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Is Dialogue Between Military Officers and Civilian Policymakers Missing in India?

Speaking at the 2nd South Asia Conclave hosted by the Oxford University Press in New Delhi, the former chief VP Malik said that Indian bureaucracy could be one of the reasons behind the stagnating dialogue.

Rakhi Bose |

Updated:July 5, 2018, 12:45 PM IST
Is Dialogue Between Military Officers and Civilian Policymakers Missing in India?
Image for representation.(PTI photo)
New Delhi: Former-soldier-turned-academic Anit Mukherjee on Wednesday gave a preview of his new book titled ‘The Absent Dialogue: Civil Military Relations in India’, in which he explores the issue of the missing dialogue between military officers and civilian policymakers in India.

“The dialogue between military and politicians is missing. There isn’t enough conversation,” he said, adding that the military often suffered because of unpreparedness of the civilian administration.

Speaking at the second edition of the South Asia Conclave hosted by Oxford University Press, Mukherjee who served as a junior in the Army during Kargil, said, “Military effectiveness suffers due to this missing dialogue...There's a sentiment in the Army that the forces struggle with equipment and preparedness because of the decisions taking place in Delhi.”

In remembers that during Kargil war, militants had better equipment, allegedly due to ‘problems in Delhi’.

He also mentions in his book about “stories that came after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai – of policemen armed with antiquated rifles and little firing practice, intelligence coordination failures, commandos waiting on the tarmac for an airlift”.

“The problem is the bureaucracy. Unprepared civilians controlling major military decisions can have very severe consequences,” said Mukherjee, who is Assistant Professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technical University.

He also spoke against civilian control of the military. Speaking to News18, the former soldier said, “Army is only given free hand during military action. Most major decisions are taken by the civilian government and usually, there’s almost no dialogue during peacetime.”

Former Chief of Army Staff General (Retd) VP Malik agreed that there was a gap in dialogue between military officers and civilians.

“Policy makers are more concerned with military control and not military effectiveness... There is a lack of trust between the military and civilians.”

The former chief said that Indian bureaucracy could be one of the reasons behind the stagnating dialogue.

“Plans are never followed and rarely approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Army is treated as a go-to mechanism for crisis control. Anytime there's a war like situation, civil administrations run to the military to solve the issue. But then the military is neglected once the army does its job,” Malik said.

He went on to add that political interference also made the Army prey to ineffective functioning.

“Most civilian leaders and policymakers in the defence ministry have no idea what defence planning is. They don’t know the rules and values of the Army or understand how militants operate,” the former general said.

Talking about autonomy of the armed forces, Malik said, “What autonomy does the Army have? All promotions are decided in the defence ministry. What worries me is that the nature of the threat we face will make it worse. Civil-military relations are dynamic. Social changes, new technology and new patterns of recruitment impact the civil-military relations.”

However, Srinath Raghavan, who was also present on the panel, said that though Mukherjee’s book which critiqued the politicians for not understanding matters military, left an important factor untouched – that military in India were unprepared to deal with civilians.

“Military officers in India hardly receive the same kind of training and education their counterparts in the West receive. They are unprepared to understand civil policy matters and politics. Maybe Mr Anit’s book could include something on the lack of formal educational structures for army,” the senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research said.

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