“It is not the reality, which is changing, but the change, which is becoming a reality.”
– P V Narasimha Rao

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1. It is very unfortunate to see and realize that one of the world’s largest democracy, after seven decades of independence, is still struggling to achieve a relationship between the political leadership and the armed forces. There seems to be a clear deficit of trust and misunderstanding amongst the two main pillars of the world’s largest and the longest democracy. The elements of national power, political, economy, diplomatic, psychosocial and military are required to be integrated in a manner that national aim and objectives are attained in unison. No element in itself can achieve the desired results. The military component, unless effectively dovetailed with the other elements through an integrated system, cannot be effectively handled towards achieving the national objectives.

2. Genesis. Mahatma Gandhi’s firm adherence to the principle of non-violence throughout India’s independence struggle has no parallel in history . However, a misinterpretation of his unique vision and profound values led to the emergence of two surreal perceptions amongst India’s political leadership. For one, they were convinced that since a pacifist India would have no enemies, the armed forces would become redundant after independence. Their second conviction was that the Indian Army was a mercenary force which had been used as a tool by the British to suppress the freedom movement, and deserved to be shown its place.

3. The politicians were right that the British Indian Army had served the King-Emperor loyally in many wars, in India and abroad. But after the string of early British defeats in WW II, Indian prisoners of war (PoWs) in Singapore, Germany and Italy were facing the most difficult moral dilemma, that of to choose between the King and their motherland, being offered by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Having given a thought over this predicament and post realizing the consequences, many Indian officers and jawans decided to fight for their motherland. As a result, 3000 Indian PoWs were formed into the Legion Freies Indien or Free Indian Legion as a unit of the German Wehrmacht. 40,000 out of 45,000 PoWs in Singapore joined the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA) as it was commonly known. The story of these colonial Indian warriors is a masterpiece but have been long forgotten chapters in India’s freedom struggle. Suffice to say that the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind (Provisional Government of Free India) formed in Singapore by Bose in 1943, formally, declared war on the British Empire, and INA units fought alongside the Japanese 15th Army in its abortive invasion of India with “Dilli Chalo” as their inspiring slogan.

4. Post Independence Era. The phase immediately post-Independence too, was extremely difficult for the new emerging republic of the world. The role played by our armed forces during the historical violence and turmoil during partition, and to integrate other princely states with the union of India was the testimony for the world that the new born state is in safe hands and will grow on to be a significant player in world affairs in times to come. Over the years, as our glaring strategic innocence repeatedly led to adventurism by our neighbours in 1947, 1962, 1965, and 1999, it was invariably the gallantry and patriotism of the armed forces which saved the nation from disintegration and dishonour each and every time. The victory of 1971 Bangladesh War will remain a glorious episode in the dismal history of sub-continental conflicts. This foray into the past was meant to dispel prevailing myths, and to bring home the crucial contribution of the armed forces to India’s freedom movement as well the post-independence stabilisation phase. The higher defence organisation of our country has evolved over four decades. The period from 1954-62 saw the stagnation of the Armed Forces and defence needs were nowhere to be seen in government agenda. Dominant political leadership pursued non-alignment at the cost of national security. Deep cracks emerged between Defence Minister Krishna Menon and then Chief of Army Staff Gen KS Thimayya pointing towards a growing separation between the soldier and the state.

5. 1962 War. In the aftermath of 1962 debacle the defence set up was reorganised. Defence was included in the five-year plan and department of Defence Production was created. The functional efficiency of the decision-making machinery improved courtesy Defence Minister’s frequent meetings but slowly and gradually the frequency of Defence Minister’s Committee reduced and after 1974 it never met. At the same time bureaucratic control of the higher defence mechanism further tightened by upgrading the status of Cabinet Secretary vis-à-vis the Service Chiefs and changing the Defence Committee of Cabinet to Emergency Committee and then widening its scope and calling it as Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs in which the presence of Service Chiefs were not mandatory.

6. The 1965 War taught some major lessons regarding integrated planning among services and the aspect of balance re-equipping policy for different terrain and also increased interaction among top defence planners. The 1971 war brought out the fact of an understanding political leadership and its faith in the Armed Forces. However, Chiefs of Staff Committee though effective, was mostly dictated by Chief of Army Staff. The system was personality based and hence the efficacy of the system was questionable.

7. Post 1971 War. The system did not remain permanent after the war was over. The ethos of working relationship deteriorated due to inter services rivalries and myopic bureaucracy. This period has been marked by ever growing internal security threats in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Punjab and the North –East states, operations in Siachen Glacier and the misadventure in Sri Lanka. The Chiefs of Staff Committee relegated in importance with Defence Secretary virtually representing the Services in the CCPA. When there was variation of views among the Service Chiefs Defence Secretary acted as moderator-cum-arbitrator, thus, assuming the role of de-facto Chief of Defence Staff.

8. Present Sentiment amongst Indian Armed Forces (IAF). The men in uniform, in today’s scenario, feels an assured lack of identity in their own country and that too, when they have been the main contributor towards ensuring the safety, integrity and sovereignty of his motherland. This has been there ever since independence, but have come out in open at large in recent times when there was a false report stating that a regressive army general has gathered an army of his own and is marching towards New Delhi for a coup. The morals and ethics by which our armed forces serve is unparalleled but sadly was questioned in this particular incident. This insecurity may be due to the historical behaviour of our western neighbours who have had a saga of coups. Therefore, it is not only essential but is the need of the hour to squarely address this issue so as to execute some path breaking reforms in India’s higher defence organisation at the earliest so as to realize its implications on the overall security scenario in the Indian context as well as for peace, safety and security of the entire south Asian region.


9. The aim of this paper is to analyse the roadblocks and challenges that are being faced in India’s Higher Defence Organisation and defence reforms, their genesis and possible solutions so as to have an overview of the present set up of HDO in India.


10. Policy Advisory Committee (PAC). In 1986, under Mr G Parthasarthy, a Policy Advisory Committee was set up on the lines of USA’s National Security Council. This committee did not have Service Chiefs as its member. This committee had to be wound up as it failed to provide any quick-fix solution to the Sri Lanka problem . However, in the same year the first integrated inter service organization called Defence Planning Staff was created to work under COSC. It comprises of senior representatives from Ministry of Defence, Defence (Finance), Ministry of External Affairs and Senior Scientist from DRDO.

11. The National Security Council (NSC). The National Security Council, set up in 1990, was like old Defence Committee of the Cabinet without Service Chiefs as its member. However, the Council remained a non-starter. During the tenure of Mr PV Narasimha Rao defence took a back seat in favour of economic liberalisation. Security issues were put to back burner and a tight fiscal control starved the defence forces of the requisite funds and equipment. The cabinet did not approve even the eighth defence plan.

12. The Kargil Review Committee. The 1999 Kargil fiasco highlighted shortcomings in our higher defence organisation which was reported by the Kargil Review committee . It reported, “There has been very little change over past 52 years despite 1962 debacle, the 1965 stalemate, the 1971 victory, the growing nuclear threat, end of cold war, continuance of proxy war in Kashmir over a decade and revolution in military affairs. The political, bureaucratic, military and intelligence establishments appear to have developed a vested interest in the status quo.” Some of the issues highlighted were as under:-

(a) National Security Council evolved in April 1999 had Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary as its National Security Advisor. This dual responsibility prevents adequate attention being paid to the sensitive security issues.

(b) Joint Intelligence Council (JIC), which was upgraded and transferred from COSC to the Cabinet Secretariat in 1985, was devalued. There was no institutionalised coordination between the intelligence agencies and consumers at various levels.

(c) On National Security Management and Apex decision-making the Kargil Review Committee is of the view that the lack of integration of the Armed Forces Headquarters in the decision making process highlights the continuance of British Imperial theatre system of India Command. This is an obsolete system and relegates the role of the three Service Chiefs as the Operational Commanders and the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister do not have the benefit of the expertise of the Army Commanders and their equivalent in Navy and Air Force.


13. The major drawbacks in our higher defence organisation may be summarised as under:-

(a) Civil – Political control, though an accepted and correct form in a democracy, presently is not executed in the desired manner with civil servants ensuring bureaucratic delays wherever possible resulting in delayed modernisation of the armed forces leaving them with obsolete equiment. The other drawbacks of civil-Political control are: –

(i) The civil servants are ignorant about the military matters.

(ii) A civil servant with hardly any defence background is considered fit to hold an appointment in the ministry while a service officer irrespective of his training and professional background is denied this position and not even consulted for his field of expertise.

(iii) The Defence Secretary has become the chief coordinator of the three services and in fact the chief advisor to the Minister of Defence.

(b) Our higher defence organisation lacks a clear-cut policy directive from the cabinet or a comprehensive statement of defence policy available to it. CCPA tends to discuss defence policy only in the crisis situations, and the process is confined to knee jerk situations. Non- enunciation of clear-cut national objectives prevents definite analysis of the security environment.

(c) In the absence of a full time and exclusive Chairman of the COSC there have been frequent changes in the Chairmanship. The senior civil servants tend to act as arbitrators on issue of disagreement which is hardly conducive to inter-service harmony.

(d) There is no forum where the Service Chiefs can directly interact with the political executive and are therefore relegated to the position of one of the many to tender advice. The Defence Ministers Weekly meeting cannot substitute the Defence Minister’s Committee. It is not equipped for deciding major issues.

(e) Intelligence. The Joint Intelligence Committee, in the absence of any other executive power for intelligence gathering falls short of carrying out its role effectively. The main intelligence gathering agencies are overly police oriented and rather inward looking . There is an inescapable need for creation of Defence Intelligence Agency working under one roof.

(f) Defence Planning Staff. It needs to be enlarged in its entire span of functioning. Its field must be manned by a select band of officers to become truly a combined ‘think tank ‘ of the Services Chiefs and the proposed National Security Council.

(g) Inadequate Inter Service Co-ordination. The need to integrate similar weapon systems, training, communications, intelligence, logistics etc among the three Services is sine-quo-non. This integration to optimise our combined strength is essential but is only possible if we have integration at the highest level.

(h) Financial Control. It remains entirely with the top political levels whereas execution is the responsibility of the lower levels. The Financial Advisor functions more as a financial controller than advisor and there is no delegation of financial authority.

(j) Lack of Integrated Command and Staff Structure Between Services. Modern warfare demands not only inter service co-operation but integrated planning and efforts at all levels. The geographic jurisdiction of Army and Air Force commands still differs and Navy’s command bears no relationship with the other two Services even in the areas where tri Service operations are contemplated possible. No serious thought has been given to the effective and possibility of creating unified theatre commands.

(k) Lack of Integration Between the Services and Para Military Forces and the Central Police Forces. The optimum potential of the Para Military Forces has not been harnessed to enhance the overall national defence effort and the border management. This is primarily for want of proper command and control arrangements and an unwarranted sense of insecurity in the Home Ministry vis-à-vis towards the Army.

(l) Decision Making. The policy making and policy implementation are two separate watertight compartments in our higher defence organisation. Present organisation does not cater for the integrated functioning in which military officers, and civil servants are required to work together in an integrated manner directly under the political executive. The military has been isolated from the decision making process on defence matters. The presence of Service Chiefs being in attendance in Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) has also practically disappeared.

(m) Information Warfare. The revolution in military affairs (RMA) and the development in the field of computers and information adds to the security threat to the nations economy and its routine functioning, technological and corporate security and also impinge on the operations of the Armed Forces. Though India claims to have joined the elite club of nations by promulgating cyber laws, yet, its implementation on ground appears to be poor. Similarly, at national level there is a need to synergise and integrate the operational resources of the nation to stave off the threat in real time.


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