The announcement of the new Chief of Army Staff (1.3 million strong – the world’s third largest army) is crying shame. It also shows how much of an absence of trust exists between the army brass and even in the lower notches, the bureaucratic-political cabal that constantly attacks their sense of honour, dignity, and their status within the hierarchy of the government.
The sizable retired community of service officers, who are almost our second line of defence, constantly points at a broken civil-military relationship, even though the Indian Army is considered one of the finest forces in providing Human Assistance in Disaster Relief (HADR) operations.
Yet, a break in the chain in relations with the civilian population is pernicious, and seems almost diabolically instilled to reprise the satisfaction of the armed forces that they are serving their own citizens. And this disconnect is a sure shot disaster zone. The less said here the better.
Everyone in the know in this country talks about the ‘infamous’ lack of faith (read fear) one of the country’s founding fathers and the first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It can be said that Lt Gen (R) SK Sinha was left out of the top job because he was “too political.” Indeed, he was and never hid it, his contemporaries used to say. A scion of a famous family of Bihar, his father Mithilesh Kumar Sinha was a member of the Imperial Police – the equivalent of the ICS.
And he had no love lost for then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. So Gandhi dropped him from becoming the COAS and chose Gen (R) AS Vaidya. Though it created huge furore – both inside the army and outside – Sinha quickly joined politics, his true calling.
But the same cannot be said about Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, a fine officer by all reports who is Commanding-in-Chief of Indian Army's Eastern Command. So is the case with Lt Gen PM Hariz, the Southern Army commander. I loathe to think that BJP-led NDA has such intellectual deficiencies which can make them reject him for his communal affinities. To be fair, Gen Hariz was never really in the running as it was a two horse race really between the ‘chosen one’, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat and Lt Gen Bakshi, who were the senior most.
In a strictly pyramidal structure that the armed forces’ line of command is, merit certainly counts. But what counts is also combat experience in the three-decade-old fourth asymmetric war that India is fighting and also, in that situation, leadership.
The problem remains that there was, and remains much talk of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in the Indian army and even, on a lesser scale, 'transformation.' The former chief and current minister with BJP, Gen (R) Vijay Kumar Singh actually headed a committee on the subject and produced a valuable report. But it is obviously gathering dust in some corner of North Block.
So a supposedly modern Indian army functions in hardened silos where the armoured soldier remains in tanks for a never-to-happen-war, a groundhog infantry does just that, and so on. But yet at the command experience level, one can only have use a fine microscope to see the dividing line as to how an armoured regiment career that took him to the apex of the army robs him of any experience of fighting terrorist wars. Maybe in the coming days, the government will have to distribute some of that to explain the fine distinction it made.
It is ironic and rather hilarious that the government’s spinmeisters needed to go on an overdrive to spread that Gen Bakshi will be given the honour of being the country’s first joint chief of staff, or as the Government of India quaintly calls it, chief of defence staff. The story sounded false right from the beginning when it began circulating because: (a) a government that cannot smoothly manage most of its functions delivering on a contentious issue like CDS in just a few days – lying around on its table for more than two decades - sounded a bit ludicrous; and (b) it sounded like handing over a crying, petulant child a candyfloss.
In the immediate future, it will show whether Gen Rawat has mastered the art and science of making the seven feet broad jump – conquering the mind really. But what will show even more is whether the BJP-led NDA government’s ability to make decisions is not just led by caprice.