Indian Army transitions

Indian Army transitions

Every year on January 15, the Indian Army celebrates 'Army Day' to mark the day that its first chief General K M Cariappa (later Field Marshal) took over from the British General Sir Roy Francis Bucher as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the country's armed forces. This meant that Gen. Cariappa was the supreme commander of the Indian military, which includes the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. However, in 1955, the C-in-C was re-designated Chief of Army Staff and the Air Force and Navy got their own Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff, respectively.  

The British heritage of the Indian military leadership with its anglicised culture resulted in an uneasy relationship with the political class. In 1961, Army chief General Thimmayya submitted his resignation due to differences with Defence Minister Krishna Menon, which heralded the first signs of friction in civil-military relations. Thereafter, civil-military relations have never been healthy in India, with the civilian bureaucracy adding fuel to the fire.

Over the last decade, the Army appears to have become politicised and this is not healthy for a democracy. Till now, the fraternity of serving as well as retired Army men were seen as a single entity. While serving military personnel should not indulge in politics, the veterans, who have shed their uniforms, have understood that some issues need to be voiced through political forums, which is a legitimate process and signals a maturing democracy. Over the last decade, there have been a few retired generals who are active in politics.    

The Army was ordered to intervene in the 2002 Gujarat riots, sparked off by the Godhra incident, despite the existence of a horde of central armed police forces like the CRPF, besides the various state armed constabularies. The basic infantry training in weapons and tactics given to the Army and central/state armed police constabularies are almost similar in nature. The type of basic weapons that both the Army and central armed police forces use is also the same, which include automatic rifles, sub and light machine guns.

However, the stark difference in the quality of junior leadership at the platoon/company commander level is what gives the Army a definitive edge in situations where lethal force is to be applied. Army troops are recruited from similar areas as those of the central armed police forces. The difference is that Army junior leaders up to company commanders lead from the front in operational situations.

Today, the military in India stands out from among the myriad other central government organisations in terms of its organisational ethos and culture which reflects in its ability to deliver results. This is most evident during natural disasters like earthquakes or floods that occur from time to time across the length and breadth of the country. The military takes the lead and rescues people in distress while the central and state government agencies are unable to cope with the same agility and speed to salvage the situation, though these responsibilities fall in the latter's charter.

Clearly, the Indian Army is amongst the finest colonial institutions that India inherited from the British Raj. However, the Army has had to adapt to post-colonial India. The youth who became Army officers in the immediate post-Independence period of nationhood were predominantly from higher social classes. In a socialist economy, the Army was an attractive career option because the private sector was not lucrative and offered only few jobs. Educated youth from upper middle and middle classes joined the Army. After the economy gained momentum, the Army ceased to attract the same number of youth from higher socio-economic strata.

Today, military salaries compare favourably with those in the corporate sector, which ensures that the background of the officer cadre represents all social stratums, without a dilution in selection parameters. Today, the gap between an Army officer and soldier in terms of education, economic and social status is reduced greatly.

Image makeover

Over the last couple of decades, a large percentage of officers are from almost the same social stratum that soldiers also belong to. Moreover, with democratisation or widespread access to social media, internal issues within the armed forces are out in the public domain. Therefore, the time has now come for the Army to shed its colonial legacy, synonymous with a closed society, and adopt a transparent approach to image management and public relations.

The Indian Army, in over 70 years of our nationhood, has generally given a great account of itself as an institution, both internally and externally. Its role in counter-insurgency operations in the North East, and Jammu & Kashmir, besides limited wars against Pakistan and China are noteworthy. Also, the Army's involvement in UN peacekeeping operations has helped to promote 'Brand India' in the international community.  

The Army, deployed along the Line of Control with Pakistan, has to successfully curb terrorist infiltration through a combination of high-tech surveillance systems, besides maintaining capability to launch surgical strikes. However, as a combat organisation, it is troubled by a low "teeth-to-tail ratio."

That is, the ratio of frontline fighting elements like the infantry, armour/tanks and artillery is backed by excessive manpower for logistics support. Instead, more "teeth" and less "tail" is required to ensure budgetary allocations for re-armament and maintenance of combat/non-combat inventory at serviceable levels. This is important to maintain an overwhelming deterrence capability.

To quote US strategic thinker Bernard Brodie, known as the American Clausewitz: "Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment was to win wars. From now on, its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have no other purpose". In a nuclearised environment, that holds good for the Indian military, too.

(The writer teaches International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)    

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