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Updated: November 1, 2013 01:33 IST

To correct an institutional mismatch

M. G. Devasahayam
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CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE: Events in recent years and months have struck at the very roots of the Army as an institution. Here, at the Republic Day parade this January. Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Hindu
CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE: Events in recent years and months have struck at the very roots of the Army as an institution. Here, at the Republic Day parade this January. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

It is important to build a democratic civil-military relationship so that the nation does not face a crisis.

The editorial page lead article in The Hindu, The general and his stink bombs” (September 30, 2013) flagged the “dysfunctional relationship between our democracy and the military.” This serious issue, directly impacting on a citizen’s security and country’s sovereignty, needs to be addressed in its proper perspective.

To do so, we need to draw on the centuries-old wisdom of Kautilya, reiterated in modern times by the General-turned-President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower: “When diplomats fail to maintain peace, the soldier is called upon to restore peace. When civil administration fails to maintain order, the soldier is called to restore order. As the nation’s final safeguard, the army cannot afford a failure in either circumstance. Failure of army can lead to national catastrophe, endangering the survival of the nation.”

This sums up the role performed by our military and the criticality of an abiding and democratic civil-military relationship, lest the nation should face a catastrophe. It should be realised that in war or conflicts, military men do not offer the “supreme sacrifice” just for money or rank. There is something far more precious called “patriotism and honour”, and this is embedded in the Indian Military Academy credo which none of the civil servants or politicians has gone through but most military leaders have. The civil-military relationship should be moored on such an anchor.

Not a democratic equation

This is not so in India’s current “democratic dispensation” wherein the politico-civil elite continues to suffer from the feudal-aristocratic mindset of Lord Alfred Tennyson (“Charge of the Light Brigade” – 1854): “Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die.” This was reflected in the observations made by the Union Minister of State for Defence while delivering the Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa Memorial Lecture in mid-2012: “The military forces have remained loyal to the elected government and have been its obedient servant.” Such an equation is not democratic.

Ironically, it is the military leaders who have attempted to define a democratic civil-military relationship. In his treatise “The Soldier and the State” (1998), the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, lays it down with a fair amount of clarity: “The modern military profession exists as part of the government insofar as the term ‘government’ includes the executive departments of the nation-state... Modern democracies therefore pay great attention to the supremacy of the political class over the military in governance, normally referred to as ‘civilian control of the military.’ This is clearly how it should be, since all ultimate power and decision making should be wielded by the elected representatives of the people.”

On the eve of demitting office in 2012, General V.K. Singh fully endorsed this view with a compelling caveat: “I am a firm believer in civilian supremacy over the military in a democracy. I subscribe to the views of Admiral Bhagwat. However, civilian supremacy must always be rooted in the fundamental principles of justice, merit and fairness. Violation of this in any form must be resisted if we are to protect the Institutional Integrity of our Armed Forces.”

The combined views of the former chiefs of the Navy and the Army set forth certain non-negotiable imperatives for the civil-military relationship: democracy as a vibrant and functioning entity with the “elected representatives of the people” running the government as per established democratic norms; the military profession existing as part of such government; civilian supremacy to be exercised by the “elected representatives of the people”; such supremacy to be rooted in the principles of justice, merit and fairness; a violation of this can be resisted to protect the institutional integrity of the armed forces.

Whether governments in India are being run as per established democratic norms is a burning question. Even so, India’s professional military is meant to protect, safeguard and sustain our democratic republic wherein live one-sixth of the human race. Therefore, it is imperative that a democratic civil-military relationship framework existed, was practised and sustained. But unfortunately this has not even been attempted; the civil-military relationship is not mandated in the governance system.

Matters drifted, intrigues prevailed and things have happened in recent years and months that strike at the very roots of the Army as an institution.


The fallout of the sordid happenings on the Indian Army was best summed up by defence analyst Maroof Raza: “The system has closed around the chief and this will only embolden the bureaucracy. The fallout will be that at least for two generations, no military commander will raise his head. And the message for military commanders is that it isn’t merit or accuracy of documents that will get them promotions, but pandering to the politico-bureaucratic elite. The last bastion of professional meritocracy in India has crumbled. The damage will be lasting.”

Despite such a damning indictment, nothing has been done to undo the damage. What is worse, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister chose to ignore the letter written by Admiral L. Ramdas, the former Navy Chief, in July 2012 raising serious military and national security issues and seeking a high-level inquiry and remedial action.

This epitomises the near-total collapse of the institutional framework and the atmosphere of suspicion and alienation between the civil and military hierarchies. This is evident from the recent high-octane controversy following the ‘leaking’ of the top-secret report on TSD, a covert unit of the Army, the activities of which are directly related to the safety of the soldiers on the borders, retribution on the enemy and the security of citizens. This episode, which has created a lot of bad blood between mainland India and Jammu & Kashmir, appears to be a ploy to justify the scrapping of this unit by the Army Chief. This has led to consternation among senior Army officers, who confide that this action is the single major cause for the recent spurt in cross-border intrusions and ceasefire violations that have led to several deaths on the Pakistan border.

It is better to light a candle rather than continue to curse darkness. Civil and military establishments are all a part of governance that comprises the complex mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences and exercise their legal rights and obligations. The military should be an intrinsic part of such a governance mechanism.

Democratic governance is participatory, transparent and accountable and promotes justice and the rule of law. Governance includes the government, which is its dominant part, but transcends it by taking in the private sector and civil society. All three are critical to sustain human development and national security. Because each has weaknesses and strengths, democratic governance is brought about through constructive interaction among all three — which role civil society would play.

Parliamentary oversight

Once we broad-base the “defence” or the “military” and move towards “national security,” civil society participation becomes imperative. Governance then could really become a catalyst for civil-military relationships, and bureaucracies cannot play spoilsport.

This, coupled with parliamentary oversight, is the best form of “civilian control of the military” in a democracy, and that is what military leaders have defined. A set of rules governing such a relationship between civilian authorities and the military, and balancing the financial needs of defence and security, are the needs of the hour.

With this concept at the core, steps could be taken to build and sustain a democratic and functional civil-military relationship by implementing recommendations by expert committees and groups lying buried in the vaults of the Defence Ministry.

(M.G. Devasahayam is a former Army – Infantry and IAS officer.)

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The disquiet between the Defence forces and the Civilian control has come out in the
open. Starting with an apparent petty fight of the former General VK Singh about his
date of birth to the leaking of secret documents by the Government, recent events
have shown that neither cares for the Country. And the corruption charges against
some former chiefs in the Defence services does not make good reading. It is time
that Indians fight for more transparency in all departments both in the Government
and the Defence services.

Posted on: Nov 3, 2013 at 15:21 IST

First of all I would like to appreciate the author for dragging our
attention to the creeping problem of our country,sharing boundaries in
most dynamic conditions. And meritocracy is needed utterly at least in
the field of defence. and if knowing the elite political class better
can award better rank in the army might be nothing but overlooking of
on coming threats .and silence of prime minister and defence minister
cannot be welcomed as the border issues are very volatile and a more
realistic stand is expected from the government

Posted on: Nov 2, 2013 at 21:19 IST

A well thought out article giving the realities on the ground.
The solution lies in the control of Army by the elected representatives
with support of a defense department controlled by defense personnel.
These department personnel should be trained in defense strategy and
procedures of civil administration. The present Bureaucracy who take
decisions on behalf of the elected representatives have no idea as to
how the defense services function and any measures to train them will
be of no use since they are not the ones who is affected by the
decisions. Experience is essential on matters affecting Human
resources, defense purchases and other activities. This department
should constantly interact with Service Chiefs on all matters.
The feeling the elected representatives do not have capability to
understand the intricacies is misplaced &there are many in the elected
representatives who understand the administration & needs of national

from:  Mohan
Posted on: Nov 2, 2013 at 18:52 IST

My compliments on an extremely well written article, written after a deep introspection and analysis of the existing civil-Military relationship. The issues raised need immediate attention,both by the Govt, bureaucracy and Def. forces. The need for a hormoius relationship with an understanding of each other's difficulties and perspective is the immmediate need of the hour


Posted on: Nov 2, 2013 at 12:36 IST

A well analyzed article articulating the kind of uncomfortable dynamics that prevails between
the Defense and the government in the recent years. Admiral Bhagwat's reiteration of civilian
supremacy over the Military and Gen. V.K.Singh's emphasis on such supremacy rooted in
the principles of justice, merit and fairness together make the right recipe for sustained and
effective relationship between the two. In the current UPA govt. the Party head is calling the
shots and effective governance has taken a beating, National interests are consigned to
back-burners and the Party interests to regain power remains the focus; the recent instance
of leakage of TSD to discredit a former General at the peril of National security, just to take
mileage out for Party advancement is one such grave example. As the author states it is time
for serious application of mind to set the right balance of relationship between the two.
Expert recommendations, he says, are buried in the vaults of Def. Ministry.

from:  M.R.Sampath
Posted on: Nov 1, 2013 at 21:55 IST

An excellent well thought out article. The recommendations made in the
article making use of the reports submitted to the Indian Government
including the one by Sri. Arun Singh should be studied and the
recommendations with suitable updating needs to be implemented
urgently. The academic community should peruse these reports and
publish unbiased recommendations. This is the need of the hour
especially because the strategic climate in and around our nation is
getting more and more complex. This demands a smooth functioning of
the defense establishment within the democratic set-up we have in

from:  E.R. Vedamuthu
Posted on: Nov 1, 2013 at 10:46 IST

It is really hard to figure out what MGD is trying to say. Indian Defense Forces are
responsible to the civilian authority as in the UK, USA and France after whose constitutional
practices, India's constitution has been modelled. This has worked quite well in India. It is a
compliment both to the civilian and defence forces of India. Civilian authorities have the final
say in national matters goes without question. Indian Armed Forces take up a very major
portion of the budget and enjoy the general confidence of the people even though individual
Members at times may have acted more in personal than national interest. That does not
mean that a special body needs to be created to draw some mind of boundaries between the
civilian authority and the defence forces.

from:  Hoshiar Singh
Posted on: Nov 1, 2013 at 10:25 IST

One of the most balanced articles I have seen on HIndu. Hail the authour for such brilliant representation of thoughts and facts.
The Army operates in quite contrasting and difficult conditions than any civilian department. They definitely deserve better perks, freedom and respect than what they are accorded currently.
I am not from Army but I have seen armymen, from all cadres, been devoid of remunerations which their less qualified counterparts from civil are offered.
If agriculturists/industries/scientists fail to produce desired results, we might purchase the needed materials from other coountries, but We must remember, that there is no substitue to Army. If someday, Army fails, it will be nothing less than the fall of the entire nation.
There is no back up to Army. Such a critically needed organisation needs more sensitive and cautious handling.

from:  Prashant Kaushik
Posted on: Nov 1, 2013 at 10:18 IST
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