B S Raghavan

Endangering Defence by ego clashes

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 14, 2017

The state of affairs in the Ministry of Defence and the Army Headquarters has plunged to unprecedented depths in recent months. There is immediate need to put an end to mutual recriminations in a spirit of accommodation and understanding.

The Defence Minister, Mr A.K. Antony, is a good man, ‘squeaky clean' and all that, but does not give the impression of having the needed grip or even being in charge.

The Defence Ministry has clearly been unequal to the role it should play in keeping its ears to the ground and ensuring that the relations with the service brass were smooth and harmonious. The nation's defence and security are being jeopardised in the process.

Much of what the country has witnessed in the last few months is the result of the build-up of irritants over many years.

They spring from a misconception among netas and babus about the so-called civilian control of the military. It does not mean that the military is subservient to the netas and babus and should be dancing to their tune.

The imperious Indira Gandhi herself realised it when General Sam Manekshaw point-blank refused to comply with her order to march into East Pakistan on a date of her choosing. Actually, at some point, Gen.Manekshaw's bluntness made her even nervously ask him whether he was planning a coup!

There is bound to be trouble if the netas and babus deal with Defence forces in the same wooden and arrogant manner which ordinary citizens have to suffer from them in their day-to-day interface with them.

The Defence Minister downwards, and this goes especially for the Defence Secretary and his flock of bureaucrats, should regard themselves as helpers and facilitators, instead of functioning like colonial overlords, expecting the members of the Armed Forces to kowtow to their dictates.

The fact is that even 65 years after Independence, civilian functionaries in the Defence Ministry are continuing to be mere note writers and file-pushers, raising queries and objections.

That was why George Fernandes, when he was the Defence Minister, bodily transported to Siachen glacier and Sir Creek, without adequate protection against the harsh conditions there, some Joint Secretaries and Additional Secretaries of his Ministry who were shuttling from one desk to another files containing proposals of the Army Headquarters on such essential proposals as provision for winter clothing.

AVOIDABLE DISCOMFITURE

The civilian netas and babus, in general, lack the sensitivity, empathy and imagination to understand that disciplined professional forces such as the Army, Navy and the Air Force, unlike themselves, are called upon to sacrifice their lives, if need be, in discharging the most vital and sensitive responsibility of ensuring the defence and security of the nation.

Those leading, or forming part of, the Defence forces have to take split second decisions in the course of their duties if they have to live another day.

I have no hesitation in holding that in every matter that affects the relations between the Defence Ministry and the leadership of the Defence Forces, it is the function of the Defence Minister and his civilian bureaucracy, collectively to take the lead in resolving issues as they arise without letting them spill over to the public domain.

In my view, the Government's discomfiture on each of the counts relating to General V.K. Singh's age, reported offer of bribe to him and his letter to the Prime Minister could have easily been avoided if only the Defence Ministry officials had grasped the implications the issues involved from the earliest stages.

One method of heading off undesirable contingencies of this kind is for the Defence Minister to hold daily meetings the first thing in the morning with the three Defence Chiefs and give them ample time and opportunity to air their views as a prelude to evolving a coordinated approach to meet emerging situations.

The short point is that the motivation and morale of the Defence Forces fall into a category all their own, and do not lend themselves to the application of time-(dis)honoured brow-beating practices of bureaucrats and politicians.

Ill-tempered calls for sacking the General and the like will only cause further aggravation. The stand-off is serious enough for the Prime Minister to intervene and pull everyone back from the brink.

Published on March 29, 2012

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