Around the Mulberry Tree

There are no two opinions in India that defence has been the most neglected sector in right from the Nehru-Krishna Menon combination; former with his disdain of the military plus utter lack of strategic sense and latter spawning corruption and the arms mafia in the MoD through the infamous Jeep Scandal to which Nehru was natural accomplice.

Nehru’s lack of strategic sense is generally alluded to in gifting away Aksai Chin to China, asking Britain and the UN to go slow on Tibetan protests against Chinese occupation of Tibet and genocide and instead focus on the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea in his own pursuit of the Nobel Peace Prize. Then there is also his stupidity in giving the UNSC seat offered to India to big brother China.

But what is never highlighted is that his halting the Indian Military’s pursuit in 1948 of fleeing Pakistanis in Pakistan Occupied J&K (PoJK). By halting the army and running to the UN, he cut off India’s international border with Afghanistan giving Pakistan a border with China, the geostrategic adversity of which changed the course of history of South Asia thereafter. Whether the Mountbattens fooled and honey-trapped Nehru or not may be conjectured but his this single decision did amount to treason.

Despite the prefix Pandit, westernized Nehru would never have studied our ancient heritage for defence and governance, for example Kautilya’s Arthshastra. Reading Lord Krishna’s gospel to Arjuna in Bhagwat Gita would probably have been anathema to him anyway given the controversy over his actual lineage. Had he read the Arthshastra, Nehru would probably have never forced India to capitulate the way he ended up doing.

Henry Kissinger in his recent book ‘World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History’ writes,”The Arthshastra sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbors. The Arthshastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation.”

He goes on to describe Kautilya as a combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz.

So, where are we today with such heritage? Of the 2,22,236 sq kms of original Kashmir, 72,934 sq kms under illegal Pakistani occupation (less 5,180 sq kms of Shaksgam Valley gifted to China in 1963). China occupies 37,555 sq kms of Aksai Chia + 5180 sq kms of Shaksgam Valley + continues to nibble territory and has reportedly managed to occupy additional 642 sq kms in Ladakh alone.

Yet Chinese shamelessly claim additional 1702 sq kms, 2086 sq kms and 90,000 sq kms in the Western, Central and Eastern Sectors respectively.

Then there is three decades of Pakistan’s proxy war, China assisting northeast insurgency in India, as also Indian Maoists in recent years, Pakistan using Northern Sri Lanka to wage sub-conventional war on us, Chinese string of pearls and the like. Not that we have not had more Kautilya’s thereafter. You find them dime a dozen even today but this brand capitalizes on optimizing Machiavellian and Clausewitzian qualities merely to keep their own individual power secure at any cost using sam, dam, dand, bhed while the nation be damned.

The topmost pillars in any country are its economy and defence. That the past decade brought us to a 1962 like situation as far as national security is concerned was reported amongst others by former top level diplomats.

The major reasons why our defence is at its lowest ebb are: no national security strategy defined which should have been followed up by a comprehensive defence review, with both periodically updated; Defence Minister not charged with defence of India; no military expertise in MoD and the defence-industrial complex by design permitting the arms mafia to prosper; over 70 percent defence equipment still imported; official website of Ministry of Industry and Commerce says 50 percent of all military equipment (army, navy, air force) held is ‘obsolete’; no policy to deter proxy war of Pakistan; glaring voids in strategic intelligence; widening politico-military divide; concept of ‘one border, one force’ neglected with adverse effects on national security; ambiguity about who is accountable for the border – MEA, MoD, MHA; deliberate lowering of precedence of military, denying them authorized emoluments and sadistic pleasure in appealing against pensions of even war widows and war disabled, and; political intransigence and unaccountable and corrupt bureaucracy to name a few.

Despite the rhetoric by the opposition parties, some of whom are ganging up to a larger congregation of thieves like rats in a sinking boat, the fact remains that Prime Minister Modi has breezed fresh air in a nation that was getting stifled in the environment going otherwise polluted through divisive politics and lack of governance. That he is being acknowledged globally hardly need reiteration. That he means business can be gauged for example with his decision to shut shop of the Planning Commission since Congress reportedly had devised a simple formula – whatever assistance you want first deposit 10 percent in hard cash in the Congress Fund. How cute and clean with no hassles of documentation. That the Monteks serving Planning Commission for decades would have had their own bags full needs little imagination.

There is no doubt that PM Modi has worked wonders in with ‘the same babus and the same filing system’, a fact that he justifiably and proudly proclaims while addressing the crowds. Much before he became Prime Minister, this was being talked about by babus in Delhi who were in touch with their counterparts in Gujarat; how they were being made to work with weekly accountability, all of which actually contributed to transform the State with global recognition and investments. The pressure on the bureaucracy in Delhi now is palpable.

In fact, the talk of the nukkads is that the ruling political hierarchy and the bureaucracy are unable to keep pace with Modi’s dynamism.

Yes, some advances have been made to open up the defence-industrial sector, invite investments, joint ventures and the like but considering the current pathetic state, it will take years before the effects are felt. The deficiencies in ammunition and weapon systems too have been in the news. The PM has projected the need for a digitized military etc and meets the Service Chiefs on a monthly basis but all this is like affixing band-aid to a cancer patient. You will take half a century to have a digitized military capable of network centric warfare without an organization that can conscientiously work towards such digitization. The bottom line is that the mantra of ‘the same babus and the same filing system’ just cannot work in the case of MoD simply because generalist babus posted from all over do not have the basic understanding of matters military and PM’s directive that the babus should consult the military cuts little ice.

PM Modi also must recognize the arms mafia resident within the MoD, DRDO-DPSUs-OF with political links and roots abroad that help fund political parties.

This nexus wants the defence of India going around the mulberry tree. That is why no apparent move has been made even on the following major issues despite the new government being in power for more than six months:

  • Reorganize Higher Defence Structures and institutionalizing military participation in all strategic and policy formulations involving national security and matters military.
  • Defining a National Security Strategy followed by Comprehensive Defence Review and defnce procurements in consonance these.
  • Defining a Response to Asymmetric War and establishing credible deterrence against Pakistan’s proxy war despite heightening threats.
  • Reorganization of the MoD which needs to be demolished like the Planning Commission and replaced with a Department of Defence (DoD) staffed with military professionals.
  • Appoint CDS with full military powers which is required more to synergize (including digitizing) the military. Mr Modi should not fall for the trap being laid by the MoD bureaucracy to permit a Permanent Chairman of COSC sometime next year with voting rights equal to other Service Chiefs.
  • Evolving a policy for military diplomacy and its time bound implementation.
  • Infusing users (military professionals) at all levels in DRDO-DPSU-OF at all levels including at design, management and policy making levels.
  • Clear directive with timelines to DRDO for ‘R&D’ rather than ‘commercialization’ and setting up of defence-industrial zones using private industry.
  • Instituting the ‘One Border, One Force’ concept firmly. How is it that the government is continuing with the hotchpotch command and control in Ladakh between MoD and MHA.

The country is in a unique position to have the combination in PM Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, latter with reputation of putting in 16 hours of work daily and his IIT background.

Indeed a revolution in military affairs can be launched with their combined political will. The arms mafia and corruption in the defence sector will have to be fought, the mafia having grown deep routes in MoD and the governmental defence industry. The numerous defence scams must be speedily probed. There is ample evidence in the various scams of intimate involvement of the bureaucracy even as the pipeline went to the erstwhile PMO set up and beyond. The Eurocopter deal and the Westland Helicopter scam are just two examples, Haschke’s diary even listing out the bureaucrats that were bribed in the latter case. IB reportedly already has data of bribes in the Eurocopter scam.

Exemplary punishments in such scams are the only way to clean the arms mafia. Then is this business of sadistic pleasure of the babudom to what is ostensibly referred to as ‘keeping the military under the thumb’. What the PM and the RM need to ensure is immediate withdrawal of 3000 plus appeals against the pensions of war widows, war wounded and disabled soldiers. The media says that PM has asked the babus to ‘reduce’ such cases but that hardly suffices.

There is no point in showing respect to the military and military martyrs if such nonsensical disrespect continues simultaneously.

As to the promise of OROP, not only should the mischievous spoke put by the babus be removed, the government would do well in announcing a date by when it will be implanted no matter if it is in 2015 or 2016. Additionally, if this government does feel for the military, there is no reason why a military member is not included in the 7th CPC, considering that since 4th CPC onwards, the military has been done down systematically.

The defence of India has been going around the mulberry bush for far too long, dancing to the tune of the arms mafia and this music has not stopped.

Today, the across the board belief is that if Prime Minister Modi can’t put this right now, it probably never will.

For example, how long will we take to establish credible deterrence against Pakistan? Why we have remained in this state requires much deeper analysis than what the babudom is capable of inclusive of individual and departmental egos and vested interests.

So, the million dollar question is will the defence of India keep going around in circles?

Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.

Join the Conversation


  1. says: S.SuchindranathAiyer

    Since 1947, the Indian Armed Forces have been in the indefensible position of trying to prevent rapes in a brothel run by pimps who consider rape a good advertising tactic to drum up more or other business. And the ruling scum wonder why India’s finest do not want to come and fight and die for them. India is a suicidal Nation. The Constitution of India that enshrines exceptions to the rule of law and inequality under law making a mockery of the notion of a Nation and a Democracy is the perfect example. So, it is no surprise, for example, that India treats its Prisoners of War like royalty while letting Indian soldiers languish in foreign prisons. Indeed India spends enormous energy and effort to ensure that the most talented follow Gandhi’s advice and “Quit India” to seek refuge abroad while employing and promoting the incompetent and the corrupt with remarkable alacrity and assiduity. Not necessarily as hostages of Somali Pirates or ISIS and its many clones including Dubai.

  2. says: Avay Shukla

    General Katoch has ably listed out the ills that plague our defence establishment. I would not, however, be too harsh with Nehru with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight- at the time he was the ablest person to steer this country post independence: our continued survival today as a secular democracy inspite of the politicians we have is testament to that.
    Mr. Modi has taken a few tentative steps in the area of defence which are encouraging by themselves: a more virile policy towards our neighbours, announcement of improved infrastructure on our borders, indiginisation of manufacture of defence equipment. But he needs to do much more and quickly. I agree with Gen. Katoch that reforms are badly needed in MOD-at least 50% of senior positions there should be staffed by military officers and the Chiefs of Staffs given more financial and administrative powers in the matter of procurement, postings, allocation of budget etc.They should report only to the Raksha Mantri and PM and not to a Secretary of Defence. The workings of the Directorate of Ex-Servicemen and Rehabilitation( I’ve probably got this name wrong!) is a scandal-it generally works against the interests of ex-servicemen, not for them. I fail to understand why this critical unit is under an IAS officer who can never comprehend the issues involved.It should be under a senior defence services officer.
    Mr. Modi needs to have an advisor on defence issues who should not be either from the IAS or the IPS, if he is to get untainted advice. He should also avoid the kind of politicking with the army he recently displayed in Kashmir when he claimed credit for making the army apologise for the shooting of two men, and implied that such mistakes had occured in the past also.The morale of our troops is far more valuable than a few thousand votes.

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.