The Indian soldier, or Jawan as he is affectionately called, is known for not cribbing under the most adverse circumstances. If you ask your driver who has been waiting well past his lunch time for you to emerge from a long conference in the formation headquarters, “Khana Khaya?”, he is sure to say “Haan Sahib”. Of course, when you question him closely he might confess that he hasn’t. But he will also hasten to assure you that his lunch has been kept at the langar and would be warmed up for him when he gets back. This spirit of not ‘bellyaching’ is probably one of the strengths of the Indian Army which is known to do the best with the least. It’s a habit that has probably got into our DNA, and that is why even the slightest indication of not being ok with the way things are from a subordinate is not taken to very kindly.
But, what is an endearing sign of stoicism in the jawan, may not be the best course of action when it comes to commanders at the apex level. Particularly not when it affects the operational effectiveness of the Army.
Consider this answer to a parliamentary question asked by Shri Dhananjay Singh in Lok Sabha on 19 Dec 2011.
(a) whether the modernization process of army is on track;
(b) if so, the details of the acquisition of arms, ammunition and equipment for the army in accordance with the modernization policy during the last three years;
(c) whether there have been delays in acquisition of important arms, ammunition and equipment affecting the operational capability of the army; and
(d) if so, the details thereof?
(b) Procurement of arms, ammunition and equipment for the Army is done from various indigenous and foreign sources in accordance with the Annual Acquisition Plan. This is a continuous process undertaken for the modernization of the Armed Forces to keep them in a state of readiness to meet any eventuality.
(c)&(d): Delays occur sometimes due to unavoidable circumstances but the operational capability of the Army is not affected.
Or take this answer to another question, asked by Shri Sanjay Bhoi asked in the Lok Sabha on 28 Nov 2011, on whether there is a shortage of quality arms and ammunition, specially gun systems, and the steps being taken to make up the deficiencies:-
(a) & (b): Arms and equipment including gun systems in the Indian artillery are available in adequate quantity. Modernization of Artillery, which entails replacement of the equipment of older technology, is an on-going process and is being given priority to ensure that the artillery remains equipped with modern weapon systems.
(c) & (d): No significant problems in existing gun systems have been reported. However, the shortages of certain types/components of ammunition as and when reported, have been addressed adequately.
For those who are not conversant with how parliamentary questions addressed to the Army are answered, the procedure in a nutshell. The MoD (Parliament) sends relevant questions to the Staff Duties Directorate of the Army HQ (now IHQ MoD (Army)), which forwards it to the concerned directorate(s) for answering. Typically, questions of this nature would go to the Weapons and Equipment, Perspective Planning and Military Operations Directorates. SD Directorate collates the replies and the same is approved by the Vice Chief before it is forwarded to the MoD. The reply in parliament, therefore, reflects the considered view of the service HQ.
If we examine these two replies – and these are representative of many more in similar vein which can be accessed from the Parliament’s website – in the light of the recent letter from the Army Chief to the Prime Minister which is now in public domain – we realize that something doesn’t add up. The deficiencies and shortfalls could not have occurred overnight. Nor could the Army move from being fully prepared to operationally unfit within a short span of a few months.
So one wonders whether this economy with truth while replying to parliamentary questions arises from the “Sab Theek Hai, Khana Kha Liya” syndrome? When senior officers and veterans on the television circuits have emphasizing that civilian control over the armed forces means political control not bureaucratic control, why then this subterfuge with the political leadership? If the Army is in dire straits due to delays in procurement of equipment, why is such a rosy picture being painted before the very people who can actually do something about it if they wish to? While not raising undue alarm by laying bare the criticality in the parliament for all the world to see is understood, the stark disparity between the ‘all well’ in these replies and the panic in the letter to the PM is more than a little disconcerting.
If the decision makers in the headquarters had been a little more forthcoming about the problems being faced in procurements in their responses to the parliament, maybe the COAS would not have had to write the infamous letter to the PM at all.