4th Netaji Subhash Memorial Lecture
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The fourth in the Annual Netaji Subhash Memorial lecture series on Netaji’s birth anniversary – January 23 was organized at FICCI on 23 Jan 2010 by Netaji Subhash Bose – INA Trust with active support from Vivekananda International Foundation, Rashtriya Jagriti Sansthan, Patriots Forum, and Institute for Conflict Management. The issue in focus was ‘India’s Strategic Challenges and its State of Preparedness to Defend Vital National Interests’.

Shri Purno Sangma, former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, was the Chief Guest, while Prof Brahma Chellaney a renowned strategic analyst, Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff, and Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi, former Vice Chief of Army Staff, were the distinguished speakers. Over 300 intellectuals and eminent citizens attended the event, along with several veterans of the Azad Hind Fauj.

The event started with Bharat Mata Poojan followed by Vande Mataram, and concluded with the National Anthem.

Chairman of the trust, Brig (Retd) K P Singh Deo, introduced and welcomed the honored guests and the audience.

    Brig R. S. Chhikara, the General Secretary of the Trust, explained the importance of the event and the rationale behind the issue in focus by making the following points:

  • Netaji Subhash Bose was a great visionary with a strong sense of history and a clear vision of free India. He had foreseen the strategic challenges that would invariably arise for independent India. He had visualized a strong, prosperous and humane India, willing to contribute towards peace and progress of all mankind but, at the same time, fully prepared to defend its vital interests.
  • India is on the threshold of becoming an Asian and possibly a world leader but is faced with serious challenges from strong, ambitious and envious forces in its neighborhood. These elements have the potential to threaten the peace necessary for continued development. It is important to recognize these dangers and to raise our level of preparedness and demonstrate political resoluteness in order to deter aggression.
  • Morale of the nation and that of the armed forces is one of the main components of national strength. Every possible action by politicians, bureaucrats and civil society should be aimed at retaining and building national morale and giving the defenders of India a place of izzat and a sense of well-being.
  • Civil society is the ultimate custodian of national interest. All Indians, especially the elite, must take an active interest in the defense of India and maintain the pressure of public opinion on the government and bureaucracy so that the later are kept awake and alert. This is essential so that situations like those of the 1947, 1962, 1965 and 1999 conflicts are not repeated.

Strategic Dimensions, Developments and Challenges

Professor Brahma Chellaney spoke on the conventional and unconventional strategic challenges faced by India.

At the outset he emphasized the role of national political leadership by saying that while nation states are driven by cold calculations of national interest, in practice personalities matter a lot in shaping the destiny of a nation. In history we have known how great leaders have turned small island states into global powers and how bad leaders have unraveled big nation states. Visionary and far sighted leaders can change the history and destiny of a nation. One wonders what would have been the course of India and what would have been its world position today, if Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had been the father of the nation in place of Mahatma Gandhi.

He further said that India was founded on a myth that its freedom was won through the path of non violence. That it was the pacifists and not the martyrs who delivered India its freedom. The reality is very different and this myth needs to be disabused.

While analyzing India’s strategic challenges, Prof Chellaney categorized them into four types.

The first is the tyranny of geography. India is geographically surrounded by states that are inimical to our interests and are either dysfunctional or they do not follow international norms of behavior. The security environment in our neighborhood is going from bad to worse, with no signs of improvement. This is a terrible scenario for national security planners because the volatility and constant state of crises makes cogent long term planning very difficult.

The disappearance of Tibet as a buffer between India and China, which has brought about a common border between the two large countries for the first time in history, is the most serious development in strategic terms. China aggressively pursues an ambition of becoming a super power. To our west, we are faced with a country that is unable to achieve its objectives militarily and therefore seeks ‘a war of a thousand cuts’ against India. That country is also the global capital of Al-Qaida and various trans-national terror groups which are just the frontal organizations of the Pakistani ISI. On the eastern side we have a comparatively small challenge related to Myanmar but a serious demographic challenge relating to Bangladesh, which has effectively expanded its national boundaries through export of refugees. As a consequence, the task of border security has become almost unmanageable. In the South we have Sri Lanka which, although it has decimated the Tamil Tigers, is so conditioned to living in conflict that it is unable to pursue a program of ethnic reconciliation and healing. What happens in Sri Lanka obviously affects India. But in the south too, the greater threat is from China which is showing growing interest in the Indian Ocean region and in acquiring military bases right under our nose.

Ability to Deter Aggression against our Vital Interests.

Admiral Arun Prakash highlighted the following points while analyzing the nation’s defense capabilities and limitations:

Today, if one may borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, it is “the best of times and the worst of times” for India. Even as we hear our economists waxing lyrical about the galloping GDP growth rates and the promise of a rosy future that they hold out, we face a security situation, both external and internal, which is fraught with peril with the ship of state often appearing adrift.

There are two negative mindsets which our political leadership has to overcome before anything changes in the national security domain: First, that guns and butter are mutually exclusive. The fact is that in the past 63 years, our developmental process has been continuously hindered by terrorism, insurgencies and aggression – all originating across our borders. This situation will persist until we can insulate the nation against external intervention, and devote our full attention and resources to development. So you cannot have your butter, unless you invest in guns. And the second mindset is that the armed forces must be kept at a distance from the national security decision making process. The Army, Naval and Air Staffs located in the Armed Forces HQ, represent an institutionalized system with immense capabilities for strategic analysis, net assessments, and contingency planning, But they are rarely used by the Government of India. Consequently India has often blundered at the grand-strategic level at crucial junctures in recent history.

After 26 / 11, our leadership announced that all retaliatory options are open. Soon this was moderated to ‘War is not an option.’ No soldier will ever recommend initiation of war except as a measure of last resort. However, the only reason a poor nation like India spends huge amounts on its armed forces is to ensure that the threat of retaliation – stated or unstated - will serve to deter our potential enemies from doing something foolish. We have already declared “no first use” of nuclear weapons, and now if we go around publicly foreswearing conventional war, we are inviting our adversaries to violate our sovereignty. We have failed to put in place systems, structures, procedures and organizations that will enable efficient defense planning as well as effective operational employment of all the forces that we acquire. Not all the nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, AWACS, in-flight refuellers or strike corps can provide us security unless we reform the system.

The foreign component of the weapon platforms, sensors, missiles and ammunition used by your armed forces ranges from 75% to 95%. There are bound to be periodic problems. There will be shortages of spare parts, the serviceability of your tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft, ships and submarines will fluctuate. The combat readiness of your forces will remain uncertain. The lament of Gen Malik during the Kargil crisis that “the Army will fight with whatever it has” speaks volumes. So why are we so abjectly dependent on imports?

Every new weapon system that we acquire from a foreign country makes us hostage for the life-time of the system, and the country-of-origin is free to blackmail us for the next 25-30 years where spare parts, product support and overhauls are concerned. Only the DRDO and our defense PSUs could have rescued us from this un-ending trap, but their past record gives little hope.

So we will continue to pour our huge capital budget into foreign coffers because the armed forces, the DRDO and the defense PSUs are working at cross-purposes. One could then ask: why is there no synergy between the different Government organs involved in the task of national security? The answer lies in the fact that the armed forces HQs are isolated from the Ministry of Defense and the Government of India.

This issue has received the attention of many groups, committees and task-forces but successive governments have avoided implementing the essential measures that could eliminate this serious national security lacuna. Nothing demonstrates the isolation of the Armed Forces from the Government better than the interminable delays that bedevil the hardware acquisition process and thwart force modernization plans, recent reforms in procedures not withstanding. The key to optimal national security as well as deterrence lies in integrating the Service HQs totally with the Ministry of Defence and involving them in the national security decision-making process. By not focusing on integration as well as joint stewardship, India’s annual defense budget dispenses funds to inefficient structures which enhance neither our combat readiness, nor national security.

What about our nuclear deterrent? Remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by 15 kt and 21 kt bombs respectively. Our weapons have yields running into hundreds of kilotons. Observations by Shri Santhanam not withstanding, our weapons are sufficiently powerful to act as deterrents. But there are two caveats. Firstly, the strategic environment has changed a great deal since 1998 and it is time for our Nuclear Doctrine to be urgently reviewed and revised. For the deterrent to be truly effective, certain relevant portions must also be made known to our own public as well as our potential adversaries. And secondly, the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, who notionally controls the Strategic Forces, remains a part-time rotational appointment. Such a functionary is singularly unsuited for this job because he not only has a limited tenure in the appointment, but also a restricted span of control. He must be replaced, by a full time & permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, with at least a three-year tenure and a charter appropriate for the task.

To implement these long overdue but essential changes would require strategic vision, firm resolve, and above all, political will which is not much in evidence.

The second category is the paradox of proximity. This is reflected in the fact that India has strategic partnerships with distant countries, but from those that are proximate, India perceives serious threats. This is evidenced by the fact that during the past two months India has participated in four bilateral summits – with Australia, Washington, Moscow and Japan respectively – all aimed either at creating new strategic relationship or at strengthening existing partnerships. The trouble is that problems in the neighborhood are weighing India down, scuttling its developmental ambitions and aggravating its internal and external security challenges. If India has to develop into a global economic or strategic force, this situation has to be remedied.

The third strategic challenge arises from fundamental changes in India’s security calculus. Till 25 years ago, the focus was on conventional threats emanating largely from two countries- Pakistan and China. But now, it is non traditional or unconventional threats that dominate the security concerns of our planners. Besides cross-border terrorism that has already assumed alarming proportions, there is a new kind of threat being talked about, albeit in a different context - the cyber threat. This is one more asymmetric front being opened against India. Since 2007, India’s official computer networks i.e. NIC have been repeatedly targeted. There have also been cyber attacks on the Ministry of External Affairs and the office of the National Security Advisor. This has necessitated a basic change in approach and thinking in the matter of our national defense.

The fourth threat we are going to face in the coming years will be centered on water. We have yet to fully realize that the disappearance of Tibet as a buffer between countries of the subcontinent and China carries very serious long term consequences for the security of India. It is a fact of geography that all rivers from Afghanistan to Burma with the sole exception of the Ganges emanate in Tibet as do others in China and other SE Asian countries. It has only recently come to light that China is building massive hydro-electric projects in Tibet on all these rivers with the exception of the Indus. If we project the consequences 25 years from now, in conjunction with the water shortages we already face, this dimension assumes critical significance in India’s security and strategic planning.

In order to deal with these current and emerging unconventional and asymmetrical challenges, India needs to be innovative and pro-active as never before.

Political Direction, Military Leadership, and Morale

Lt. Gen. Vijay Oberoi spoke on three major components of National capacity to successfully conduct any war imposed on us- political direction, military leadership and forces morale. In a forthright and candid manner, he highlighted the following points:

In the early years of our fledgling democracy, Pandit Nehru and other Indian political leaders looked at the military with suspicion and distrust. Our leaders have reduced the status of the military over the years. It is not just the warrant of precedence. Witness how the budget of the defense 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 snail’s 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 most and causing a serious erosion of our combat capabilities.

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 that 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 the military has been deliberately kept out of the policy formulation loop. Even after over six decades of loyal, patriotic and dedicated service to the nation, in both war and peace, it is still not trusted.

Nothing else explains the reasons for its exclusion from policy formulation, the lack of a viable and comprehensive structure for higher defense, the non-articulation of a national security strategy since Independence, the non-appointment of a CDS (the need for which was accepted nearly a decade ago), no worthwhile joint-ness, the non-integration of the Ministry of Defense and, not the least, the muzzling of the three Chiefs, even when they speak on professional matters and say what needs to be said. Two examples will illustrate the point. One, in a statement made in Parliament in April 2006, the defense ministry was to have issued a formalized security strategy by December 2009 but 2009 has passed into history and we continue with our endless waiting! Second, 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.

It would be correct to say that the Indian military lives and breathes leadership. Waging war in modern times 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 greater importance. Yet, in our army, authoritarian leadership of the eighteenth century type continues to be practiced by many leaders. This must change. 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.

Because of their social background and training, our troops seem to prefer the “Detailed Orders Command”, with its emphasis on centralized control and detailed guidance at every step. 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 delegation of authority, because today’s battlefield requires quick decisions in a chaotic situation 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 thinking is much too simplistic and needs to be disabused. Amongst the nearly fifty thousand or so serving officers, there would naturally, 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 addressed:
  • A sense of “insecurity”, perceived or otherwise, at the senior levels
  • The tendency of some leaders to insulate themselves, resulting in their inability or unwillingness to “listen”
  • The gap between percept and performance
  • The criteria for 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 political leadership, bureaucracy, media and civil society needs to realize that everything else being the same, morale of the defense forces is the single most important factor that determines victory or defeat. The effect of low morale of the military translates into the weakening of the security of the country.

      The credo of our soldiers has just four simple aspects; these are

    • Namak, Naam aur Nishan - fealty to one’s salt, name, and flag
    • Izzat - a soldier’s honor
    • Zubaan - inviolability of the spoken word, and trust between comrades.
    • Dharam-Iman – a soldier’s duty and code of honor.

    The actions of the officers are bound by the Chetwodian pledge: “The Safety, Honor and Welfare of the country come first, always and every time. The Honor, 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 depends on the interplay of a number of dynamic factors like the quality of military leadership, relations with the political leadership and bureaucracy, the level of interest taken by civil society and the image created by the media. Unfortunately, both the political leadership and the bureaucracy lack compassion for the military. The important reasons are:

    • The majority of our political leadership and the bureaucracy do not have even the remotest connection with the Defense Services. They do not encourage their children to serve in the military. They can neither relate to the military nor empathize with their lot.
    • Our political leadership is not sufficiently well versed in matters military / security. They neither possess the requisite knowledge nor the desire to educate themselves. Inadequacies of the political leadership result in their over dependence on the bureaucrats, who in turn also lack any in-depth knowledge.
    • 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 our democracy. The loser is the nation.
    • From the viewpoint of political leaders, soldiers, not being a worthwhile vote-bank, need not to be cultivated.
      The political leadership tends to assert its authority by disagreeing with or reprimanding the top military leadership in public, not realizing the negative effect it has on the morale of the defense forces.
      The bureaucracy revels in one-upmanship and loses no chance to denigrate the military.

    The Indian media, in its bid to maximize TRPs and advertising revenue, is only interested in sensational stories. The military only finds space in the media for the wrong reasons. This harping on negative stories distorts the image of the defense services and has a highly negative effect on the morale of its people. Fortunately, the public at large still holds the military in high esteem. But how long will this last.

    Where the government is indifferent and the media is irresponsible, civil society must act to assuage the feelings of hurt and neglect of the military. Most countries honor their serving soldiers, veterans, and martyrs by nominating a day and sometimes a week, where they 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 and publicly lauded. In our country we have no time for such niceties. Sixty years after Independence, we do not even have a national war memorial for our martyrs

    India is now genuinely poised to shine. It cannot hope to do so with a flawed higher defense organization, where the military is deliberately kept out of policy formulation, a media-tarnished military leadership, and a feeble military machine with little modernization. The need today is for a synergistic and visionary national approach to building a strong, purposeful and modern India where the soldier gets his due and the nation remains secure.

    The Vision and Legacy of Subhash Bose

    Shri Purno Sangma made the following major points in relation to the legacy and present day relevance of Netaji Subhash Bose.

    India may acquire great military power, our economy may grow at 15 percent per annum, but if we do not have a wise, popular and visionary leader to mould our destiny, we can not hope to achieve a strong or respectable position among nations of the world. India has produced great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Chitranjan Das – and greatest of all - Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. But today the people of India are not able to produce another leader to lead the country to greater heights. A parliamentary democracy like ours can not be meaningful and effective without one charismatic leader of the masses. Our next generation must not fail to throw up a great leader; one like Netaji Subhash.

    Netaji’s INA entered India through Assam, with the active involvement of people from Assam. The people of North–East India are proud of this chapter of our history. The small INA memorial at Moirang in present day Manipur does not do credit to Netaji, INA or the people of the North East. Kohima and Imphal have huge well kept cemeteries looked after the British and Japanese governments. But thousands of INA soldiers also laid down their lives in these fierce battles. There are no befitting memorials to commemorate their sacrifice. I understand that Netaji Subhash Bose – INA Trust is trying to set up an INA memorial in Delhi. This is a worthy cause and needs our fullest support but the Trust must also do something for a memorial in the North East.


    The meeting came to a close with all participants singing the National Anthem with a group of artists from the Song and Drama Division from the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting. This was followed by informal interaction over tea.

    Event Date 
    January 23, 2010
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