CHANDIGARH: For the Indian Army, 2016 had not started well and thereafter, instead of steadfastness and improvements, it lurched from one crisis to another.

These were largely not of the army’s doing, but were imposed on it by others.

Unfortunately, the army got sucked in the vortex of politicization; political ineptitude in Jammu and Kashmir; and sadly not being decisive enough. In the closing days of the year, a major controversy again marred most of the gains; this may hound the country in coming years.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his ministry has a lot to learn about what makes the army tick; the earlier they do so, the better it would be for the nation.

The actions and inactions of the politico-bureaucratic combine are slowly but surely reducing the professionalism, capabilities and élan of the army.

The army too needs to share part of the blame on two counts. There have been instances of laxity in the security of its installations, like in Uri and Nagrota; and its inability to say ‘no’ to wrong orders and instructions or those that fall in the domain of others. This is because of its culture of acceptance and discipline, which are splendid attributes of a soldier. However, soldiers must also not become slaves to patently incorrect orders.

Only three incidents need be cited. Firstly, the army should have stood firm and not succumbed and let the ignorant and egoistic National Security Advisor handle the terrorist attack on Pathankot Air Base, while the well led, trained and equipped army units next door were asked to cool their heels. This is especially so as the same person had botched up the handling of the terrorist attack in Dina Nagar area only the previous year.

Secondly, having done a great job in successfully launching the cross-LC surgical strike, the Army should have stepped back and vehemently opposed actions of the government in obtaining political mileage by the ruling party.

Thirdly, the army should have stood firm on its stand of not providing six bridges for a purely religious event for the so-called World Cultural Festival organised by spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation, even after the MoD had forced the army to do so.

Much has already been written about the self-serving bureaucracy that continues to play a largely negative role in the growth of the nation in most fields; and the army is no exception. Like any other institution, the bureaucracy too has a few good men and women, but by and large, it is a severe drag on the nation. For mostly egoistical reasons, but also because of power and pelf, their dealings with the Fauj are especially condemnable. However, our political leadership remains unmindful of their deficiencies and is loath to shake off their embrace, despite getting a bad name in the process!

Reasons for such a state of affairs are not hard to seek. Since security strategies are alien to our political leaders and their suspicions of the military’s loyalty have not diminished even after 70 years of fidelity, they continue to be the prisoners of the whims and fancies of the worst bureaucracy of Asia. The present political leadership, despite their bragging, has failed miserably to show that it is they who are meant to govern and not the bureaucracy.

In the field of modernisation; induction of weaponry and munitions; as well as warlike and other equipment; the government failed miserably by continuing to remain in the same groove as the previous years. Their focus remained on politics, especially of the electoral variety.

No worthwhile modernisation has taken place; the additional corps for the mountains remained in limbo; and induction of modern weapons continues to be a slave to the ‘Make in India’ slogan of PM Modi. The stated goal of attaining 70% self-sufficiency in defence requirements by 2027, appears to be only a chimera!

This implies that the army will continue to be on a starvation diet for at least another decade. In the interim, the obsolete equipment continues to be unusable; the obsolescent equipment has become obsolete and the few meager items of somewhat recent acquisitions are rapidly entering the obsolescent stage.

Indigenous limited production by Ordnance Factories and Defence Public Sector Units is outdated and the DRDO is spending colossal amounts for producing zilch. Yet they remain untouched by the government, both for accountability and responsibility.

The government has been unable to even provide funds or procure basic equipment needed on a daily basis, while there is apparently no shortage of yoga mats for the International Yoga Day! The skewed policies are evident.

The Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), after nine modifications in 15 years continues to be unworkable!

Consequently, the army today lacks the operational capability and punch that is needed to operate in the highly volatile and turbulent security environment that the nation is facing.

So, who will secure the nation – the bureaucracy or the police, both of whom have become the darlings of the government in power?

The army’s primary war-waging capability has also been severely blunted by decades of employment on counter-insurgency operations that are essentially tasks for the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF’s). Why is there no end-state in sight, when the task of the army is conflict management, not conflict resolution?

Reverting to how the army’s surgical strike across the LC was packaged by the government’s propaganda machinery, it was nauseating to see how a precise and successful military operation was relegated to the boondocks while the political leadership took all the credit and the impression was created that the PM, RM and even the RSS were the real heroes!

At the same time, the stature; loyalty; and pride of the army was thrown to the wolves by the one-sided recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission. What a ridiculous way of ruling a country?

It was not just the recommendations of various Pay Commissions that have disturbed the serving personnel as well as the veterans, but also the long pending grant of full OROP that continues to be elusive, though the Modi rhetoric is unending in how his government has so magnanimously given OROP to the defence forces. This Goebbels’s-like propaganda fools no one, but continues to be propagated.

The blatant anti-military stance of the present government was evident when Modi stooped to the lowest level of his political career by making that infamous remark at a rally at Chandigarh that OROP has been given ‘by depriving the poor’ or words to that effect. Rhetoric Sir is not the be-all and end-all of governance!

He then followed it up during his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, when he deliberately did not make the ritualistic remark of thanking the military for its sacrifices on the borders, meaningless though it is, as it never comes from the heart. Instead, he praised the police; the verbatim quote was:

“Jal, thal, nabh mein hamari raksha karte hue police karmiyon ko main salaam karta hoon".

Wah, Pradhan Mantri Ji!!

The chasm between the army and the political executive stands widened today. Take for example the recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission and the large number of anomalies it has thrown up. How can committees comprising only bureaucrats give fair and balanced recommendations?

Yet, the bureaucracy gets away with impunity without delivering, as the political leadership ignores such waywardness. The result is mounting discontentment and loss of faith in the government.

The downgrading of the armed forces and their dwindling status has had grave repercussions. In Punjab for instance, even traditional military families have dissuaded their wards from joining the army. This needs introspection and rectification, as it is a highly adverse reflection on this government.

It is distressing to note the similarities in decision making now and during the tenure of the first Prime Minister of India, when sycophants and hangers-on had prevailed, resulting in the humiliation of the nation in 1962. The lack of one to one consultations and advice from professionals today are ominous indeed.

The armed forces continue to be kept out of any major decision-making loop, even in national security affairs that are their legitimate concerns.

The MoD continues to be manned exclusively by generalist bureaucrats, despite the GoM Committee recommendations of 2001, which were formulated by the then BJP Government. Despite the highly professional staff available at the Services Headquarters, the political establishment relies totally on the generalists of the MoD.

The sacrifices of the soldiers are only appreciated by the public, while government continues to fiddle in Nero’s mode. Serving personnel are taken for granted and given tasks that are the legitimate concerns of civilian employees/police. Is it because these are considered too dangerous and soldier’s lives are cheap?

Today’s Jawan must not be taken for granted. If there is no response to his genuine concerns, he will rebel in his own way and then the nation will suffer. The political leadership needs to take heed and quickly.

The moot question is - will 2017 be better?

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)

(Cover Photograph: File. Indian Military academy cadets)