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'Prevent assault on honest armed forces to ensure India's security'

June 23, 2012 - New Delhi

Noted author Stephen Cohen's comment in his book - "The Indian Army: It's Contribution to the Development of a Nation" - that the administrative and organizational changes introduced after India acquired independence from British colonial rule, wherein an effective alliance was created between politician and the bureaucrat for the purpose of reducing the role of the military in the government's decision-making process, perhaps best sums up the views of well-known lawyer R.K. Anand in his book on civil-military relations titled "Assault on Merit".

The 198-page book with fourteen chapters details the cases of nine senior army officers, ranging in rank from Colonel to Lt. General, who ended up being cornered and victimized by the nation's self-serving politicians and a compliant bureaucracy in the period between 1989-90 and 2011-12.

The book emphatically warns that India's security will be in jeopardy unless the nation's political class and self-serving- bureaucracy, "gets its act together and vigorously desists from sacrificing the merit system and the army rules at the altar of favouritism and nepotism".

The first 60-pages of the book are a warm-up on the subject of merit in the armed forces being assaulted upon repeatedly in direct contravention of the law of the land. It lists eight possible negative outcomes of this assault viz.(1) Compromise of the neutrality of the armed forces (2) The inability of the civilian authority to exactly determine the role of the armed forces in democratically-ruled India (3) Inability to rein in the influence of arms lobbies (4) Possible compromise of military preparedness (5) Morale of the armed forces being hit (6) A most deliberate compromise of the armed forces promotion system (7) Fanning officer discontent and (8) Possible compromise of national security.

Pages 61 to 180 dwell on the nine cases of army officers in detail - tracing each officer's rise through the ranks, progressing honestly and diligently towards achieving the coveted post of commander - only to be tragically denied at the final stage of what he would have seen as a glorious icing on the cake for four decades of service to the nation.

The book is remarkable in bringing out the fighting spirit of these army officers, unhesitatingly determined and ready to take on the politico-bureaucratic cabal right up to the highest court of the land -the Supreme Court of India - to get justice, albeit delayed.

At the same time, as a book reviewer, one would also have to say that only one side of the entire picture has been presented. The author's emphatic emphasis on the armed forces being compromised and victimized, and the government of the day being the devil in the works at all times, suggests imbalanced treatment of the subject.

The case histories that left an impression on me the most were those of Major General (later Lt. Gen.) R.C. Kochhar of the Armed Forces Medical Service (AFMS) (Ch. X) in which Supreme Court Justice Dalveer Bhandari was forced to hand down a damning stricture to the Ministry of Defence and the Government of India, going to the extent of impressing upon the then Chief of Army Staff to ensure that officers with excellent records are not treated in an indecorous and shabby manner at the fag end of their career, nor harassed.

Judge Bhandari further warns that harassment of such senior officers would have an adverse impact on the services they render to the country.

"The nation can never get the best out of their officers, unless they are protected from such harassment, humiliation, ignominy and disgrace."

The second case that left an impression was that of former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. R.C. Kadyan, a brilliant army officer clearly in line to become Chief of Army Staff, based on his "FIT" grade throughout his career, but whimsically denied by the politico-civil bureaucracy cabal at the final stage, citing Army Act rules created by the latter.

He was surprisingly told that since had not commanded a Corps for at least a year, he was not eligible to pick up the post of Army Commander and placed in the "DEFERRED" category. The government of the day completely disregarded the fact that he was asked to serve an extended term as army attache in Paris, France, against his wishes, and that this had in fact contributed to him being denied command of a Corps.

Anand's book also questions how a "line of succession" could be established in 2006 "in a system so steeped in merit, where each and every soldier is being judged and evaluated at each and every step", making a complete mockery of the system.

The book, which has been edited by veteran journalist Inderjit Badhwar and has contributions from military historian and filmmaker Kunal Verma, does not specifically deal with the messy controversy surrounding General (retired) V.K. Singh's date of birth, but demands that the whole gamut of the civil-military relationship be examined in depth.

It calls for some serious introspection, including the need for professionals to be allowed to run the MOD.

General (retired) Singh's demand for a 360 degree evaluation by superior officers, peers and subordinates of the ability of an officer to lead does have merit, as an army officer is often called upon to lead in adversity to ensure the country's territorial integrity and the safety of its ill-prepared civilian population.

The publishers, most definitely, could have proof-read the book better. I am also sure that the author could have enlightened the reader about similar cases existing in the "other" two forces - the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, and maybe reconsidered the necessity of including detailed copies of the actual judgments at the end of each case/chapter.

I agree with the view that India's polity and judiciary still has a long way to go to reach those high levels of probity in public life as compared to the West. The judiciary, in the case of the armed forces, needs to play the role of the judge rather than the arbitrator more often, so as not to leave the civilian government embarrassed. The armed forces system has to be immune from tampering and manipulation to ensure the best man for the top job. By Ashok Dixit


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