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Mainstream, VOL LV No 6 New Delhi January 28, 2017

“Babu Hatao, Fauji Bachao”: Trifling with the Fauj and National Security

Tuesday 31 January 2017, by S G Vombatkere

Civil-military relations are today at an all-time low and although the decades-long continuity of the bureaucratic hand is obvious in the current NDA-2 dispensation, there is also evidence of the political leadership humiliating the military. Let us begin with the CBI’s arrest of Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, India’s former Air Chief, in connection with the Agusta Westland helicopter purchase deal. It raises some questions not only about the functioning of the political leadership and the bureaucrat-police network, but also about hidden motivations and unintended compromise of national security due to its effect on the morale of India’s military.

Questions arise as to why ACM Tyagi was arrested when others involved were not. Was it done deliberately to humiliate him and thereby India’s military? Was this the handiwork of bureaucrats and/or the police? Who among the political hierarchy authorised his arrest?

These questions are not about whether or not ACM Tyagi is guilty of receiving bribes or any other offence. That matter will be settled by the courts after examining all evidence. But when evidence is still being collected, when ACM Tyagi is cooperating with the CBI in collection of evidence, and there is no prima facie case against him, his arrest raises the question: Why was ACM Tyagi singled out for humiliation?

Humiliating the Military

Let us recall that during the NDA-1 rule under PM Vajpayee, Defence Minister George Fernandes summarily dismissed Navy Chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat from service. It is clear that the government wanted to show its power over the military by summarily dismissing a Defence Service Chief, because the proper and sensible thing to do was to summon Admiral Bhagwat and ask him to resign. Dismissing him in a peremptory manner was an act of cowardice. The most generous view one can take is that the government (politician-bureaucrat) had no clue as to the repercussions that public humiliation of a serving Defence Chief would have on the morale of the Indian Navy and the sister services. Or was the summary dismissal by design? What was the purpose served by humiliating Admiral Bhagwat and the military as a whole?

Now that ACM Tyagi and the military have been humiliated by the NDA-2 Government, in retrospect Admiral Bhagwat’s dismissal appears to fall in place, especially because in between the Bhagwat and Tyagi incidents, there have been incidents in the NDA-2 tenure which appear to have been directed at humiliating the military and adversely affecting the soldiers’ morale, and thereby compromising national security. To name a few in random sequence:

  • Sending police to manhandle peacefully agitating Veterans at Jantar Mantar;
  • Stating that OROP would be given to military Veterans by taking it from dues to poor farmers;
  • Notwithstanding reservations of the Defence Services Chiefs, peremptorily directing the three Service Chiefs to implement the 7CPC award without delay;
  • Keeping the military without access to the 7CPC Anomalies Committee which was secretly arranged for civilians;
  • Raising the salaries of the CRPF above that of soldiers;
  • Downgradation of military ranks vis-a-vis civilian officials;
  • Granting NFU to IPS but not to the military;
  • The issue of pay parity with IAS/IPS;
  • Lower hazard allowance than IAS/IPS;
  • Stating that the Army did not know its own capability to carry out the post-Uri surgical strike until it was told so;
  • Reducing disability pension immediately following the post-Uri surgical strike;
  • The military commander being pushed aside by a bureaucrat at the 2016 Red Fort Independence Day function; and
  • Insulting military war memorials and guard of honour by a functionary deliberately dressing inappropriately or casually.

These and more are apart from the Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare appealing as a matter of policy against every judicial decision given in favour of individual Veterans.

Meddling with military leadership

The recent unprecedented step of “deep selection” of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the Army Chief-designate by superceding two senior officers, even though this is within the discretionary powers of the Cabinet, has caused disquiet among soldiers and Veterans. The reason for disquiet is that the government appears not to understand that Lt Gen Rawat is not superior in merit to his two seniors whom he has superceded, and if his experience in counter-insurgency is the criterion for his selection, it glosses over the fact that the Army is deployed in counter-insurgency only because of the decades-long failure of the bureaucracy-police in its primary role of internal security. If however deep selection was a political decision, this could seriously compromise the Army (the military in general) remaining as India’s last bastion of secular practice, and encourage sycophancy among officers to the permanent detriment of military professionalism.

It is necessary to note that previous governments, including NDA-1 and the Congress regimes preceding and including UPA-1 and UPA-2, had undoubtedly given the military a raw deal, particularly with regard to successive Central Pay Commissions and the OROP demand. Gen Vaidya was appointed the Army Chief by superceding Lt Gen Sinha, and Army Chief Gen Rodrigues was publicly castigated for his “bandicoots” remark. Even though the political leadership was primarily responsible, the hand of the bureaucracy was clear to every serving and retired soldier.

The precipitous dip in civil-military relations is because the bureaucrat-police machinations are increasingly blatant, and rather than taking control of the military and releasing it from the Babu-stranglehold, some top political leaders are thoughtlessly causing humiliation. Questions are being asked as to who will bring this to the notice of the National Security Council. One Veteran even suggested a slogan on the lines: “Babu hatao, Fauji bachao”, so that civilian control of the military is actually with the Union Cabinet.

Considering that the NSA is a police officer with enormous clout at the topmost level, upgrading of the status of the police over the military while simultaneously humiliating the military is extremely dangerous for the security and safety of India.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as the Additional DG Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ AG’s Branch. He is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). With over 520 published papers in national and international journals and seminars, his area of interest is strategic and development-related issues. He can be contacted at e-mail: sg9kere[at]live.com