Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his maiden address to the coun- try’s top military commanders at a
closed-door conference October 17 and the
daunting context has been inadvertently
provided by former naval chief Admiral
Devendra Kumar Joshi.
In his first public remarks after taking
the unprecedented step of resigning as
Chief of the Naval Staff in February,
Admiral Joshi has made the most candid
and pithy summary of what ails India’s
national security and which should receive
the prime minister’s highest priority.
Admiral Joshi has noted that the Indian
armed forces have been saddled with a
dysfunctional and inefficient model at the
highest levels of government and added
that in the current system, those who
wield authority have no accountability and
vested interests have stalled meaningful
reforms in higher defense management.
This is a stinging rebuke of what passes
for higher defense management in the
world’s largest democracy but, alas,
The challenge for Modi is stark — to
speedily fix the most critical component of
national priorities, namely that of national
security. But it is also useful to recall that
this challenge has been confronted by all
his predecessors going back to India’s first
prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, with
In recent months Modi has brought a
certain political assertiveness to the management of the regional strategic environment and related national security
challenges, and this was evidenced in the
policies pertaining to both China and
While China remains the more tenacious
and complex, given the intractable territorial dispute and the growing power gap
between the two Asian giants in Beijing’s
favor, the military tension with Pakistan is
the more visible.
The public image is that of a confident
and fearless PM who will not hesitate to
use India’s proven military capability
against any form of adventurism and the
contrast with former PM Manmohan
Singh is as binary as is possible. But, as
Admiral Joshi’s revelation indicates, the
Indian military is in different stages of
‘deterioration’ and in dire need of institu-
tional redress and repair.
Hence, no matter how confident the
PM is, the entire system — from the
individual capacity of each armed force
to the synergy with the other parts of the
Indian State and the texture of the civil-military relationship — has to deliver in
an optimum manner.
Regrettably, on every front of military
security, the edifice is crumbling and
Admiral Joshi’s resignation is only symptomatic of a very deep institutional flaw
that combines varying degrees of professional ineptitude and moral turpitude.
In short, Prime Minister Modi has
inherited a national security mantle that
is in tatters.
Over the last decade of United
Progressive Alliance governance, the less
savory part of the Indian security experi-
ence includes a purported coup by a mav-
erick army chief; a serving chief petition-
ing the Supreme Court for administrative
redress since the political leadership had
abdicated the most venal aspersions being
cast on the promotion system in the army;
charges of rampant corruption in invento-
ry procurement including bribes offered to
the army chief; a naval chief resigning in
frustration; senior military officers linked
with misuse of office; personal vendetta
distorting institutional rectitude; recruit-
ment scams; rank insubordination and
recurrent breakdown in officer-men rela-
tions; dilution of training standards...
The list is long and depressing. In short,
the Indian military has lost its intangible
sheen in the public perception.
On the poor inventory and material state
of the Indian military, Air Chief Arup
platform inventory and the
need for swift inductions.
Again, the lost years of the A
K Antony era at the helm of
the defense ministry are illustrative of the accumulated
backlog and the scale of the
problem that confronts Modi.
A thoughtful and deter-
mined assessment of the
nature of the national security
problem and why it has defied remedial
measures is more imperative than any
swift and impulsive high level political
The core structural distortion goes back
to Nehru’s tenure, and in the current management of national security and attendant rules of business of governance the
three service chiefs are ‘invisible’ and
The onus for national security lies with
the defense secretary and the status of the
armed forces HQ is that of attached offices
to the ministry.
The onus for such rank distortion lies
on both the civilian political leadership
and the military apex over the decades
for having let matters fester and allowing
the sinews of the system to atrophy in
Modi may benefit from seeking a
detailed review of what his predecessor,
Singh, had identified as key challenges
over the last decade in the prime minis-
ter’s annual meetings with the top mili-
tary brass — and why there has been so
Here the role of the permanent bureaucracy and the ‘Yes Minister’ syndrome that
afflicts most democracies must receive
appropriate scrutiny. Modi could ponder
over the experience of yet another predecessor — P V Narasimha Rao — and the
manner in which he dealt with India’s
most severe economic and fiscal challenge
in the early 1990s. The inscrutable Rao
realized that deep structural reforms were
required to save the Indian economy and
went about it methodically.
The highly regarded professional
Manmohan Singh was hand-picked by
Rao as finance minister and given the
space and freedom to evolve appropriate
policy changes and dismantle the oppressive ‘license raj’ framework. The rest is history and India progressively revived and is
now a major global economy.
India now desperately needs a radical
national security reform and the challenge
is: Can NaMo do a NaRa? The challenge
is compounded by the fact that today
India does not have a gene pool of competent national security professionals as it
did in the economic-financial sectors in
According national security and higher
defense management the centrality and
empathetic political attention they warrant is the critical requirement. Will Prime
Minister Modi pick up this gauntlet?
Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd)
is Director, Society for Policy Studies,
Can NaMo do a NaRa?
C UDAY BHASKAR
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Combined Commanders Conference October 17.
In addressing India’s defense challenges, Narendra Modi could ponder over the experience of his predecessor P V Narasimha Rao