The appointment of Shri. Rajnath Singh, a political heavy weight, man with outstanding credentials and the reputation of being a doer has raised enormous hopes among soldiers, sailors, airmen and veterans of all hues. It’s not without reason that the entire defence personnel and veterans feel they have been sidelined for too long. A community which has been instrumental in upholding the nation’s solidarity and integrity by battling wars and insurgencies, floods and tsunamis, for almost as long as the nation has been independent, feels peeved almost to the last man.
The letter by the Veteran Air Chief is an outstanding illustration of the depths to which the MoD’s relationships with the three services have gone down to and the cascading effects that it has had on multiple aspects of our armed forces.
The Air Chief Marshal starts his narrative by explaining the ‘Us versus Them’ attitude in the MoD that lays the turf for an uneven relationship between the bureaucracy and the services, and robs it of faith, trust and synergy. He also expresses his hope, that the care and concern that the Minister has shown for the PMFs will be reflected in his approach to the services.
Amongst other issues, the retired Air Chief has suggested that the Minister trust the three Chiefs and not be bound by bureaucratic advice. He has also in his letter alluded to the process of selection for higher ranks, jointness, equipment modernization and a host of other issues.
The letter is reproduced beneath without editing.
Retired Air Chief PV Naik’s Open Letter To The Raksha Mantri
Hon Raksha Mantri,
Please accept my heartiest congratulations on winning so convincingly from your constituency Lucknow. I also congratulate you on taking over the prestigious appointment of Raksha Mantri. I am well aware of your vast and varied experience in the political field. Lok Sabha MP, Union Cabinet Minister for Surface Transport, CM of UP, Union Agriculture Minister, BJP National President and in 2014 the Union Home Minister. A most impressive CV. But what impressed me even more was your MSC Physics and the efforts to improve awareness of our traditional sciences like Vedic mathematics.
2. I am happy that you will bring the full weight of your multi-faceted experience to bear on your job as Raksha Mantri. It also warms the cockles of my heart that, finally, someone with political clout has taken over this Ministry. The country needs it. When I reflect on my innings with the IAF I find that a couple of times when I was appointed to a post similar to the one I held earlier, I felt I knew everything about the job. Invariably, an unpleasant surprise or two before I was back on line. Far be it from me to presume even a modicum of complacency on your part, I genuinely feel that I need to acquaint you, sir, with some differences you might notice in the Raksha Mantralaya.
3. One major difference is that the Defence Ministry is unlike any other. All other ministries have a singularity of purpose. All members of the ministry work towards the same aim. In your Ministry it is ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Through the Seventies, Eighties and the Nineties, the bureaucracy continued to acquire disproportionate powers vis-à-vis the Service Chiefs. The bureaucracy conveniently points to the “Government of India Transaction ofBusiness Rules” framed in 1961 under the constitutional powers of the President of India. These documents continue to guide the conduct of business by the Government of India. It is instructive to read the document. Under these rules, the three Service headquarters were designated as “Attached Offices of the Department of Defence”, and are, therefore, placed in a position subordinate to the DoD. The Service Chiefs, as professional heads of the three Armed Forces and with experience garnered over a period of at least four decades, found no mention in these rules. The Secretary Department of Defence on the other hand, according to these rules, is responsible for Defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination to effective Demobilisation. It is, in fact, a crying need that the Armed Forces be integrated with MOD and become a part of the decision making apparatus. We should start small, say at Director level, and make it work before taking it further. This, sir, is the first step. Without this, the rest is cosmetic.
4. If you permit me I would like to highlight some issues for your kind consideration in subsequent paras. I do not presume to render advice to such a seasoned and experienced person as you, but I feel these issues are important and, if addressed expeditiously and correctly, will pay you good dividends. Over the last five years we have seen the care & concern you have bestowed over the Para Military Forces(PMF).On their advice, I am sure, you would not have hesitated in asking for the Armed Forces(AF) help in difficult situations. Now, sir, you will have to switch loyalties in a hurry. Excessive use of the AF in aid to civil authority is detrimental to morale and training suffers. The same care you lavished over the PMF now has to go to the AF also.
5. The next step is to see the lie of the land. By the time you read this, you would already have started your visits starting with the glamorous Siachen. Visit Tawang and Arunachal. Visit Nagaland. Visit forward areas in Rajasthan. Go to the forward units. Mingle with soldiers. Share a cup of tea in an enamel mug. Eat fresh pakodas in a cracked plate. Do not give them speeches but talk to them & listen to them. You will get an idea of their life spent in the service of the nation. Appreciate the hardships. Please visit the forward Air Force and Naval bases too. The aim is to gain the trust of the soldier. Promise them only what you can deliver. But deliver on your promises.
6. Centuries ago the worldly wise Chanakya told the king of Magadh: “The Mauryan soldier does not himself the Royal treasuries enrich nor does he the Royal granaries fill… The soldier only and merely ensures that… He is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone of our fame, culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity. While the Magadha citizenry endeavours to make the State prosper and flourish, the Mauryan soldier guarantees that the State continues to exist!” may I suggest, sir, that this be the cornerstone of your policy during your tenure as RM. There is a growing perception among the AF that they have been hard done by successive govts. A sense of denigration is slowly pervading the field. When the need for National security arises, they are made much of, and studiously ignored thereafter. Not to mention discriminatory deals like Warrant of Precedence, MFU or Pay grade anomalies, a soldier’s prime mover is ‘Izzat’. One of your prime asks is going to be to restore the pride of the soldier.
7. Learn to trust your Chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force. By the end of the year you will have three new Chiefs. These are officers who have been through the mill for almost fourdecades. They carry a wealth of knowledge and experience in matters pertaining to military security. Harness this wealth. Give them easy access to your office. Their loyalty is already absolute. As a corollary, you, too, must gain their trust. I am sure you have already started having briefings every morning. May I suggest you avoid this temptation. Do not concern yourself with routine. Nothing would please the bureaucracy more than to tie you up with routine and the mundane. I think a weekly meeting with the Def sec & the Chiefs would suffice, but do minute these meetings for follow up. For military grievances, ask military advice. For a solution, involve both the military and the babus. Please, for heavens’ sake, do not take military decisions based solely on the shadow files created by Babus. Do consult the Chiefs. Sir, I have a small suggestion regarding the selection of Chiefs. Nobody denies that merit based selection, with due deference to seniority, is the best method. The question is who determines merit? Is it the RM under Def Secy’s advice? Is it the PMO? Is it Intel or the NSA? All the above have only peripheral knowledge of the officer concerned. Besides political leanings, we need to factor in professionalism too. So whose advice counts in the Appointments Committee? May I suggest a panel involving all the above plus an ex Chief of the same Service?
8. The premier need of all three Services today is equipment. Tanks, guns, aircraft, ships, weapons, ammo. Please give it top priority. May I sincerely urge you not to fiddle around with DPP initially. Instead, remove the blockages. Find out who is responsible for delay and let the heads roll. Today’s procurement cycle is about six to eight years. The PM’s policy of ‘Make in India’ is vital for us. Try to clear the way for Private sector to participate in Defence production. Try to create a level playing field. They are ever so willing to contribute. I would urge you to view HAL and DRDO with more than a modicum of concern. They are monolithic and need critical surgery. Ideally, they need to be sub divided into manageable entities under professional management. Presently, just make them more accountable. The serious business can follow.
9. I believe implicitly in civilian control over the military. My understanding of civilian control is what was iterated in the Anglo-French war. The orders to English generals were” To demolish France but not to such an extent that she is unable to rise again”. This is the desirable scale of civilian control over the military. It should deal with higher directions of war and grand strategy. Over the years, a series of leaders have let this control degenerate into Bureaucratic Control, nay, Bureaucratic Interference. It has permeated into fields like promotions, postings, liaison visits to friendly countries, even such routine necessities like canteens and messes. This unnecessary interference is leading to wastage of man hours and inefficiency. I am sure you are the right man to reverse the trend.
10. I strongly feel that we need to improve ‘jointness’ among the three Services. It has been working well all these years. However, Technology has vastly increased the lethality and speed of battle demanding faster decision making. India’s aspirations and her zone of influence are on the rise. We need to think ‘Joint’. Plan and execute jointly. In fact, occupying a ‘joint’ billet should be a prerequisite to higher promotions. I think now is the right time to initiate preliminary discussions on the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff(CDS). There are many questions to be answered. What type of CDS do we want. He should not be a mere figurehead. He should be the single point of advice to the RM. What should his powers be? Will the powers- that- be comfortable with this much power concentrated in one military person? Do we need Theatre Commands? Who controls the nukes? These are very difficult questions to answer. You have a long tenure ahead of you, sir, to find the answers, provided we start early.
11. I would like to close this letter by paraphrasing from Chanakya’s advice to his king “….If ever things come to a sordid pass, O King, when, on a given day, the Mauryan soldier has to LOOK BACK over his shoulder (‘Simhawalokana’) prompted by even a single nagging worry about his and his family’s material, physical and social well being, it should cause you and your Council the greatest concern and distress! It is my bounden duty to caution you, My Lord, that the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will neither have arrived suddenly, overnight nor in vain. It will also bode ill for Magadha. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be Raja Dhiraja! It will also mark the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!!” I think Chanakya brings out very clearly what the society owes a soldier. His self-respect must never be trifled with. Do not be lulled by the term ’equivalence’. A soldier’s task is a thousand times more onerous. The rest, sir, I leave to your decency and judgment.
12. You, sir, have a vast span of control and a large responsibility. I hope you find the time to go through my open letter. I have put down, in good faith, issues and suggestions which are relevant to the defence of the country and the Armed forces. All that remains for me is to wish you a very successful and rewarding tenure as RM.
With warm regards,
Air Chief Mshl