Even if there is no connectivity gap, a cultural gap between the civil and military leadership can lead to strategic and political failures.
When Mrs. Indira Gandhi completely trusted the then army chief, Sam Manekshaw in 1971 and went solely with his advise, it led to creation of Bangladesh and her being hailed as Durga. When the same Mrs. Gandhi again trusted another army chief 13 years later during Operation Blue Star (if P.C. Alexander’s account is to be believed), she ended up paying the ultimate price herself and the nation suffered the horrors of Khalistani insurgency for another decade.
In both cases, an apolitical, professional army was completely trusted by the political leadership and unlike 1962, with no unnecessary civilian meddling in military matters. There was sufficient degree of engagement between the political and military leadership and at no stage did the political leadership improperly restrain the army during the operations. So, was it a mere tactical military failure in 1984 and nothing more than that.
Perhaps not. Because while the civilian and military leaderships engaged, the quality of debate between the two was abysmal, if not non-existent. It was manifested in the political leadership’s failure to understand the limitations of using military force in an operation like Blue Star and the military leadership’s failure to understand the political consequences of their actions. This can be directly attributed to the vast cultural gap — the difference in culture, norms and values — between the military and civilian worlds, which continues to this day in India.
While most commentators on civil-military relations in India — especially in the wake of the Pay Commission debate — focus solely on the connectivity gap between the civil and military leadership, the real challenge is to bridge the cultural gap between the two domains — to bring about meaningful dialogue and mutual understanding between them. This requires a paradigm shift in the approach and attitude of the civilian and military leadership over many years.
A practical, short-term solution is for both military and civilian elites — especially those involved in higher defence decision making — to jointly attend specialised training programmes, which emphasise military-strategic thinking, political philosophy, public policy formulation, governance and civil-military relations. There is no better way then but to immediately start with a programme — with compulsory attendance — for the military officers posted at service headquarters, civilian bureaucrats of the defence ministry and political leadership involved with national security, including the members of the parliamentary committee on defence.
Sounds like a pipe dream. Perhaps it is.