Ayesha Ray’s The Soldier and the State in India is an appropriate and timely work which comes as yet another urgent wake –up call to the government. This book endeavors to accomplish two goals. First, it brings out the changing nature of civil-military relations in India since the country’s independence. Second, in discussing the changes, the book addresses, some very vital factors. The role of nuclear strategy, the nature of India’s political system, and the nations counterinsurgency policy; which are decisive factors in influencing the relationship between the country’s political leadership and the military. These issues carry significant implications for understanding the conduct of war and the strategic choices facing India’s leadership. Of particular importanceare her book’s four chapters, viz., TheEvolution of India’s Higher Defense Organization, Nuclear Weapons Development in a Strategic Vacuum, The Effects of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons on Civil-Military Relations in India and The Indian Military’s Role in Unconventional Operations.In the 1950s when Indian Army’s top brass apprised then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru about the Chinese build-up and incursions, concerted with release of maps, he trashed their reports, naively complacent in his belief in the Panchsheel agreement and the Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai mantra. The perception of Major T P Francis, one of the official interpreters during Zhou En Lai’s visit to India in 1962, did not at all match with the interpretation that others gave. He predicted that China would attack India in six months. With nobody in the government, including Nehru, who met him, willing to go along with his interpretation, Major Francis resigned in protest.
China did indeed attack India within six months. Indian Army, inadequately armed with over half a century old bolt action .303 Lee Enfield rifles, insufficient ammunition and lack of extreme cold weather clothing, suffered a humiliating defeat with 1860 fatal casualties. Compounded by thedeficiencies mentioned, daft and rigid political directions of “forward posture”, “not to lose an inch of ground” and not
using the Air Force in offensive role so as “to not raise the level of confrontation” made this defeat hurt the Armed Forces all the more. While everything from potatoes to postage stamps became dearer, Nehru, it was said, was a broken man who at long last had to sack the then Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon. In 1967, when Chinese army upped the ante at Nathu La, Sikkim, by mortar bombardment in addition to small arms fire killing a number of Indian Army officers and soldiers, the then Brigade Commander, Brig MMS Bakshi, requested for sanction to respond with artillery fire.
This could only be sanctioned by the defence minister, whose portfolio was held by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Giving her approval without any delay, that too when she was in a cabinet meeting, Indian Army’s retaliation soon thereafter resulted in about 400 of its Chinese troops being killed, a convoy of vehicles being destroyed and many Chinese bunkers being leveled. Mrs Gandhi had, in one fell stroke, overturned the 1962 humiliation at the hands of her own father. The message that 1962 cannot be repeated went across to the Chinese very effectively, resulting in not a single bullet being fired by them since then till date. The planning, preparation and implementation of the third war waged by Pakistan against India in December 1971, was again, thanks to Mrs Gandhi being decisive and assertive, fought in quite a Chanakyan/ Kautilyan mode. Mrs Gandhi taking the recommendations of the Army Chief Gen (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw seriously, resulted in 93,000 Pakiatan armed forces rank and file surrendering to Indian Army at Dhaka after being surrounded by it within barely two weeks of war in erstwhile East Pakistan.
These two instances are classic examples of negative/disastrous versus positive/pro-active approaches to national security. The Nehru-Krishna Menon duo’s response to China was a combination of absolute absence of strategic perception for national interest along with a totally uncalled for contemptuous manner of dealing with an obedient and apolitical military leadership, which unfortunately set the pace for similar repetitions in at least the distant future. Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s approach to the second India-Pakistan war waged again by Pakistan, was positive as was his dealing with the military leadership. While Mrs Gandhi’s approach/ dealings/decisions related to 1967 and 1971 were indeed very effective and did
have some influence on her son, Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded her (responding to Chinese army at Sumdorong Chu, Arunachal Pradesh in 1986), they unfortunately remained confined to these three leaders-all of who died untimely deaths and thus could not come back to power. While subsequent governments failed to follow the assertive approach, or were not assertive enough, what we are seeing in 2013, in dealing with both China and Pakistan are the nadir. And since post- 1971, a process of downgrading the military’s status is amply reflected in orders of precedence and the Central Pay Commissions (CPCs), particularly the 6th CPC for its anomaly in the grant of Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) to Defence Forces.