- Jan 29 2018
What is a matter of grave concern has been the lopsided priorities of the government towards the military vis-a-vis the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) that have come to the fore.
When this government came to power in 2014 on the back of Prime Minister Modi's spectacular showing, there were great hopes within the military community that the benign neglect the military had been subjected to by the previous regime would be addressed. The previous decade had been truly disastrous and demoralising for the military with its operational capabilities hemorrhaging rapidly as crucial procurement decisions were delayed, reform measures ignored and internecine feuds encouraged, thereby ensuring the hierarchy remained divided in its loyalties.
However, three and a half years down the line, not enough has changed. If anything, the hallmark of the Modi administration towards the military has been a not very sympathetic attitude towards form and tradition in matters military, a creeping arrogance, and an uncalled for subservience to the bureaucratic/intelligence establishment led by the National Security Advisor. What else can explain Union Minister Nitin Gadhkari's petulant and, I dare say, rather childish remarks, questioning the need for the Naval family housing in "posh" Colaba at a public event in Mumbai? While his speech has become a source of much-good humoured banter within the forces, it reflects not just his ignorance of matters military but also of Mumbai's past. If he had been aware that it was the military which first established itself in the wilderness of Colaba Woods in the mid 19th century and was wholly responsible for its subsequent development, he may have chosen his words wisely. That he was just mouthing views that would be music to the ears of the land mafia which views defence real estate within our metros as the ultimate prize is neither here nor there. But it must be said there has been no shortage of attempts by politicians of all hues to move the military out of metros to free land for other 'more productive' purposes.
Soon after Gadkari's unfair salvo came the disappointing absence of the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister from the customary 'At Home' held by the Chief of Army Staff on Army Day, which is traditionally attended by the Supreme Commander, the President, and the Prime Minister, along with his senior Cabinet colleagues. The absence has not gone down well within the armed forces for whom such albeit symbolic events hold great value and act as morale boosters down the line. Hardliners believe the absence of the Prime Minister and Raksha Mantri even amounted to disrespecting the office of the President. There are suggestions that this absence was in retaliation for the manner in which a section of veterans heckled the Raksha Mantri the previous day during a meet organised to felicitate the veterans. While such behaviour was entirely uncalled for and condemnable, and cannot be justified under any circumstances, the government did not help its cause by the strong-arm tactics of local police during the peaceful OROP relay hunger strike that was being carried out at Jantar Mantar.
Leaving this aside, what is a matter of grave concern has been the lopsided priorities of the government towards the military vis-a-vis the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) that have come to the fore. With the Defence Budget being pegged at its lowest since 1962, at just 1.58 per cent of the GDP, it is not a surprise that the raising of the new Mountain Strike Corps is at a standstill due to non-availability of funds. However, the MHA doesn't seem to be impacted by this resource crunch as it continues with further accretions to the CAPF, the latest being its declared intention to provide the ITBP with an air wing, add another 15 battalions between it and the BSF, and set up a separate force to guard the Indo-Myanmar border.Add to this the attempt to, in my view blindly, equate and equip these forces on the lines of the Army's infantry battalions regardless of what their roles and operational tasking demand. With reports that it intends to equip some ITBP battalions with Infantry Combat Vehicles, nothing could be more foolhardy or wasteful than this fanciful belief that the CAPF can be enhanced to the Army's level without the need to change their ethos, training standards or manning profile.Of course, it begs the question why do border police, that are primarily meant to control transborder movement during peace time and act as a tripwire and provide early warning to the military in war time, need to emulate the Army and be equipped with mortars and medium machine guns?
Then there is the question of military reforms. While it has decided to reduce logistic elements of the Army based on a selective implementation of the recommendations of the Shekatkar Committee, important issues to restructure higher defence management, the functioning of the DRDO and the Ordnance Factories continue to be ignored. The necessity for the appointment of a single point military advisor in the form of the Chief of Defence Staff, the establishment of Joint Theatre Commands, restructuring of MoD and the Defence Production architecture are issues that needed to be resolved yesterday.
It does not need Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's forceful advocacy of the universally accepted proposition that only the strong survive and nations are only as strong as their militaries, propounded during his speech at the just concluded Raisina Dialogue, to bring this fact home. We are aware of this and yet our political leadership, especially in decades past, has deliberately ignored and downgraded the military due to their visceral fear of Generals replicating the acts of our Western neighbour despite no such proclivity shown. In any event, the government may soon have to face up to the consequences of this previous neglect and not going the extra mile to make up for the sins of its predecessors if one is to take media reports of Chinese troop accretions in North Doklam at face value. Undoubtedly, how our military performs in the event of Doklam 2.0 will contribute to the Modi government's re-election prospects, perhaps more than any other issue,in the coming general election.
This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.