The long-pending proposal of setting up a National Defence University is getting a renewed push now under Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat. The idea is half-a-century old, and got lost in the lazy labyrinth of Indian policymaking.
This is particularly important because India, by and large, does not have a strategic culture. This is also reflected in the strategic behaviour of the Indian state, particularly with respect to national security. The fact that we do not have a formal national security strategy and struggle to fit a burgeoning mediocre military into a limited defence budget without any meaningful structural reforms reflect poorly on our strategic thinking.
Indian National Defence University (INDU) is meant to promote strategic culture and excellence in the field of national security and defence policy. Our approach to establishing the same is symptomatic of our strategic ignorance. There is no disagreement on the urgent need for the establishment of the INDU, but the project has been languishing due
to procedural delays and political inertia.
The idea of this autonomous institution of national importance was first mooted by the Chief of Staff Committee in 1967 and again endorsed by the in-house Lt Gen Sethna Committee in 1982. It was revived by the Kargil Review Committee and endorsed by the Group of Ministers (GoM) Report. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 23 July 2001 appointed a Committee on National Defence University (CONDU) under the chairmanship of Late K Subrahmanyam. Based on GoM approval and recommendations of CONDU made in 2002, headquarters Integrated Defence Staff was tasked to process the case through the MoD for the establishment of INDU.
It took another 8 years for the cabinet to approve it in May 2010. The foundation stone was laid on 23 May 2013 by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at Binola, Gurugram, on the land donated by the government of Haryana. The final Detailed Project Report (DPR), which
was a blueprint explaining the physical construction of the university, its act and statutes, plans for faculty development and the overall intellectual approach was submitted a year later in 2013. As per the press release by MoD on 5 August 2016, infrastructure development on the acquired land for this purpose had commenced in December 2015.
The draft Indian National University Bill was put online for public consultation in August 2016. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in a report tabled in the Lok Sabha last week, has observed that the project cost had increased from Rs 395 crore in May 2010 to Rs 4,007.22 crore in December 2017. The CAG also apprised Parliament that the bill was lying with the Cabinet Secretariat since December 2017 for approval of the cabinet. Little or no progress has been made on the ground, except a boundary wall and approach roads. The final allocation of funds can only be made once the legislation is passed by Parliament. Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who as permanent chairman of the Chief of Staff Committee is also the pro-chancellor, has recently brought the focus back on the INDU.
INDU: The vision
As per the draft Indian National Defence University Bill, 2015, the university has been broadly envisioned as a “teaching and affiliating University to promote excellence in national security studies, defence management, defence technology and other related fields and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The objectives of the university are well defined:
• To develop and promote higher education and research in national security studies, defence management, defence technology and allied areas.
• To promote avenues for higher education for defence personnel through distance and open learning.
• To promote policy-oriented research related to national security, both internal and external, including inter-agency responses for hybrid threats, defence and cooperation and to serve as think tank contributing to policy formulation.
• To prepare the personnel of the national security establishments and the academic community from within India and from friendly foreign countries for high-level leadership, staff and policy responsibilities.
• To encourage strategic thinking on defence and security issues, and to initiate a debate on such issues both nationally and globally.
• To instill a spirit of jointness among various elements of the national security system.
• To develop competence relating to national security issues.
• To network with other national, regional and international institutions or individuals of eminence engaged in the fields of education, research and industry.
• To encourage international and corporate fellowship programmes in the field of strategic studies.
The Defence Minister will be the chancellor of INDU and chairperson of the University Council. The CDS, as the permanent chairperson of the Chief of Staff Committee, will be the pro-chancellor (functional chancellor) and “non-executive head of the INDU”. He will preside over the board of governors and also act as the vice-chairperson of the University Council. The president of the university – its chief executive – will be a serving three-star general with the status of an army commander or equivalent. The vice-president, in all likelihood, will be a civilian officer of additional secretary level. The registrar shall be a serving two-star general or equivalent. The university will be governed by the University Council chaired by the chancellor, the Board of Governors chaired by the pro-chancellor, and the Academic Council headed by the president.
The way forward
The INDU Bill, 2015 must be approved by the cabinet and placed before Parliament at the earliest. There has been a lack of transparency in the approach to draft the bill. At the onset, the CONDU report prepared by the doyen of strategic thought K Subrahmanyam has not been put in the public domain. The detailed project report prepared by the MoD is also not in the public domain.
The vision, objects, structure and organisation of the INDU as given in the bill are biased towards the military aspects while neglecting the broader aspects of national security. As per Harold Brown, the US Secretary of Defence, 1977-81, “National security then is the ability to preserve the nation’s physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders.” As per the rumour mill, a former National Security Advisor is responsible for this dilution to ensure the predominance of the bureaucracy on broader aspects of national security. This is also the reason for the non-affiliation of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, a government-financed think tank, with the INDU. The predominance of military personnel and the exclusion of bureaucracy in the management of INDU does not reflect the desired civil-military synergy necessary for national security.
It may be prudent for the bill to be reviewed by a parliamentary committee which must hold consultations with domain experts before finalising the proposed legislation. This review must be time-bound to avoid further delay.
The political leadership must commit itself to make this institute of national importance a model for the world to reflect our emerging power status. The military and the bureaucracy must set aside the traditional rivalry to build a world-class institution dealing holistically with all aspects of national security. For the management of INDU, it would be prudent to recall the words of K Subramanyam: “We need to put our house in order. While the creation of world-class infrastructure is important, unless we have the right faculty, and idea/content developers, the NDU stands no chance of matching up to similar institutions on the global arena.”
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.