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The need for military overhaul

| | in Oped
The need for military overhaul

If Prime Minister Modi is interested in more than optics to deal with challenges the PLA can or may pose, then the new Defence Minister has her work cut out. Incremental changes will mean little

If optics were the only thing that mattered, India would undoubtedly be the leading super power of this century. Sadly, fiction, however well dressed up, cannot replace facts; and more importantly, facts, whether we like it or not, are the only reality we have to work with.

Without, in any way, trying to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi jealous, the Bharatiya Janata Party has a consummate spin doctor in Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. A talent that must surely have helped him in the legal profession — where he made a name for himself — where spin is the name of the game and perceptions can very well mould results.

It is a talent that is probably as necessary and helpful when it comes to rough and tumble of politics, though as elections over the years have shown, it doesn’t work so well when it comes to success in governance and statecraft.

Therefore, notwithstanding his spirited defence of demonetisation, it is becoming increasingly clear that whatever may have been its short-term gains, it was a self-goal by team Modi, for which it will have to pay in the future, much as it will have to for its less than inspired choices for Chief Ministers in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana respectively.

That team Modi responded so ineffectually to the utter collapse of governance in Haryana over the Ram Rahim affair, primarily because of having completely compromised itself, doesn’t help either. Incidentally, one would like to know which imbecile actually approved Ram Rahim’s use of VIP lounges at airports, at serial No51, as the Government letter states, not that it matters one way or the other.

With the likelihood of the economy heading south, as the new gross domestic product figures suggest, probably the only bright spot in the horizon has been the uncharacteristic handling of the Doklam issue by the present Government. It would not be incorrect to suggest that no other leader on the Indian firmament could have handled this issue more deftly, or with such great aplomb, as Prime Minister Modi has done. Sadly, for him, this is just a fleeting success, and is unlikely to provide him the kind of dividends that the surgical strikes had, come the next general election.

The fact is that it was providential that the Chinese, through either arrogance or plain incompetence, or may be a combination of both, selected Doklam where they were at great disadvantage tactically for a face-off. There is little doubt that they paid a very high price for their foolhardiness and must be smarting to get even.

Thus, there is every possibility that they may initiate another confrontation closer to elections, at a more tactically advantageous position, just to bring Prime Minister Modi down by a notch or two, just as they dented, if not destroyed, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s reputation in 1962.

Unfortunately, the recent announcement, made with much fanfare by Jaitley, about bringing “significant reforms to enhance combat power and optimise expenditure” with regard to the Indian Army, is just a damp squib and is hardly likely to deter the Chinese in the future. Nor for that matter, will the attempts to urgently cover existing deficiencies through procurements or prioritise road building efforts in border areas, change the situation, however welcome they may be.

These are short-term measures focused more on optics than any substantial attempt at reform. For example, in the prevailing circumstances, with limited numbers of obsolescent helicopters and roads yet to become reality, cutting down on animal transport units that are the mainstay for supplying forward troops, is more a statement of intent than anything else.

In any case, there can be little doubt that the members of the committee chaired by Lt Gen DB Shekatkar (Retd), who put in valuable time and effort in formulating their report, will be bitterly disappointed at the adhoc manner it has been dealt with by the Ministry. Out of its 188 odd recommendations, only half found favour with the defence Ministry and of these, only 65 are being implemented at present. While focus is on the Army, the real culprits are, as usual, getting away. The reality is that there can be no reform without first tackling the hugely inefficient elements that go into the making of what passes for our Ministry of Defence.

The nearly half a million odd who make up such non-performing establishments like the Defence Research & Development Organisation, the Ordinance Factories Board and the Military Engineering Services, need to be drastically pruned, as does the Ministry itself, including its Finance wing. This is even more important because the average expense incurred by the Ministry on its civilian

employees, in terms of pensions, is five times of what it spends on the uniformed soldier.

The necessity to incorporate

serving officers into the Ministry also cannot be avoided if it is to have even a modicum of professionalism

within its hierarchy. The lack of domain specialisation within the Ministry is only exceeded by negativity, red tapism and egotism that it generates in its attempts to dominate the uniformed fraternity.

Simultaneously, the Government should be looking at the issue of reorganising command structures within the three services to make them more capable of operating together on an institutional basis rather than depending on personalities and ram bharose attitude, as a colleague and friend put it. It doesn’t require an Einstein to point out that without appointing a Chief of Defence Staff no such integration is feasible.

In actual fact, if all the common recommendations made by committees over the years are acted on, our Armed Forces would become unrecognisable. Unfortunately, this is one Ministry that, for some unknown reason, is run by Neanderthals who only look to reinvent the wheel.

If Prime Minister Modi is interested in more than just optics when it comes to dealing with the challenges that the People’s Liberation Army can and may pose in the coming months and years, then the new Defence Minister has her work cut out.

Improvement of service conditions to improve morale and attract high quality officer cadets to fill up the huge voids. Relooking at the existing border management structures and ensuring that the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force elements manning the border operate under command of the Army to enhance surveillance and reaction capabilities.

Reorganisation of our higher command structures, including changing promotion criteria for Corps and Army Commanders, wherein merit rather than age must be given the primacy it deserves. Incremental changes mean little and it is only when we deal with the big stuff that the small issues fall into place. As Robert Browning, the English poet so aptly put it “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

(The writer is a military veteran and consultant with the Observer Research Foundation)

 
 
 
 
 
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