Sun, Feb 26, 2017 | updated 05:48 PM IST

Supremacy of civil government over military was established even during colonial days

Updated: Oct 25, 2016 09:17 IST

By I. Ramamohan Rao

New Delhi [India], Oct.25, (ANI): R. Chandrashekar has given us a bird's eye view of the way in which civil-military relations have evolved in India, right from the colonial days. Even during the colonial days, the British insisted that the viceroy would be the final authority to decide on matters relating to the armed forces.

As early as 1902, there was a conflict between Viceroy Lord Curzon and the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army Lord Horatio Kitchener, and the British Government decided that the Governor General in Council is the final authority, while the Commander-in-Chief, commands the army.

There was a military member to advise the governor general on security matters. Even when there was a freedom struggle during World War II, Mahatma Gandhi said of the armed forces: " Ï do not want them to be disloyal to the present government whose power they are, for if they are disloyal to the present government today, by the same token they may be disloyal to the national government tomorrow."

The situation has evolved on similar lines during Dominion Rule, and in independent India, Sardar Baldev Singh was appointed defence minister on August 15, 1947. Simultaneously, the single Commander-in-Chief for the defence forces ceased to exist and was replaced by commanders-in-chief for the army, navy and the air force.

A defence committee of the cabinet was constituted after independence. It was presided over by the Prime Minister, with Home, Finance and Defence Ministers as members. Heads of the three Services were to be in attendance, along with the Defence Secretary and the Financial Advisor (Defence).

In 1952 , the government issued "Powers and Procedure of Defence Headquarters" which stated that the Services Headquarters would be Ättached Offices" and would be concerned with the implementation of policies laid down by the department to which they are attached.

Chandrashekar points out that this clearly laid down that the services role was restricted to executing 'the implementation of the policies laid down by the government.

Chandrashekar has also given us the problems that arose between the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon and the Army Chief General Thimayya. General Thimayya had warned that the available troops in the northern border with China were inadequate. Krishna Menon, on the other hand, harped on the India-China friendship and saw no need for the growth of the army. When General Thimayya had pointed out at an informal meeting with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of the gravity of the situation, he was accused by Krishna Menon of downright disloyalty and impropriety."

General Thimayya submitted his resignation, but Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded General Thimayya to withdraw his resignation. Soon his term was over and he was replaced by General P. N. Thapar. The ''forward policy' of the government, ended with the Chinese attack on India and India suffered a humiliating defeat. Krishna Menon resigned and the ministry was taken over by Yeshwantrao Balwantrao Chavan.

Chandrashekar has narrated the instances when there were rumours of a 'military takeover' during January 1961, and later during the Presidency of Giani Zail Singh, following his misunderstanding with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The troop movements on January 16, 2012 also raised apprehensions, but the author says India is not Pakistan, and the armed forces have been well-handled by the government.

The author has also given details of the controversy that arose following the supersession of Lt. Gen S.K. Sinha for the post of army chief, and the interview given by General S. F. Rodrigues to Raminder Singh of the Pioneer where he used the word 'bandicoots' while referring to politicians, and the dismissal of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat when he refused to accept the appointment Vice Admiral Harinder Singh as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, and reportedly went to the press to criticise the decision of the government.

Chandrashekar has dwelt in detail about the recommendations made by the Kargil Review Committee which pointed out that India is perhaps the only democracy where the armed forces are outside the government structure, they being attached offices'.

The Kargil Review Committee report was examined by a Group of Ministers, which suggested the reorganisation of the armed forces, creation of an Integrated Defence Staff, and the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff, who will provide one point advice to the Defence Minister. In effect, that would integrate the Services Headquarters into the government.

The Integrated Defence Staff was created, but the suggestion of creating a Chief of Defence Staff is yet to be implemented. Reportedly, the suggestion was repeated a decade later by the committee headed by the former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra.

I would suggest some additional information to what has been provided by the author. Firstly, the interview conducted by Pioneer Correspondent Raminder Singh of the Army Chief General S.F. Rodrigues was recorded in tape and the army chief even gave his approval to the interview which was recorded on tape. In fact, following the interview Raminder Singh told the General that it was an excellent and bold interview and he would project it positively. When Col P.N. Khera told Raminder Singh to submit the text of the interview as required for clearance, he said it has already been cleared by the Chief and refused to submit it for clearance.

When the interview was published in the Pioneer, it created a controversy in the Parliament.

Defence Minister Sharad Pawar said: " I have discussed the matter with the General and find that while a certain impression has been created , he made it abundantly clear to me that he stands fully committed to follow government policy and directions in regard to various issues referred in his interview.

I am satisfied with the General's explanation.However, I feel that such interviews by serving officers are best avoided. I wish he had resisted the temptation."

To reiterate, General Rodrigues had agreed to the interview when approached by the correspondent and following the interview told the correspondent he need not submit it for clearance, (which was also recorded). He reportedly blamed Col. P.N. Khera , who then faced removal from the job. On being told about the likely action, by his friends in the army headquarters, Col. Khera submitted his resignation to the Ministry of Defence, which was accepted.

I would also like to add to the information the author has provided about the supersession to the Army Chief's job of General S. K. Sinha. General Krishna Rao had only conveyed the decision taken by the government. In fact, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had asked Defence Minister R.Venkataraman to submit his recommendation. R.Venkatararaman visited the different commands personally, met the different General Officers Commanding the formations, had a discussion with them about the threats the command faced, and submitted his recommendations to the Prime Minister. However, he wanted the decision to be communicated by the army chief.

When General Sinha wanted to interact with the media after the supersession was announced, I as Director of Public Relations asked the Defence Minister, who approved of the Vice Chief, General Sinha, meeting the press. General Sinha reacted in a dignified manner and accepted his supersession.

The book fills a void about Civil-Military relations in India.

Book Review: Rooks and Knights, by R. Chandrashekar, pages 170, Pentagon Publishers, price Rs. 895/.

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on his e-mail (ANI)

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