At the end of a meeting to review the progress of a government scheme, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently gave bureaucrats an earful, saying that they had spoiled his first five-year term in office, but he would not let them spoil the second.
Through an interview with the YouTube channel Defensive Offence, renowned defence analyst Major Gaurav Arya, sought to recommend solutions to the Prime Minister as regards the field of defence, in light of Prime Minister Modi’s scathing observation.
Major Arya opines that such bureaucratic institutions are structured precisely in the manner wherein they become impediments, and not assets, at least in the field of defence. He warns that the Prime Minister’s term could be ruined for the present tenure of five years until 2024, and every subsequent government would have to grapple with the same lethargy of the bureaucratic system.
He hastens to add that not all bureaucrats were lethargic, and he quoted the example of Shri T N Seshan, who implemented unprecedented transformations in the Election Commission of India and made it a powerful institution.
He is unequivocal about his disappointment on learning that the newly created position of “Chief of Defence Staff” or CDS was to be “first among equals”. He makes it clear that democracy must be kept away from the Armed Forces, for they simply cannot function in such an environment. They function on the basis of orders from the superiors.
He recommends that the CDS must be a five star general, superior to the three chiefs of the armed services. The CDS must have authority equivalent to that of a Cabinet Minister, and must report directly to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The three service chiefs must report to him. Integration of the three services could not be achieved by Integrated Theatre Commands alone. It would also require integration at the very top levels, that can be achieved by the CDS.
The Ministry of Defence, in his view, must be restricted purely to administrative work. The CDS and the service chiefs must be given a separate office in Delhi itself (he tentatively calls it the “Trident”, conceptualized as the equivalent of The Pentagon of the United States), and they must be given all authority for operational planning and expenditures of the allotted budget.
Major Arya has insisted that institutions such as DRDO and Ordnance Factory Boards must not be run by bureaucrats, but by technocrats. The former group is too preoccupied with files and file notings. The latter are capable of actually implementing their duties.
To support his assertion, he quotes two examples:
- E Sreedharan, a retired officer of Indian Railway Service of Engineers, is popularly known as “Metro Man” because he was the brains behind the Delhi Metro, and he oversaw its successful implementation. This was because he was a technocrat who valued work. He had made his position unambiguous: if the political leadership were to interfere in his work, he would promptly tender his resignation and leave for Kerala, where he came from. Interestingly, he is the same person who opposed Arvind Kejriwal’s decision of announcing the metro as a freebie for women.
- K Sivan, the Chairperson of ISRO, is also a technocrat, for he is well-acquainted with the technical skills for the work that his organization is responsible for; sending satellites to space, and not preparing elaborate file notings.
Administrative work is important, but bureaucrats who specialize in such work must not be made in charge of such important aspects of India’s security. According to Major Arya, the Ministry of Defence may be headed by a Minister of any background, but the Secretary of Defence must preferably be of a defence background. So should a sizeable number of other secretaries. Today, the Ministry of Defence has been dominated by civilians, who have little to no knowledge of military matters.
In today’s circumstances, the Headquarters of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force need to spend considerable time with the civilian bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence, which gives rise to a parallel bureaucracy in these military institutions. This hampers the working of the armed services at top levels.
Major Arya has admitted that he has always been a critic of the Ordnance Factory Boards, but only because of the way it is structured. The engineers and scientists are extremely talented, but it is red-tapism that prevents them from showcasing their nigh-world-class skills. This is because the Boards are not run by technocrats.
He makes the same argument for DRDO. In this era, where new challenges such as information warfare, cyber warfare etc. face India, the role of technocrats increases even further.
He is categorical about the need for gunboat diplomacy. “There is no friendship without might”, he asserts. When the nation’s Prime Minister visits the head of another nation, the latter must always be aware that the INS Arihant is lurking in the oceans nearby.
None of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are “good boys”. They have among the most overawing records of human rights violations.
The United States of America: Hardly has there been a year since the conclusion of World War II when the United States was not involved in an armed conflict or a war. Its military operations increased exponentially following 9/11, and its interventions have often proved cataclysmic, as in the case of Iraq.
The Russian Federation: Joseph Stalin was responsible for the massacre of so many millions of his own citizens that in absolute numbers, his atrocities exceeded those of Hitler.
Peoples’ Republic of China: Mao Tse Tung exceeded the numbers of even Stalin when his aggressive industrialization policies led to deaths of millions of Chinese.
France: In its colonial history, France was responsible for ravaging North Africa.
The United Kingdom: Its tyrannic empire was responsible for the penurious conditions of several of its colonies, notably India.
India needn’t follow them, for our ethics are completely different. However, India can definitely learn from them. Periodic displays of power are necessary in order to thrive in this world. We must learn to toughen ourselves up.
Major Arya supports talks with Pakistan, but only when, in his words, “Imran Khan is on a wheelchair and General Bajwa has a bandaged head”. India needn’t launch itself into a war, but periodic strikes against Pakistan are necessary.
He does not quite approve of the government taking pride in its Army being non-expeditionary. According to him, the Army must be expeditionary. If we aim to be at the high table of nations, military power must be developed as a critical component of our gross national power. If we aim to counter China’s influence, and we should, for it would otherwise go against our interests, the Army must be made expeditionary.He asserts that the BSF must have the responsibility to guard the borders. The paramilitary and state police must be used to quell insurgency. The Army needs to be spared from such duties and must be made, just like the Navy and the Air Force, an armed service that is outward-looking, in the sense of being an instrument of power projection.
This is all the more necessary given the fact that in about two decades, the majority population of Balochistan would be Chinese. In his view, dealing with China on two fronts would be very difficult.
Not trusting the military to do its job is unfair. The Indian Army has had a stellar record of respecting the democratic ideals of India unlike Pakistan, where military coups are pretty common. The military must not be burdened with bureaucracy. He summarizes it by saying that the nation needs to put faith in its military for the purposes of external security, and being overly suspicious about it is akin to harbouring suspicion for the closest of one’s family members.