On the civil & military and on the silence of sportspersons

On the civil & military and on the silence of sportspersons
Reading History wrong

Srinath Raghavan has a formidable record as a military analyst. However, he is less than fair to the military in his article, ‘The Civil and Military in India’ (14 February 2020).

On the military in the India-China War he says, first, “The military went along with the strategy (forward policy) proposed by civilians not because the latter rode roughshod over them, but because the professional military had no viable alternatives to offer.” This is disputable. Second, he appears to take a one-sided view of the influence of the military in pre-1962 India. The specific reference in both cases is to V.K. Krishna Menon’s relationship with the military brass and the personalities involved — Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Gen. K.S. Thimayya.

Start with the first point. As early as October 1959, Lt. Gen. S.P.P. Thorat as GOC-in-C Eastern Command had written a paper stating his opposition to the Forward Policy and suggesting measures for the defence of NEFA. He showed it to the Defence Minister (Krishna Menon), “he was most annoyed and said I was over-exaggerating the administrative difficulties … In a curt and threatening voice he advised me to ‘re-examine’ the problem … I told Timmy (Gen. Thimayya) about the interview and asked what he was going to do if he received a direct order to implement the Forward Policy. He (Thimayya) shook his head and said, ‘No! He won’t. He will never commit himself in writing.’ We (He) was quite right. Mr. Krishna Menon never issued a written order to implement the Forward Policy, and it remained unimplemented until I retired from Service.’’ (Thorat, From Reveille to Retreat, Allied Publishers, 1986 (p. 202).

As Defence Minister, Krishna Menon’s relations with senior army officers very quickly deteriorated. A critical view is given by Lt. Gen. S.D. Verma in his memoir, To Serve with Honour, published by him privately in 1988. A chapter in his book is titled, “Chief of General Staff – Menonitis”. (Disclosure: my late father Col. R.D. Palsokar, MC, is mentioned among many others in the preface for having helped. This also explains my familiarity with the book.) Verma corroborates what Thorat has mentioned in his book. One sentence in the book is revealing, “Timmy withdrew his resignation when the Prime Minister promised to stop Menon interfering with him and came to Srinagar. We took a boat into the middle of Nagin lake to be able to talk, as we did not feel safe anywhere else. (The reference is to the fact that Verma felt that his phone was tapped and what he was doing and saying was being reported.) He was quite bitter about being let down by Mr. Nehru after he had withdrawn his resignation at the latter’s behest.’’ (Verma, p. 121).

Gen. Thorat writes that after the NEFA battle was over the Prime Minister sent word to see him. He took along his paper (and also a map exercise based on it named ‘Lal Qilla’). He showed the paper to Nehru who asked why this was not showed to him..

So it is not correct to say that the Army brass did not have an alternative to offer. It is that Krishna Menon had got rid of or side-lined all senior officers who did not agree with his views. As regards Raghavan’s version of Thimayya’s resignation, there is no mention either by Thorat or Verma of the proposal by Ayub Khan for joint defence arrangements.

This brings us to the next point about the influence of the military in pre-1962 India. In the then existing military milieu, the senior officers were all Sandhurst trained and the King’s commissioned Indian officers (KCIOs). They were battle hardened, very English in their ways and,to put it unkindly, many of them were Col. Blimps in their own right. The civil services were dominated by the ICS and both these categories looked down at the Indian trained officers, both civil and military — many of whom included wartime emergency commissioned officers and who were increasingly from the new aspirational middle-class that was developing.

The civilian leadership, politicians and bureaucrats were suspicious of the motives of the military’s senior officers and this was compounded by the misguided statements that the retired Gen. Cariappa was prone to make on matters he had nothing to do with (or knew little about). However, in the Krishna Menon years, except for a select few, the army’s senior officers were ignored, so they could hardly have influenced matters. But yes, post-1962 there was popular resistance in the common man’s mind to undue interference by civilian leadership in matters military.

That said, we cannot overlook the positive interventions of prime ministers Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965, Indira Gandhi in 1971 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 (Kargil), all of which contributed to the success of operations. The one time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi allowed himself to be persuaded by the Chief, Gen. Sundarji, resulted in the needless and costly intervention by the IPKF in Sri Lanka. The point being made is that in times of crises, the political leadership has always had its way and delivered!

The observation Raghavan makes about military education, that it is ‘narrow, unimaginative and crimped’ is valid criticism. Till the entire system of military education is examined as a whole — from cradle to the grave or from cadets to senior officers — we are going to continue with ad hoc solutions.

I also agree that the appointment of a CDS is no ‘silver bullet’. In fact, the charter given to the Chief of Defence Staff exposes the frailties of civil-military relations. Put simply, what can the appointment be trusted with? However, this is a separate subject and needs to be examined in greater detail than is possible here.

Brig (Retd.) R.R. Palsokar, Pune
Shortcomings in analysis

The article is interesting but has its shortcomings.

Unless I am mistaken, in the current defence organization, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is not part of the Council of Ministers and does not seem to have direct access to the Prime Minister. In addition, it is integrated into the Ministry of Defence.

It is also surprising to note that the various reports that have been published in recent years on the deficiencies in the administrative organization of the country's military apparatus are not even cited. These reports, published by commissions made up of parliamentarians and experts from various backgrounds, have highlighted the weaknesses of the country's military administrative organization.

The author seems to indicate that the creation of a CDS position dates back to the 2000s. Consultation of the archives would reveal that Prime Minister Nehru had consulted Lord Mountbatten following the Chinese affair, and that he had advised him to create a CDS post.

Finally, an important question that has been mentioned but not fully addressed in the article, has been the marked presence of general officers in the media in recent few years and their interventions in areas which are not necessarily within their competence. In a democratic regime, the military forces are subject to discretion, to absolute reserve. What is more, general officers are bound by the obligation of reserve. This rule is being circumvented and flouted. The Army is no longer the "Big mute" it should have been. But whose fault is it? This is an issue that should have been addressed by the author.

The author raises the question of the lack of training of soldiers in public decision-making. But does not go beyond raising the question. The real question that is not addressed is: why do defence and security issues remain the prerogative of bureaucrats, pseudo-specialists, politicians? Hasn't the time come to recognize that the security and defence of a country also concerns its citizens? This supposes many things: diplomas in the studies of defence; training courses in public decision-making in military schools, etc.

There would also be many things to do to bring the administrative decision-maker closer to the military decision-maker. But that assumes that the political decision-maker has a vision of the defence and the security of the country in the medium and long term. This does not appear to be the case. We buy arms. We give satisfaction to the military from time to time, such as creating the CDS post. But we are far from creating a real defence and security policy for the country.

S. Mayoura
Importance of education among the military

Of all the important issues raised by Srinath Raghavan (“The Civil and Military in India: A Brief History and the Challenges Ahead”; February 14, 2020), one stands out: the need for the Indian military to raise its educational standards. They need to go through the rigours of serious academic work in history, politics, economics, public policy if they are to contribute to the effectiveness of the new structure in the Ministry of Defence.

J. S. Oberoi
The fear of sports celebrities

The article (“Why Aren’t Our Sports Celebrities Speaking Out?” by Sharda Ugra; February 14, 2020) on sportspersons bring mum on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is an amazing piece of writing; very comprehensive and dealt with every aspect.

In my opinion given the position that sportspersons have, the respect they enjoy, and with their financial status (particularly of cricketers), they must speak up on the CAA and at least try to condemn violence both by the agents of the state and citizens. It is alright if they do not publicly express their stand, but they must hold the Government accountable for maintaining law and order especially when the police and agents of the state are hell bent on targeting protesters.

I expected something from Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, and Rohit Sharma. A person occupying a position like Virat Kohli does can make such a great impact. But nothing was said. They fear the Government and feel that compliance with the Government is the only means of survival.

Then again these people are products of a system which is so corrupt in itself (especially the cricket ecosystem in the country). Social activists, students and the intellectual community are the real changemakers. These people should be heard and understood.

Pratik Kumbhare
Brilliant article by Sharda Ugra

The article on sports celebrities’ stance on the Citizenship Amendment Act by Sharda Ugra was brilliant and well written.

Farinaz Wadia
https://www.theindiaforum.in/issues/march-6-2020
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