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By the bullet or by the book

By the bullet or by the book
In the 1950s, when Indian Army’s top brass appraised then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru about the Chinese build-up and incursions, concerted with release of maps, the first Indian PM trashed their reports, naively complacent with his belief in the Panchsheel agreement and the Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai mantra. The perception of Major T P Francis, one of the official interpreters during Zhou En Lai’s visit to India in 1962, did not at all match with the interpretation that others gave. He predicted that China would attack India in six months. With nobody in the government, including Nehru, who met him, willing to go along with his interpretation, Major Francis resigned in protest.

China did indeed attack India within six months. Indian Army, inadequately armed with over half-a- century-old bolt action .303 Lee Enfield rifles, insufficient ammunition and lack of extreme winter clothing, suffered a humiliating defeat, with 1,860 fatal casualties. Compounded by the deficiencies mentioned,  daft and rigid political directions of ‘forward posture’, ‘not to lose an inch of ground’ and not using the Air Force in offensive role so as ‘to not raise the level of confrontation’  made this defeat hurt the Armed Forces all the more. While everything from potatoes to postage stamps became dearer, Nehru, it was said, was a broken man, who, at long last, had to sack the then defence minister V K Krishna Menon.

In 1967, when Chinese army upped the ante at Nathu La, Sikkim, by mortar bombardment in addition to small arms fire killing a number of Indian Army officers and soldiers, the then Brigade Commander, M M S Bakshi, requested for sanction to respond with artillery fire. This could only be sanctioned by the defence minister, whose portfolio was held by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Giving her approval without any delay, that too when she was in a cabinet meeting, she allowed for the Indian Army’s retaliation soon after, that resulted in about 400 of the Chinese troops being killed, a convoy of vehicles destroyed and many Chinese bunkers leveled. Mrs Gandhi had, in one stroke, overturned the 1962 humiliation at the hands of her own father. The message that 1962 cannot be repeated went across to the Chinese very effectively, resulting in not a single bullet being fired (notwithstanding the incursions across the LAC) by them since then till date.

The planning, preparation and implementation of the third war waged by Pakistan against India in December 1971, was again, thanks to Mrs Gandhi being decisive and assertive, fought in quite a Chanakyan/ Kautilyan mode. Mrs Gandhi taking the recommendations of the Army Chief Gen ( later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw  seriously, resulted in 93,000 Pakistan armed forces rank and file surrendering to Indian Army at Dhaka after being surrounded by it within barely two weeks of war in erstwhile East Pakistan.

These two instances are classic examples of negative/disastrous versus positive/pro-active approaches to national security. The Nehru-Krishna Menon duo’s response to China was a combination of absolute absence of strategic perception for national interest along with a totally uncalled for contemptuous manner of dealing with an obedient and apolitical military leadership, which unfortunately set the pace for similar repetitions in at least the distant future.

Lal Bahadur Shastri’s approach to the second India-Pakistan war waged again by Pakistan, was positive as was his dealing with the military leadership.  While Mrs Gandhi’s approach/dealings/decisions related to 1967 and 1971 were indeed very effective and did have some influence on her son, Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded her (responding to Chinese army at Sumdorong Chu, Arunachal Pradesh in 1986), they unfortunately remained confined to these three leaders – all of who died untimely deaths and thus could not come back to power.

While subsequent governments failed to follow the assertive approach, or were not assertive enough, what we are seeing in 2013, in dealing  with both China and Pakistan are the nadir.

And since post-1971, a process of downgrading the military’s status is amply reflected in orders of precedence and the Central Pay Commissions (CPCs), particularly the 6th  CPC for its anomaly in the grant of Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) to Defence Forces.

Ayesha Ray’s The Soldier and the State in India is an appropriate and timely work which comes as yet another urgent wake up call to the government. This book endeavours  to accomplish two goals. First, it brings out the changing nature of civil-military relations in India since the country’s independence. Second, in discussing the changes, the book addresses, some very vital factors. The role of nuclear strategy, the nature of India’s political system, and the nations counterinsurgency policy are decisive factors in influencing the relationship between the country’s political leadership and the military.

These issues carry significant implications for understanding the conduct of war and the strategic choices facing India’s leadership. Of particular importance are her book’s four chapters, viz., ‘The Evolution of India’s Higher Defense Organization’, ‘Nuclear Weapons Development in a Strategic Vacuum’, ‘The Effects of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons on Civil-Military Relations in  India’ and ‘The Indian Military’s Role in Unconventional Operations’.

In analysing civilian control, while the author correctly maintains that it is the cornerstone of a democracy and in most democracies, the military works as an agent of the government, remaining under civilian supremacy, the relationship between a country’s political leadership and its military is often subject of change as this relationship is conditioned by a number of factors.

Moreover, the issues addressed contain critical implications for the nature of Indian democracy since the performance and legitimacy of the military as an instrument of the state is a major factor in determining the viability of the state. In a democracy, for effective democratic governance, civilian control of the military is considered a critical necessity. It is the principle of civilian control that differentiates democracies from authoritarian states.

In authoritarian regimes, the military performs a dual role of fighting wars and making  policy. However, democracies pride themselves in a clear demarcation of roles between civilian and military functions. In most democracies, the executive, whether the President or the Prime Minister, is responsible for formulating policy while the military is designed to be a war fighting force entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the country’s territorial sovereignty from external and internal attacks.

The fact that the author is the daughter of an army officer may well have been  motivating and enlightening factors for her to take on the complex issue of civil-military relations in India. Because India, since Independence, stands out as a country which, being the world’s most populous democracy is one in which the military, despite being apolitical and a bulwark of nation building, has been not only given a raw deal by the politico-bureaucratic establishment but also been heavily misused by it on two counts.

One is of misusing it to deal with certain internal situations, which the police has failed to deal effectively with. And the other is of misusing it by often not using it or not optimally using it, when it should have been used in sheer national interest, against external aggression.
Anil Bhat

Anil Bhat

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