By Col. R. Hariharan
(This background note on the state of national security since independence was prepared for two TV interviews on August 15 and 16, 2013.)
Overview on national security since 1947
Indian armed forces were guardians of British colonial rule before independence. They have now distinguished themselves as the defenders of independent India by shedding their blood on more than one occasion. This has not been an easy process. It meant moving away from the Commander-in-Chief system of the British to Chiefs of staff for each of the three services. It also meant downgrading the status of Service Chiefs in the government hierarchy; C-in-C was next only to the Viceroy in Colonial India. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) is now on par with the Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission. But the armed forces have reconciled to this realizing that elected government is supreme in a democracy.
But this is having its impact on the decision making process on national security and management of strategic defence. We see the anachronism of Defence Secretary - a bureaucrat - leading a delegation of three chiefs for holding a strategic dialogue with China. Chiefs of armed forces who had access to the Prime Minister in Pandit Nehru’s times have access only to the Defence Minister. Security chiefs are merely on listening watch in the decision making process after they have had their say with the defence minister.
As a result, inability to take timely and informed decisions on vital matters affecting national security has become the hallmark of our strategic defence management. This has not only affected timely procurement of weapons and equipment but lead to corruption by vested interests of a wide variety including politics, business interests and bureaucracy.
Enormous delays are dogging the development of indigenous capacities for manufacture of warships, submarines, combat aircraft and even small arms and artillery guns because we continue to worship the holy cow called public sector abetted by private business and political interests. Grandiose plans take decades to make snail-like progress to see them through.
For instance the Defence Minister launched the first Indian built aircraft carrier three days back. This is no doubt a laudable achievement. But the proposal to build it was lying with the bureaucracy for over a decade, according to former Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash. The decision was taken only after it was decided to buy “Admiral Gorshkov”, the half built Soviet carrier.
We are one of the three Asian powers boasting of nuclear capability which is a testimony to our defence research capability. Unlike Pakistan, in our country there are a lot of grey areas in the chain of command for decision for making on use and safeguarding of nuclear weapons during peace and war. Former service chiefs and K Subrahmanyam committee appointed in the wake of Kargil war have pointed this out. But so far the neither the nation nor its parliament has been taken into confidence by the government on this subject.
Despite all this we have creditable achievements. We have made big strides in developing our missile capability; we have just launched a nuclear submarine made in India and our shipyards are producing warships though at a slow pace. After sleeping for decades we seem to have woken up to the need for timely procurement and manufacture of state of the art weapons and systems.