by N.N. Vohra
Harper Collins India
Price: Rs 499
Governor N.N.Vohra’s book Safeguarding India hits the bookshelves at a time when the shrapnel of terrorism is spreading and piercing. Dedicated by him “to all the brave men in uniform, the unsung heroes, who continue to lay down their lives for safeguarding the country’s unity and integrity”, it bares the chinks in India’s security armour. “N.N. Vohra asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work,” says a note at the beginning of the chronicle of his experiences.
Having served as Defence Secretary and as Home Secretary, Vohra has a ringside view of internal and external security perceptions, which, he points out, are intertwined and not compartmentalised. In this collection of his articles and speeches, he candidly brings to relief the shortcomings and suggests remedy. Though published during his tenure as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir, the book does not refer to the current situation in that state. This however does not diminish the momentousness of the tome.
Pinpointing the lack of accountability of both Intelligence Bureau and RAW, he laments that the IB has not been prescribed a charter of duties and responsibilities. He emphasises the need for a proper interface of RAW with IB. Decline of Local Intelligence Units (LIU) adds salt to injury. Maintenance of law and order is a state subject but wee little is done by states for effective intelligence gathering. He also points out deficiency in functioning of Defence Intelligence Agency, and of military intelligence with specific reference to Kargil “goof up”. Politicisation of Intelligence outfits and the police are diagnosed as the root of the malaise.
Recalling that till the tenure of Home Minister Y.B. Chavan (1979), the Director of IB reported to Home Ministry, Vohra opines that with heads of IB and RAW reporting directly to Prime Minister (since return of Indira Gandhi in January 1980), there is a chasm in security planning and threat appreciation. In the chapter, “Autonomous by default”, he notes that the only time the DIB is compelled to recognise the Home Ministry is when he needs an annual certificate that the IB secret fund was “usefully spent under the Home Secretary’s directions”, which is “meekly issued” and thus IB’s spending remains sans scrutiny by CAG (and Parliament).
Reference is made to the Joint Terrorism Task Force set up by the USA post-9/11: located in various cities of America, this force draws from federal, state and municipal law enforcement agencies and handles the security environment. Vohra advocates a pan-India, pan-jurisdiction, pan-agency approach on similar lines with legislation mandating its efficacy.
Vohra refers to the concept of Chief of Defence Staff and says the initial roadblock came from lack of unanimity among service chiefs. Pointing out that there are single Service Acts for the Army, Navy and Air Force he, advocates drafting an omnibus Armed Forces Act for all, as is the case in the USA and UK.
Vividly listing the findings of the Bureau of Police Research & Development to cite glaring inadequacies of policing in India he underscores modernisation, emphasising the need to move away from the archaic Police Act of 1861. Deployment of Central Para Military Forces during elections and for law-and-order duties on a routine basis is disparaged. These deployments divert forces like BSF, ITBP, Assam Rifles and CISF from their respective, assigned, roles on borders and in guarding Central industrial establishments. It also deprives them of essential training. He is also critical of regular deployment of Army in civilian law and order duties which can be carried out by armed police of states concerned with the help of the CRPF, which is the traditional force for such deployment.
Vohra refers to the concept of Chief of Defence Staff and says the initial roadblock came from lack of unanimity among service chiefs. Pointing out that there are single Service Acts for the Army, Navy and Air Force, he advocates drafting an omnibus Armed Forces Act for all, as is the case in the USA and UK. He feels the civilian officers posted to the Defence Ministry need to be adequately trained for working in the security administration arena. In recent years, due to political considerations, the past practice of “grooming” Defence Secretaries has been abandoned. Vohra grew within the Defence Ministry, like his distinguished predecessors H.C. Sarin and S.K. Bhatnagar, who had risen to the top by holding sensitive assignments in the Ministry and thus enjoyed camaraderie with the Armed Forces to whom the Defence Secretary provides civilian leadership.
Noting that the History Division of the Defence Ministry was wound up in 1993 due to financial crunch, he laments that the history of our past military operations, the triumphs and debacles, have not been chronicled for future generations of commanders to draw lessons from. He is critical of the indigenous R&D and production facilities, which hitherto were only in the government sector and feels that redundant factories and laboratories should give way to state-of-the-art units with private participation: a thought which the Modi regime seems to share.
Vohra had headed the task force in 1993 which went into politician-criminal nexus. “Corruption vitiates and disrupts the rule of law and destroys the very foundations of the administrative and legal apparatus. The prevalence of corrupt practices at various levels generates anger, despair and helplessness among the people at large, compelling them to lose trust in the functioning of the government machinery. Cynicism and the loss of hope engenders an environment which leads to the alienation of the common man, paving the way for attraction to the gun culture and extremist ideologies. Experience has also shown that corrupt and unseemly elements in the governmental apparatus sabotage national security interests from within, and grave threats are generated when they act in nexus with organised crime and mafia networks,” the book observes.
The reviewer is former editor of Sunday and of National Herald