9 May 2021 01:55 PM



Is India's Military a Pawn On the National Chess Board?

MYSURU: CBI's arrest of Air Chief Marshal S.P.Tyagi, India's former Air chief, in connection with the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase deal is unprecedented. It raises some questions not only about the functioning of government (combination of the political leadership and the bureaucrat-police network), but also about hidden motivations and unintended compromise of national security due to its effect on the morale of India's military.

Apart from the valid points made by the Court when granting ACM Tyagi bail, questions arise as to why he was arrested when others involved were not. Was it done deliberately to humiliate him and thereby India's military? Was this the handiwork of bureaucrats and/or the police, and who among the political hierarchy authorised the arrest?

These questions are not about whether or not ACM Tyagi is guilty of receiving bribes or any other offence. That matter will be settled by the courts after examining all evidence. But when evidence is still being collected, when ACM Tyagi is cooperating with the CBI in collection of evidence, and there is no prima facie case against him, his arrest smacks of victimization. So, why was ACM Tyagi singled out for humiliation?

This leads to the point that during the NDA-1 rule under then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vjpayee, defence minister George Fernandes summarily dismissed Navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat from service, giving him no chance to respond. It is clear that the government wanted to show its power over the military by summarily dismissing a defence service chief, because the proper and sensible thing to do was to summon Admiral Bhagwat, confront him with his “crime” (whatever that was), and ask him to resign. The most generous view one can take is that government (politician-bureaucrat) had no clue as to the repercussions that the public humiliation of a serving defence chief would have on the morale of the Indian Navy and the sister services. Or if it knew, either it did not care, or else the summary dismissal was by design. One wonders what purpose was served by humiliating Admiral Bhagwat and the military as a whole.

Now that ACM Tyagi has been humiliated by the NDA-2 government, in retrospect Admiral Bhagwat's dismissal appears to fall in place, especially because in between the Bhagwat and Tyagi incidents, there have been incidents in the NDA-2 tenure which has affected the soldiers' morale, thereby compromising national security.

To name a few in random sequence:

-Sending police to manhandle peacefully agitating Veterans at Jantar Mantar;

-Stating that OROP would be given to military Veterans by taking it from dues to poor farmers;

-Notwithstanding reservations of the defence services chiefs, peremptorily directing the three Service Chiefs to implement the 7CPC award without delay;

-Keeping the military without access to the 7CPC Anomalies Committee which was secretly arranged for civilians;

-Raising the salaries of CRPF above that of soldiers; Downgradation of military ranks vis a vis civilian officials;

-Granting NFU to IPS but not to the military;

-The issue of pay parity with IAS/IPS;

-Lower hazard allowance than IAS/IPS;

-Stating that the army did not know its own capability to carry out the post-Uri surgical strike until it was told so;

-Reducing disability pension immediately following the post-Uri surgical strike;

-The military commander being pushed aside by a bureaucrat at the 2016 Red Fort Independence Day function;

-Insulting military war memorials and guard of honour by a functionary deliberately dressing inappropriately or casually.

These are apart from the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare appealing as a matter of policy against every judicial decision given in favour of individual Veterans.

The recent unprecedented step of “deep selection” of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as army chief designate by superceding two senior officers, even though this is within the discretionary powers of the Union Cabinet, has caused disquiet among soldiers and veterans. The reason for disquiet is that government appears not to understand that Lt Gen Rawat is not superior in merit to his two seniors whom he has superceded, and if his experience in counter-insurgency is the criterion for his selection, it glosses over the fact that the army is deployed in counter-insurgency only because of the decades-long failure of the bureaucracy-police in its primary role of internal security.

If however deep selection was a political decision, this could seriously compromise the army (the military, in general) remaining as India's last bastion of secular practice, and encourage sycophancy among officers to the permanent detriment of military professionalism.

It is necessary to note that previous governments including NDA-1 and the Congress regimes preceding and including UPA-1 and UPA-2, had undoubtedly given the military a raw deal, particularly with regard to successive central pay commissions and the OROP demand. Gen Vaidya was appointed army chief by superceding Lt Gen Sinha, and army chief Gen Rodrigues was publicly castigated for his “bandicoots” remark. Even though the political leadership was primarily responsible, the hand of the bureaucracy was clear to every serving and retired soldier.

Civil-military relations are today at an all-time low and although the decades-long continuity of the bureaucratic hand is obvious in the current NDA-2 dispensation, the role of the political leadership in humiliating the military is also clear.

Considering that for the first time the NSA is a police officer with enormous clout at the top-most level, upgrading of the status of the police over the military while simultaneously humiliating the military is extremely dangerous for the security and safety of India. Powerful national leaders in Europe of the 1930s and 1940s similarly elevated the police over the military. Is history repeating itself?

(Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG's Branch.)

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