Date: 30 Jan 2010


POLITICAL DIRECTION, MILITARY LEADERSHIP AND MORALE///////////// By///////////// Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM///////////// Preliminaries ///////////// Mr. Chairman, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour indeed and a great pleasure to be here this afternoon to participate in the prestigious 4th Netaji Subhash Memorial Lecture and share my ideas on a subject of great importance, not just for the Indian military but also for the nation, the subject being “Political Direction, Military Leadership and Morale”. ///////////// Since time is at a premium, let me plunge straight into it and first discuss the important aspect of Political Direction. ///////////// Political Direction///////////// Ladies and gentlemen, in the early years of our fledgling democracy, Pandit Nehru and other Indian political leaders, barring exceptions like Netaji Subhash Chander Bose, looked at the military with suspicion and distrust. ///////////// Thereafter, commencing with the operations launched to save Kashmir in October 1947, to the various wars and conflicts fought to secure the nation, the military should have become the darling of the nation. It undoubtedly is for the common Indian, the Aam Aadmi, but the story is quite different where our governing class is concerned. /////////// Our leaders have reduced the status of the military over the years. It is not just the warrant of precedence, but many important facets. Witness how the budget of the defence forces has been steadily declining, to an all time low of less than two per cent of the GDP. Modernization of all the three services is moving at a snails’ pace, if at all, and shortages of weapons, ammunition and equipment are steadily increasing. There is a grave shortage of officers in all the three services, but it is hurting the army the most, resulting in serious erosion of our capabilities. /////////////// Our political leadership has forgotten that it was this very Indian Military, which did yeomen service during the blood bath of partition, saving countless lives. Although time for consolidation was badly needed after Independence, there was none, as the army was operationally committed in Kashmir within two months of Independence. Thereafter, one war followed another and even during the no-war interludes, the army was committed on prolonged internal security tasks. The large numbers of police forces, whose numbers get enhanced every year, continue to be incapable or unwilling to handle internal challenges. Resultantly, the army has been in Nagaland and Manipur; Assam; and J&K for over 50, 30 and 20 years respectively! Despite all these constraints, the achievements of the defence forces are a tribute to the leadership, fighting spirit and patriotic fervour of all ranks. ////////////// In democracies the world over, the political leadership of the country makes national policy, as well as the national security strategy. This is done with the active participation of civil and military officials of the country. The Indian military understands this fully, but it seems neither the political leadership nor their civilian advisers understand the nuances of “civil control”. //////////// It is a great pity and a matter of deep regret and concern that in our country the military has been deliberately kept out of the policy formulation loop and even after over six decades of loyal, patriotic and dedicated service to the nation, in both war and peace, it is still not trusted! Yes, I repeat - not trusted. Nothing else explains the reasons for its exclusion from policy formulation; the inability to evolve a viable and comprehensive structure for higher defence; the non-articulation of a national security strategy since Independence; the non-appointment of a CDS, accepted nearly a decade back; no worthwhile joint ness; the non-integration of the Ministry of Defence; and not the least, the muzzling of the three Chiefs, even when they speak on professional matters and say what needs to be said. ///////////// There could not be a more improper way of handling the security of the nation than this state of affairs. Let me reinforce what I am stating by only two examples, as time does not permit me to go into many others. Firstly, India is one of the few countries in the world that has no formalized national security strategy. In a statement made in Parliament in April 2006, i.e. nearly four years back, the defence ministry was to have issued one by December last year, but 2009 has also passed into history and we continue with our endless waiting! Secondly, despite over ten years of existence, the government continues to exclude senior military officers from the National Security Council, which is headed and staffed mainly by various types of bureaucrats. No wonder our security systems and formulations lack credibility and we fumble from one crisis to another. //////// Before I switch to the next topic, let me convey just two points to our opinion makers, some of whom are here. Firstly, do not mistrust your defence forces; they have served the nation with distinction and loyalty - they need to be respected and their counsel taken; otherwise the nation will lose out in its security-related concerns. Secondly, if the military continues to be treated with suspicion and disdain, let me be blunt and state that if it wants, it can assert itself and in a manner that may be neither palatable for the political leadership nor good for our democracy. ////////////// Military Leadership ////////////// Let me now shift to the second aspect, which I am required to cover in my talk. That is military leadership.///////////// Leadership is the basic edifice of our defence forces and it is a perennial subject of discussion, instruction and introspection. It would be correct to say that the Indian military lives and breathes leadership. ///////////// Waging war today is a complex phenomenon, on account of high technology, the nature of modern war, new threats and challenges, human rights, transparency brought in by the media, globalization and the reality of nuclear weapons in the arsenal of our potential adversaries. Consequently, military leadership assumes even more importance. ///////////// In our army, Eighteenth Century authoritarian type of leadership has prevailed for centuries and continues to be practiced by many leaders. This must change, as both society and the battlefield milieu have changed. Increasingly, supportive, rather than authoritarian leaders, are needed in the military, as in other walks of life. Today’s leaders need to lead by the force of their personality and persuasive qualities and not by issuing fiats and crisp orders. The changed milieu demands that leaders address themselves to the followers' wants, needs, and other motivations, as well as to their own. ///////////// The majority of our soldiers prefer the guidance and direction of their leaders at practically every step. This is due to many factors, not the least being the societal background of our soldiers, our training systems, regimental upbringing and emphasis on attention to detail. In professional parlance it is known as “The Detailed Orders Command”, with its emphasis on centralized control. This has worked well for us in the past, but it needs to give way now to the “Directive Control” style of command, which is based on the delegation of authority, as the future battlefield is a mix of uncertainty and chaos, requiring decisions without looking back for fresh orders. ///////////// In recent years, there has been loose talk that while the young officers of the Indian military are excellent leaders, the senior leadership is not. This type of talk needs to be disabused. This has become a favourite theme of the media after the Kargil War of 1999, where our young officers had not only led from the front but did so with a great deal of bravery and panache. What is not known or appreciated, however, is that this was not a new phenomena; it has always been the norm in our military. //////////// The Indian military could not have achieved victories and successes, as it has in both war and peace, if its senior officers were professionally inadequate or lacked any well known qualities of leadership. We have stringent norms for promotions and only the best get through successfully. Therefore, to say that young officers are uniformly good and the seniors are not, is a far too simplistic a statement. I do agree that amongst the nearly fifty thousand or so serving officers, there would be some whose motivation may have changed over the years, but the numbers are quite small. ///////////// Nonetheless, there are areas of concern, which need to be rectified and not pushed under the carpet. The major ones are:////////////  The apparent prevalence of a “zero error syndrome” from the top down./////////////  A sense of “insecurity”, perceived or otherwise, at the senior levels.//////////////  Some leaders insulate themselves, resulting in the inability to “listen” or as we say in Hindi - “sunwai” nahin hoti.////////////  Sometimes there is a gap between percept and performance.///////////  In standards of selection of higher leadership, qualities such as integrity, moral strength, intellectual ability and honesty; self-discipline; and social as well as domestic probity or rectitude need to be placed much higher than professional competence.///////// The senior officers of the defence forces are the custodians of our value system. All ranks look up to them for setting an example. They have a unique role to play, not only in the development of their subordinates, but also to keep their units and formations in a highly motivated state. ///////////// Let me end this part of my presentation with a quote from our second Rashtrapati - Dr S Radhakrishnan, who had said that “The higher a man goes, the fewer are his rights and the more numerous his duties”. Our senior leaders need to remember this. ////////// Morale //////////// I now come to the third and last part of my presentation, dealing with morale. It was Napolean who had said that “Morale is to material as three to one”. High morale and motivation produce offensive spirit, which is essential for soldiers and officers alike. //////////// The credo of our soldiers has just four simple aspects; these are: /////////////  Firstly - “Namak, Naam Aur Nishan” - Fealty to one’s ‘Salt’, Name & Flag i.e. Nation, Army & Regiment./////////////  Secondly – “Izzat”- it is the concept of the soldier’s honour.///////////  Thirdly - “Zubaan” - the inviolability of the spoken word and dependability & trust between comrades.///////////  And Fourthly - “Dharam-Iman” - the soldiers duty & code of honour. ////////////// The actions of the officers of the Indian military are bound by the Chetwodian pledge: ///////// “The Safety, Honour and Welfare of the country come first, always and every time. //////////// The Honour, Welfare and Comfort of the men you command come next. ////////// Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”. //////////// These are not merely words, but are adhered to by the officers and soldiers of the entire Indian Military – always and every time!! /////////// The standing of soldiers in a country is dependent on the interplay of a number of dynamic factors like the quality of military leadership; equation with the political leadership; relationship with bureaucracy; and the image created by the media. I have already touched upon military leadership. Let me briefly touch on the relations with the political leadership and the bureaucracy. ///////////// Both the political leadership, as well as the bureaucracy of our country unfortunately lack compassion for the military. The important reasons are:- //////////////  Firstly - The bulk of the political leadership and the bureaucracy do not have even the remotest connection with the Defence Services. In the history of independent India, no political leader or bureaucrat, except the odd one, has sent his progeny to the military. Therefore, they can neither relate to the military nor empathise with their lot.///////////  Secondly - Our political leadership is inadequately qualified and equipped about ‘matters military’ and security issues. They neither possess military knowledge nor display any desire to educate themselves. Many attempts in the past have met with a studied silence. Inadequacies of the political leadership result in their over dependence on the bureaucrats, who in turn also lack any in-depth knowledge.///////////  Thirdly - Our political leadership is highly uncomfortable in dealing with the military directly and prefers to let the bureaucracy do so. The military does not like this and hence there is a hiatus between two important organs of a democracy like ours. The loser is the nation.  Fourthly - From the viewpoint of political leaders, soldiers, not being a worthwhile vote-bank, need not to be cultivated./////////////  Fifthly - The political leadership does not hesitate to tick off the top military leadership in public, not realizing the negative effect it has on the morale of the defence forces.//////////////  Sixthly - The bureaucracy revels in one-upmanship and loses no chance to denigrate the military, through leaks to the media and/or exerting indirect pressure through their political bosses. They do have plenty of time to do so, if one wag is to be believed; he had stated that “Civil servants make the best husbands; they are not tired when they get home and they have read the newspapers already”. /////////// Let me now briefly deal with the media-military relationship. For starters, the military is invariably in the media for the wrong reasons. The Indian media, in its bid to garner TRPs and maximum advertising revenue only believes in sensational stories. Harping on negative stories constantly, distorts the real image of the defence services and has a highly negative effect on the morale of the defence forces. Even when some positive stories are aired or printed, these have little impact, as the minds of the public have already been saturated with sensation and sleaze. ///////////// Fortunately, the public at large still holds the military in high esteem, but it does get influenced adversely by the deliberate attempts to downgrade soldiers and constant exposure by the media of the misdemeanours of a few persons, which are largely half-truths and presumptions. The effect of low morale of the military translates into the weakening of the security of the country. The political leadership needs to realise that everything else being the same, the morale of the defence forces is the single most important factor that counts between victory and defeat. ///////// The soldier’s dedication to duty, loyalty to the nation and willingness for the supreme sacrifice are driven less by material considerations and more by an overwhelming urge to earn the love and respect of their countrymen, their comrades and their regiments. A grateful nation's recognition of their contribution to national security acts as the strongest motivator. Unfortunately, our nation has not understood this aspect. If this situation persists and the soldiers are not cared for, the country will lose the moral right to expect them to die for its security. /////////// If the government is indifferent, the civil society must act to assuage the feelings of hurt and neglect of the military. Most countries honour their serving soldiers and veterans by nominating a day and sometimes a week, where soldiers who had sacrificed their lives and limbs during wars and conflicts or served with honour, are felicitated by the highest leadership, as well as the citizenry. Their gallantry, tenacity, spirit of sacrifice, contributions to the security and sovereignty of the nation and their selfless spirit are formally lauded. ///////////// What do we do in our country, Sir? Nothing at all! Sixty years after Independence, we do not even have a national war memorial for our martyrs. We seem to have no time for such niceties of life. Why can we not declare 16 December, the day when our defence forces brought glory and the biggest victory to the nation in 1971, as the day for honouring our soldiers, both serving and those who have laid down their uniforms? The government should take the lead in this respect, but if it is unable or unwilling, the civil society must do so. If even the civil society throws up its hands, then perhaps the military veterans will have to do it, but what a shame it will be for a nation of over one billion souls!! ////////////// Conclusion///////// The Indian Defence forces have earned a formidable reputation of task accomplishment, usually against heavy odds. They will continue to fight the nation’s battles and wars, giving their best, but the nation must also support them to the maximum extent, meet their aspirations and restore their “izzat”, besides alleviating their concerns and misgivings. /////////// India is now genuinely poised to shine. It cannot do so with a flawed higher defence organization, where the military is deliberately kept out of policy formulations; a media-tarnished military leadership; and a feeble military machine with little modernisation. The need today is for a synergistic and visionary national approach for the strong, purposeful and modern India where the soldier gets his due and the nation remains secure. //////////// Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. ////////////// =========================== 000000000