Lt Gen Prakash Katoch
Both the 1999 Kargil Review Committee and the follow up Group of Ministers had recommended Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) can augment the Army on borders but must be placed under command of the latter. CAPF were deployed on the border but never placed under command of Army because of the politico-bureaucratic nexus practicing divide and rule policy and looking down upon the Army.
China knew this and intruded into areas like Depsang and Chumar where Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was in the show window. The ITBP reported incidents through their channels to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which then informed Ministry of Defence (MoD) but for flag meetings with People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Army was made responsible. Despite the Chinese aggression in Eastern Ladakh last year, the ITBP has still not been placed under the command of Army.
How forcefully the Army took up for the ITBP in Ladakh at the level of Army Chief is not known but Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Rawat would have unlikely supported it otherwise he would have told the media given his penchant. Besides, he has acted facilitator to what the bureaucracy could not do all these years. Recall he had included an IPS officer as ADG (HR) under the Vice Chief as part of reorganisation of Army Headquarters in 2019 when he was the Army Chief.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh who was earlier the Home Minister should have fought for at least placing the ITBP in Ladakh under command of Army after the 2020 Chinese aggression. But he shows no concern. One view is he cannot afford to annoy the Home Minister who is politically more powerful. Another says having crossed 70 years in July he is worried of being relegated to ‘Marg Darshak’ in 2024. So best to not raise any issue, praise the Prime Minister at every opportunity and keep singing “not even one inch of territory lost” which makes Beijing also happy.
In promoting General Rawat to Army Chief, the Eastern and Southern Army Commanders were superseded. Appointing Chiefs is government prerogative and this wasn’t the first time seniority was overlooked. But what followed is interesting. When Rawat’s name was announced just two weeks before promotion, Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi being on leave said he would make a statement after rejoining.
This raised concerns in MoD that if Bakshi resigned, so could Southern Amy Commander who too was senior to Rawat. As the story goes, Bakshi was summoned by the Defence Secretary who hinted Bakshi could be considered for the post of CDS in future. This was a ploy to stop Bakshi putting in his papers, nothing else.
Above indicates the cunning and devious ways bureaucrats use; mentioned here because it relates to the proposed Integrated Theatre Commands, describing which at an event at the India International Centre in July, General Rawat said, “There is also a thought process about co-opting the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for tasks with the Army. The CAPFs train with us and have weapons systems that are as good as what the Army has. So they can take on some defensive tasks and, thereby, relieve the Army for carrying out offensive tasks.”
“There is also a thought process about co-opting the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for tasks with the Army. The CAPFs train with us and have weapons systems that are as good as what the Army has. So they can take on some defensive tasks and, thereby, relieve the Army for carrying out offensive tasks.”
By saying so, Rawat equates CAPF with Rashtriya Rifles (RR) manned purely by Army. The concept so far was only RR relieving troops for offensive in ‘certain’ contingency. So why is the CAPF idea being injected? Is it prelude to something more? Interestingly, a government policy letter issued on September 23 describes Indian Coast Guard, which is a maritime law enforcement and search and rescue agency, as the “Fourth Armed Force”. Rawat is also now stating that Theatre Commanders will be reporting to the CDS, whereas the tasks defined by the government for the CDS had categorically stated that the CDS will have no operational powers. So what is the tradeoff?
The deep state goaded Rawat establish Theatre Commands without a National Security Strategy and a Strategic Defence Review. He couldn’t fathom how 800 km frontage in Eastern Ladakh could be defended with just one infantry division with ITBP patrolling the front but was confident to ward of PLA using the IAF which he referred to as “supporting arm”. Now there is speculation the deep state could have told Rawat that if he includes CAPF and IPS officers in the Theatre Command Headquarters as well as subordinate headquarters, government ‘may’ consider placing CAPF on the borders under these commands. Besides, his tenure as CDS ‘could’ be extended followed by a gubernatorial post or a political / ministerial opportunity, latter two ‘could’ even be sequential.
For the deep state, the Army hasn’t done anything offensive in Eastern Ladakh (please don’t mention political will) and don’t count Galwan clash being instantaneous reaction of forward troops. Rawat is yet to explain why Army occupying Kailash Range in own territory was pulled back. The deep state may even like Rawat to hand over Eastern Ladakh to CAPF; using three divisions worth CAPF of the 65 odd CAPF battalions deployed in Chhattisgarh – replaced by Army de-inducted from Eastern Ladakh. PLA would be so shell-shocked they might vacate Aksai Chin abandoning their weaponry as Americans did in Afghanistan. Beijing may even start contingency planning to vacate occupied Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia not knowing what more surprises Rawat has in store.
How has the deep state achieved this? One source says that the prime minister on his return flight after first visit to Leh post the Chinese aggression admonished Rawat for the debacle in Eastern Ladakh. Another view is that Rawat is being goaded by the NSA who spoke at the police academy in 2014 saying there will be no war and everything has to be done by police. These opinions may be purely ‘speculative’ but full marks to the deep state; instead of Chinese spending billions on the P-4 lab in Wuhan, all they did was inject virus into the head so that the fence starts eating the crop.
Rawat has been busy in issues like reducing authorisation of items in the CSD, arbitrarily banning sale of foreign liquor in canteens since it is available in open market as if other items are not, recommending stoppage of disability pension of those who continued serving etc. Now another project reportedly is to change the retirement age of Colonels and equivalents in the Navy and Air Force. A recent letter to the editor in a newspaper reads, “It appears to be the case of a schoolboy trying to keep his teacher happy.”
But where the CDS ‘should’ speak up there is not a word from him. A veteran writes there can’t be bigger injustice than closing doors to justice, which the government has done to Armed Forces by rendering 10 out of 17 Armed Forces Tribunals (AFTs) nonfunctional past several years for want of judicial members despite dictum by the Supreme Court. AFT Jaipur is non-functional since July 2016 with 5000 pending cases dating back to year 2010.
He further writes 97-year old Sepoy Balwant Singh who lost his leg in a mine blast in World War II approached the AFT in 2010 for war injury pension. But government denied this on the plea it is applicable only to war injury after Independence. How many Balwant Singhs are there for making an exception? Are we not giving monthly pension to freedom fighters for services rendered ‘pre-Independence’? The Supreme Court said on September 6 it does not want any confrontation with the Union government but its patience is running out due to delay in appointment in AFTs. This should be all the more reason for Rawat to bat for the forces rather than keeping mum.
The intrusions in Eastern Ladakh (obfuscated as ‘friction points’) and loss of grazing areas to locals has raised queries why the Army hierarchy is not speaking up? But witness a senior veteran saying, “The track record in indigenous ammunition manufacturing is abysmal and should have definitely been privatised (not corporatised) since it affects the safety of our troops and operational preparedness. Till date we are importing ammunition for our Russian weapons from countries Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia. Our top brass instead of strongly taking up this critical issue glibly talk about ‘self sufficiency’ – monumental and unpardonable deliberate ignorance.”
The intrusions in Eastern Ladakh (obfuscated as ‘friction points’) and loss of grazing areas to locals has raised queries why the Army hierarchy is not speaking up? But witness a senior veteran saying, “The track record in indigenous ammunition manufacturing is abysmal and should have definitely been privatised (not corporatised) since it affects the safety of our troops and operational preparedness.
A former Vice Chief of Army Staff wrote in 2019 that allegiance of Army should be to the Constitution, not to any political party. Now a former Army Commander says it is high time the Army puts its foot down. But hold of the deep state over the current dispensation is becoming stronger. Moreover, the so-called merit-based promotion and appointment for two-star officers and beyond (instead of being merit-cum-seniority based) is perhaps to promote pliable zombies who can be manoeuvred with impunity.
A senior naval veteran-scholar wrote in 2019 that the military is being relegated to an institutional status below the bureaucracy and the police forces. That was two years back. Today the question is whether worse is yet to come?
The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in