Border crisis, no NSS, no reforms. But Modi’s government is going after imaginary colonial demons

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Jhen the nation thought that at 75, the Indian Army had become a model national institution that reflected the idea of ​​India and was transforming itself to fight future wars, the ghost of its colonial past came back to haunt her. On September 20, excerpts from a poorly drafted and leaked letter giving the advice and agenda for an internal conference under the chairmanship of the Adjutant General to discuss the “decolonization” of the Indian Army, appeared on military WhatsApp groups.

Imbued with political language, the introductory paragraph of the letter reads: “In accordance with the nation’s desire for a ‘developed nation’ and ‘Amrit Kaal’, while removing the British colonial heritage, it It is essential to move away from archaic and ineffective practices.The Indian army must also review these inherited practices to align with the “national sentiment”, in accordance with the “Panch Prans”.

The letter goes on to list “legacy practices” covering a wide range, including regimental names, unit insignia, uniforms and equipment, pre-independence theater/battle honours, granting of honorary commissions, names of roads/parks/institutions, affiliation with foreign armies and Commonwealth Graves Commission, ceremonies, colonels of regiments and officers’ mess procedures/traditions/customs. The letter adds that the list is not exhaustive, implying that any remnants of the colonial past should be removed.

The Indian Army had cleansed itself of its colonial past shortly after independence, ironically, under the leadership of its most anglicized Commander-in-Chief and later Army Chief of Staff, General KM Cariappa, who hardly spoke any Indian language. From being Britain’s armed arm and colonial enforcer, the military was transformed into an apolitical organization guided by the Constitution and firmly under civilian control. Most colonial traditions and customs were abandoned and only those that helped promote regimentation, the ethos of bravery and fighting spirit were retained.

The goal of military reform and transformation is, and should always be, the enhancement of military effectiveness to safeguard national security. Will a comprehensive examination of the carefully preserved “colonial” traditions/customs/practices, which have become an intrinsic part of the armed forces over these 75 years, contribute to this objective? The answer is no.

However, since the dye has been thrown away, allow me to consider the inspiration for this review, what can and must change, and what needs more deliberate thought as at stake is the ethos and morale of the armed forces. , which animate his fighting spirit.


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Political inspiration

Promoting its own version of nationalism is central to the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ruling party sees pre-independence history through its own prism and India’s colonial past is anathema to the regime that began in 2014. When it comes to the armed forces, the ball has was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 6, 2021, through his farewell speech at the Combined Commanders Conference in Kevadia, Gujarat, in the shadow of the Sardar Patel statue. The official excerpt states: “The Prime Minister stressed the importance of strengthening the indigenization of the national security system, not only in the supply of equipment and weapons, but also in the doctrines, procedures and customs practiced in the armed forces”.

Based on the instructions of the PM, Atma Nirbhartha (autonomy) in terms of defense equipment has become a benchmark reform, which is still under construction. There is little the armed forces can do against the “indigenization of doctrines” because military thinking has evolved over the centuries as a continuum, and technology continues to drive change and reform. India’s inability to adopt and adapt to modern military strategy, tactics and technology is the reason invaders have defeated us for 1,000 years. Therefore, beyond adding quotes from Kautilya, Mahabharata and Ramayana, not much can be done.

The armed forces have now seized the low-hanging fruit of the “indigenization of customs”. The second of the Prime Minister’s ‘Panch Pran’ – “No part of our existence, not even in the deepest corners of our minds or our habits should there be an ounce of slavery… We must free ourselves from the mindset of slavery that is visible in countless things in us and around us – galvanized the Indian Army into action.

Modi’s public speeches are political in nature, as is his usual address to the military hierarchy. For execution, the government must issue formal instructions through the Ministry of Defense (MoD). In my opinion, the government has given no formal direction in this regard. Although he erred in doing so, the armed forces operate under the “objective control” of the government, which has always granted the military its functional autonomy, as opposed to the “subjective control” under which the military is co-opted in the pursuit of political goals. ideology. Rational military advice is never ignored by the government.

Either the armed forces did not advise the government or, worse, they unilaterally aligned themselves with its political ideology. After all, over the past 75 years, “colonial traditions” have in no way impinged on the operational effectiveness of the military.


Also read: India’s military isn’t politicized like China or Pakistan, but the seeds were sown in 2019


What can change, what should not

Most of the 15 archaic colonial traditions/practices should have changed or disappeared over the years. Traditions that symbolize bravery, sacrifice and the regimental spirit must not be changed. The informal link of unit/regiment names to the regions or British officers who raised them can easily be removed. The few symbols from colonial or Greco-Roman mythology in unit crests that escaped scrutiny after independence or were uncontroversial at the time, need to be changed. Colonial road/park/institution names should be changed to our war heroes or legendary generals.

Uniforms and accoutrements can be reviewed and Indianized. However, it should be kept in mind that glitz and glamor are an integral part of the military. There is a need for dress uniformity for officers and soldiers. In any case, the uniforms underwent changes every 25 to 30 years. There is an existing policy of not celebrating pre-independence battle/theater honors that must be enforced.

The procedures and customs of the Officers’ Mess are no different from what I have seen at Rashtrapati Bhavan and State Banquets. However, they can be revised to make them simple.

Affiliation to foreign armies is part of military diplomacy; the Modi government must exercise its discretion. Commonwealth Graves Commission memorials and cemeteries also honor Indian soldiers. Tinkering with this tradition is a taboo unless you want to build war memorials all over the world. Not allowing descendants of British officers to visit their ancestors’ units at their own expense and with proper permission is no more than a petty thought. Granting honorary commissions/ranks is a great motivator for our NCOs/JCOs as it enhances their pension. Change your name and procedure but do not deny this measure of well-being.

What deserves serious consideration is the colonial religion/caste/region/ethnicity based regimental system promoted under the concept of Martial Races, of the Indian Army. Unit/sub-unit cohesion, not nationalism, is the main motivation in combat. Institutional cohesion is built over a long period of living, training and experiencing the rigors and dangers of field/operations/high altitude/counterinsurgency mandates together.

Since the Indian Army has followed a regimental system of religion/caste/region/ethnicity for over 200 years, by default, cohesion has also been tied to the same. It was retained in its current form after independence due to its proven effectiveness in building cohesion. This system is inconsistent with our Constitution and is also anti-merit due to default reservations.

All-India, all-class, merit-based recruitment under the Agnipath program brings about a sea change in our approach to recruitment. Thus, the existing regimental system, where you serve for your entire military life, will be retained, but it will not be based on caste, religion, ethnicity or region. It will be a gradual process of reform over 15 to 20 years and that is the best way to go. The renaming of regiments may be reviewed in due course.


Also read: The Indian army is apolitical. But hold the mirror before it starts to fray


enemy at the gates

With the current border crisis, the Modi government should focus on transforming the armed forces to fight future high-tech wars. At this point, this reform process is in disarray. We still don’t have a formal national security strategy. The government failed to take ownership of the transformation by giving formal directives, supervising/coordinating the execution by setting up an empowered committee and granting an adequate budget.

Atma nirbhartha in defense has yet to take off. The WWII era structures/organizations of the Indian Army have not been reformed nor its elephantine size reduced. The fact that a new Chief of the Defense Staff (CDS) has been appointed after 10 months reflects the sad state of integration of the three services and theater commands. Let there be no doubt that, so far, no major tangible reforms have taken place towards the transformation of the Indian Armed Forces.

With “the enemy at the gates”, should we be concerned with exorcising the Indian army from the widely imagined demons of its colonial past?

Lt Gen HS Panag PVSM, AVSM(R), served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. After his retirement, he served as a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal. He tweets @rwac48. Views are personal.

(Edited by Prashant)

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