Saturday, 18 October 2014


Authority and Army

Every time there is a problem at India's borders, we ordinary Indians repose our trust in the armed forces. We believe that the forces will do their best to protect the country from external aggression. And that's absolutely perfect to think, given the courage and valour of our forces. But then we get to read and watch on the television that all is not well within the armed forces --- the controversies and allegations don't portray a happy picture. There are problems for sure and as patriotic citizens we must not ignore the issue. 

I tried to understand the problems from the media reports. They indicate that the government is somewhat lax in implementing the recommendations of experts who advised reforms in acquisition process, modernization of the forces and also rebooting the civil-military relations. From whatever I could gather from the media, it appears that despite promises made to address all these issues, nothing concrete has been done. The Union government has always been wary of the armed forces from the days after Independence; there were undue fears of coup and the tendency since then has been to keep the armed forces suppressed. Bureaucracy, it seems, has become the controller of the armed forces, even though bureaucrats are not all experts on military affairs. 

Which is indeed sad. Individuals in the military establishments who have years of experience in combat should have a greater say about how to improve the state of affairs. Simple logic: they should have the authority to take decisions and not just the responsibility. A recent interview by Admiral (retd) D K Joshi clearly reveals that the authority is not with the higher-ups in the armed forces, but with the bureaucrats. He reportedly said that he didn't even have the authority to buy the batteries for the submarines. If that is true, then as an ordinary citizen I am forced to question whether the military top brass, despite their decorations and sleek uniform, have any power at all. Are they all powerless in the face of bureaucratic ineptitude that plagues India? 

This powerlessness reminds me of the panchayati raj system that we have in India. Because of 33 percent reservation for women candidates in the village council system, often the wives and sisters of rogue men contest the council elections. Once they win, the men take control, shutting the women inside the homes. On the papers a woman sarpanch or the council head has to sign the official documents, but in reality all decisions are taken by the men of the house. And these are not good men, but some of the worst elements in the society. 

Perhaps the parallel is not apt. But the point which I am trying to make is this --- the armed forces of India need to be freed from bureaucratic shackles. The armed forces will have to be accountable to the government and the people of the country, but must not be hindered by the inept officials. Can the new government in New Delhi change it for good? Will the government empower the armed forces to fight the not-so-invisible enemy?