Former navy chief calls for 'less adversarial' civil-military ties
Terming the relationship between the Indian military and politico-bureaucratic establishment "brittle and laden with suspicion", former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said Monday the "widening chasm" between the two was highlighted by the row over former army chief General V.K. Singh's age and a media report "suggesting that an incipient military coup d'etat had been uncovered".
Delivering the third K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture, Admiral Arun Prakash said the two controversies "demonstrated, yet again, not just the widening chasm between the military and politico-bureaucratic establishment, but also the sheer incapability of the latter to cope with crises of this nature".
He said the media report was made "to plant suspicion about the loyalty of India's armed forces in people's minds", and added: "A deeply disturbing aspect of this episode is the suggestion that media could not have dared to concoct such a preposterous canard without a nod from the establishment".
He suggested that a "better system of higher defence management and a less adversarial civil-military relationship" could have helped avert such episodes, adding: "A strong political personality in South Block, too, could have defused most of them."
The lecture on "Civil-Military Dissonance: Chink in India's Armour", organized by Global India Foundation, was held at the India International Centre.
Admiral Arun Prakash pointed out the "subordinate status" of the service headquarters as among the reasons of India's failure to attain self-reliance in weapons production and also "interminable delays" in deciding cases relating to acquisition of hardware, ordnance and manpower.
Each case "is required to be steered through multiple layers of bureaucracy", countering on the way numerous questions that are "repetitive and often raised to prevaricate; and every file movement takes weeks, if not months", he said.
This, he said, "has not only thwarted force modernization, inspite of recent reforms in procurement procedures, but also affected combat readiness".
Admiral Arun Prakash said with civil servants lacking the necessary expertise to decide on requirements of the services and with no system of consultation with the armed forces, "the preferred solution for the un-informed bureaucracy is to cast the case in limbo. That is why delays ranging from 5-15 years are fairly common and modernization remains stalled".
The former naval chief said "major resistance to change" has come from the civil services which have "resolutely stalled every attempt at integration" of the service headquarters with the ministry of defence "since they apprehend erosion of their influence and authority".
"They are stubborn in their conviction that advice to the politician must come only from the bureaucracy, whose role in decision-making is the, putative, key to 'civilian control' of the armed forces," he said.
Admiral Arun Prakash said the country's lawmakers and politicians must decide whether the "civil-military dissonance has, indeed, created an urgent need for reforms in India's national security structures".
Among the options he has suggested are studying afresh the task force reports of 1999 and 2011 on security reform to see if they can be implemented and a fresh panel set up to study civil-military relations.
He pointed out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address to the Combined Commanders Conference in November had called for "the right structures for higher defence management" to be set up and for an "appropriate civil-military balance in decision making".
"The fact that the head of government has openly admitted these shortcomings may hold out some hope; perhaps post-elections 2014," he said.
Omprakash Mishra, member Secretary of Global India Foundation, in his address said: "India's resilience and its global role can be maintained and sustained when compatibility, harmony and interdependence of civil sphere and military domain is better understood and achieved."
(Posted on 20-01-2014)