|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has received considerable flak on social media for having told the media that he agreed to build three foot over bridges in Mumbai for building the image of the Army. One post on Facebook even showed photo of a potholed-water logged road in front of a house, saying that the dilapidated road built by the MCD could also be taken on by the Army, in case the Chief was interested in more image building. Obviously the Chief would have been asked to take on the task under the garb of 'nation building', an exercise that is clearly political. So, the Chief had little option where the military has been used to meet political ends past several decades. But the question here is why does the Army need to build its image when the public holds it in high esteem because of what it has been doing over the years consistently. The issue to address is in which quarters is the image of the Army not considered high enough and who is working towards lowering the Army's image? Opposition parties apart, is this the politico-bureaucratic nexus compounded by the anomaly of MoD being manned exclusively by bureaucrats? That the media is exploited by forces inimical to India from within and outside India too is an established fact, one example being the ‘up for sale’ type of media fellows, known to own properties beyond their means, who fabricated stories of an army coup.
A slimy colleague even put the photograph of a serving military chief on the front cover, captioning it “Self Before Service”. But they would never have the guts to write anything in a similar fashion against police officers because they simply would be bamboozled out of shape overnight. To certain extent the malaise also is to deflect from the deep rooted corruption (MoD being part of it) as described in the 1993 Vohra Committee Report. Not without reason Neha Thirani wrote in the New York Times on 2nd April 2012, “Corruption in India’s Ministry of Defense runs deep and wide, judging by the accusations made by defense officials in the past few months. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. In the frequent cases of corruption that have surfaced in the ministry over the years, incidents of graft have implicated everyone from petty officers to the highest ranks in the department.” And there are scams that have spanned multiple governments involving both major political parties of India. The beauty of the set up is that the polity is dependent on the bureaucrat for advice and the latter is not accountable and couldn’t care less. That is why we don’t even have a National Security Strategy and the HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) has not been merged with the MoD. During the first Indo-US DPG meeting held at New Delhi immediately, the US delegation was flabbergasted to know that our MoD has no personnel from the military on permanent absorption or deputation. They wondered how our MoD could function in the first place.
More recently, The Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Washington, highlighted the “Indian Defence Ministry’s (MoD) inability to discuss policy and strategy.” Excluding the military from crucial strategic decision-making and not reviewing the entire rubric of higher defence management and role of bureaucracy factoring the reports of scores of committees adversely affects national security. He has made no effort to remodel civil-military relations and has gone for blacklisting firms at the first instance to push his clean image but without making alternative procurement arrangements to fill up critical deficiencies. He has not been able to remodel DRDO and the OFB and make them accountable, bringing us to a sorry state where the military has to import even assault rifles and carbines. The Defence Minister (as the Prime Minister) may plead he is clean but he can hardly dust off the reflection of the murky dealings by his subordinates. That is the reason why HQ IDS has not been permitted to integrate with the MoD – so that bureaucratic accountability can continue to be avoided and more importantly the mafia links remain dappled. So how can the image of the Army be enhanced in an environment where there are signs of deriding the military in many spheres, with seemingly deliberate effort to place them even below para-military forces. Frankly no elaborate net assessment or appreciation is required.
The sole factor that the matters to the polity is the vote-bank. The Election Commission of India has authorized every soldier who is serving for one day six months or more on the day of election in any part of India to vote in the State elections (of the State he is serving in) as well as the Municipal Elections of the Municipality covering the place of the soldier’s current posting. Where exercising one's franchise is a democratic right and a state like Gujarat has made voting compulsory, nothing can be more stupid than the Army denying exercising this right by 'every' soldier. The Service Chiefs heading a 1.4 million military has a moral obligation towards this, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat having the major share while heading a 1.2 million Army. The image of the Army will automatically fall in place.