How Has India's National Security Shaped Over The Years?

"It is easy to break a system but we must remember that it takes decades of effort to build one. The military leadership needs to be seen as a strong, capable and professional lot, loyal both to the organisation and the Nation."

How Has India's National Security Shaped Over The Years?

India's National Security Policy: Unfinished Business

In this brief write up, I intend to walk through the annals of history, touching upon the contributions by political leadership, essentially our Prime Ministers over the past approximately seventy-plus years. As I am not a student of history or politics, most of this shall invariably be one of the personal impressions. The readers may like to use their own judgement and conclude what they feel to be correct as perceived by them.

A Nebulous Beginning & Weak Foundations

On achieving Independence, the Indian leadership was faced with peculiar challenges, most importantly, that of shaping the Nations Policies. None of them had learnt this in any Management School! Interference to dominate the region through various alliances and lobbying by Britain, Pakistan, China, Russia, USA among many others created a foggy Strategic environment.

Pandit Nehru, had more work cut out than he would have imagined. Much has been written by critics of his handling of the Armed Forces as well as his strategic vision for India. They say that a good foundation builds a secure future. What did his legacy leave behind?

"We don't need a defence plan. Our policy is non-violence. We foresee no military threats. You can scrap the army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs". These reportedly were the words of India’s first Prime Minister as a response to his being briefed by Indian Armed Forces First Commander-in-Chief Gen Sir Robert Lockhart in 1946, the phased growth of the Armed Forces. What followed was the downsizing of the Army from its strength of over 2, 80,000 to about 1, 50,000.  

Warped thoughts lead to warped policies: -

  • A peace-loving country had no need for the Armed Forces.
  • The Coup in Pakistan led to miscalculated measures that weakened the Army and set it into oblivion.
  • The Indo–Pak conflict, failed to bring to his attention, the need for a strong Army.
  • The Chief Of Army Staff's house went to the PM, the Status of the COAS was down graded in the Official Order of Precedence, much to the delight of Indian Bureaucracy. Post of Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces  was turned down, resulting in a huge dent in the Operational Efficacy of the functioning of the tri-services.
  • The void created in the command structure was felt heavily in India’s defeat in the Indo-Sino war of 1962, and reverberates till date. Focus remained on how to keep it under control to prevent an onslaught on democracy. This despite of the constitutional responsibility the army had been charged with.
  • Such thoughts encouraged radical changes to the security infrastructure of the country; the most relevant even today is the creation of multiple Police agencies, and weaken the Army, to counter the weight of the Army, multiple police agencies, lacking necessary training and discipline, broadly functioned in a similar spectrum as the Army came into existence.
  • ‘Yes Men’ were installed in crucial places so as to create an untenable security infrastructure that would, in its own way pave the path for ignoring the need for a well researched National Security Strategy.
  • The Perception that china would not attack India caught us flatfooted and the forward posture with lack of preparation caused us a huge defeat and shame.
  • The Defence minister and his politics as well as lack of military knowledge was no help.
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Through Congress To BJP

Thus a foundation on which the Indian Armed Forces continue to grapple with was put in place. This downsizing effort and philosophy has continued to plague the Armed forces through successive governments with scant regard to the county's security needs. In retrospect, one could suggest that Nehru’s idea of a functional democracy (like every other Politician) was to aim at an unending tenure to his rule, aided by submissive and pusillanimous administrative and military officials to facilitate that idea.

'Has anything changed through the years to this singular objective of every politician who comes to power? Or that of 'Yes Men' being promoted to occupy chairs of importance? Even today, the selection of promotions/appointments at higher levels in the army are controlled by Civil Servants, who are known to discourage tenancy of higher appointments by Generals of resolute and upright demeanor.

The clamor for reducing spending on the Armed Forces has perhaps never seen such a high crescendo as today! And the Armed Forces appear to be taking a beating like never before. With the Military Leadership sitting in stony silence! Is the defence pension bill really such a burden? Let us check the broad figures:-

  • Military strength is pegged at 1.5 million, civilians in ministry of defence are 3.75 lakh and they draw a higher pension.
  • Add the pension bill of Central and State Police forces which is much more than that of the Armed Forces.
  • The retirement age and life span of the defence personnel is much lower than that of Civilians in Ministry of Defence as well as various Police forces, thus the pension bill on military personnel is far less than that of others.

From the figures above it would appear that the Armed Forces are being singled out without justification. We may talk of 'Deterrence' and thus the ability to prevent a war, but then again, how do we hold ground and prevent loss of territory in the absence of adequate and motivated manpower/boots on ground?

Apparently the present Governments thought process has been guided by a different set of principles; they clearly feel that there won't be any kinetic engagements in the near future; that they would diplomatically be able to manage all conflicts, as per whispers in the corridors of post 2014.

Our hierarchy too began to publically tom-tom the same idea, reflecting that the government was once again playing favorites in promotions to grow a crop of Generals who would bow down before their political masters, disregarding professional and personal ethos and honor while doing so. Is this conjecture sufficient for downsizing and neglecting the Armed forces? What if? We need to remember the effect of downsizing on the Kargil War and the repercussions of  freeze in raising of the Mountain Strike Corps.

Instead of armed forces, the present government has been investing a lot in the CAPFs, be it their strength, capabilities, status, pay and allowances or administrative support facilities for various reasons over all, the present dispensation sees. As we see things today, it is these very agencies that are the 'Blue Eyed' as far as far as today's Government is concerned. Praises rain down on them from the ramparts of Red Fort, there are No budgetary constraints, they get the best equipment, pensions are not a burden nor is OROP/NFFU!

CAPFs are thus proving to be a tool to facilitate/protect/further their internal political aims and objectives whilst the Army is kept engaged in yoga, tali and thali and such demeaning chores unfit for men in uniform. Apparently as per them, soldiers can simply be managed by jingoism, chest thumping, theatrics and media, not to forget sharing of sweets once in a while at the borders.

Where then is a National Security Strategy? Consider the quagmire of procurements; how will the cry for 'Atmanirbhar' much required though, impact operations in the immediate future? The announcement of a new system of recruitment for three years, warped policies ignoring ground realities and also the welfare of serving soldiers, veterans and their families, does this build up to 'High Moral'? Or does it remind us of the state in '62? As history came to realize in retrospect, weakening the Army can have grave consequences, have we honestly learnt our lessons?

While Chinese had been building a road inwards through Aksai Chin, Nehru was unrelenting in his desire to disregard the advice of the Army Commanders that redeploying troops from the western borders to the eastern was a necessity in the face of an impending disaster. Many military strategists then as they do even today informed the Government that China was inching on the eastern sector, the Indian Army just wasn't ready to fight the Chinese with its diminished strength and poor equipment, due to the ignorance and negligence on the part of Political Leadership.

To aggravate issues, the Intelligence Bureau toed the official lines of appeasement and assuaged Nehru's ego by reiterating his views on China. Any different now? The Chinese have been knocking at our door in Eastern Ladakh, Opposite Arunachal and Sikkim to name a few areas, infrastructure is being developed and all we can do is 'Kari Ninda'!.

In 1959, things came to such an extent that finding no room for National Interests, Gen Thimayya, and the then Army Chief sent out his resignation in protest over Nehru’s short sightedness, to be withdrawn later on Nehru's reassurances of cooperation. The combine of, Krishna Menon and Nehru were of the impression that their prowess in political play gave made them well placed to give out directives to the Army, do we find ourselves in a similar situation now?

Pandit Nehru as per the Henderson Report, had no military or national thought and his handling of the Indian Army is a clear example in that regard. He was the 'Arm Chair General' that the Indian Army did not deserve and I wonder if the quote  this quote by Alexander the Great suitably refers to him?" I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion."  Perhaps the interference by the NSA in matters of defense appointments and lack of intelligence is comparable to '62?

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The Russian Experience force restructuring, the Ukraine War, Lessons for India. A must read for our leadership is an analysis featured in 'War on The Rocks' of 6 June 2022 'Not Built For Purpose: The Russian Military's Ill Fated Force Design' by Michael Kofman & Rob Lee. Focus of most analysts remained on a war launched on flawed assumptions of an easy victory. Lack of preparation, poor planning and force employment. Less discussed are the following:-

  • Force structure and manpower. The conscious choices resulted in trade offs leading to struggles in combined arms operations, fighting in urban terrain and ability to hold ground.
  • Relying on a Partial Force mobilization and a shortage of manpower with special reference to the Infantry (so relevant for India, given our long borders and diverse terrain).
  • Russia came to believe that a smaller but better army could deal with a range of conflict and undertook force restructuring between 2008-2012. Optimised for a 'short and sharp war they lacked the capacity to sustain a long conventional war at peace time manning levels. This remained invalidated, further reviewed in 2013 to adopt a tech heavy and manpower light composition, shaped in Battle Groups with defined responsibilities (is that what Indian leadership is aiming to achieve?).
  • A military that gave up the old system of 'conscription' in favour of a reduced manpower of essentially 'volunteers or contract servicemen or enlisted professionals' as volunteers to serve for several years recruited twice a year in majority of its armed forces (like a Tour of Duty?).
  • Military Volunteers had no opportunity to train and achieve the cohesion as well as expertise desired in battle, thus, relying on 'Contract Servicemen' as well as Technology or heavy equipment profile failed the political assumptions and objectives.

The ill designed 'Tour Of Duty'. Gen Hanut had this to say to a Psychologist deputed to study the causes of the debacle in '62, when he was told that we suffered a defeat because the Army had no 'Cause’ for fighting. According to him the simplistic and ridiculous shortcoming was that they required a National Political Leader to be seen as a 'Mother or Father Figure' for whose for 'whose defense and protection of whose honor the army the personnel of the armed forces would willingly sacrifice their lives!'

As the General recounts' I told him that the army needed no new cause to fight for; it already had a cause and inspiration, which had sustained it in battle for past 200 years: this inspiration was 'the Honor of the Regiment'. The Regimental System and its corollary Regimental Spirit is what binds people from disparate backgrounds, language, religion together as a close knit family. The Tour Of Duty as envisaged is the death knoll of the Regimental System and Regimental Spirit. The Army will now have to look for and re invent a 'Cause' for men to lay down their lives!

It is easy to break a system but we must remember that it takes decades of effort to build one. The military leadership needs to be seen as a strong, capable and professional lot, loyal both to the organisation and the Nation, thus, perhaps they along with the political leadership need to be seen actively making efforts to focus on the Regimental System and Regimental Spirit to rebuild the moral and pride of our armed forces so essential during combat.

For any military reform and restructuring to be pragmatic, political leadership should base their directives on the well researched 'Strategic Analysis' by the military leadership and not mere political assumptions. A Nation must of necessity pay for a standing army and its morale, in order to prevent adventurism by hostile neighbors. Then again, any tampering with the Defence Forces must not be at the cost of 'Morale and Pride'. Therefore an over view is in order in a balanced manner aimed at reducing the Civilian Staff in MOD as well as bringing in an equation between the pensions of Defence Personnel and the CPOs as well as State Police.

India adopted a democracy where in the 'Supreme Commander is the President' who, other than presenting colors to regiments has no contact with the Armed Forces unlike the Queen of England or the President of America who can be seen issuing a 'Strategic Paper' or 'Directive' based upon which all organizations frame their strategy. We have an all powerful Prime Minister but no such 'Directive'! As an Army in a democracy we remain subservient and loyal to the Constitution and the Government, however, that is no reason for not presenting our case and pushing for a review of issues which hurt the National as well as Organisational Interest.

Destroying an organisation which has always stood by the Nation, be it on the borders, floods, earthquakes, pandemics, insurgencies or counter terror make any sense? Has there been any example of pure diplomacy alone succeeding in the resolution of international border disputes in the absence of military power? If so, then the Indo-Pak as well as Indo-Sino conflicts would never have occurred!
The Government as well as Heads of our Tri-Services need to sit up and think this out once more and drop the hair brained idea of a Tour of Duty.

About The Author

The author is a veteran with 35 years of military experience under his belt. He was commissioned into the JAT regiment & has extensively operated in J&K, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram. He was, selected to raise the NSG & was a Sqn Cdr with the 51 SAG, Instr at IMA, Col GS of an active div, Cdr of a Bde in super HAA, DS in AWC, & Brig Gen Staff responsible for facilitating the training in various military establishments including CITJW school. He has been a member of study groups on China as well as Officer Cadre management.

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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