A new Parliament Building is being inaugurated on Sunday 28 May 2023 and since every action in our country becomes ‘political’, we have been in the midst of heated discussions, mostly unhealthy, about the event.

Before looking at the event in a balanced manner and avoiding any partisanship, which in any case does not come easily to a military mind like mine, let me say a few words about the importance of Parliament in a nation that adopted Parliamentary Democracy as its form of government, even before it gained its Independence on 15 August 1947 from its colonial masters.

The Constituent Assembly gave it permanence and of paramount importance when the Constitution of India formally adopted it on 26 Jan 1950, with the resounding commencement, meant to ring in the ears of all citizens of India, irrespective of caste, creed or religion the opening words: “We the People…..”.

Our Constitution touches the heart of every citizen of our country, but perhaps it is the Indian Military for which it is most sacrosanct. We, all ranks of the Army, Navy and Air Force comprising the military, are the most important defenders of our Constitution, for which we have in the past, and will do so today and in the future, give even the ultimate sacrifice of our lives. We do so shunning all aspects of politics, for that is our creed.

Those who have strayed from this sacred path lately, for a variety of reasons, need to be brought around to the ‘straight and narrow’ path laid down for us by our predecessors, whose personalities, sterling leadership qualities and moral upbringing have left indelible marks on the military psyche. For those who have strayed, especially in recent years, my appeal is to revert back or in political parlance of the day, do a real “Ghar Wapsi”, devoid of religious connotations of any form.

But I am straying, for this piece is about the soul of our Parliament, which must be inviolable in both ‘mind and matter’.

Over our journey of Independence of 75 years, while the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the building have held, it has been shaken from within because our elected leaders and their advisers have succumbed, to put it mildly, to ‘political expediency’, forgetting their core tasks for which they were elected. This has eclipsed good governance and all it encompasses and brought out all the baser emotions, instincts and values that should have been cast aside before our worthy Parliamentarians had stepped into the sacred portals of this supreme institution – the Parliament of India.

A brief about how and when and by whom the Constitution was written may be in order, for very few of our citizens know of these details, as the focus has rightly been on the contents. However, since lately ‘optics’ have become more important than ‘substance’, let me also put in at least one Rs. 2000 pink note worth of my wealth before I deposit it in exchange for smaller denomination currency notes!

The Constitution of India is the longest hand written Constitution of any country in the world. It was originally written in Hindi and English.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wanted it handwritten in a flowing italic style. Prem Behari Narain Raizada (Saxena), a noted calligraphist, was chosen for the task. Before Raizada commenced writing, Nehru asked him about the task remuneration. “Not a single penny” was his answer, but he asked for writing his name on the last page, or, so the story goes and his wish was granted!

While Raizada wrote, noted artist Nandalal Bose and his students of Visva Bharati (Shantiniketan, West Bengal) took to embellishing the borders of each page of the Constitution. Bose not only used narratives from ancient Vedas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, but also depicted modern tales of Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

The section on Fundamental Rights features a scene from the Ramayana; Gandhi's Dandi March is depicted in the section on official language; in Part XIX, Bose is seen saluting the flag; Tipu Sultan is painted in Part XVI; King Ashoka can be seen propagating Buddhism in Part VII, while torrential ocean waves are sketched in Part XXII, the last section of the Constitution that mentions the commencement and repeals.

On January 24, 1950, Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, became the first person to sign the Constitution of India, while Feroze Gandhi, the then President of the Constituent Assembly was the last one to sign.

The Armed Forces of India have been called up to defend the nation and consequently our constitution innumerable times, but one that rankles most is how the Armed Forces were kept in suspense when they were raring to go from December 2001 to nearly the whole of 2002. I am referring to the covert attack on our Parliament on December 13 2001, and Operation Parakram that followed.

I had superannuated only two months earlier as the Vice Chief of Army Staff and had been interacting with most of the dramatis personae who were prominent players in the event. In India, the government in power was a coalition of National Democratic Alliance, with Atal B Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, while there was military rule in Pakistan, with General Parvez Musharraf as the President.

Other Indian Ministers who were part of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) were Deputy and Home Minister LK Advani, Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh, Minister of Finance Yashwant Sinha, and Minister of Defence George Fernandes.

The attack on the Parliament was a major intelligence and internal security failure. Many individuals and agencies were responsible for this failure, but since no details of the investigation are available in the public domain, one can only speculate about involvement of Indian Citizens. The post-incident actions of the government were a mix of action and restraint for two reasons.

First, the highest policy-making body being the target, severe action was called for and second, the government felt that the serious nature of the incident would invite severe blame on the political leadership. Hence, the military option became the preferred option from the very first day.

The actions of the government were later informally referred to as ‘Coercive Diplomacy’, but the chain of events and decisions did not have any ingredients of the latter. The definition of ‘Coercive Diplomacy’ states: “Attempt to get a target, a state, a group (or groups) within a state, or non-state actors: to change their objectionable behavior through either the threat to use force or the actual use of limited force”.

The reality was that there was hardly any diplomacy in the early days; India ordered its military to mobilise immediately after the incident and commenced mobilization of the entire Indian Military, both on the international border (IB) and on the LoC in J&K. For clarity, the timelines are listed below:

. Terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13 2001; 12 persons were killed, including the five who had attacked. The Armed Forces were ordered to carry out full mobilization.

. On December 14, the Indian Government formally blamed Pakistan-based LeT and JeM for the attack. India also demanded, through a demarche to Pakistan, that Pakistan stop activities of LeT and JeM; apprehend their leaders and stop supporting these groups.

. Pakistan placed its military on high alert on December 14 2001.

. By January 2002, India had mobilised around 500,000 troops, including its three Strike Corps and Pakistan had responded in a similar fashion, deploying around 300,000 troops.

On account of a non-existing National Security Strategy, the Indian Armed Forces were planning various military strategies in a vacuum, while the policy makers were actually making political decisions without really knowing what the armed forces should aim for. Despite this, while mobilisation was going ahead, military and political plans kept changing. Sadly, even today, the Nation has no formal National Security Strategy.

Although the Indian Military had considerable edge over the Pakistani Military and our economy was doing well, it appeared that the political and military leadership were not on the same page, as could be discerned from statements of the Prime Minister and other political leaders.

The nuclear factor did play in the final decisions of not adopting the military option. The Indian Military was ready to take the calculated risk, but apparently the civil leadership backed out.

The nuclear factor did prompt the global players to act fast and in the final analysis, it was the danger of escalation from conventional to nuclear level that prompted the protagonists to de-escalate. India needs to revisit its nuclear policies for the future, and the political leadership needs to ‘bite the bullet’ at the appropriate time in future.

The Indian casualties were up to 1,874, including 798 fatalities, mostly on account of battle accidents. Pakistani casualties were not divulged.

For India, the cost for the build-up was US $3 to $4 billion, while Pakistan's was US $1.4 billion. The standoff led to a total of 155,000 Indians and 45,000 Pakistanis displaced, as per Pakistani media estimates.

One of the reasons for the failure of Operation Parakram was the slow mobilisation of 500,000 troops. It took nearly three weeks for India to move 500,000 troops, including three armoured divisions, and other supporting units to their Forward Concentration/Assembly Areas.

The delay allowed Pakistan to move its own 300,000 troops, along with the supporting units to the border. Lacking strategic surprise, operations could not be launched in accordance with initial plans.

The mismatch between political and military thinking, especially in nuclear issues, needs to be bridged and ‘political will’ must be exhibited at crucial junctures. This will happen only when the armed forces hierarchy becomes part of the policy-making loop on a permanent basis.

In addition, the present government policy of deep selection among the seniormost hierarchy of the three services and selection of a CDS is abandoned, as all it does is to weaken the spine of contenders, who literally ‘stoop to conquer’ in the run-up. I call it the ‘Darbari Culture’, which is not at all good for the nation and certainly a big drawback for the armed forces.

Lt General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff and the Former Founder Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), and now its Director General Emeritus. Views expressed are the writer’s own.