GENERAL V.K. SINGH has taken over as the 26th Army Chief in an environment full of challenges. Nearly half the army is committed in fighting various insurgencies and a proxy war. The combat potential of the army is at an all-time low of nearly 50 per cent.
There has been little modernisation in the last decade or so. The budget for the army gets reduced every year in real terms. The deteriorating civil-military relations do not bode well for the safety and security of the nation. And the regional security environment is cause for concern.
The status of army personnel is dwindling continuously, adversely affecting the morale of the rank and file. The shortage of officers is again at a precariously high level. The veterans’ resentment consequent to the dragging of feet by the government on their long-pending demand for one rank one pension (OROP) threatens to boil over.
The situation reminds this writer of the battlefield message sent by a General to his Emperor: “Am surrounded both sides. My centre cannot hold. Situation excellent. I shall attack.” Will the new Army Chief, who had cut his professional teeth in a proud and valorous regiment, replicate this by being proactive? The citizens, who have a great affection for the army, do expect it from him.
Even if Gen Singh goes on to hold other prestigious appointments in or outside the government in future, they will never be able to match this appointment — in prestige, satisfaction and the affection he will get from his vast command and indeed from the whole country. He will also have to reciprocate to the maximum extent by his deeds. Consequently, he must command with honour and neither let carrots being dangled in his face nor pressures and threats change or influence the decisions he takes.
There is need to highlight a few issues that may help the Army Chief to reinforce, modify or negate the conclusions he may have reached. They may also supplement the briefings he will receive from his staff and advisors, which may not always be completely objective.
In democracies the world over, the political leadership makes national policy and the national security strategy, with the active participation of civil and military officials of the country. However, in India, the military has been deliberately kept out of the policy formulation loop and even after over six decades of loyal, patriotic and dedicated service to the nation, it is obvious that it is still not trusted! Nothing else explains the reasons for its exclusion from policy formulations, the inability to evolve a viable and comprehensive structure for higher defence, the non-articulation of a national security strategy since Independence, the non-appointment of a CDS accepted nearly a decade back, the non-integration of the Ministry of Defence and not the least, the muzzling of the three Chiefs, even when they speak on professional matters and say what needs to be said.
This state of affairs must change. It is only the Army Chief with the support of the other Chiefs who can convince the leadership of all parties and not just the party in power that they discard their doubts and stop listening to those advisers who have a vested interest in perpetuating this state of distrust of the military.
The military also needs to modify the concept of being apolitical. The army’s long standing stance of keeping a distance from the leaders of political parties other than those of the party in power needs to be modified. In a parliamentary system like ours, policy is formulated by all parliamentarians despite differences of the opposition. After all, the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence and similar other committees are all-party bodies. Consequently, though remaining apolitical, the army needs to apprise and discuss its concerns with the political leadership across the board. This would not reduce the apolitical nature of the army, about which it is justifiably so proud.
A related suggestion is to make the political leaders of the nation understand the true meaning of ‘civil control’. It implies the supremacy of the political leadership over both the military as well as the civil bureaucracy. Unfortunately, our political leaders either do not understand this or find it easier not to understand it. The political leadership must deal with the military directly, just as they do with the bureaucracy and not through the latter, which is the case at present.
In its secondary role of assisting the civil authorities, the army must be employed as a last resort and such employment must be for the minimum period. However, the reality is that because the army delivers efficiently and with alacrity, it is being called out without first using the other instruments available to the government. It is also being incorrectly employed on such tasks for prolonged periods, like in Nagaland, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir for 50, 30 and 20 years respectively. Such long deployment on secondary roles affect the combat potential of the army, alienate the populace and lower the morale of the troops. Units of the Central Police Organisations (CPOs) are continuously being raised and yet the army deployments continue. Why?
The last issue relates to senior officers of the army, who are the custodians of our value systems. Unfortunately, in recent years, the number of cases of misdemeanour by senior officers have increased. This trend needs to be arrested at the earliest. The army does have stringent norms for promotion and only the best get through successfully.
However, to weed out the few whose motivational levels may have dropped, there needs to be greater emphasis on character qualities like integrity, moral strength, self-discipline and social as well as domestic probity or rectitude in standards of selection for higher leadership.
The writer is a former Vice-Chief of the Indian Army