by Commodore Udai Rao (Retd)

The Galwan incident of June 15/16 and the killing of 20 army personnel has shocked both the army and the nation. Indeed, China undertook a premeditated attack on Indian troops. The question however is, why was the army taken by surprise? That the Chinese are masters in surprise, deception, obfuscation, speak with a forked tongue and cannot be trusted, have always been well known.

Clearly, India was unprepared for such deception. Though the government had sanctioned a mountain strike corps seven years ago, the move was scrapped in 2019 due to lack of funds. The army, if media reports are credible, is low on 20 types of ammunition, the current stocks of which are barely enough for 10 days of intensive fighting.

Now, the government has sanctioned emergency funds for the armed forces and urgently ordered 21 MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi-30MKI fighter aircraft. Evidently, this suggests that India was not ready to take on China despite adequate indications of military hostility earlier. Lt Gen BC Khanduri (Retd), veteran BJP leader and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence had pointed out several shortcomings in India’s defence preparedness which had embarrassed the government.

Today, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is not visible in the media to articulate the government’s position on the emergent crisis. Did the external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the domestic Intelligence agency, Intelligence Bureau (IB), apprise the PM, NSA and the military chiefs of the gathering storm across the Line of Actual Control?

Importantly, did the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) which was specifically formed after the Kargil hostilities, equip itself with adequate assets such as satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and signal intelligence (SIGINT) facilities, and forewarn the national leadership about the impending crisis? What inputs did the Director-General, Defence Intelligence Agency (DGDIA) and the Director-General Military Intelligence (DGMI) provide the government? Did the National Security Council (NSC) which reports to the NSA, collate information from these agencies and come to any worthy conclusion and present it to the national security decision-makers?

The Kargil hostilities in mid-1999 had offered the government a good opportunity to reform the country’s intelligence architecture which unfortunately did not happen. The Girish Saxena sub-committee on ‘reforming national intelligence’ lost a wonderful opportunity to do so. No one in the committee listened to the single Major General, who represented the armed forces.

The failure to institute a national commission of enquiry after 26/11 to assess the terrorist action including the failure of intelligence was yet another lost opportunity. Intelligence failed the country then and it has apparently failed it again. It is time for greater oversight of national intelligence agencies like the US Senate Intelligence Committee.

General Bipin Rawat who was the army chief until recently, now heads the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Ministry of Defence, upon his elevation to the post of the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of India. This is probably the most significant military reform in the past few decades.

He is now the single point military adviser to the government and will have the responsibility to better synergise the operations, training, logistics and acquisitions of the three services. The Galwan incident and other developments that may emerge in the days and months ahead will be a significant challenge for the institution of the CDS.

Institutional Opposition

General Rawat must use this opportunity to test concepts such as the Integrated Battle Group (IBG) and endeavour to overcome institutional opposition to his concept of five theatre and joint commands. Demarcation of responsibilities between the CDS, NSA and the Defence Secretary will need greater clarification if they are to work seamlessly.

Home Minster Amit Shah has a multitude of responsibilities and is a busy man even without the Corona crisis. It is time we have a separate minister for internal security who could report to the HM and thus ease his burden. It is also time that the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), which come under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), whose total manpower is equal to the army, air force and navy put together or perhaps even more, takes full responsibility for counter-terrorism and internal security leaving the army free to concentrate on external threats.

India’s overpaid and often arrogant diplomats may never have spent even a single a day in the icy heights of the hostile Himalayas. Yet, it is they who sign pacts with countries such as China and override the generals, admirals and air marshals, some of whom may have served several tenures in the area.

Did the Indian Foreign Service diplomats lull security decision-makers into complacence? It is only in India that diplomats and police officers become NSAs, unlike other developed democracies which mostly have armed forces officers as NSAs and intelligence chiefs.

This, of course, is not the right time to question the army which is stretched along two borders. The army cannot and should not be giving a ball by ball account of the action as it occurred. The Galwan incident was after all a ‘snapshot event’ and one can be sure that the army and the nation with the support of the people will come out triumphant in the next round against China. 

The writer is former Principal Director Naval Intelligence and former Director, Cabinet Secretariat