Besides age, several other important issues–transformation, modernisation, acquisition, to name just three topics– discussed here. Unfortunately the age issue has overshadowed everything else.
This was actually meant to be an interview for Army Day 2012, overtaken by
Make your own judgement, according to your own inclination!!
Q: I have to start with the raging controversy about your age and the defence ministry stand that they will not grant what have you been asking for? Your comment.
Ans: I think the issue is being played out too much. There is no controversy between the ministry of defense and me. There’s no fight between the ministry of defense and me. There are perceptional differences, and it’s totally a personal issue. And it is only something which is concerning me and not the rest of the army. So, I would like to assure you that as far as I’m concerned, it is not transcending in any way into the army. We are as prepared, as good as we were yesterday or as well-prepared as we’ll be tomorrow.
Q: But in the public perception as you have seen the battle is seen to be have been joined from both sides, you and the defence ministry, how do you dispel this perception because there is this fact that the papers have been given out in RTI reply they are saying that your Date of Birth is what they are maintaining, and you have said that this is 10 May 1951, so why don’t you just clarify a little bit that what is the problem there?
Ans: See, a lot of papers are being bandied about. People are trying to prove their point. That is not the issue at all. It is not something for personal gains so far as I’m concerned. It was an issue concerning my integrity and that is where I’ve put it, and pegged it and that is where, so far as I’m concerned, the matter ends.
Q: So if your integrity and your honour is protected and they give you your due would you accept the decision of the government?
Ans: Well, I’ve already said that so far as I’m concerned it is totally a personal issue. It is an issue that has to be decided by whosoever wants to decide, and me personally. It doesn’t concern anything else.
Q: And you are saying that it will not transcend any other decision making?
Ans: It is not in any way affecting either my decisions, or that of people under my command.
Q: What about the ministry’s decisions vis-a-vis the army?
Ans: I don’t find any effect out there and I’m quite sure, we have a team there and as well as a minister who goes beyond all this.
Q: Ok. Let me move on to other aspects then. You had initiated the process of transformation in the Indian army, you had done that study yourself and now you are trying to implement it, how far have you come in that process?
Ans: See, our aim was to make the army more agile, more lethal, more responsive, and networked army that is able to meet with the future threats. To that extent certain steps were laid down. One of the things we looked at was restructuring of our organizations into groupings that will take place in battle. So, we have validated these. Certain changes have come about because of our validation in test bedding. These are coming into effect. We also looked at theaterization of our combat and combat support as well as logistic support elements. This, the test bedding has taken place, it will come into effect. Certain things out of this, because it concerns legacy organizations carrying on for years will take a little time till mentally, people get prepared to handle them. We also had the issue of ensuring that our headquarters become more responsive, because over a period of time in the old headquarters we kept adding people. It added onto the chains of decision making. We’re trying to sort that out. Certain things in the army headquarters have been implemented. More things are in the pipeline, and it will go down to the other formation headquarters.
Q: You have said before and when we have talked earlier also that the capability building of the Indian army is not adversary specific but capability based, now does that still stand given the kind of constant needling that happens along the line of actual control and also the possible projection that there could be skirmishes along the China frontier. How do you see those threats?
Ans: See, what I’d said was that at the moment we’re a threat-based organization. We’re moving towards a threat-cum-capability based one. And as the years go by, we will become a totally capability-based force. It has various implications like what kind of equipping norms you have, what kind of training that you do, what kind of resources you have to rapidly deploy to various places. So, these are things that are being put into effect now and by the time we see the result, it will take some time. It is not that overnight we can change something. What you talked of, needling, I don’t find any this thing…Yes so far as we’re concerned, we’re prepared to meet various types of threats that will emanate, whether it is any border that we have. And to that extent, I feel satisfied that we’ve done a fair amount of work. We have our preparedness that will be able to meet the requirements of the time.
Q: And what about the internal situation? do you see increasing involvement of Indian army in internal situation?
Ans: See, internal situation… we have been involved in two parts of the country for a very long time, the North-East and the North. Things are becoming better; they’re not totally, absolutely alright. And to a certain extent, I think we have to see how things pan out in the times to come. You know, to immediately say that okay, today things are very fine, let’s stop everything, I don’t think that will be a correct approach. In this particular game, you have to be patient you have to be cautious, you have to look at how the future comes out and then look at how you can decrease your involvement.
Q: What about Kashmir? How do you see it panning in the next couple of years if not more??
Ans: See Kashmir in 2011 has been good after what we saw in 2010. However, there are few factors we need to factor into it. One is, the infrastructure across the borders is still intact. A large number of trained terrorists are waiting out there. We don’t know how the internal situation out there will work out which can have its own dynamic effect on these. Therefore, we need to study the internal dynamics in J&K much better. Yes and these dynamics comprise of what kind of overall worker base is there. Is the revival of some of the people left out from jails taking place? Are there more people coming in? They may not come through the fence that is put up; they may come from other routes which happen, which you’re aware of. We have to look at what kind of separatist ideology is being preached and harbored and what kind of impetus is being given to it. All those combined will tell us what kind of approach has to be taken. I think a wait-and-watch policy will get us better results.
Q: So that again brings me to the Army’s stand on the Armed Forces Special Power Act. Does your stand remain the same?
Ans: See I think we’ve said enough on this, I don’t want to create more controversy. Like I said, let’s wait and watch, let’s see how things pan out, let’s not be in a hurry to head-long rush into something. These are not matters in which you should take decisions, which you may regret later and therefore, let’s be patient.
Q: Gen Singh the 2 years that you have been more or less in the chair now and the day you took over you talked about setting the internal health of the army right. How far have you come in that endeavor and how do you see it panning out in next couple of years?
Ans: See I had stated a reality and we embarked on various things. I can say today, that within our own structures, we’ve become more transparent. Secondly, we’ve also sent a clear message that certain things will not be tolerated, come what may. And to that extent, you’re aware of some high profile cases that have been tackled in typical army disciplined way. We’ve not shied away. And this was a part of this message we wanted to give to people and tell people, look here, if you are honest, you are upright, carry on. But if you are deviant towards what the army lays down in terms of ethos and values, there can be problems. And I think once this message is given, within the army, some kind of internal reform, confidence building is taking place and to that extent, at the moment, I’m satisfied that we have been able to start things, where people say wrong is wrong, and right is right.
Q: What about taking all those cases, the high profile cases that you spoke about to their logical conclusion, because very often in the past one have seen you know that they sort of are started off well, disciplinary action and court marshals take place but at the end of it very little gets done or do you have a different view on this?
Ans: No, some of the cases I think….you’re aware of some of our general officers who were court-marshaled, they were punished. The courts decide this thing, I mean that was the court’s decision what kind of punishment they give. We don’t come into play. Similarly, there are certain cases that happen that came to the fore during the last year and a half plus. Some of them we investigated and we found that our capability to go further was not there and therefore, they were handed over to the required investigative agencies and they’re proceeding well. Where we were concerned and our processes were concerned, I think they have been done in a time-bound way. Now, rest of the investigating agencies, I don’t want to make a comment on them, and I’m quite sure they’re doing their work.
Q: But at that point of time you had also spoken about giving more powers to the Corps of Military Police, investigative powers, at least a suggestion was there, has anything happened on that front?
Ans:See it was part of our transformation and it is being put into effect, we have trained our people and like I said, certain structural changes are mindsets that need to change. That takes time. It is happening, and I’m quite sure that what we’re looking at as an army, as part of our transformation and military police was part of it. It will happen. Certain things of changes of military police have already taken place.
Q: You had also at the army commanders conference taken a decision to transform the process of the training and scholar warrior, kind of a concept that you wanted to introduce or re-introduce maybe. What is the concept really?
Ans: See the concept is that there is a need for our people, not to stop learning after they get into the army. Aim is that they must progress, become experts, enhance their knowledge base so that they contribute greatly to the benefit of the army. And to that extent, our professional military education, our education for our jawans are two fields that we have concentrated on. Where professional military education is concerned, our army training command has put in a lot of measures to enhance the professional military education and we will start seeing the results in years to come. Similarly, where the jawans and our JCOs are concerned, aim was to bring up their educational level and to that extent we had gone into collaboration with the IGNOU. Certain things are already moving, larger numbers have enrolled, and I’m quite sure that was days go by, we will have people who will retire as graduates which is a big jump from what he was doing earlier. Similarly, we’ve tied up with some good universities where we can send our people for expert courses and that is happening already. So this is all a part of making the scholar soldier.
Q: You spoke earlier about making the Indian army lean and agile and capable of handling any threat in the future. What about, let me say modernisation and the procurement process, because even you have plans in place for transformation, if it is not backed by adequate modernisation and speedier procurement, how do you tackle that problem that is there?
Ans: See modernization and procurements have been a problem over a period of time. Couple of reasons have been that our own indigenous and technology base in defense-related industries is limited. So you have to go outside to procure and therefore to ensure transparency, credibility of the system etc , there is a laid-down procedure. Yes, it is time consuming and therefore, things get delayed. We also have a problem where one complaint or one letter, you know, can put everything to a stop. That has to be examined, you also have a problem where some firms because they’ve taken a particular action, they get either blacklisted or a black mark comes against them and therefore, the whole process gets delayed. We’ve given our points of view to the ministry they’re working at it and I’m sure, between the forces and the ministry we will be able to find solutions that will hasten this up. And this is also one of the areas where the task-force that has been set up under Mr. Naresh Chandra is also looking at it because this is a concern for everybody.
Q: But is there then a proposal or a wish, if not a proposal to integrate in real terms to have your people in uniform to be attached or working as cross postings, with the ministry officials, is there a proposal to do that?
Ans: See they are there…there’s one area already there which is the acquisition wing of the ministry. We have people from all the three services who are there, who go through the force’s proposals. And they are an interface between us and the ministry officials; they work in conjunction with them. This is already there. Rest has been left to the task force as to how they look at the entire structure.
Q: But is the wish there to be a part of decision making?
Ans: It’ll make things better, I mean, that was one of the recommendations made by the Kargil committee also. I think ultimately we must look at organizations that will contribute in a much better manner.
Q: Decision making also…you need to be part of the decision making at the highest level…. is that a problem at the moment, that you send a proposal then it comes back?
Ans: See certain lacunae were found by the Kargil committee. Now those are being examined by the task-force. The services have all given their own input into this. I think they will take an overall macro view as to how to ensure better integration.
Q: Let me come back to the infrastructure problem, I mean again we have spoken about this before, along the northern borders and the China frontier specially, how slow or how fast has it been in the past year and a half or so?
Ans: It has got two factors. One is, what is that proposal, which state it is in, and second is the type of environmental laws that we have. Lot of work has been done. Lot of areas where the environmental ministry has cleared our projects. We have a problem at times at the state levels, where the land has, you know, been claimed as forest land, and therefore, various rules apply to it and that is where things do get delayed. We’re trying to find a methodology. I think both the services and the ministry are seized of it because we cannot allow infrastructure, development timelines to go beyond a certain time. I’m quite hopeful that the way that the impetus is being given, we will be able to meet most of our timelines, most of our timelines. There will still be some areas where it will be declared some sort of sanctuary or something. Now you have to find a way out of it. And I think it will require will on the part of the state concerned, the ministry of environment to come to some sort of a system, where we can look at the nation’s security needs.
Q: Do you think, very often the national security interest if i can use that expression is overlooked in decision making, for instance, the critical shortages in artillery… everybody knows for last 20 years we haven’t or more than 20 years we haven’t acquired any guns? Why is it stuck where it is stuck right now?
Ans: Firstly let me correct an impression. There is no critical shortage. There is a problem with modernization. You know, sometimes it gets coupled into saying that for the last 20 years nothing has happened therefore, we’re woefully inadequate, we are not. We’re not woefully inadequate. Yes, if we modernize, it will be better. See like I said, the procedural aspects are such and I’ve always said this, there are a lot of faults that the services themselves have committed faults and to that extent, the army has committed. I mean we took a decision at one point of time; we’ll have a particular caliber. But after few years we changed that caliber. Now, obviously then, the whole procedure goes haywire. Similarly, you can’t make QR (unclear) only for one particular system. You’ve got to have a level playing field for everybody. So these are some of the areas where you get bogged down. We have worked out a philosophy for our artillery system. I’m very positive that this will succeed. Lot of thought has gone into it, it has been presented to the Defense minister and we have his support in this to go ahead and it will combine both, indigenous work as well as what we procure from outside.
Q: What about armour, because there is also a problem of, I mean at least one hears about it that the army is not very keen on getting the Arjun tank into the army?
Ans: No it is not that, we have worked out the way the tank is, how it fits into our operational plans as per its capability. So accordingly we have pegged a particular number which is going to happen. Yes, there are certain lacunae in what came in which are being improved after all everybody wants a better thing. So now it’s becoming Mark II, certain things will come out with Mark III which would probably be the ultimate. So that is not an issue. Some of the problems actually that because you can say a certain amount of concern is the type of quality control regime and accountability that we have. This is something that we’re pushing for. That look here, if let’s say a particular barrel, it goes off, we must hold someone accountable. Don’t we do that with private industries? You can’t shield people. Now that is something we’re trying to ask someone to do. Let’s hold people accountable so that our quality control mechanism becomes better which transcends into a better product that comes to the army.
Q: I am going to come back to the first question that i asked you, because that is something everyone wants to know, is there a rift between you and the ministry?
Ans: There is no rift between me and the ministry. We are as cordial as we’ve ever been. If you’ve seen signs of any rift, I don’t know. But personally I haven’t seen any sign of a rift.
Q: But that’s the perception which everybody is going around with.
Ans: See the problem is, when the media gets into it, you must find every small thing. Now for example, I was seeing in the media- chief meets the Adjutant general. Now the Adjutant general comes and meets me 10 times a day. What is so special about it? So I don’t think these perceptions are right. There is no rift.
Q: Do you think your honour has been put at stake and therefore you want to take the stand you have taken?
Ans: See, integrity is an issue which I have flagged and it’s totally a personal issue and that is where it ends.
Q: So you are hopeful it will be resolved?
Ans: I don’t know. I’ve got no clue of it. Nor do I want to comment on it.
Q: But you will continue to hold on to that thought that integrity and honour is your right?
Ans: I’m sure, each one of us holds on to that particular value. It is not just me. You also, anybody who’s there.