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The Indian Armed Forces Need to Exert for the Good of the Nation

Updated on March 30, 2019
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MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.

India in 1947

The beginning

British rule lapsed in 1947 after 190 years. It was a momentous moment as for the first time after almost 1000 years, the Hindus were in a position to govern their own country. Unfortunately, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was India's first Prime Minister was a man who had very little strategic sense. He was also allergic to military power as he associated it with the British Raj. There is no doubt that the British control of India was through the British Indian Army and Nehru was vary of this force. He was also scared of a military coup like in Pakistan and Burma and he thought it best to keep the Army divided, unarmed, and have low importance.

In 1947 India had the finest army in Asia as the Japanese had been bombed out and China was in the throes of a Civil War. India also had a gentle neighbor like Tibet as a buffer with China. Nehru lost all this in a flash and started politicizing the armed forces. He started with the Army and appointed General Cariappa as the chief of the Indian Army. In the process, he superseded two senior generals namely General Sant Singh and General Kulwant Singh. The only reason one can think of the supersession of these generals could be because they were Sikhs and Nehru did not have much respect or love for the Sikhs.

Cariappa after being appointed the C-in-C was beholden to Nehru and obviously, he could not oppose anything the Indian Prime Minister told him. This was the time when Nehru abolished the post of the Commander in Chief, India and replaced it with the chief of Army staff. General Cariappa and Ranjinder Singhji agreed with Nehru, at least they did not express any opposition to the thoughts of the Prime Minister. The stage was now set for cutting the wings of the armed forces.

Downslide of the generals

The chief of Army staff during the Chinese invasion, General Thapar made history when he accepted orders from a joint secretary of the ministry of defense. He was asked to go on leave but later he was made ambassador to Afghanistan. This point needs to be thought over and successive Army chiefs realized that if they played ball with the government they would get good appointments after they retired, no matter what their service record was. Here was a general who cut a sorry figure during the China war and yet was rewarded with an Ambassador's post.

The civilian bureaucracy struck nails in the coffin of the armed forces by downgrading the perks and privileges of the army officers and ranks by reducing pensions and many other items like the order of precedence. The Army chiefs feathered their own nest and really did not put forward any proposal to the government for the benefit of the soldier.

A lot is made of general Sam Maneckshaw as the army chief and he is credited with having won the war in Bangladesh. That victory is another story but in the first instance, he was not to be the Army chief as Sardar Swaran Singh the Defence Minister had announced that General Harbaksh would be the Chief. However, something happened within 12 hours and general Harbaksh Singh was retired and Maneckshaw was made the COAS. This was at the behest of Indira Gandhi. Despite winning the war Maneckshaw did not put a single paper to the Government of India for a better career prospect of the officer who could not make it to the rank of Brigadier and be compensated by being inducted into the Indian police or the public sector. He never projected anything and worse Indira Gandhi put him the dog house for some intemperate remarks.

Down the years the general staff has never projected anything to the government and got it through. A classic example is that of General VP Malik who was the Army chief during the Kargil operations. This man is guilty of getting hundreds of Indian troops killed in trying to storm the heights of Kargil when he never suggested to the Government of India to open a second front like Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 war with Pakistan. At that time the Indian Army opened a front in the Lahore- Sialkot sector after Pakistani thrust in the Chamb -Jaurian sector of Kashmir. This relieved the pressure in Kashmir and Pakistan on the defensive.

All this makes very sad to write and read as the question of OROP which was hanging for over 40 years was allowed to simmer on as none of the Army chiefs had the personality to force the issue with the government. Even now many veteran generals are still honking from loudspeakers that Army should not be politicized and we should only approach the government for whatever we want.

Some have gone to the supreme court but this is a long drawn process and it is not necessary that the court will back the Indian Army. The fact of the matter is that most of the Indian veteran generals after having spent 35 to 40 years in the army and jumping like the Lion through the ring at the behest of the lion trainer who wields a whip are unable to gauge the current situation. They are unable to gauge the prevalent mood of the younger lot of officers and men in the Indian Army. Conscientious officers will ask the question of why there is discrimination in terms of promotion, perks, and pay of the armed forces compared to their counterparts. These questions cannot be brushed under the carpet and I remember when I was in the Air Force younger pilots were asking why when they were flying at a greater risk the Civil pilots drew a salary which is 5 times of what they were getting.

The lot of the soldier

Most people have given only lip service to the soldier and not many realize that he has to retire early after color service. His lot is equated to that of a chaprasi. Something more dangerous is doing the rounds and I remember reading somewhere that the soldiers and the officers are facing a big divide. The soldiers feel they have not got their due because of the officers. This is a very dangerous thought and hits at the root of the command and control of the fighting force.

The fact is the armed forces have no say in any matter and a plethora of decisions have been taken which are detrimental to the Army. I need not give a catalog of them but the Perks of the army like rations, status, and pay compared to the Civil Services leaves a lot to be desired.

Narendra Modi is the present prime minister. One can say he is better than others as at least he has sanctioned some money for the soldiers but again he has played politics and the full OROP has not been sanctioned.

It is sad that the Indian army which was the number one force in 1947 in Asia is now unable to even chastise Pakistan which is one-fifth the size of India. The disdain with which the Indian nation is treated can be seen from the action by Sri Lanka which routinely captures Indian fishermen and the Indian government only writes notes. Memories are short but during the Vajpayee government days, 15 BSF soldiers were killed by the Bangladesh Rifles without a murmur from Mr. Vajpayee.

Present situation

The present Army Chief is a party to the degradation of the armed forces. He like Cariappa superseded two serving generals to become the chief and obviously is beholden to Mr. Modi for this post. He is now marching double quick time to please the government and it is shocking that he has agreed for a reduction in the armed forces strength by 100 thousand. Any man must be daft to even think about it. He has also been unable to pressurize the government on any matter.

It would be more appropriate to say that he doesn't want to. Many old timers are talking that the army should not be politicized. I will just ask the question as to what is politicizing? in case the army doesn't get what it needs then what is the harm in putting pressure to get what you want.

Last word

The army is the biggest stockholder in the unity of India. It's worthwhile to note that in Burma the Army has been at the helm of affairs for the last 50 years and now 30% of the seats in the national assembly are reserved for the Army. Similarly, in Pakistan and Thailand, the army is a driving force. I want the readers to be aware that in Russia and China the forces are considered the elites. A look at the United States will also show how the American state looks after the fighting arms.

India is at the crossroads and I do not visualize any improvement in the political situation. The armed forces are effectively sidelined and I will say its very sad. It is sadder that the pay commissions which are regularly appointed by the government do not have single member from the military and these commissions keep on making recommendations

I will like to close this article now and state in case the Indian state is to be recognized in the world as a great power it can only be through military might. The fact is that India does not even manufacture fighter planes or any air defense system. Until you have a strong military- Industrial complex, you cannot be a great power of the world.

I would like to add that in 1948, China could not manufacture even a bicycle and now they have produced the fifth generation fighter. Maybe if the army had been politicized, India could have been a world power. No country can be a world power if it doesn't produce the military hardware it requires on its own. By not producing any military hardware on its own and depending upon imports from the USA, Russia, France, etc for weaponry is by itself a sign India is not a great power. One hopes the hour finds the man and a leader emerges who can lead India forward.


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