The Prime Minister while addressing the valedictory session of the Combined Commanders Conference stressed the importance of enhancing indigenisation in the national security system, not just in sourcing equipment and weapons but also in the doctrines, procedures and customs practiced in the Armed Forces… He also called for a holistic approach, focused on breaking down civil-military silos… He advised the Services to rid themselves of legacy systems and practices that have outlived their utility and relevance…For the first time in many years the political executive was interacting with the Armed forces and directing them to do something instead of mouthing inane homilies. Heartening. While the overall slant of the address was great and positive, the larger message on requirement of indigenous doctrines, procedures and customs in the armed forces and focus on breaking down civil-military silos need examination. We should not embark on a senseless indigenisation programme or come out with routine instructions like the one below.
Indigenous Customs, Traditons and Procedures
“Ram Ram Sahab, main gunner operator Reddy aapka sahayak hun”. If you hear this conversation in isolation, you might wonder as to what’s happening in the Army. Hold on. This conversation took place in December 1977 between me and my first sahayak. Why was Gunner Operator Reddy from Kurnool , who barely knew Hindi, chanting ‘Ram Ram’? He was just following one of the deep rooted Indian customs and traditions of the Armed Forces – greeting each other with ‘Ram Ram” – it’s quite natural. There are many more. ‘Ram Ram’, ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Jai Durge’, ‘Jai Mata Ki’, ‘Sat Sri Akal’, ‘Namaskaram’ ‘Vannakam’ and ‘Salam Aleikum’ are some normal forms of greeting in units, depending on their class composition. Battle cries like ‘Bole Sonihal Sat Sri Akal’, ‘Bol Durge Mata ki Jai’,’Hanuman ki ho Pyare’ also signify that deep rootedness. When a Jawan dies for ‘Naam Namak aur Nishan’ it is an endless continuity of Indian ethos, culture and practises. Each unit has a Mandir, Gurudwara, Gompa , Church or an Idgah. I have followed the rigor and rituals (beyond normal festivities) of major festivals events like Deepawali, Janmashtami, Navratras, Gurpurab , Losar, Christmas or Eid uncompromisingly when serving with different units. As an officer, my religion was that of my troops. Their customs and traditions were mine. Period. Morale, tales of valour – contemporary and mythological, value system, tradition, ethics, motivation, team spirit, ethos, pride in the unit, arm, service and nation are recounted and ingrained into all ranks, families and children through such traditional customs. Panditji must do puja first thing in the morning along with ‘stand to’, otherwise our Guns do not fire, even in battle. That was and is true for any major event in my unit and in all units of the Army. Units function on a ‘Unit Dastoor’ – a grass root code which is peculiar to each unit, but sacrosanct it. The normal Indian Army officer, JCO and Jawan, carries out myriad duties all over India – flood relief, riot control, election duties etc. These could happen anywhere between Indira Col (head of Siachen Glacier) to Indira Point (tip of A&N Islands) and Lakhpat to Kibithu – beyond the normally understood Kashmir to Kanyakumari construct of India. Today as I write in English, I behave like a Rajput ( having commanded a Rajput Unit), understand a Gorkha, emote with a Sardar, work like a Maratha, commiserate with an Assami, recognise a Manipuri and continue to be a Telugu living in Tamilnadu. I have learnt about Dimasas, Garhwalis, Ladhakis, Gujars, Mappilais, Bhils, Parsis and many more ethnicities and tribes, having rubbed shoulders and eaten dal-roti with all of them. My transformation from a Chennai teenager with a provincial outlook to a complete Indian fiercely proud of India and its customs, traditions, and practises was enabled by the Army, over four decades. The procedures and customs of the Indian Armed Forces are built on this solid edifice of being Indian and upholding the Constitution of India at any cost. It has stood the test of time and delivered for India consistently. Do not get carried away by the spit and polish on public display by the Indian Armed Forces. That comes from Drill – The bedrock of discipline. Without that hard outer core of discipline, the system will collapse. I have not seen any institution in India which is more Indian than the Indian Armed Forces in ethos, procedures and customs practiced on a 24 x 365 basis. That is why an overwhelming number of Indians have complete trust in the Armed Forces. Who will tell the Prime minister?
The military doctrines of a nation are a fundamental set of principles that guide military forces as they pursue national security objectives. Doctrine is also a synthesis of the study of great thinkers, military history over ages, cultural documents, religious edicts, traditions, legacies , societal norms and much more, both Indian and international. It is also guided by principles and national interests enshrined in the Constitution of India. This derived doctrine is translated into hardcore executional plans based on the terrain/ environment, enemy and own forces. The underpinning of all this is the comprehensive national power. From a different angle, the military doctrine and practise of any nation is influenced by works of great masters – like Chanakya( Arthashastra), Sun Tzu (Art of War), Clausewitz ( On War), Liddel Hart ( The Strategy of Indirect Approach) , Machiavelli ( The Prince) and more. In the Indian context this is reinforced by our two great epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bhagvad Gita has a deep imprint on the way we fight. ‘Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata, Abhyuthanamadharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham, Paritranaya sadhunam vinashaya cha dushkritam, Dharmasangsthapanarthaya sambhabami yuge yuge. Most of us know the sloka by heart. Many do not realise that Indian military doctrines strategies, tactics and general behaviour is a sub-conscious extension of such wisdom contained in our epics. The DSSC, Wellington has halls called ‘Ashoka’, ‘Carriappa’, ‘Chanakya’, ‘Chandragupta’ and so on. That is our primary institution where military doctrine is imbibed in a formal manner by all Armed Forces officers who go there. Such practise is followed almost in every training establishment. Heroes, great battles and exploits of each Unit, Arm and Service are conveyed with pride on pathways/ halls/ institutions of each regimental centre, training institution and unit to all ranks and public. The Bangladesh War is the best example of a blitzkrieg and the Kargil War is the best example of overcoming unsurmountable odds – won through fundamentally Indian ideas. These battles and many indigenous ones have formed the basic syllabus for study in promotion exams. Our military doctrine is not only steeped in Indian cultural and military history but also Indian terrain cum environmental conditions. Otherwise we could not have succeeded in the Himalayas, deserts , plains or jungles of India. The second WW evokes more memories of the Normandy landings and the European theatre. However the most important campaign in the Allied Effort was the ‘Defeat into Victory’ in Burma. Operations like Chindits or Battle of the Admin Box in the jungles of this campaign where Indians have shed blood as in Gallipolli or Bir Hachiem have given us great doctrinal sustenance. To all this , one must add the impact of technology and emerging domains of warfare to put a doctrine together. In my opinion the Indian Armed Forces have evolved a method of fighting relevant to the Indian Context. It is a terrific blend of the ancient and the modern, the indigenous and international thought. Tampering this balance with over-indigenisation could lead to dogma. Finally, it does not matter which doctrine one applies, we have to be victorious in war. That is the acid test which we have consistently passed. Who will tell the Prime Minister?
Civil Military Silos
Breaking down civil-military silos to enhance national security and defence is an issue of the first order. First we must identify the silos. There are two varieties of silos – external and internal. The external silos to the MOD are the MEA, MOH, DAE, Dept of Space and DST. These disjointed silos affect national security and must be bridged. The bridge could be the NSA or any other designated authority under the PM. It has to be a political process and cannot be a military one. A relevant model is the Chinese United Front Works Department. It has acquired the reputation of being a magic wand to break Chinese silos. The internal silos also have to be broken. The silos are the MOD, MOD (Fin), DDP, DRDO, OFB, DPSUs, and the Services. The Inter – Service gaps are being bridged by the DMA and the ongoing thrust on enhancing Jointness and implementing theatrisation. Silos external to Services have come about due to outsourcing of political responsibilities to bureaucrats. If the PM wants ‘civil-military silos broken and decision-making to be expedited beyond weapon procurement’, the political class must get more invested in the military on a one to one basis. The practice of outsourcing defence issues to bureaucrats must cease. At present, the MOD is not integrated. Attempts at integration of the Civil and Military bureaucracy have failed due to lack of political interest or will. In this context, the DMA is a positive and welcome development for which the nation must thank the PM. Enhanced civil military cooperation can come if Service Officers man the MOD, MOD (Finance), DDP, OFB, DPSUs and DRDO in adequate numbers, in responsible higher echelons and not as security or liaison officers. Service Officers must also be deputed to those departments where there are defence interests to enhance connectivity between silos. Also deputation from other departments into MOD must stop. I wonder what an officer from Animal Husbandry or Agriculture can do in MOD that a Service Officer cannot. I have written extensively on this in my articles earlier. The silos can only be broken down if the political class wants it so and drives the system. A word of caution. Breaking down silos should not be the garb under which the Armed Forces are politicised. Equally, this should not be the vine on which politically greedy military officers climb the ladder. We need to find a balance based on intellectual honesty. All I will say is that, whenever ‘Civil Control’ over Military turns to ‘Political Control ’ and not ‘Bureaucratic Control’ all silos will be broken. We have two models based on which we can evolve our own. The Chinese model in which the political head and the military head are the same. The US model, where the relationship between the civil and military has been enacted through the Nicols Goldwater Act. The choice rests with the PM , in whom I have hope. Who will tell the Prime Minister?
The PM is correct in saying that we have too many legacy systems which the Services have to ruthlessly weed out. They are only a dead weight. Needs internal correction. The PM has also spoken of optimising manpower planning in both military and civilian parts of the National security architecture. It is for reflection that lakhs of servicemen are recruited, trained and sent on pensioned unemployment when they are still young. On the other hand we keep raising paramilitary forces ceaselessly. We then put an ineffective leadership on top of these hapless men who keep getting them sacrificed as it happened recently in Chattisgarh. Achieving optimisation and efficacy in manpower is a political responsibility and not that of Services alone. Ultimately, the nation will get a defence structure depending on its investment. If the investment is in political capital, it will be a politico-military structure as envisioned by Chanakya. If not, we will continue with a weak structure, midwifed by bureaucracy. Who will tell the Prime minister?