Harendra singh shekhawat Jaipur India
SHARK OR A GOLDFISH?
When India became independent, the overriding feeling amongst our leaders was that the Indian Army was a remnant of our colonial past, and best forgotten. Since “Ahimsa” was to be the nation’s guiding principle, the army was really not required. The police would be sufficient to handle minor disturbances. For nine weeks, that was the over-riding emotion. Then, Pakistan attacked. The 1947-48 war was the longest post-Independence war we have fought.
Between 1948 and 1962, even when war clouds loomed in the horizon, we were the proverbial ostrich. After the humiliation of 1962, realization dawned that war and strife wanted us, even if we didn’t want them. Pakistan again attacked us in 1965. Wars and insurgencies came and went. An insurgency morphed into militancy and is now full-blown terrorism. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.
This entire image of India as a nation not seeking war and taking pride in not having an expeditionary army is true. We have never gone looking for war. But wars have often come looking for us. I don’t have to tell fellow Indians that we live in a very rough neighborhood. And yet, the sheer necessity of a strong military escapes us. Platitudes cannot replace weapons. But the real issue is vastly different.
Our thinking is strategically stunted.
Think of national security as a horse with four legs. All four legs must be strong, for us to gallop. Economy, diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces are the power profile of any nation. Except that in our case, we are one leg short.
I am not an economist and I don’t understand money too well, but I am told that independent institutions say we are the fastest growing economy in the world. People also say that we are doing very well diplomatically. I don’t know. These are not my areas of expertise. What I state is hearsay. About intelligence, I know even lesser than what I know about the economy or diplomacy. And anyway my “spook” friends sip coffee and talk about football. They don’t talk shop…ever.
Our fourth leg is broken. I deeply apologize for being blunt and making this transactional, but a nation gets the army it pays for, and payment is not about money alone. It is many things. Money is just one part of it.
Bravery alone does not win wars. An MQ9 Reaper stationed in Afghanistan can receive an input from a US Air Force desert base in Arizona, USA. It can hover at 50,000 feet above sea level for 36 hours and can put a AGM-114 Hellfire missile inside a 2x2 window, whenever the operator in Arizona so desires. Sounds like science fiction? Well, this technology is more than a decade old.
China is developing/stealing this technology, and since the Chinese focus only on work and don’t have to bother with red tape and babus, they are going to clone this weapons system and get it operational this year.
This is less than 1% of what is happening in our neighborhood. If I were to mention just 10% of what China is doing, it would take several pages to simply state facts.
We, who often claim a permanent seat at the United Nation Security Council, have not been able to give our soldier a decent rifle. Was I talking about MQ9 Reaper? I am sorry…I do get ahead of myself, sometimes.
The issue is not so much with the budget. We are a growing economy and as we grow, so will the budget. The issue is that the things that can be done with minimal expenditure are not being done. Many reasons…envy, jealousy, rivalry…name it and its at play. We don’t need the Chinese and Pakistanis to harm us. We are doing a fantastic job of it ourselves.
Lets play a little game. Go to www.mod.gov.in and then click on Menu. In the drop down menu, click on Who’s Who. Finally, click on Department of Defence. Study the list carefully. Then click on Department of Defence Production. Then click on Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare. Finally, click on Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO).
Once you have gone through the names on all lists, you would have understood the problem. More than 95% of the people, who are actually in-charge of India’s defence and national security at the Defence Ministry’s policymaking level, have not spent a day in uniform. Ditto for the DRDO list in which names are not mentioned.
The people who make policies don’t know the people they make them for.
The production people don’t involve the end user.
The people who look after ex-servicemen welfare have no clue about veterans.
The DRDO designs with little end-user input, giving us eggs like Tejas and INSAS.
These are the people who give orders to the Army, Navy and Air Force without having served a day in either service. And their orders are followed in letter and spirit. India is a democracy and civilian supremacy cannot be questioned. It must not be questioned. But would you agree to undergo a bypass surgery, by a person who is not a cardiac surgeon? And if your answer is NO, then why don’t you, the people of India, protest when the security of YOUR nation is entrusted to people who don’t have the expertise to do that?
The Defence Minister must be someone elected by the people, and of that, there can be no doubt. Power in a democracy flows from the people. Many people have been clamoring for a military man to be made Defence Minister. While politics will decide that, the problem is clearly elsewhere. It is in the lists you read earlier. You can make a former general the Defence Minister of India but unless structural changes are made in that list, nothing will help.
The four legs of India’s national security work in silos. In any nation, the military forms an integral part of diplomacy because it is the military that is a nation’s final insurance against diplomatic failure. If you want to be derogatory, you can call this gunboat diplomacy. But it mostly works, mind you.
Posting a middle level officer as a Defence Attaché to an Embassy or High Commission is simply not enough. When the Prime Minister of India sits down to negotiate with another nation’s leader, both heads of state must know that somewhere in the background lurk INS Vikramaditya and INS Arihant. Subtlety is the key, but 1.2 million soldiers is a compelling argument.
For too long we have shunned projection of hard power. There has been the odd success like Operation Cactus in Maldives in 1988 when Brig. Farouk Bulsara entered Maldives with 1600 Indian Army paratroopers. The enemy was spooked witless. Then there have been gigantic foreign policy failures like Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. In Op Pawan, the army was consulted only when it became difficult for the political dispensation to distinguish soldier from cannon fodder.
The economist and the diplomat alone are not enough to catapult a nation to superpower status. Somewhere in the background, a soldier underwrites all the ebbs and flows. We may like to look at the world through the prism of justice and morality, but there is nothing just and moral about the way the world does business. The United States Marines are humorously referred to as the last hundred yards of US foreign policy. It’s both funny and true.
Lets not shy away from projection of hard power. China did not withdraw from Dokalam because India gave the world Yoga and Kamasutra. They withdrew because we were strategically and tactically far stronger in that particular area. They are building a road in general area Dokalam, but it’s not the same place that we defended. The army Chief said that if we can defend Siachen for more than three decades, we could defend Dokalam indefinitely. He was just stating the obvious. Anyone who has been posted to Dokalam will tell you this. This is hard power projection.
Our national power profile is skewed. The Indian Armed Forces must have their say, as subject matter experts. They must be involved in policy at the highest levels. Administrators are generalists. We need specialists advising the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. The Chief of Defence Staff position is years away, if at all. The low hanging fruit is immediate restructuring of the Defence Ministry.
Percentage of GDP committed to the budget is one way of looking at defence preparedness. India has other equally important priorities. Education, health, infrastructure and human resource development are as critical as defence. But everything is not about budget allocations. How smartly we spend that money is up to us. For that, we need soldiers to lead policy making. And that does not cost money.
When we have our policy imperatives sorted, we will start acting the part of an emerging super-power. It is then that the people of India will see global projection of hard power, and not just tableaus of missiles on Republic Day. Parades are an important part of military culture, but there is far more to the armed forces than shiny uniforms and marching to a drumbeat.
A shark is a predator of the deep seas. It is in the nature of sharks to hunt and kill. For too long, the armed forces have been sharks masquerading as goldfish. It goes against the DNA of soldiering. One day India will find its rightful place in the comity of nations, and the soldier will be an important part of that journey.
To our East and West we have two nuclear powers, and both have waged war on us. We are swimming in very dangerous waters. India must choose whom it wants defending its flanks, in these murky waters.
In the dark depths of the ocean, a shark is the final argument.
- Harendra singh shekhawat
National security through a youngster's eye
To our East, Xi Jinping has probably been crowned Emperor of China, even if they still call him President. They say that he will rule till he breathes, with all the power of the Party, Politburo and the PLA concentrated in his hands. This simply means a far more aggressive China led by a man who, in real terms, is not accountable to anyone. While we are still figuring out how to respond, China’s encirclement of India is complete. From bases in South China Sea to the 99-year lease of the Hambantota Port, from PLA warships in Gwadar to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, we are hopelessly surrounded.
To our West, we are dealing with a rogue nuclear-armed army that actually owns a nation of 200 million luckless souls. This army is not accountable to anyone. In 1999, it launched an attack on Kargil, without so much as informing its own Prime Minister. In 1965, it did not deem it necessary to inform its own sister services, the Pakistan Air force and Pakistan Navy that it had launched Operation Gibralter and attacked India in Kashmir. Both the Pakistan Naval and Air Chiefs suspected something was wrong, but their worst fears came true when they heard Madam Noor Jehan singing patriotic songs on radio. That, in Pakistan, usually means war. Or a coup.
Pakistan will supposedly issue, though some say it already has, tens of millions of long-term visas to Chinese nationals to settle in Balochistan for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects. According to the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), by 2048 the majority population of Balochistan will be Chinese. Mandarin is already being taught to Pakistani children, not that they were learning anything useful earlier…and the Yuan will soon be legal tender in Pakistan.
Earlier we had China to the East and Pakistan to the West. We now have China to the East and China to the West. The dragon is moving its tail.
Closer home, there is massive radicalization in Kashmir. From the pulpit of mosques to social media accounts, the Valley is turning Wahhabi with a fierceness not seen earlier. ISIS flags are waved at funerals and clashes.
“Is ISIS really present in Kashmir?” a panelist asked his fellow panelist on a TV debate
We must understand this “Islamic State is an idea, not a car dealership”. There may or may not be physical manifestations of this vile idea, but to assume it does not exist just because you can’t see it, would be a gross miscalculation.
If terrorists repose faith in an idea, it is real. Lets not look for overt signs. No one is going to put up neon boards in downtown Srinagar. Its in the speech in the mosque, the terrorist raising his index finger on video, the sign of “Tawheed” or oneness of God, the central monotheistic concept in Islam, it is in the flags draped over terrorists bodies in funerals. Seek, and you shall find.
A good part of the battle for mind-space in Kashmir can be won if we have a narrative. Pakistan has a Kashmir narrative. Hurriyat has a Kashmir narrative. Terror organizations have a Kashmir narrative. All of them push their narrative everyday. And India, which has the most powerful Kashmir narrative based on the absolute truth, is reluctant to even tell its side of the story. So, in the absence of our truth, their lies flourish. Kunan Poshpora. 700,000 troops in Kashmir. Genocide. Disappearances. Mass rapes. Unknown graves. Braid chopping. Flying saucers. Its like Sidney Sheldon has started writing in Kashmiri.
It is important that an urgent narrative around Kashmir is created and pushed. There are a lot of fence sitters in Kashmir. They overtly support the terrorists, but privately hate them. Such is the cost of living in Kashmir. We must give these fence sitters a story; a narrative so powerful and true that it blows away everything in its path. This narrative exists. It is structured around the truth of the UN Resolutions of Kashmir, the truth about the Hurriyat, the truth about the lavish lifestyles of those who scream “azaadi”. Shopping malls, private jets, luxury hotel stays, foreign holidays in Spain and Mauritius…while the hapless population is mired in misery, Asiya Andrabi’s son is found in a 5 star resort in Bangkok, posing for photographs with Hulk Hogan. For the separatists, the blood of the Kashmiris is a credit card with no limit. Keep swiping. Keep killing.
Many Kashmiris support the Hurriyat not because of love or respect, but because Kashmiris have a long history of supporting whoever they perceive as the victor. Kashmiris see Hurriyat winning against the Indian state. They don’t care to know or acknowledge that the Hurriyat exists because the Indian Constitution allows space for dissent. Had Hurriyat tried in Pakistan, a minuscule percentage of what it does in Kashmir, Geelani would have disappeared and the Mirwaiz would have been found under some culvert in a very small gunny sack. In Kashmir there is a very fine, almost invisible, line between fear and respect. Some say there is no such line at all. We must understand these nuances.
Geelani and his cohorts are doing a very fine balancing act. They are indispensible to the Pakistanis and have, somehow, convinced the Indian government that they speak for the Kashmiri people. That credibility must be damaged, not just by NIA raids but also in the heart of the Kashmiri people. This is not difficult to do; the Hurriyat’s credibility is based on falsehood. All we need is to be constant and consistent in cracking the mirror, with truth.
India is plagued by many other challenges. The North East is still simmering. The Left Wing Extremism (LWE) areas, or the Red Corridor, are perhaps India’s greatest internal security challenge. This is a long list. The list will remain long because the people responsible for shortening of this list are bureaucrats.
The greatest initiative to push India to industrial superstardom, “Make In India” is sputtering to a halt. And the people who are spiking it are our own bureaucrats. Not just the elite of the bureaucracy but the middle and lower level functionaries, too. The entire structure is rotten. They derive their power from stopping progress and denial of permission. They have created these rules and laws to buttress their arguments. If India has to progress, its bureaucracy must be cut to size.
Before asking countries to invest in India, we must take a step back and take the surgeon’s knife to India’s “babudom”. Let a committee for reforms in bureaucracy, be constituted; a group with wide ranging powers. At the very top, we need technocrats. The miracle of the Delhi Metro happened because of E Sridharan. Had there been a senior bureaucrat in charge, the Delhi Metro would have gone the way of the Tejas LCA.
Our issue is not whether we have meritorious people at the top, or not. The issue is that we have wrong people at the top. And they decide sensitive policy, without having a day’s exposure to the practical aspects of the issue. We have a veritable galaxy of “Paper Tigers” running the administration of India.
An American author once said about India’s missile program… Agni does not mean Chrysanthemum. It means fire. Dr Kalam knew exactly what he was building.
When we put the right people at the top, magic happens. ISRO is a miracle because, scientists lead it. The day a senior bureaucrat is appointed Chairman of ISRO; PM will receive a beautiful presentation on why ISRO can no longer launch satellites.
It is these very bureaucrats who are killing Make In India, especially in defence manufacturing. May I submit the following process?
Firstly, we must redefine the entire process for selection and purchase of any weapons system. Each item takes decades to order and then decades to reach the soldier. By that time, it is obsolete. We're all aware that two-thirds of all Indian Army equipment is obsolete. Our artillery is 35 years old, simply because we did not order, manufacture or induct a single artillery gun for past 35 years.
Secondly, no one is going to invent any weapons system just for us. All weapons systems that we are importing are being used in some armed force of the world. It should not take more than five years to import even something as sophisticated as a fighter jet. The Air Force knows what it wants. Let them know the budget. They will figure out what they want, test it and then make recommendations to the government. Ditto for other services. But importing is not Make In India, right?
Thirdly, execution is the key. Let us assume that Indian Army wants a new assault rifle. Army knows what it wants, because technical evaluation happens everyday in the Indian Army. It’s not a one-time process for them. Let them shortlist 5 rifles, globally. Let them test all of them simultaneously. Why should rifle trials take a decade? It’s a rifle…just a collection of metal moving parts. In a few months, they should shortlist 3 rifles. Let the negotiations begin. Again, this must be completed in a stipulated time. The selected vendor should be partnered with an Indian company to start manufacturing in India. By the time factory starts production, 15% of rifles can be directly imported. Yes, there has been a greater push for transparency. There should a similar push for greater speed.
In the end, the key is not global weapons manufacturers making weapons in India. It is our investment in R&D. We must have an indigenous manufacturing base, which is the result of Indian minds and Indian sweat.
The sooner we shut down our Ordnance Factories, the better it would be for our manufacturing and also the lives of our soldiers. Overpricing and pathetic quality are their hallmarks. In fact, some of their products are so bad that Nepal refuses to take them for free. Yes, Nepal refused to induct the 5.56 mm INSAS rifle. "The rifle is so bad that even if given free, it is too expensive a deal", They say.
India is marching towards global super-power status. But we are like an athlete who runs with an iron ball chained to the feet. Everyone wants the athlete to run faster, but no one is looking at the iron ball. That iron ball is India’s bureaucracy. Unless we hack away at that ball and chain, we will keep dragging out feet. We will keep losing.
The day the top employee and decision maker of every government department is an experienced and qualified subject matter specialist who is duly empowered, things will improve. We have many Sreedharans, impatient to give wings to their dreams of India, but held back by the ball and chain.
Dreams float on an impatient wind
A wind that wants to create a new order
An order of strength and thundering of fire
Dr. APJ Kalam, perhaps India’s greatest ever Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces wrote these lines. It is his dream that we must impatiently pursue, with vigor and renewed resolve.
In Hindi, Agni does not mean Chrysanthemum. It means fire.
The ball and chain must go.
Dr. Kalam would approve.
- Harendra singh shekhawat
Whenever there is disillusionment with corruption, inefficiency or general chaos, a few bright bulbs write with that eternal blueberry, “Why can’t the Indian Army take over? We need martial law in India”.
This is only said out of a sense of deep frustration. There are hardly any takers for a national level PT fall-in at 0545 hrs.
I will try and explain “why” as simply as I can.
For starters, it is treason. The Parliament represents the will of the people. To overthrow a democratically elected government, however bad, is not the job of the army. The army defends the nation and the people. It serves the nation. A situation where the nation serves the army is not only unimaginable but also reprehensible. This has never, ever been discussed in the army. Not formally, not informally, not over a few drinks. I repeat this is treason.
On the night intervening 14th and 15th August 1947, the British Indian Army was divided into the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army. At that moment, both armies were exactly the same in ethos, values, weapons, training, equipment and culture. There was absolutely no difference.
The trajectories that both these armies took post partition, is worthy of deep contemplation. It is said that while India has an army, the Pakistan Army has a country. That is what happens when you involve armies in politics. India becomes Pakistan.
The Members of Parliament are there in Parliament because we, the voters, put them there. Sometimes, if the Parliament looks like a circus to you, do remember that modern democracy is not very old. The earliest luminaries thrown up by this system were Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. The system is still ‘work in progress’ in India. It has its faults but it is still the best system that there is.
The Indian Army is trained to fight. It is not trained to govern and rule. The motto of the Officers Training Academy is “Serve With Honour”. That is the army’s raison d’etre; to serve. In this service there is honour, glory and integrity. Remember, only those who serve India can die for India.
When we decide to vote on the basis of caste, religion and/or by accepting cash and gifts, we lose the moral right to object to corruption and inefficiency. If we want a clean system, let us first stop having double standards of our own. For some time initially, truth and integrity will hurt. It will be like injecting an alien chemical into the body. The body will react violently. But soon it will get used to it.
Yes, the Indian Army does fantastic work. It is great at fighting and winning wars, killing terrorists, defending India and helping civil authorities in times of natural calamities. It is also great at pulling out toddlers from bore wells, building railway bridges, controlling riots and cleaning lakes. But I beseech you; don’t applaud the army when it pulls out toddlers from bore wells, cleans lakes and builds railway bridges. Rather, step up and ask the system as to why is it that the Indian Army that has to step in for everything in this country. Is the system so rotten? Using the army to clean lakes is like cutting vegetables with a Katana. It defies all logic simply because it plays havoc with India’s finest institution.
Soldiers don’t have too many special skills outside of war fighting. But what they bring to the table is integrity, hard work and monk like commitment. That’s what gets the job done and that’s all that is needed. There is no secret sauce.
I could have given you many other practical reasons why the Indian Army will never take over. I could have said that this only happens in small countries, and that India is too large for the army to take over. I could have spoken about international pressure, governance structures, logistics and a thousand such things. I did not. You need to see this through the eyes of the soldier. To him, the Constitution is sacred. We have all, without exception, sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution of India U(A) 51A. And soldiers do not defile what they consider sacred. No decent human being does.
As citizens, we must hold institutions accountable. That is the essence of democracy. Stop thinking that to question is simply your right. It is far more than that. It is your duty. Do your duty and everything will work like it is supposed to. Then there will be no need to call the Indian Army when a lake in Bangalore is dirty.
This is one war that the Indian Army will not fight for us. This is one war we must fight on our own. And our first attack must be on our own apathy.
The generals in South Block would approve.
Harendra singh shekhawat
There is a firestorm over Rahul Bedi’s recent article “Indian PM strips islands of British colonial names - and renames them after freedom fighter”. I have read the article. It is insidious, derogatory and ill-informed. Such an article should have been ignored; however, it seeks to slander one of India’s greatest freedom fighters, Subhas Chandra Bose, widely referred to by his much-loved nom de guerre, Netaji.
As a history student i am well aware, when we quote history, context is important. Hitler was an evil man, and of that there can be no doubt. But the British were evil, too. They enslaved India for 200 years, causing death and destruction on an unbelievable scale. Winston Churchill’s signatures on a file ordering the withholding of grain, otherwise meant to feed India’s starving masses, just to feed the white Tommy, is a chilling reminder that when it came to naked self-interest, the British and Hitler were the same. Churchill’s signature cost millions of Indian lives. India’s contribution to the First World War and Second World War pushed India into penury. Famine led the way, followed by vultures.
When Bedi points a finger at Bose, accusing him of partnering with Hitler, Imperial Japan and Mussolini, he forgets the times Bose lived in. Democracy had thrown up both Hitler and Churchill. Bose picked up arms when he could tolerate the humiliation of foreign yoke no longer. He simply shook hands with the enemy’s enemy.
Bedi describes Bose’s army, the Indian National Army, as a “rag-tag” bunch. Rag-tag they may have been, but they died fighting for what they believed in. That alone is worthy of honour.
The islands that were re-named, the focus area of Bedi’s article, have an interesting past. Havelock Island, now named Swaraj Deep, carried the name of the British Officer who “crushed” the Indians in the 1857 War of Independence. For 161 years, India carried this shame, tattooed across her forehead. Ross Island, named after a colonial surveyor is now Subhas Chandra Bose Island and Neil Island, named after an East India Company officer, is now Shaheed Dweep. Good riddance, I say.
Bedi calls Bose a ‘Radical Hindu Nationalist’. I don’t know why. And, in all probability, neither does Bedi. Bose was always liberal, secular and left of center. Bose was a soldier and lived and died for a cause far greater and worthy than faith. He lived and died for India. Bose’s inner circle comprised of people from all religions. A few of those brave men were Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan and Major General Mohammad Zaman Kiani, who was commander of the Indian National Army. There were Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, too. Their motto was “Ittehad, Itmad aur Qurbani”, or Unity, Faith and Sacrifice. That is what they did. That is who Bose was. The Indian National Army was the army of Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind or Provisional Government of Free India.
Thousands of INA soldiers died fighting and many perished in death camps. By marching to certain death, they forever sanctified Netaji’s call to war “Give me blood and I shall give you freedom”.
There were many who were responsible for India’s freedom, but Bose was amongst the movement’s brightest stars. And history bears witness that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a man of his word.
We gave him blood. He gave us freedom.
- Written by Harendra singh shekhawat.