11 Feb 2012

Clash Of The Titans

I heard there is a saying in Pakistan, that their clock ticks because of Allah, Army, and America. I wonder what makes India’s clock tick?

I have an old grandfather ‘Cuckoo clock’ which I inherited along with an old hand wound gramophone with just one 33 rpm record that has a song sung by Lata Mageshkar to help fund collection, on a national scale, sometime after 62 war. When I feel dejected or depressed, like the silly thoughts on what makes India tick, or when my wife calls me a ‘useless bugger,’ I go fix myself a rum and cola. Then I wind up both the Cuckoo and the gramophone and listen to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ After I have had couple of Rum and Cola and listened to the Watansong couple of more times, and see the old Cuckoo pop it’s head out like the President of India, I am convinced that God and America have little to do with what makes India tick, it just needs frequent winding up like my Cuckoo clock’. I also get convinced that it is the military that has the responsibility to go and wind up the Republic’s stupid clock. I get the unreasonable feeling that the Indian Military is the pillar on which the Indian Republic stands. I get the feeling that the Sarnath Lions are the face of the military. Sometimes, if I have had too many rum and cola, I roar like the MGM Lion. My wife usually locks the bedroom door and makes me sleep in the drawing room after that. I think someone may read this and lock me up in Tihar Jail.

What the heck, I may even get intellectual company if I am sent to Tihar and may learn about what makes politicals tick from criminals lodged there.

Earlier this afternoon, I went through my home library and took a look at the history of the world from it’s inception. I found that men in uniform have had a profound role to play in governance. The man in a uniform was always at the apex, whether it was monarchy, anarchy, dictatorship, communism, Marxism, feudalism, or democracy. Democracy came about in Rome around or before 3000 BC, with a senate and a Cesar. The Cesar was always a General. In later English history the feudal lords were military, King of England was military type, even Queen Victoria was somewhat a military person. In Indian context from Porus to Nadir Shah, including Ashoka and Gautam Budha, they were all Generals. The entire leadership of the world during WW-II was military types (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, you name it, even Emperor Hirohito of Japan). Democracy was built on the bull work that the chief executive of a state or an empire would be a General, or at least one who has had some military background. I agree that some Generals were bad, the Idi Amin types. But I can also line up a whole lot of them who are very fine gentlemen, erudite, wise, very patriotic, exceptionally brilliant administrators and above all those who believe that the country comes first, and thier selfish interests last. About 162 of them were in NDA with me, some senior, some my peer group and some of them junior and still serving.

After the second world war, I think after they got rid of John F Kenney, the world at large and America in particular redefined democratic leadership profile, they did not want clean, honest, strong, intelligent leaders who could govern with a strong heart and a mind of their own. They wanted puppets, and idiots. The democratic world is now led by pliable, spineless people who can easily be manipulated by other internal mechanisms of their own country, the secret coterie including corporations like East India Company, media barons, arms merchants or the self seeking sycophant bureaucrats. The military has been downgraded, degraded to a foot mat, or at best a well heeled Alsatian dog on a leash held by bureaucrats. One hopes that in India the military continues to enjoy some level of popular respect. In most other countries, the military is looked down upon by the people.

In Colonial India, till Dalhousie came to rule, the Governor General was a person with military background (all of them). India was ruled by a secret conclave within the board of directors, all of them ex or serving military. See my blog ‘Namak Haram’ http://cyclicstories.blogspot.com/2011/07/namak-haram.html. The C-in-C (army chief) was part of the inner group. Dalhousie was the first exception (he was a lawyer) and he started to down grade military by getting rid of Charles Napier (C-in-C) and making Lord Gough (next C-in-C) redundant during second Punjab war (1848-49). He cut to size Col Henry Lawrence (father of Sanawar school) who may have been his successor. The C-in-C’s were expelled from the inner council. GGs from civil service (predecessor of ICS) were made Viceroys (or Vice – Kings, reporting to the King/Queen of England). John Lawrence (Henry’s younger brother) was the mastermind of the first bureaucratic coup d’état. John was a dipped in wool Indian bureaucrat.

From 1864 the military languished in the outhouse till Field Marshal Wavell came to rule India in 1943. It was a war time government, military was supreme. He relegated the civilians to Secretary status, like personal assistants to take dictations or do the paperwork so that the military could govern. Venerable Field Marshal Cariappa (the first Indian Army Chief) was from that generation of Wavell. Cariappa lived in the largest house, Tin Murthi Bhawan, only smaller than the Viceroy’s house on Raisiana hill where Mountbatten an Admiral lived. The second largest house, next to Vigyan Bhawan, where the Vice Prez now lives, it was the house of C-in-C IAF (Gerald Gibbs). He lived there till 1954. The size of their house and it's proximity to the Viceroy's house will give you an idea of the power base, who the Titans were in those days.

Nehru as you know was a man who had been arrested and jailed innumerable number of times the British Military Police, many of them Indians in British uniform. It was inevitable that he hated the military with as much zest as the military hated him. At the turn of independence the reluctance of the Indian Army to get themselves involved in stopping the genocide did not go well with Nehru (the Indian Army was confined to the barracks by the British commanders who feared that British officers would be called upon to fight other British offices who were part of the Pak army). The initial reluctance of the Army in 1947 to immediately mobilize and go into Kashmir, simply on his orders as the PM, also did not endear the Army to Nehru. As Karan Thapar said in a recent article in HT, the man in uniform including his father called the politicals as ‘Dhotiwalas’. This hatred was inflamed further by venerable Mr Malick who was then the boss of IB who carried horrific tales pertaining to the Army to the PMO. I think the only Lion amongst the poetical wolves those years was Sardar Patel, he had a good rapport with the military and in turn he was held in high esteem by them. It was inevitable that a tussle took place between the political and military – there were two sets of people in uniform, the Gen Kaul types (62 war infamy) personally loyal and subservient to Nehru and the Cariappa type King’s Commissioned Officers (KCIOs) who were absolutely non-subservient to Nehru but whose loyalty to the country was unquestionable (my late father-in-law was one of these KCIO oddballs). There were others who played snake and ladder like Karan Thapar’s father (Army Chief in 62) who got their heads bitten off by the political (he was removed after 62 war). There were also very senior ICS officers (KPS Menon for example – an old colleague of my father) who saw the opportunity to create a second bureaucratic coup d’état. They inserted themselves in between the military and the political – the military opened their arms and welcomed them, so that the service HQ did not have to deal with the highly confused and unfocussed politicals directly. Thus the Ministry of Defence (MoD) came about in earnest, staffed not by military, but by Secretaries of several hues and shades, all of them with typewriters.

Venerable Cariappa was asked to vacate Tin Murti Bhawan in 1953 because it galled the political establishment that Nehru used to live in an outhouse somewhere behind present day National Defence College (30 Jan lane). Before he remitted office, in protest, Cariappa moved to a tent in an open field that is now the Signals enclave. He took the whole Army HQ there with him into tents (the Sena Bhawan was built later, I think those days part of Army HQ was in Red fort and the rest in South Block now occupied by the foreign office). At that time the Army Chief was supreme, enough guts even to tell the PM to piss off. Maharaj Rajendrsighji Jadeja (the man who gave us the ubiquitous RSIs) was a very moderate man who kept the army as well as the politicals happy. Rajendrasinghji and Srinageesh had more or less an easy time with mild mannered Baldev Singh and Katju as Defence Ministers, every one forgot about the army. All the administrative actions, including promotions, awards, rewards, expenses, deployments, defence procurements, all these issues were all sorted out internally in the service HQ, they did not have to ask a Babu whether to promote a Lance Naikk to a Naik, or whether they could go outside the HQ to the pavement shop and buy themselves a rubber stamp. You will not believe this, but the service records of the officers in the Pak army were still kept and maintained up-to-date by Indian Army HQ I think till around 1953-54 and they used to come to Delhi to sort out their discrepancies !!!! I think the relationship soured between Pak and Indian Army only around 1953-54 over approx Rs 52 lks that was to be paid to Pak by GOI as compensation to them for some military stores that were not partitioned or left behind in 1947. GOI did not pay, for whatever reasons.

And then in 1957 the vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, exigent and incredibly dictatorial VK Krishna Menon came to rule as the Def Min. Krishnan Menon was being groomed as Nehru’s successor. As late Bomb Mama (the father of Indian N bomb, venerable K. Subrahmanyam) once told me, under Krishnan Menon both the bureaucracy as well as the service chiefs ran for cover. Thimayya and then Thapar (the TV jock’s father) bore the brunt of it. COAS was practically made redundant, Krishna Menon took over as the ex-officio army chief after Ayub Khan took control of Pakistan in 1958. The political establishment was mortally scared that Thimaya may emulate Ayub. In those years most of the senior military officers in India as well as Pakistan were friends and on talking terms, they served in the same regiments before partition and were therefore good friends. So the political and bureaucratic lobby completely distrusted them, though the military were the very guardians of the Indian Republic. It is sad but true that, in private, most of the military establishment had a very poor opinion of the ability of Indians to govern themselves. This was partly because of old British disdain that they had inculcated in the British army and of-course the disarray and disunity amongst the Indian political establishment was as bad as it is now. Governance was not on the political mind, they simply wanted accommodations, to be democratic ‘Kings’ after getting rid of Princes, Kings and Emperors of all hues, white as well as brown.

Around 1958, as a result of political asylum being granted to the Dalai Lama and assistance to establish a Tibetan Govt In exile at Dharamsala, political decisions taken by Nehru and Krishna Menon without consulting anyone, probably based on the advice and manoeuvring of of Mr Mallick, the boss of IB quite under the thumb of CIA, there was more friction between Army HQ and the political establishments. The Babudom fanned the flames further by questioning the very rationale of Army HQ interference in decisions related to foreign policy. In those years, Thimaya, like his predecessors, perceived that the Army HQ must have a say in foreign policy issues since military is ultimately the tool of foreign policy. Army HQ evaluation of the scenario perceived that China’s territorial ambitions would extend beyond Tibet to Aksai Chin, Sikkim and NEFA, indefensibility of the border, and hence they sought augmentation of defence budget, force level and defence equipment to deal with threats that emanated from India’s abetment of Tibetan aspirations. Unfortunately Nehru and Krishna Menon had their heads stuck in socialistic ideals and scoffed at Thimmaya’s views, suggestions and requests. Thimaya offered to resign. There was some wheeling dealing because Nehru felt that his Govt will fall if Thimaya resigned. Finally Thimaya gave in to the perceptions of Krishna Menon that China was no threat to India (a perception that was enforced by the MoD even as later as 1994).

Thereafter Army HQ was permanently delinked from a newly formed Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). I think it was around this time that the Chiefs were pushed to 16th on the protocol list. Four years later, the 62 war vindicated Thimaya’s foresight. To quote an old conversation with Mani Dixit (before he became the NSA), so many near catastrophes that faced India down the ages (65 war, 71 war, Sri Lanka, Maldives fiasco, Agra Talks, Kargil to name a few) may have had less disastrous consequences had the political establishments or the MoFA and later version Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had ever consulted any of the Service Chiefs before they took any decision. But by 1958, as far as the political and bureaucratic establishment were concerned, the service HQ, a few hundred meters away from their own offices, had been turned into a dog house. It is another story how the creation of R&AW (Kao Boys) over took the MEA and converted the MEA to Jeeves for VVIPs when they went on frequent foreign jaunts. About the R&AW, lesser said the better. Foreign policy now became an intangible subject for GOI, whose blunderbuss consequences had to be borne by the poor military with their blood sweat and tears. I think JN (Mani) Dixit has written many volumes on this.

The inter services problems started with Gen JN Chaudhury (I think-that is what ACM PC Lal said) mainly because of JNC’s overbearing nature and also as a result of the humiliating defeat in 62 Sino Indian war. By then the ICS were all gone and the IAS took control with a vengeance to not only undo the military but also undo the memory of ICS. The IAS was a product of Indian political mind and they competed with each other to better the sycophancy expected by the political. Chavan, a very non obstreperous and pliable man who took over as Def Min after 62 was completely in awe of the IAS lobby, who dictated policy for Chavan. The military was pushed back further down the line. After Chavan came Jagjivan Ram who surprisingly was a strong man and well placed with Indira Gandhi. So the bureaucrats got less elbow room. Indira was politically week so she required support from the three chiefs and hence she gave them adequate importance. J’Ram used to have direct interaction with service chiefs on weekly basis in south block. A large part of the success of the 71 war probably resulted from this strong bond, freedom and direct interaction with the PM as also the personal friendships between the 3 chiefs.

After the 71 war the inter-services rivalry heated up once again, defence spending was downsized, armed forces were once again sent to the dressing room in every respect. For some strange reason the IB reported to the PM that Manekshaw was planning a coup d’état. Quite possible that it may have been due to a news paper article which said that if Sam stood for elections, with a service officer in each constituency, the Army would win a democratic election in every constituency and the right to rule India without any coup d’état. I have heard that Indira called Sam and asked him on his face, ’Sam are you planning a coup?’. His answer I believe was, ‘Sweetie, you can have my resignation on grounds of insanity’. I think Indira had balls and Sam was an incredible man. In later years I can think of quite a few other venerable Generals (Bhagat, Sinha, CNS Pereira, CNS Bhagwat etc) all of them incredible people with impeccable credentials and integrity who scared the political, the bureaucrats and the arms merchants. Hence they were sidelined or got rid of though they never once questioned the democratic system, only the lack of wisdom of the ruling class. For them their loyalty was to the country and not to their political master. Their only crime was that they refused to do stupid things that the political asked them to do for their own parochial reasons. Their integrity could not be bought with post retirement perquisites. I have heard of a Naval Chief who formally wrote to the GOI that no service chief should be tempted or  offered a post retirement gubernatorial post so that his loyalty would be to the nation and not to the ruling party. I am told that an ‘Under Secretary’ in MOD informed him that his request has been accepted and that he would not be considered for any such post after his retirement, but others would be entitled to such posts !!!!

Bansi Lal (75-77), Indira, and R Vankatraman (82-84) came to rule MOD as Defence Ministers. This was a terrible time for the service headquarters. The worst was to come later when India was ruled by a series of inept PMs starting with Desai to Gowda. There was not a single meeting between the chiefs and the Def Min or the PM, or consultations on matters related to security of the country or on foreign policy. The chiefs mostly sat in their HQ and whiled away their time while the services rotted and the bureaucrats ruled the roost. Frankly no point in castigating the bureaucrats, it is the service HQ that needs to be blamed. The Chiefs felt ignored and slighted, they did not wish to ruin their gubernatorial aspirations and hence there was no attempt by the service HQ to make any decisions, they began pathetic whining, everything including the most mundane things began to be referred to the MOD for their approval. The service HQ became a decorative organisation, with no authority. There could have been nothing more despicable than to seek free rations, that broke the camel’s back, the man in uniform was now expected to eat the bloody ration and wag his tail at the bureaucrat.

Things changed for the better once again when Rajiv Gandhi took over as Def Min in 85 with the brilliant apolitical Arun Singh and the incredibly soldierly KP Singh Deo in MOD. The three chiefs La Fontane, Tahilani and the awesome Sunderji got along fine with the politicals promoting the inter services camaraderie. The bureaucrats simply fell in line. For the first time after 1971 the services began to brush up their uniforms as well as professionalism. In many ways I personally think Sundarjee devised Siachin, Chequerboard (Tawang) and finally Brass Tacks to down size the MOD and get the services back into lime light with some dignity. ( I agree, it is a wonky interpretation).

After Rajeev Gandhi, the services went back to the boondocks especially due to all the scams (Bofors, HD Submarine, so many of them those days) – the MOD came back with a back swing. Vohra the Def Sec stepped out of line at India Gate line up on Republic Day and started to introduce the 3 chiefs to the PM. Can you imagine his contempt for protocol, like introducing the PM to the President ? The Service chiefs went further down on the protocol list. The Sri Lanka war was thrust on the services without even consulting with the 3 chiefs. The RAW and the IB overtook the services. I am given to understand that the IB keeps a file on every senior service officer and that only those are promoted on whom they have a handle. Why else would a man who went and gave a fully armed Gnat to the Pakis become the chief of IAF intelligence and an Air Mshl ? The para military was taken away and put under Home Ministry so that they can now wage war against the political dissidents and opposition party rallies in the socialist democratic republic of India where freedom is guaranteed by constitution. The Police are alright with Danadas and silly fellows like Ram Dev, but you need para military with rifles to handle some stronger ones like the Maoists or the insurgent Nagas.

The rest is recent history. I took a premature retirement in 93 out of disgust against the system. Afterwards I have not been privy to what happened in the corridors of power except gossip and conjecture. My personal, less than successful interaction with Babudom while I served in Air HQ is there on my blog 

The Kargil Committee under Bomb Mama and Arun Singh tried to bring sanity and parity in MoD, creation of a CDS and a sandwiched MoD with both civilians and the military. But do you think the Babus will ever let go ? Just the way Anna thinks that the political will become honest if he goes on a fast. I think it is us the ordinary people and the soldiers who have to change and rewind the Cuckoo clock of the Republic. How, I don’t know. But we have to stop dreaming about utopia, that political and bureaucratic establishments will reform itself. The hell it will.

About two yrs ago when some of my course mates got AVSM and PVSM, I was invited as a personal guest to Akash Mess where the Def Min Anthony was giving an official reception and dinner. The brass from all 3 service were there in their finery, medals, collar tabs, auguets, gold burnishing, gold buttons, sam brownies, what have you – some even had their swords. In spite of a smart business suit even I felt undressed in front of such an august and very impressive uniformed crowd. Anthony arrived late after we had already drowned 2 Ls down the hatch. He was wearing a simple white bush shirt with a traditional Malayali dhotie, luckily not at half mast. He was taken around the august collage of military brass and introduced to them by the Def Sec. Afterwards I saw Anthony standing in a corner with the Def Sec. His knees were shaking. I went to say hello.
‘An-Thony Sare,’ I said with due diligence. ‘Why are you standing as if you have swallowed a spear, your knees are shaking ?’ (Literally translated from Malayalam), I asked without tact.
‘Ayyo Kartavu Sare’, he replied equally frank. ‘I am frightened of all the costumes here, it looks like Satan is having a party’ (Malayalam translation). At that moment I think I understood the crux of the polico-military problem. If only the services dress up like very ordinary people, say like the Chinese Army in the 60s, with drab uniforms and less frightening pomp, I think the political may even get to like the military. I have noted on TV that when Gen Kayani goes to meet the Paki PM, or the Paki Prez, he goes in a simple jersey without a frightening visage. He doesn’t even seem to carry a cane / baton. I think we must learn to emulate the Paki man, though Kayani is frightening even when undressed. Why do we insist on wearing the frightening ceremonials when we go to meet uncouth politicals ??

About bureaucrats, they are the boss, they are in control for now and forever, we need to make an effort to get to like them. It is a universal problem, all over the world. It is a new world order in which the military is a simple service provider. That is the unpalatable truth whether we like it or not. Having said that, I continue to dream about a proud and exemplary military, and about a bureaucracy who will become kind enough to revert my quota of rum from the canteen to 12 units and not keep reducing it and making it more expensive with unnecessary tax. With 8 units I can barely say cheers to MM Singh –don’t much care about OROP, it is bloody peanuts and a waste of time.

I believe there is talk of shifting Sena Bhawan to Manesar or elsewhere. If that happens, I presume the Army Chief as well as other chiefs will probably get to live in a 2 bed room flat on Sohana Road, quite a distance from Raisiana Hill where Cariappa once lived. I am sure this will never happen. But that is the way the world may go.

When Gen VK Singh took over as the COAS, I had great hopes in him. Ever since NDA days I have credited him as a man with steel balls, integrity and courage. I thought that he would bring back some dignity to the armed forces. When he stood up to Omar Abdullah and refused to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) I cheered. I believe that AFSPA is necessary even if simply to ensure that an Army Chief or any of the Army Commanders are not tried and convicted like a common criminal for war crimes that they did or did not commit like the Serbian Slobodan Milosevic because of some self seeking political who uses the Army (AF or Navy) for political expediency. When VK told the Home minister to bugger off and refused to send tanks and attack helicopters to massacre Maoists in Dhantewada, because they were simple rural misguided countrymen and not secessionists, I cheered for him. When he court-martialed several generals (those who objected to his DOB), ketch-up artists and rum thieves, very senior officers, some of them my close friends which brought adverse publicity to the forces, I told myself that it may be good for the system. When he took up the cause of the date of birth after he became the COAS, I was quite pissed off because he had cheated the system by joining NDA underage, probably fudging his own dad’s signature. Yet it did not reduce his image in my eyes, after all he had turned out to be a good general with long meritorious service. In my overdeveloped sense of propriety I hoped that he would resign before he went to court. Yet I liked his style, he had more clout to fight in court when he was in uniform, he would have loked silly wearing a tweed coat on TV. Like all of his peer group, I too followed his escapades, but this afternoon I was most disappointed that he withdrew his case in the Supreme Court. If he had continued, even if he had lost, I would still have cheered him. I would have maintained my belief that he does indeed have balls of steel. Now I am not too sure whether they are steel or made of chrome plated brass bought from Vohra Brothers in CP. It is not the Chief who lost, it is the Armed Forces who lost. It is not the politicals who won, but it is the bureaucracy which got more entrenched and gained control over Haji Pir Pass. The Armed forces would now have to fight battles not against an external threat but the line of control (LOC) with bureaucracy. The international date line between MoD and Service HQ.  Beware, be prepared, a Desk Officer in MOD can now issue warning letters to the Chiefs, even if he were to couch it by saying, ‘I have been directed by the faceless GOI to tell you to bugger off.’ I lament that there is none left to wind up the Cuckoo clock ’ of the Republic. The President, the Supreme Commander, will look silly to pop her head out of the GOI clockwork to say ‘Cuckoo, Cuckoo’, or whatever.

The ‘Clash Of The Titans’ simply petered out without a whimper. I have had couple of rum and cola. I have woefully listened to Lata’s rendition of Yeh Mare Watan Ke Logon, Zara Ankh Me Bharlo Pani...’ several times. I tried to roar like an MGM Lion. But tonight, it is sounding like the mewing of a cat, a disgusting noise.



  1. When the Court had made it clear that it would issue any adverse judgement if VKS did not withdraw, what would have been the point of continuing?

    That aside, it's nice to know that I can have two DOB's - one for the office, and once for everywhere else. I used to think that was the height of illegality, but now the SC of my country endorses it.

  2. Having known you in person, I was quite expecting to read something like this, only a lot earlier...I am sure there are quite a few others who easily relate with the opinions expressed (including your truly) and would like a pre-emptive strile on politicoes and babus, having sufferred equally at ten hands of the nameless, faceless GOI (love that btw)....Keep writing and making us smile Saar,

  3. To Cyclic and all other loyal readers: "Hope" still exists for us all against the nameless, faceless evil called "GoI"


  4. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_army-chief-gen-vk-singh-rules-out-resignation_1657637

  5. Brilliant writing.I hope to spread our feelings by sharing through FB. I'm sure my friends would also share it.

  6. I still remember the advice of the Supreme Court to Gen VK. It wasn't a judgement but a way out, oozing a highly viscous fluid all the way.

  7. It is refreshing to read the simple truth. I took my uncle's advise over my very first bottle of beer in 1970 and did not join the NDA. (My Uncle was R. Sitaram, King's Commission #1 Air Sqdn who Commanded JSW and founded NDA He should have known. His brother Rajaram, DFC was fired by ShastriG for the bombing of Peshawar (65) and given a Padma Bhushan for the same thing by IndiraG).

    India's History and narrative have never had any relation to the Truth ever since NehruG began to have statues and place names replaced with those of the neo-Nabobs and History re-written. Rather, the Executive and the Judiciary seek to manufacture "Truth" to political convenience. This, with other forms of corruption, is what has led to the total break down of both law and the credibility of "Governance" in India. In most such cases too many people know the truth experientially and clinically. Too many people also infer "the truth" from prior personal experience rather than Government propaganda. Therefore, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time" (Abraham Lincoln).

    I give thanks to my uncle as I sit in front of the TV for not having to salute a President or Prime Minister or a Judge or a District Collector that I know is corrupt but is also immune from prosecution.