This is a rejoinder sent against Mohan Guruswamy’s article that was published in the Opinion columns of The Citizen “Military Mediocrity-Who Will Bell The Cat?”, the article can be read here. The rejoinder has been carried in full except for editing of personal comments.

Mr Mohan Guruswamy has published an article titled ‘Military Mediocrity – Who will bell the cat’ on July 29 in The Citizen. India is a free country and we all have a right to our opinion.

The first charge levelled against senior Military leadership is that even in peace time they have ‘managed by their acts of omission and commission to bring opprobrium to our military’. Without going too far back in history, will the author please answer who won the 1998 conflict in Kargil against Pakistan despite all odds? Who has kept militancy under check in erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and ensured that it continues to remain an integral part of India? When those charged with managing floods and relief had failed in J&K, who saved thousands of civilians from the fury of floods? Who controlled the CISF revolt in Bokaro in 1979? More recently did the military not make the nation proud after successful execution of surgical strikes, both in land operations and air operations? The list of achievements is rather long. Could these successes have been achieved without a competent and efficient senior leadership in all three services (Army, Navy & Air Force)?

Next, he criticises the military system of evaluation and that the system beats out standout and brilliant talent in favour of the ordinary. He cites an example of an officer serving at the Army War College who wrote a fine study of the reorganization of the PLA into theatre commands and what it implies for the Indian military. He writes that the officer did not publish the study in the college journal as he thought his seniors may take it amiss and that may affect his annual report. This is hardly convincing on many counts.

One has to assume that the officer must have carried out the study as part of his curriculum at the War College. If that be the case obviously his seniors were privy to the study and had approved the same. Without a doubt the study must have been presented formally in the college and also assessed by concerned directing staff. However, if the study was not part of the curriculum and done on his own by the officer, then no one could have stopped him from publishing the same if he so desired.

Mr Guruswamy talks of firing of British generals like Wavell, Auchinleck, Cunningham and Ritchie in North Africa and dozens of American generals during World War II for being incompetent. He feels this tradition has been lost. One wonders how the author has come to this conclusion. There are instances in 1971 Indo Pakistan war and even in the Kargil conflict in 1998 where some commanders were relieved of their charge during the operations. It is a different matter that the Army did not broadcast the sacking or mark a copy to the author because such matters are best dealt with internally in the interest of the nation. The military, as a rule, does not tolerate incompetence, indiscipline or lack of integrity. More importantly justice is delivered in quick time in almost all such cases unlike other services in the country where a mere transfer or change in desk is considered as sufficient punishment.

He feels in the US they have started the debate on this issue and some junior officers do question senior leadership. These matters are best resolved and sorted out within the institutions. In any case Indian military has its own ethos and values that have paid handsome dividends over the years. There is no reason why Indian military should blindly ape the US military as the author suggest.

In difficult situations the military leader invariably listens and discusses the situation with all concerned. After due deliberation based on his assessment and the inputs received, he then takes a decision. That decision becomes final and all concerned work towards its execution without any reservations. If an odd decision goes wrong then so be it but to say that senior commanders do not listen to others is being very naive.

The author has delved in World War II archives in support of some of arguments. One hopes that the war that finished in 1945 is passé and today’s militaries have moved on. Everything about the military has changed since then and this includes leadership styles and content at all levels. Today’s military is not a simple war machine of World War II vintage. It is a complex war machine that includes air, sea and land competencies working in tandem in multi-dimensional operations. Technology and equipment play a major role apart from the proverbial man behind the gun. To Indian military’s credit we have perhaps the best man behind the gun who continues to deliver despite the shortfalls in equipment – both qualitatively and quantitatively. The small but highly successful operation involving air strikes on Balakot in Pakistan by Indian Airforce is a prime example of this multi-dimensional warfare. Therefore, any comparison with World War II is meaningless.

The article has highlighted the case of General Slim as an exceptional talent who was picked up from nowhere to command the 14th Army that defeated the Japanese in 1944-45. Such exceptions to rule are always there and will always be there in future too. But the more important point here is that for one General Slim there were dozens of other senior commanders too who contributed to the overall success of the 14th Army but they went unsung. More importantly a careful study of military history of this sector will reveal that this success was primarily due to the Indian soldiers whose courage, tenacity and perseverance blunted the Japanese onslaught after the British troops in Malay, Burma, Singapore and other areas capitulated against the same onslaught.

It is obvious that exceptions cannot be the norm. Therefore, large organisations need to have systems in place to find and nurture leadership talent continually from their ranks to meet their needs at all levels. If an odd time the system fails, that does not mean that the system is bad. Rest assured Indian military, as an organisation, looks within to improve continually and is not waiting for anyone to bell the cat. If it had been waiting it would not be where it is today as perhaps the most efficient, respected and capable organ of the national government. It would not have been the most sought-after military for United Nations peacekeeping force for international duties.

Lt Colonel Saroj Chadha is retired from the Indian Army.