The ‘big bang’ announcement has finally been made from the ramparts of the Red Fort by none other than the Indian Prime Minister on the Republic’s 73rd Independence Day. The need for a CDS and greater synergy among the armed forces has been brought out by several high-level committees in the past. The findings of these committees, in the words of the Prime Minister, had “unnees bees ka farak” or were hardly any different from each other. In other words, all said the same thing – get real about improving synergy. Finally, the Indian Armed Forces will have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Not surprisingly, tongues have started wagging. These wagging tongues have spilled over to social media and various reactions are pouring in. Not only are many of these reactions ill-informed, some are outrightly vicious and divisive.

A brief lesson for the uninitiated will be in order. The armed forces exist, not to fight war but to preserve peace. If you have strong armed forces, the deterrence they provide is likely to avoid conflict. Should deterrence fail, the armed forces must fight and win convincingly. The three armed forces, namely, the Army, Navy and Air Force have their core strengths and capabilities. They also have their limitations. Whatever these may be, together they are required to deliver results for the people of India across the spectrum of conflict – from humanitarian relief at one end to high-end armed conflict at the other. Individually, each service may not be able to achieve this but jointly, they most definitely can. The synergy to achieve this is what one means by ‘jointness’, a term that is not very clearly comprehended across much of civil society.

The colour of jointness is ‘Purple’. Not by any wild stretch of imagination but created out of a combination of red (Army), navy blue (Navy) and sky blue (Air Force) that come together to reveal an unique shade of purple. Therefore, the credo of an effectively joint force should be ‘Think Purple, Talk Purple, Act Purple’. Converted to layman terms, this would mean joint planning, a joint lexicon (and hence a joint understanding) and joint execution of operations. Would this be achieved by appointing a CDS? Not just yet. It may be just the first big step to usher in an organisational transformation that will enable its achievement within a reasonable time-frame. The CDS, from whichever service he may be, will be a ‘Purpleman’ and hopefully will have the vision and focus to drive this transformation in a transparent and non-partisan manner. We have no reason to think otherwise.

Synergy of effort in equipment procurement and core warfare areas that easily lend themselves to ‘jointness’ have already been set into motion with the Integrated Defence Staff coordinating all capital procurements and the setting up of three separate agencies dealing with Space, Cyber and Special Operations. There are also positive moves towards joint logistics and training. The CDS will now oversee all these aspects and that itself will provide more muscle in taking these initiatives forward. The Andaman and Nicobar Command is already joint and the CDS will have his task cut out to obtain assets from all three services to augment force levels there in order to enhance its effectiveness as our eastern-most Command, at the mouth of the Malacca Strait. Being the first among equals, he will also have adequate authority to move and shake all other matters from a ‘joint perspective’. The opportunities for jointness are enormous, ranging from operations, capability planning, acquisitions, technology development, testing and so much more, with the potential of significant savings in effort and cost. As the transformation unfolds, it remains to be seen how the roles of the CDS and the individual Service Chiefs change in execution of India’s military strategy.

Several opinions that paint the issue in an adversarial light between the armed forces and the bureaucracy may be read in this backdrop. I am sure that we have the maturity and foresight not to allow petty considerations derail the larger vision. That said, there is also the need for sanity to prevail while effecting this transformation. It will require among other things, downsizing in some areas, giving up turfs in others, thinking through the concept of Integrated Theatre Commands and how best these can be organised in the Indian context. There are several examples available world-wide but developing an India-centric model that will serve our national interests best will be a fine balance of several components to create an integrated whole. It will be akin to conducting a symphonic orchestra ensemble, which we hope will play in perfect harmony.

The conductor has raised his baton – let the music begin…


Social media is abuzz about the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. From serious political comment to flippant jokes, the news breaking over the future of the once geographical entity called the State of Jammu and Kashmir has created ‘shock and awe’ – I daresay, more awe than shock. Shocked as everyone is, people across the national and international spectrum cannot but admire the guts of the political executive of the Republic of India for taking steps which were till today, the equivalent of assured political hara-kiri. The timing has also been perfect. Riding the wave of pro-incumbency, this big-bang decision has been a responsible gamble. I say this because the government has a full five-year term to stabilise the situation and claim its fame in the annals of Indian history for addressing a vexed problem that defied resolution for over seven decades.

Without crystal-gazing or going into historical, political or legal discourse, I propose to outline a few striking features of this bold move from the perspective of a citizen. The polity of India returned a government to power with a thumping majority. Of what use is a thumping majority if big decisions are not taken? There is no need for any majority if we are happy to cruise along with toothless coalitions, mindless consensus and frustrating status quo. Not this time. Firstly, the status quo, the alteration of which was even a taboo in discussion has not just been disturbed but completely re-engineered. If this was a crying need for national cohesion, then the popular mandate has been forcefully utilised. We, the people, have given our representatives this mandate.

Secondly, the timing has been responsible. If there has been any miscalculation, the government has a full five years to press the ‘reset’ button. If there has not been any, it still has a full five years to consolidate and bring normalcy back to the troubled region – people who swear by the ideals of their beloved, lost Kashmiriyat will rejoice at the chance that this provides to restore the Paradise on Earth. The homeless will hope to return. The jobless will aspire to earn a living without resorting to the gun. Children will perhaps outlive their mothers if peace returns. We, the people, must expect no less.

Thirdly, the preparation has been worthy of unqualified commendation. Not only has security of citizens been ensured, the surprise element has been stunning. Despite warnings from several quarters about the disastrous fallout of drastic political changes in Jammu and Kashmir, not a drop of blood has been shed – this by itself is a superlative achievement. It is not a miracle by any stretch of imagination. It was a result outstanding preparation to deal with any blow-back, no matter what. This included deft political signalling and excellent strategic communication – adequate clarity that something serious was afoot but ambiguous of what exactly was brewing. Definitely sound strategy. We, the people, must believe in those we have entrusted the responsibility of governance.

Fourthly, there has been a demonstrated will and ability to find a solution to such a vexed problem. So far, open source discussion revolved around abrogation of Article 370 but not much of what was the alternative in its place. The current formulation has pulled the carpet from beneath the feet of those who never envisioned anything beyond the status quo. What after abrogation of Article 370? The proposed solution is not a shot in the dark. It is proof that adequate thought and strategising has gone into this move. It is a solution – only time will tell whether it is the best solution. That a plan has been thought out beforehand is by itself reassuring. We, the people, must hope that a lasting solution is found for peace to return to the region.

Finally, we will do well to remember that nobody will solve our problems. No United Nations, no superpower, no divine intervention. We have to be the architects of our own destiny. In the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, “Jodi tor dak shune keu naa ashey, tobey ekla cholo re” – If nobody heeds your call, walk alone. We, the people, have the power and confidence to walk alone.

May the apples blossom, may the birds chirp in the Chinars, may tourist-filled shikaras glide silently through the serene waters of the Dal Lake and may holidaying in Paradise become a reality once again. We, the people, must harbour this hope in our hearts.