulse and not by in sensitive, and incompetent beaurucrats. Superficial, high Funda English with out much substance hiigligting the gradual degradation of the AF over a time.

  7. Sir as in your other articles you've hit the nail of the head here too. While you've highlighted a number of issues, each one is in itself worth writing a book on. Many of these issues you've dealt with at various levels and have a very good insight. I personally feel that there an imdt need to do a surgical strike on the selection procedures for generals leading our formations which presently is skewed in favour of a few on the high table. The system has time and again churned out sub standard generals with little or no grey matter and little understanding of future war would unfold leading today to us preparing of yesterday's war to be fought tomorrow!

  8. No senior armed forces officers should join as ministers after retirement. Their status suffers. Borders humiliation. especially if they retire after commanding an army of our size. If the senior officers and their spouses are after post retirement employment, they start compromising the standards we learned from the British who trained us.

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  10. Sir, an excellent article highlighting the issues needing consideration at appropriate levels. The Armed Forces need a complete overhaul with clearly laid out terms of reference, which should be decided by the current and future leaders (Colonels commanding the units). The future leaders are important to take on board because it is this lot which is actually going to keep the change on track. To begin with, the members of the organisation need to have clarity of thought on all issues concerning them, whether it is security of military stations, degree of operational readiness, two or two and half fronts war, uniforms, promotion policy, posting policy, canteen services, perks & privileges, housing, education, ECHS etc. Without a comprehensive & wholistic review it will be difficult to bring about any worthwhile change in the organisation. And, who other than the existing members are better placed to decide what is the change desired. Simply put across, one should not be looking at the PM or bureaucrats to bring about changes in the organisation, the desire has to come from within.

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