The Nation and its Soldiers: Response

"There is no doubt that the Indian army overall has been getting a raw deal. A key reason is, unlike other major democratic countries, our political leaders have had no defence experience as they never had to pick up arms to protect or wrest independence for the country."

The Nation and its Soldiers: Response

I have had the opportunity to read the article by Major P. V. Ravindran and really appreciate all the facts which he has narrated. There is no doubt that the Indian army overall has been getting a raw deal since the time we have gained independence. There are many reasons. But the foremost reason is the same since Nehru’s time, in fact he was the person who brought down the importance of the army most, the defense services has been taken more as an economic burden than a protector of the country.

The main reason is, unlike other major democratic countries, our political leaders have had no defence experience as they never had to pick up arms to protect or wrest independence for the country. Even our independence movement, comparing the intensity for the same in Europe and America, which brought out many renowned generals who became the Presidents and Prime Ministers in their respective countries in later years, has been mostly peaceful barring Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army and some freedom fighters who believed in wresting independence by fighting.

So, we developed no military leader or thinker. Had Netaji been able to lead the country situation could have been different. In America out of 46 presidents, 16 presidents had been war veterans. While writing any analysis it is desirable that the same must consider all aspects of the problems and make holistic study.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Also Read: The Nation and its Soldiers, Looking after Our Own

During most part of human civilization, we have been ruled by a king who has been the chief of the army too. He had generals under his command, who had been a direct part of the cabinet. Those days the fighting between the countries was a common phenomenon. Therefore, the cabinet of a king used to be formed by the Prime Minister, General of the Army, Chief Priest, and the Finance Minister. The country’s internal and external security used to be looked after by soldiers. The Prime Minister used to control the council of ministers. Policing as of today was hardly in vogue.

Days started changing. Transition from medieval period to modern era, starting from 15th century witnessed fall of Roman Empire and transition and renaissance which changed the state of governing system. Pure Kingship started paving way towards democracy. The countries consolidated their boundaries. Common people started wresting the power from the kings and aristocrats or autocrats and democracy started setting in which prevailed supremacy of civil government over military. Hardly there is any state today which is governed entirely by king/military power. The countries which still have military supremacy are the examples of failed democracy.

Armies order of precedence started sliding down: Chairman, Joint Chief of the Army Staff of us Array stands at 21 (d), CDS and four-star generals of India occupies 12th position whereas, prior to independence he was No 2, next to Viceroy, as a part of occupation army… The situation then was different.

It’s a fact that more or less fate of all armies is same in all democratic countries. Only difference is while the Chiefs of Defence Staff in all other countries are directly under the Defence Minister/Secretary with direct access to the Prime Minister, in India, kind courtesy Nehru, a bureaucrat, designated as Secretary to the Defence Ministry, is appointed to act as a go between Prime Minister and Defence Minister and the CDS/service Chiefs.

Therefore, service chiefs have no direct access to the Defense Minister/Prime Minister. This Defence Secretary, coming from Babudom, from various ministries, with scanty knowledge on defence, becomes responsible for the defense of India. This is a great irony for India’s defence preparation. Likely lack of defense strategic knowledge, the level of sacrifice the defense personnel make in their personal life for the country or may be gap in the relationship with the army with the political masters and responsible bureaucrats could be the reasons that Indian defense forces and the required infrastructure and social and financial need of the defense personnel did not get adequate attention.

The importance of continuous development and upgrading the need of the forces and pecuniary and other benefits of the soldiers to let them not worry for their far-way home may be beyond their comprehension as they never faced that situation. There seems to be a cold distance between the national leaders and their savior, soldiers. The Indian defense budget, while comparing with other countries, even the smaller ones, will give the right indication.

The points mentioned by Maj Ravindran are relevant but needs deeper analysis. Simply quoting few instances does not get into the root of the malaise. The situation that is described above is one part of the story the other side is how our top defense brass takes their responsibilities? Are they capable enough to project their personalities and professional competence to convince the political masters of defense requirements in keeping with the strategic need and that of personnel of those who serve?

Certain decisions taken in the top level as being experienced by the serving and retired soldiers do not speak remarkably high of them. They seem to go far away from the realities in the ground level. Certain decisions smack their endeavour to seek political patronage and perhaps succeeded to some extent.

I shall narrate certain incidences below which will show how the actions taken by the higher echelon of defense forces change the game plan. It is always said that defeated army progresses faster than victorious one. War of 1962, war of 1971 and the Galwan valley skirmish are the examples. Massive victory in 1971 brought the status and further development down, whereas both 1962 debacle and the Galwan valley confrontation are hastening up defense preparations.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

To give credence to what I narrated above, certain examples are given below:

1. The cause of initial defeat of British navy in the beginning of second world war was none other than, one may be surprised, Winston Churchill. When he became the First Admiralty after winning election from the ticket of Liberal party, in around 1922, first thing he did was to cut the size of British Navy which was then riding every wave of the ocean from Eastern Atlantic to whole of Pacific, to save cost of the exchequer. Consequently, the then Chief of the Naval Staff resigned. Ironically, the same man was again First Admiralty prior to the Second World War and tried his best to rejuvenate the Navy which took two years to be able to challenge German Navy. Till then German U boat played havoc in the sea. Many thousand tons of material and hundreds of sailors by then had gone to the ocean bed.

2. Another contrast, When President Roosevelt wanted to cut the US Defense budget, sometime in 1933/34, Gen Douglas MacArthur, the then General of the Army US Army, while leaving the office of the President Roosevelt, turned back and believed to have said, "Mr. President, in the next war when the enemy bayonets spit through the stomach of an US Army soldier, hope the soldier does take your name and not mine" or words to that effect. Roosevelt didn't dare to reduce the budget.

3. When, after attaining independence, in a conference Mr. Nehru commented that "we may have to import Army Chief from the British Army since we do not have adequately experienced Indian Army Officer", Lt Gen Nathu Sing, present in the meeting, is believed to have said, "In that case we may have to import Prime Minister as well as we do not have adequately experienced Prime Minister too". Nehru is believed to have offered him the post but he refused saying there is more competent officer than me and rest is history. I962, Army Commander, Central Army, under whose command the NEFA battle was fought, and upwards no one had the generalship to apprise the government to give correct perspective. Most defamed General Kaul was commanding his corps from his bedroom at Delhi who never visited his forward location. Result is known to everybody.

4. What is happening in our own hierarchy? We are pulling down each other. Many of our soldiers languishing in our own jail, as we hear, because they used their right judgement, many of our privileges are being withdrawn, as I read in the newspaper, by our own bosses. Most simple example, our CSD canteen, which was our pride some time ago, remains half empty, most of the time simple blood pressure of heart related medicine are out of stock in ECHS

Get our own house in order AND then ONLY blame others. Our failure reflects on us where our own senior officers are waiting to get little crumbs!! Instead of shifting the blame let’s do our own bit. All actions of everyone are being watched by nation and soldiers together.

Be worthy, your dues will come.

The military top brass must realise that they are in a profession which is not meant for pomp and show, it is a matter of life and death. Recently I saw and army commander behaving in a robotic style. I think above examples will speak louder than long length of a write up. Regards

About the Author

(Lieutenant Colonel MK Guptaray (Retd), 9 Sikh is an author of two books and a seasoned veteran of the '71 war where he had the privilege to participate in the Naogan Sector under 104 Brigade, 19 Division. He participated in Op-Pawan in 1987 capturing over half the Jaffna Town. He is presently having a retired life in Pune.)

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