Monday 7 November 2011

No specialists, please, we’re Home and Defence (Sunday Guardian)

The military top brass in Ghaziabad last month. “The men and women in the military are still being ignored by the Nehruite establishment, which has kept them wholly out of the higher direction of the Ministry of Defence.” PTI
isaffection within the "native" segment of the armed forces based in India during British rule led to Whitehall finally deciding to quit India, five years after Mahatma Gandhi's (spectacularly ill-timed, as it coalesced UK opinion behind the "loyal" Jinnah) call for the same. The role played by the fiery rebels in uniform in the winning of freedom has been ignored by historians eager to deify the Mahatma and his protégé, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Not that much has changed since then. The men and women in the military are still being ignored by the Nehruite establishment, which has kept them wholly out of the higher direction of the Ministry of Defence. Despite their flags and flashing lights, the reality is that the senior brass in all three services are at the mercy of the generalists of the IAS (and on occasion the IFS) when decisions involving their very lives are at stake. In the US or in Japan, or in numerous other democracies not known to be under martial law, those in uniform are integrated into the defence establishment rather than excluded, the way they are in India. Since the 1950s, after Jawaharlal Nehru (and later Indira Gandhi) developed fears about the military in India going the Pakistan (or Indonesia or Chile or, or, or...) way and mounting a coup, generalists have been in control of all key decision points within the Defence Ministry. Small wonder that the Indian Army is so inferior in equipment and infrastructure to the PLA all across the Sino-Indian border, and decisions on procurement of billion-dollar items leave the services with white elephants sure to bleed them to impotence.
In times past, the white man (and very rarely, woman) was judged to be of so superior a cut that he or she was given charge of a multiplicity of departments. These days, it is the Central Services that play the role of the white man. Once the IAS, IPS or IFS entrance examination gets passed, that is taken as proof of such genius and versatility that the initiates are given responsibilities that range from the cultural to the economic, from sports to — yes — matters relating to national defence. While the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Finance have a permanent cadre (that does not get transferred to Education and from there to Fisheries), the Ministries of Home and Defence are left with birds of passage who flit into and out of the department, much in the manner of IAS and IPS officers, who float from institution to institution, depending on the influence of their godfathers within the system. Fighting terrorists is not the same as fighting street criminals, yet IPS officers join RAW or the IB immediately after years spent on the latter task, going back to their regular beat when a plum post offers itself. In no other major democracy has internal security and both domestic as well as external intelligence been placed entirely in the control of the police, the way it has in India.
To give them credit, both Indira Gandhi as well as Rajiv Gandhi recognised the importance of specialised professionals in the intelligence community. They sought to groom a cadre of professionals. However, none of their successors has had the courage (or the energy) to block the systematic takeover by the IPS and generalist IAS officers (with a few from the IFS thrown in, to add a bit of variety) of the entire gamut of national security. Small wonder that the law and order situation in India is dire, while miscellaneous terrorists strike almost at will, killing more in this country than in any other save Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both the IPS as well as the IAS or the IFS have their role in the governance of the country, especially if they were to get augmented by horizontal recruits from fields that are
crucial in national life in the 21st century. However, national security needs to be liberated from the Amateur Hour into which it was first consigned by Jawaharlal Nehru.
espite the immense sums that are being spent in the name of national defence, the equipping of our armed forces is taking place in a piecemeal and haphazard manner. India Todayrecently did a national service by comparing the equipment of a PLA soldier with that given to a jawan on our side of the border. However, this was met by total silence, especially by India's Loyal Opposition. The reality is that the Ministry of Defence needs to have within its echelons service officers, who can bring into core decisions their experience and expertise. The Home Ministry needs to have within its cadre specialists in national security and in the study of conflict. The successors of the white man, i.e. the Central Services, cannot do justice to their tasks unless they work side by side with those having "battlefield experience". The country has been waiting a long time for Rahul Gandhi to show that he is less than 90 years old, by backing genuine reform. Hopefully, the Heir Apparent will take a break from judging the quality of village food and focus on the fact that his party is presiding over a 19th century administrative construct in a country whose other young are eager to enter the 21st century.

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