Preserving the Institution of Military

Dear Ms Sitharaman,

By now you must have received hundreds of congratulatory messages on assuming the charge of Defence Minister, all of which must have started with the words; “Please accept my/our felicitations on becoming the FIRST FULL TIME WOMAN DEFENCE MINISTER of the nation. On purpose I am not using the clichéd phrase because I consider such form of address as a SLUR and INSULT to a woman’s capability and professional competence. My philosophy of life emanates from and is directed by the paradox “MOTHER IS A FACT, FATHER IS A BELIEF”.

I welcome you to what I believe is the most ‘TESTING’ cabinet appointment because a Defence Minister has to be conversant with international affairs/diplomacy, own and adversary capability on the battle field and not on a TV debate, ability to look beyond the obvious, and ability to perceive events that may or may not take place few decades or later and also the availability of ‘green-bags’. It is a mammoth task by any standards with brickbats flying all around you for a supposed lapse due to indecision but no credits for a job well done. Constipated Indian intellectuals still address Late Mr Krishna Menon as the man responsible for 1962 debacle and not Pt Nehru, the then PM, actual villain of peace. But their jaundiced vision and professional profligacy prevents them from giving credit To Mr Menon, during whose tenure as RM, the only BIG TICKET WEAPON PLATFORM joined the Indian Armed Forces, the HF-24 (Marut). Let me share something interesting; Lord Mountbatten in a personal letter to one of our top Generals (who was a Lt with Lord Mountbatten) has candidly stated that Pt Nehru wanted to reduce (if not disband) the Army. It was Mr Krishna Menon, who stood his ground and declined to implement any such measure. That is history. If you are genuinely interested in the copy of letter, do let me know and I will find it for you.

Normally people define the role of Defence Minister as ensuring the territorial integrity of the nation. I have heard few Defence Ministers (mostly part timers like your predecessor) mouth the same. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Your task as Defence Minister is “TO PRESERVE THE INSTITUTION OF MILITARY”. Military in return will ensure territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation.

Before making any suggestions or rendering unsolicited advice, let me make a candid confession; we, the retired soldiers have had our innings; most of us do not wish to interfere in the decision making process of the new dispensation. It is only the ‘experience’ element that some of us wish to place for consideration.  My letter to you is not a ‘fault-finding’ mission for I believe that persons, whose only expertise lies in finding faults rarely contribute to strengthening of institutions such as military.

Your tenure as BJP spokesperson was an outstanding personal accomplishment. In nearly two years, you were, perhaps, the only spokesperson of any party, who did not court any controversy whatsoever. But on assuming the most coveted ‘chair’ you seem to have started your innings by courting totally undesirable controversies.

Firstly, it was surprising to read in print media a statement, purported to have been made by you that recently concluded assessment of the CAG regarding shortage in WWRs was incorrect, inaccurate and wrong.

How on earth did you get the facts within a week of taking over? In doing so the institution of CAG has not only been castigated, maligned and called professionally incompetent by a senior minister but also questions the validity of future CAG reports on numerous issues from time to time. Madame Minister, as an ordinary citizen with adequate knowledge of functioning of CAG and MoD, I will bet my ‘PENNY’ on the CAG for correctness of their findings. As a soldier, I have absolutely no doubt that our weapon reserves are well below WWRs. You have been mis-informed/ill-advised to challenge the findings of CAG.

Secondly, there is yet another news item doing rounds; “MoD has directed that Military Personnel will clean up the hills of the RUBBISH left by tourists” or words to that effect.

A former VCOAS has placed his concerns in public domain albeit without addressing it to you directly as I am resorting to. I do believe that as rational person you will take either of the actions listed below:-

  • MoD will issue a notice in public domain viz print media, TV etc that MoD has issued no such directive and the propaganda is false.

                                                           OR

  • Instructions issued by MoD wrt cleanliness drive in the hills directing Military Personnel to clean the RUBBISH left behind by tourists in the hills is withdrawn.

I have following suggestions for your consideration. Before I list those let me share a fact from strategic domain as to how inputs from totally unconnected mediums can change the decision making at the highest level.

In USA there is a laboratory called LAWRENCE LIVERMOORE NATIONAL LABORATORY in California. This is the only such lab in USA and largest of its kind in the world. This lab produces HYDROGEN BOMB WARHEADS. Needless to state that USA was spending a fortune in maintaining this establishment. After START II talks between USA and the then USSR, there was strong current in USA to close down such establishments. The matter was debated and was to be placed before Senate for their approval. A lowly status nuclear scientist wrote a paper citing reasons as to why the establishment must not be shut down in the larger interest of national security in the years/decades to come. Surprise of surprises! The letter found its way to persons in authority and they were convinced with the logic offered by the ‘lowly’ placed nuclear scientist. Advice offered by the high powered committee to shut down the facility was thrown out of the window. As on date Lawrence Livermoore National Laboratory employs nearly 7,000 persons and spends over USD I.8 Billion every year. So please evolve a mechanism that suggestions sent to you and your other ministerial colleagues are screened by professionals and acted upon. My suggestions are:-

  • Nomenclature of your appointment needs a change. Term ‘DEFENCE MINISTER’ presents incomplete/inadequate picture of tasks/responsibilities entrusted to you. Most appropriate nomenclature would be ‘MINISTER OF STRATEGIC AFFAIRS’. Can we be first in the world, at least in renaming the appointment, which will be more representative of your duties in this chair? Most people cannot differentiate between international and strategic affairs and believe to be synonymous. International affairs is in the domain of MEA, while strategic affairs is truly your domain with defence of the nation as a sub-set of overall strategic affairs. Think about it seriously.
  • Madame Minister our soldiers are  amongst the lowest paid government servants entrusted with the most onerous task of preserving territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation. VIth pay commission honchos equated a JAWAN with UNSKILLED LABOUR. That besides my point is different. VIth pay commission introduced a new ‘PAY’ called ‘MILITARY SERVICE PAY’ for personnel of Indian Military. Service HQs (read military hierarchy) were responsible for introducing DIFFERENTIAL RATE of MSP in respect of OFFICERS and PBORs. Please review the anomaly introduced in award of MILITARY SERVICE PAY (MSP) to Personnel Below Officers Rank (PBORs). MSP definition states “MSP will be admissible to members of Indian Military or words to that effect”. It is the ‘apartheid’ practiced by military leadership, which recommended the differential rate in respect of officers and PBORs. Service HQs recommended Rs 6,000/- for officers and Rs 1,000/- for PBORs. It is to the credit of VIth pay commission that they decided to raise the MSP of PBORs to Rs 2,000/-. I have written to Mr Antony, Mr Parikkar and about a dozen Service Chiefs in the past decade. In 2009 I recd an ack from MoD that my letter addressed to RM was recd. I have sent the same suggestion to Bipin Rawat, when he took over as CoAS. He too acknowledged the receipt but no action so far. Madame Minister conceptually the MSP was supposed to be applicable equally to every member of Indian Military. I attended preliminary meetings held in 2004. May I request you to reconsider it and remove the anomaly. Let us not hide behind the oft quoted and clichéd term ‘non-availability of funds’. Members of coal and 2G scam can easily provide for additional burden.
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