Friday, 27 May, 2022
HomeOpinionThere is growing civil-military dissonance and acrimony in India’s defence ministry

There is growing civil-military dissonance and acrimony in India’s defence ministry

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The Indian military needs to introspect and ensure that no one has the cause to cast aspersions on its personnel.

The Twitter episode involving the ministry of defence spokesperson’s outburst this week has revealed deep tensions in India’s civil-military relations.

When it was pointed out that a civilian officer’s car should not have a military flag on the bonnet, the ministry of defence spokesperson retorted by listing the privileges that are allegedly misused by military officers.

But the real problem is that the Indian military space, within the national security arena, has been progressively dwindling since Independence and the process continues even today.

The ministry of defence is manned and run exclusively by civilians, but the recent constitution of the Defence Planning Committee and re-organisation of the Strategic Policy Group further marginalises the military. A million-strong ‘armed police force’ has been created; whose officers wearing military rank-badges and constables clad in camouflaged combat-fatigues make it look like a ‘rival’ army. Thus, army units that render aid to civil power, feel obliged to carry large placards reading ‘ARMY’ to distinguish themselves from look-alike policemen.

Army units that render aid to civil power, feel obliged to carry large placards reading ‘ARMY’ to distinguish themselves from look-alike policemen | Arun Prakash

Also read: Civil-military tension over privileges: Bureaucrats pampered or have forces overblown it?


But the real crunch lies elsewhere. Pursuant to the recommendations of the Group of Ministers after Kargil, certain financial powers were ‘delegated’ to senior military functionaries so that they could meet essential revenue expenditure without delay. Within a few years, the defence finance bureaucracy struck back, and imposed severe curbs on these powers. A cadre of ‘Integrated Financial Advisers’ (IFA) was created to staff each financial authority.

Thereafter, no military authority, from vice chiefs downwards, could exercise delegated powers without written ‘concurrence’ of the IFA. With notable exceptions, IFAs have forgotten their ‘adviser’ function and have assumed the role of ‘auditors’; they lie in ambush, often delaying cases of urgent operational nature on specious grounds.

For example, a C-in-C wanting to replace a submarine’s batteries or have a harbour dredged may be kept waiting for months, as the IFA seeks successive ‘clarifications’ and after which, may or may not accord concurrence. In the interim, if the submarine has a mishap, or a ship runs aground, the C-in-C’s head will roll, but the IFA will not be accountable.

Is it the propensity of few IFAs to delay or impede the acquisition of operational capabilities that prompts military formations to accord them VIP status and special privileges? Does it, then, explain why one of them felt entitled to fly a military flag on his vehicle as seen on social media last week. On the flip side, there is also a need to question how well the military assimilates the IFAs, deputed to serve in an unfamiliar environment. Rather than treat them as VIPs, it would be far better to make them feel at home and convert them into ‘team players’, without diluting their fiduciary functions.

Against this background, Friday’s tweet by the MoD spokesperson, and the furore that followed, was a ‘storm in a teacup’ because the tweet was declared ‘inadvertent’ and promptly withdrawn.


Also read: Not even 1% of Indian MPs have served in the military. And that’s concerning


However, it did serve a purpose by focusing on two important and worrisome issues that demand attention.

First, the civil-military relationship (CMR) in India seems to have acquired a bitter edge. CMR is an area with serious implications for national security, but whose crucial significance seems to have eluded India’s post-Independence rulers. A key feature of the current state of CMR is the perceptional gap that exists between the two sides. On one hand, the politico-bureaucratic establishment sees nothing amiss and remains a staunch upholder of the ‘status quo’. On the other hand, the military is deeply dissatisfied with the growing asymmetry compared to the bureaucracy and police, wrought via successive pay commission awards, but is powerless to stem the decline.

The bureaucracy, by resisting the integration of service headquarters with the ministry of defence, has not only denied this ministry badly-needed professional expertise and decision-making ability, but also the synergy, economy and efficiency that would have come with such assimilation. Instead, there is growing civil-military dissonance as well as mutual acrimony in the defence ministry, which does not bode well for its functioning.

The Friday tweet was an indicator of the underlying rancour. Using instinctive ‘what-aboutery’, the spokesperson mentioned misuse of service personnel and transport as well as entertainment at government expense by military officers. Even though the tweet was removed and the official replaced, these allegations, aired by an IDAS officer, need to be noted.


Also read: By no stretch of imagination can the military be compared to IAS and IPS officers


This brings me to the second issue.

India’s armed forces have traditionally stood tall above civil society, and been held in respect and admiration. Today, if they seem to be slipping in the estimation of their countrymen, we need to search for the reason why.  Some may try to rationalise this by saying that the soldier is a product of Indian society and his/her conduct is bound to reflect societal decline. There could also be a persuasive argument that says, “But everyone in India misuses sarkari facilities; why not us?”

The seductive comfort of such logic must be firmly rejected. Apart from being guardians of the nation’s security, and the embodiment of order and discipline, the military must remain an exemplar of honourable and ethical conduct. Soldiers have always lived (and died) by a ‘code of conduct’ several cuts above the one prevailing in civil society. As institutions all-around, crumble, the military needs to introspect deeply and ensure that no one, ever, has cause to cast aspersions of this nature on its personnel.

The author is former Indian Navy Chief.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Crux of the problem is that Indian armed forces have yet to reconcile to democratic dispensation. They continue to live in the British era as an instrument of oppression.

  2. Admiral , I must applaud you for showing restraint in a very well written assessment of the fall out . I read today on Twitter a report ( https://medium.com/@mallufideintent/flagging-the-issue-20c005e9c779 ) that an Army Commander is supposed to have given a written approval for this flag. I do hope its not true coz if it is,it is reflective of the system of choosing Army Commanders by ovarian lottery without a thought of whats between their ears.

  3. It is worth looking at how the U.S. manages the civil-military relationship.

    https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/american-perspectives-civil-military-relations-and-democracy

    A couple of excerpts.

    “These issues have a rich history as a subject in Western political theory. In Plato’s Republic, for example, Socrates argued that while a city’s guardians would protect the city from external attack, they themselves represented a potential threat. Only by instilling the guardians with the right philosophical ideas about their role in society, Socrates taught, could this danger be averted.”

    “Civilian control of the military has been a matter of concern since the founding of our country. Because of their memories of military repression under English rule, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution were wary of authorizing or raising a large standing army in peacetime. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper 26, the American people may be said to have “… [a] hereditary impression of the danger to liberty from [maintaining] standing armies in peace.” Many of the framers of the Constitution feared that the military might move to take power or that a government facing electoral defeat might use the military to hold power by force.”

    In our own history, Mrs Gandhi was deeply suspicious of Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw’s political ambition in light of his immense popularity with Indian civilians after the 1971 war. But at least she had a close relationship with him to summon him and ask him point-blank if he was interested in taking over her job. He said NO but in his typical Sammy style. “I never interfere politically. As long as no one interferes with me in the army.” That was good enough for her.

    OTOH, Krishna Menon, the Defense Minister, had a frosty relationship with Manekshaw. When asked about his views on the then Chief Of Army Staff, General K. S. Thimayya “. “Mr Minister, I am not allowed to think about him. He is my Chief. Tomorrow, you will be asking my (subordinate) brigadiers and colonels what they think of me. It’s the surest way to ruin the discipline of the Army. Don’t do it in future,” responded Manekshaw.

  4. Kindly read the book on matter military by Gen Sinha and u will realise where the malaise is . Politicians with little understanding have to depend on half baked information . Gone r the days of Sam Bahadur or Gen PSBhagat or FMCarriappa
    Or Gen Thimaya . Politicisation of services has commenced . Nation has to resist in the interest of the country

  5. Sir nice sarcastic comment on the forces nothing changes overnight not the global warming also it’s when we overlooked things and blamed the system in total it’s apathy on part of civil bureaucracy that they see perks but not the pain and suffering but it’s also that the forces have digested that and even not have hold together lack of trust and career aspirations for which the forces are paying debt which will detiorate more further as we Indians like the items on sale irrespective of their loyalty, trustworthiness and professionalism and moreover mera kya jata hai agla dekh lega type attitude.
    Sorry for the harsh words sir but future is predictable.
    No feelings to hurt your feelings and sentiments

  6. Actually it’s not only the beauraucracy but the senior military leadership also sees nothing amiss and remains a staunch upholder of the ‘status quo’. On the other hand, it’s only the junior leadership of colonels & below in military who are deeply dissatisfied with the growing asymmetry compared to the bureaucracy and police, wrought via successive pay commission awards, but is powerless to stem the decline. I must add here that the senior leadership post retirement, tend to understand the situation.

  7. There is growing civil-military acrimony in India’s defence:- That’s Why Specialist Of The Area Should Head And Control All Affairs From Finance To Admn. And Policy Making. I Rather Favour A Minister From Defence Not From Civil Side.

  8. The problem, as seen by me, lies with the mindset of the IDAS. There is no better example of what I say than the recent article by another of the IDAS worthies, Shri Bhartendu Kumar Singh in another newspaper where the worthy advocates downsizing of the Indian Army but by quoting an example which goes against his thesis! Let me elaborate.
    The gent states in his article ‘ None of the great powers like the US, Russia, China, the UK, or France have had this kind of increasing trajectory. In fact, all of them had a decreasing trend after the vortex of Cold War was over.’ Now the gent forgets that the downsizing of those militaries occurred when the threat against them collapsed-namely Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact!! Even the Chinese downsizing of their armed forces began when the Chinese political leadership was able to negotiate/arrive at some kind of settlement with Russia and of course post the implosion of the Soviet Union. BUT THE LEARNED GENT FROM THE IDAS REQUIES THE INDIAN ARMY TO DOWNSIZE WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE IMPERATIVES.
    It is this kind of stupidity combined with an ability to stall everything that permits IDAS and other ancillary services to try and sometimes succeed in derailing India’s defence. In this they are helped by the senior leadership of the armed forces which does not believe in showing the mirror to such folks.
    Unless the military leadership shows spine, the downward spiral IN MATTERS MILITARY will continue. Here I VEHEMENTLY DISAGRRE WITH THE ADMIRAL. NO KNIGHT ON WHITE CHARGER IS LIKELY TO COME TO PULL OUT THE MILITARY CHESTNUTS. TIME THEY STOOD UP.

  9. I shall neither Lie, Cheat or Steal nor tolerate any one who does so is what is drilled into a cadet. It is utopian and weras off a few years after commissioning. The Armed Forces is called in for every minor calamity. Those who retire from it can easily function as civil administrators. The route to the bureaucracy should be through the Armed Forces for CMR to improve.

  10. Adm Prakash, you are very right in your comments on the CMR. Unfortunately I have to say that over the last 5 decades or so the politicians have cleverly dangled a sometimes low hanging fruit of a Governorship/Ambassadorship in front of service chiefs- unfortunately some COAS’s/CNS’s bit and set a precedent where Chiefs and C-in-C’s kowtow to the politicians and bureaucracy to curry favour so a post retirement base is in a Raj Bhawan . Even today if you sit down in the evening with a serving Army Commander , after the second whiskey, if you ask him his retirement plans , his dream would be a Raj Bhawan. If Chaudhari , Raina , Dawson, AK Singh et al could make it why not me?
    That actually started the landslide whilst in service. But within 6 months of retirement they all come crashing down to earth and begin looking for think tanks to give them employment. I am glad you maintained your head high and didnt succumb. Also you dealt with this IFA shit with dignity. Army commanders who are only too happy to enjoy their 5 star lifestyles have themselves to blame for converting the IFA’s from advisers to approving authorities.
    Now sir tell me does the COAS have the balls to take action against the WC army commander for allowing this- no way he has a Raj Bhawan in his sights too!!!!!

    • Absolutely Correct.
      Someone said “If you want to spoil an institution/ organisation, then just start promoting the most useless and incompetent people.”
      Ambassadorship and Raj Bhawans are those promotions.
      You cannot expect jawan or a middle rank officer to put across his points to Ministry. It is the role people on top. But, Alas! they are busy planning their retirement.
      As far as issue of IFAs is concerned, CFA can always overrule him. But not even a single CFA does that, purely because he doesn’t want to spoil the “atmosphere”.
      Conduct of Military Commanders should be exemplary, people down below are doing far more than their mandate.
      Field Marshal Sam H.F.J Manekshaw had the courage to put people in their place, this courage came from his professional competence. Sadly, things are not the same now.
      No point blaming politicians or Baboons, they are doing what’s best for them.
      Admiral is correct in saying that military needs to look within, but that within has to start from top. And that’s never going to happen.
      Politicians and Baboons know this clearly.
      So, keep suffering like this and reading and articles like this.
      CMR… Nice. One more Acronym.

  11. The main problem is total jealousy and contempt.Fortunately the bureaucrats have total backing of the political class.They have instilled fear in the minds of netas of a takeover because of their inadequacy ,incompetence and failings.At the same time the military is to blame because of greed and their colonial outlook and contempt for civilians.Two wrongs cannot make it right.It is now a point of no return.The nation will suffer and is already suffering.God help us.

  12. Sir, your views reflect the prevalent reality. You are cent per cent right when you say ‘Soldiers have always lived (and died) by a ‘code of conduct’ several cuts above the one prevailing in civil society’. But with deep respect, I’d like to say that it is unrealistic to expect this to continue forever when the service man has been given the short shrift and awareness levels are at an unprecedented high. The present generation of officers and men are just not impressed by homilies, unlike the previous ones who kept their counsel inspite of various deprivations.
    Progressive devaluation of military ranks and protocol have been the reason for widespread dissatisfaction among the services. The Nehruvian legacy of diminishing the sheen of the Services and letting the police and CPOs copy the look of the Forces without inherent capability or mandate, has over the years, demoralised the Forces. Let’s not forget that each time, the Services have delivered much beyond the call of duty, not because of their salaries or status, but because of the ingrained value system and principles of accountability. But when the threshold of tolerance to devaluation is crossed, we cannot expect the Forces to deliver. The CPOs and Police are conducting themselves like an alternate army without the requisite calibre and qualifications. Yet their cadre has overtaken the Services in pay and protocol. What is the basis? It’s like paying a plain MBBS doctor more than a super specialist neurosurgeon. One is unable to fathom the logic. All this happened because of the acquiescence of most of the senior military leadership at any given point in time. Besides, the civilian bureaucracy has been having a jolly good ride since independence while clearly being the raison de etre for the deterioration in governance due to a majority of the cadre being in sync with the political class in pursuit of lucre, with ethics and values thrown out the door a long time ago.
    It would be very unrealistic to expect a tall order to be delivered by the Forces any longer, unless of course, the wrongs are undone and the truly deserved due dignity is restored at the earliest…..Lt Col Shreesh Kumar (Retd)….a proud veteran.

    • The paramilitary forces that have grown over the years serve another purpose, to wit act a counter balance to a missile perceived threat from the Army. The Indian Armed Forces have ever countenanced such action since independence. The civil-miltary relationship is clearly in tatters.

  13. The column is gracious to acknowledge at the end that there is need for reflection on the part of service personnel as well. There is a tendency on the part of some sections of the media to place the armed forces on a pedestal. 2. For the CMR to be harmonious, a special responsibility vests in Raksha Mantri. Successive RMs ought not to have allowed the dissonance to build up to this level. One photo opp at Siachen will not suffice.

  14. Well pointed out ADMIRAL. Keep Going in NATIONAL INTEREST
    Rather than downsizing the Indian Army obviously to limit expenditures IMPERATIVES exist to drastically reduce size of Ministry of Defence. It is a WHITE ELEPHANT staffed by overcrowded MEDDLESOME civilian bureaucrats with no knowledge of matters military..

    Indicative of above is the Tweet by the MOD PRO and shows the contemptuous mind-set and virtual hatred of Armed Forces If it is Integrated HQ then why not PROs of MOD from three Services.

    Shudder to think what the Raksha Mantri would do in wartime with such a meddlesome MOD setup to provide advice to her. Every Raksha Mantri who comes with zeal to improve MOD functioning is soon WORN-DOWN by the Civilian Bureaucrats Same not visible in Home Ministry .

    Major Blame on Media. Instead of researching and pointing out shortcomings in civil-military template Media and its seniors spread canards of IMPENDIG COUPS moves by Indian rmy

  15. An honest observation that the Indian Army, held in highest esteem, is not losing, rather has lost its sheen among the civilians. Time is not far away that following the dubious traditions in the next door neighbouring country Pakistan, the Indian Army too indulges in commercial activities and land grabbing spree. Yes, it is a time to introspection. But the Ar,y cannot be singled out on this count. The malaise is deep-rooted and affects everyone in the country. None remains untainted. The situation seems to be beyond redemption. It has rather turned into a malignant growth. Solution eludes.

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