Air Marshal Brijesh Jayal (retd)
Former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South-Western Air Command
A recent media report on the proposed Indian National Defence University notes that hardly any progress has been made, some six years after its foundation was laid by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The draft INDU Bill reportedly continues to languish due to bureaucratic wrangling and political apathy. That this news has invited little public outrage merely shows our apathy towards aspects related to strategic thought and planning in matters of national security.
While the proposal for such a university goes back over half a century, it is the Kargil conflict that resulted in the revival of the idea. The Kargil Review Committee was followed by the formation of four task forces whose reports were studied and deliberated upon
by a Group of Ministers, who in turn, submitted a report in February 2001 titled ‘Reforming the National Security System’.
The GOM report noted that in spite of being faced with a highly complex and dynamic security environment, both nationally and internationally, India had a record of neglecting national security thought at the strategic level. It felt that the challenge was to educate and adequately prepare national security leaders to enable them to look at strategic security challenges holistically and formulate policies based on researched and informed inputs.
It further noted that the practice of joint military planning and operations involving all the services, remained neglected and that in today's world, the forging of links with military officers of friendly foreign countries was inevitable. Significantly, it observed that no formal structure existed in India to provide synergy between academic research in the field of security and the government's requirements in the formulation of security policy.
At the time, to all those concerned with national security, the GOM report conveyed a message that at long last, the Indian state was beginning to value the virtue of thinking and planning strategically and would work towards building the much needed national security institutions and linkages accordingly. In hindsight, this optimism appears to have been misplaced.
It was to address many of these shortcomings that the GOM recommended the setting up of a National Defence University with the Ministry of Defence forming a committee to come up with a blueprint. The stamp of Arun Singh, who headed the task force on the management of defence, was clearly visible in the broad-based composition of Committee on National Defence University (CONDU). Indeed, his interactions before the CONDU were invaluable during its deliberations, bringing in the perspective of one having served as a minister in Defence Ministry and one with a keen mind in matters of security.
After extensive visits to various establishments within the country, visits to the United States of America and the Chinese National Defence Universities, interaction with many eminent persons from diverse fields and regular interaction with the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Defence Ministry, CONDU submitted its report to the Defence Minister in 2002. It speaks volumes of our priority to national security that in spite of all the shortcomings, reflected by the GOM, it still took the fragmented decision-making system 11 long years to get to the stage of breaking ground!
On May 23, 2013, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh finally laid the foundation of the proposed Indian National Defence University, at a 200 acre site in Binola village, on the outskirts of the national capital. Addressing the gathering, he said the INDU would ensure that our country, our government and our armed forces benefit from the best military advice that is available and provide an avenue for our soldiers to think beyond the physical art of warfare. Perhaps donning his scholarly hat, he further said it would allow our thinkers and policy-makers to understand the complexities of war and conflict and provide defence professionals with a deep understanding of the interplay between attributes of national power.
To students of national security long used to seeing the armed forces of India being treated by the political and civil service leaderships as the mere sword arm of the state and of value little more than gun fodder, the Prime Minister's address and this momentous first step towards setting up of the INDU provided a ray of hope. It appeared that at long last, there was recognition of the umbilical link between the survival of the nation-state and the capacity of its thinkers, policy-makers and the military to understand the complexities of war and conflict and act in concert.
Sadly, the latest news of the INDU Bill still struggling to traverse the complex military-bureaucratic-political process to fruition, leads to a feeling that parochial interests are of far greater import to our security calculus than any lofty ideals of thinking and planning strategically.
Looking back, it is possible that when laying the foundation stone, Manmohan Singh, the scholar, was acutely conscious of the pitfalls and challenges that lay ahead towards fulfilling the vision of the INDU, wearing as he was the chief executive's hat and knowing full well the administrative system's prejudices and complexities. That is why, in his address, he also chose to caution the audience of a late 19 century observation by General Sir William Francis Butler: "The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards."
As the INDU process is falling victim to administrative procrastination, one can only hope that a government that prides itself on being strong on national security can clear the cobwebs and erase forever the line demarcating the thinking man from the fighting one. Failing this, the nation will continue with its fighting being done by fools, and its thinking by cowards.