Republic Day Special Series




Chapter X: Defence Forces Remain Colonial (Part 3)

The Anglo-phobia of the Army:
Gandhi’s assassination suddenly brought the whole nation to its senses. The communal conflicts subsided little by little. A sort of peace was established.

It should have been possible at the stage to take a second look at the constitution of the Indian armed forces. No such exercise appears to have been attempted. Army was sent to Telangana to quench the farmers’ uprising. It was used again against Naxalites, in Punjab, in Kashmir etc. Whenever a civil discontent erupted army was dispatched to deal with the situation. This has continued ever since. The British army adopted by India was used exactly as the British Rulers had done.

May be adoption of the British army had its own justification. May be acceptance of the British model of armed forces by independent India had its own reason. One would expect, however, that, at least in situations of grave emergency attempt would be made to mobilise the youth of the country in the service of national defence. Why was it not done? Indian army, even after independence, remained a society apart. They had little contact with the citizenry in the day-to-day activities. The Indian army needs to be felicitated for one thing. They could have easily taken over the civil government on many occasions. This would have not been a novelty. Coups d ètat were being staged all over the third world. Not that some of the Generals would not have liked the idea. Occasionally, there is a debate on the relative position of the Civil Administration on one hand and the armed forces on the other. Each time the conclusion was that the civil government is paramount. The Defence forces have accepted this situation.

What would be the ideal constitution of the Indian army? This is a continental country with large population, very little capital and poor technology. The logical conclusion would be that the defence forces should emphasise use of manpower. The soldiers of the Chinese People’s Army who carried sacks of barley flour for their sustenance drove back the Indian professional army on the northeast frontier in 1962. Mere babies of the Vietnamese Army countenanced the carpet-bombing by the American Air force. And the Vietnamese forces living like rodents in underground tunnels forced an abject surrender on the American Army equipped to the teeth with the most modern gadgetry.

It is futile to maintain that equipment makes the army. In a real prolonged armed conflict India can be defended only through defence plans based on effective use of manpower.

At independence, India was dependent for all arms and ammunitions, with minor exception of guns, cartridges and shells, on imports from abroad. Since then, there has been a significant improvement in defence production. Compared with many a country of the third world India is more self-sufficient in military hardware. We have tanks copied from one country, trucks from a second one, guns from yet another one and bombers and fighter planes from still another country. This kind of configuration is of questionable utility in a conflict with any major power. We cannot fight them with equipment which are poor copies of their own material. This is not idle scare mongering. China is a hostile neighbour. It is pointless to debate which side was guilty of aggression in 1962. In 1998, the defence minister of the BJP government stated that China is the main threat to India. If there is another breakout of hostilities with China or if China rushes to Pakistan’s assistance in any of the routine conflicts we persistently have with that country how long will our stocks of arms, ammunitions and other equipment last?

Strategy of 21-day Defence:
Even leaving aside the case of conflicts with a super-power, let’s examine the situation of conflict with Pakistan. Pakistan has smaller territory, lesser population and a weaker economy. Our defence strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan, at least till Kargil, appears to have been on the following lines. In case of break-out of hostilities deploy planes, rockets and guns to protect cities near the border, like Delhi and Amritsar; keep the exchanges on the border going for three to four weeks in a manner that would make the stocks last as long as possible and hope that some third power or the United Nations will step in to bring about a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities. In the meanwhile, the citizens would display about the war the same kind of interest as they have for football or cricket match, finding out from news bulletins, every now and then, the scores. With the cease-fire both sides can claim that they have scored a victory and give out for the consumption of their public colourful pictures of how the enemy would have been totally annihilated if only the third party had not forced a cease-fire. Both the countries start afresh amassing arms and equipment for the next conflict. Like young urchins exhausting their stock of firecrackers, the top brass and the political leadership of both the adversary countries become free to purchase or produce fresh equipment and earn fresh commissions.

This certainly cannot be healthy for India’s defence system. After Independence, at least after some sort of normalcy was restored, if a system of one year’s draft for all the young men was introduced by now, at least 15 million young men would have been ready trained in the use of minor weapons in defence of the Mother-land. In that case, even China could not have easily taken condescending positions towards India and Pakistan would certainly be less offensive. The army in China is the peoples’ army and not a professional outfit. That essentially is the secret of its prowess. The important question that one asks oneself is why was the Indian army not made peoples’ army. There exist multi-fold vested interests in having a professional army. Professional soldiers are not very happy about admitting the civil population amongst them. Far more importantly, no government sceptical of its legitimacy likes to put arms in the hands of common people. Switzerland in Europe is tiny country reputed for neutrality and policies in favour of peace. In a country of this kind, every Swiss man, till the age of 65 years, is supposed to be prepared to present himself at the front within 24 hours of the call. He keeps even his automatic weapons at home. It is said that the favourite pastime of a Swiss housewife is to keep these arms well oiled and well polished. This is possible in Switzerland but not in Stalin’s Russia nor in India ruled by the Black Britishers. The psychological compulsion to keep a full-fledged professional army clearly signified that the government is unwilling to trust it’s own citizens. If the government’s perception is that it may be forced to send army to suppress civil unrest every now and then and that the economic system it presides over can be maintained only with the support of the armed forces it is unlikely to shift from the professional army to a people’s army. An army estranged from the citizens, a police department that lacks sympathy for the people, all these indicate that the enforcement machinery has no roots among the people. This does not happen in all the countries, that it has happened in India, is a clear indication that it has not become independent in the real; sense of the term. The white Britishers have left and have been replaced by the Black Britishers. The “Beating the Retreat” to the tune of Scottish bagpipe music in New Delhi is as close as it can be to the pigs’ walking on two legs in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’.

In the 50th year of India’s independence, the BJP Government made a quantum leap in the matter of India’s defence. Five nuclear devices were exploded at Pokharan to demonstrate to the world India’s nuclear capability. The Prime Minister maintained that this was a matter vital to India’s defence and the decisions in this respect can be taken only in the light of national interest. Pakistan responded by detonating six nuclear devices. It’s Prime Minister made a stalemate which echoed word for word the statement of his Indian counterpart.

Does the possession of nuclear bombs make a country’s defence system any stronger? The BJP Defence Minister pronounced that China was India’s principal adversary and that the main threat to India came from the Chinese, rather than Pakistan border. We have fought three wars with Pakistan. The issue of Kashmir is simmering for 50 years. In fact, Kargil happened within a few days of the Defence Minister’s pronouncement. It may be said that right since the partition, there has been an undeclared and continuous war between these two countries. China is far ahead of India in the matter of nuclear capacity. India would have difficulty to match China’s might even in a conventional war. A nuclear conflict with China is inconceivable. Briefly, the possession of nuclear weapons does not appear to help India against one of the two principal belligerent countries.

The whole Indian nation suffers from a peculiar complex as regards Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan is no match for India. It is a small country. Its population is much less, economy much poorer. Its military capacity would not come to even 30 per cent of that of India. It is true that it possesses jet fighters and rockets that have a slight edge over those with the Indian army. It would be foolish to imagine that Pakistan can ever overcome India militarily. The successive leaders of Pakistan have been very conscious of this fact. They have been taking political stances calculated to put India on the defensive.


(... continued in Part 4)

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