Democracies are all about strengthening and sustaining institutions. If they flourish, the nation flourishes and grows. Till recent years, the nurturing of institutions in India was in stark contrast to what was happening in its neighbourhood. It is sad that the present Indian Government, despite its massive mandate, is bent on weakening, if not dismantling, important institutions that have contributed so much to nation- building and overall growth of the country.

Weakening institutions are resorted to either by sacrificing the nation at the altar of political and electoral expediency; or a convoluted logic of excessively favouring loyalists and sycophants, instead of those with professional acumen; and breaking the social structure of society at the behest of ideologues who are pursuing a self-serving agenda that takes no notice of historical, demographic , social, cultural or the highly diverse nature of Indian Polity.

With much fanfare, the government has announced the setting up of a Defence Planning Committee (DPC), headed by the National Security Advisor (NSA) and comprising a large number of members, which include the three Service Chiefs; the Chief of the Integrated Staff Committee (CISC); and a large number of Civil officials who have little knowledge of the military and what it does.

The Committee has been tasked to prepare a draft national security strategy; undertake a strategic defence review; and formulate an international defence engagement strategy. Commendable actions no doubt, but assigned to a wrong group.

By placing the three Chiefs under the NSA, who is merely an advisor and is outside the laid down chain of command, the government has committed a blunder, as this is gross interference and dilution of the time-tested and perhaps the most important institutions of the nation. The chain of command for defence-related tasks is unambiguous; commencing from the highest level of Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS); it goes to the next level of the Defence Minister’s Committee (DMC); and then to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). NSA and others are nowhere in this chain and hence have no locus-standi in this structure.

The present order constituting the Committee therefore needs to be rescinded, as it is yet another attempt to weaken the military and the well established chain of command. I am perplexed that the Chiefs have accepted it.

The second lacuna with the order is its large complement of heavy-weights, more on account of the office they hold then their qualifications for the task. It appears that it has been done purely as an eye-wash, more for electoral reasons and the fact that even after four years of rule, not a single point of the 15 point BJP Election Manifesto dealing with defence issues has been implemented!

Maybe the ruling party feels that such announcements may sustain and assist them in the forthcoming general elections, which may even be held earlier. It appears that our political leaders, who are supposed to have a good ear at the ground level fail to comprehend that issues of this nature have no effect on the masses, who are no longer ‘babes in the wood’, but have a mind of their own!

Since the subject relates to defence planning, there is need to understand its essentials, albeit briefly. Defence planning comprises not only operational planning but also planning force levels; and organising and equipping of the armed forces. Contingency operational planning apart, all defence planning has to be on a steady long term basis. Planning must be for both current and foreseeable security threats.

Defence planning must not be confined to the armed forces but must also ensure that a proper balance is maintained between economic development; defence plans; and synergy with other departments dealing with security issues.

India does have a fascination for committees; hence our entire higher defence structure is based on committees, which as we all know are so designed that accountability becomes vague and decision-making is at a snail’s pace. Since Independence, barring the highest decision making body – the CCS, it is the Defence Minister who is charged with all aspects of the defence of the nation. We have now grossly interfered with this well laid out and time-tested structure by side-lining the Defence Minister and even placing the Service Chiefs under a non-constitutional appointee, viz. the NSA., whose expertise is only in police work. Sadly, it is yet another attempt by the present government to interfere and weaken institutions of the nation, of which the armed forces are perhaps one of the most important.

The NSA is the chief executive of the National Security Council (NSC), and adviser to the Prime Minister on national and international security, mostly on internal and external intelligence. Essentially he is a policeman, notwithstanding his prominent and powerful office. His bungling in two terrorist –related attacks in Punjab is well-known and commented upon.

All NSAs appointed since inception of the post on 19 Nov 1998 have belonged to either the Indian Foreign Service or to the Indian Police Service. Obviously, the professional senior officers of the armed forces are not considered good enough (ha ha); something that is neither understandable nor in tune with what exists in most major countries. Incidentally, the trend was set by the NDA-I government, with the then NSA holding two important and busy offices, viz. security and political administrative functions. I was the Vice Chief then and when needed only I or more often the DGMO used to interact with him; never the Chief.

Earlier, a Military Wing functioned under the Cabinet Secretariat but was later placed under the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It was merged into the Integrated Staff on formation of Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff after 2001.

A high level inter-service Defence Planning Staff (DPS) was created in 1986 to assist the COSC. It had senior inter-service staff along with senior representatives from the Ministry of Defence, Defence (Finance), Ministry of External Affairs and a senior scientist from the DRDO.

The DPS was headed by a Director General (DG DPS), held in rotation between the three services by an officer of the rank of Lt Gen/equivalent. It had four divisions, namely International Security Division; Weapons and Equipment Division; Military Plans Division; and Policy Planning Division. It may be noted that what this highly professional Staff was doing is exactly what has been entrusted to the presently formed DPC. As the head of the army’s Perspective Planning, I used to interact and provide inputs to the DPS.

The DPS was tasked to prepare coordinated perspective defence plans and also undertook periodic threat assessment to evolve a mix of force levels and weaponry to integrate the requirements of the three services to meet threats. It also ensured that defence plans were oriented towards threats emanating during the next decade and to ensure integrated capability to meet the threats optimally within the resources available to the country.

We seem to have reinvented the wheel by tasking the new DPC with tasks that were commendably done by the erstwhile DPS. The major difference is that the erstwhile DPS was manned by professionals, while the present one has many members who have little or no clue about ‘matters military’! The old DPS was merged with the Integrated Defence Staff in 2001, where professionals are available.

I would strongly urge the government to wind up the DPC and task the CISC and the Integrated Staff under him instead to do the tasks and thereafter through the COSC present the reports to the Defence Minister.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and the former Founder Director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)).