The Fundamental Questions
The Indian armed forces, in the broadest sense, comprise the three defence services – the army, navy and the air force; the federal or central police or paramilitary forces; and the state police forces. These categories are very broad and many defence organisations fall in either-or / both categories. The most glaring examples of organisations that obnubilate these lines are the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), Coast Guard, Assam Rifles and the National Security Guards (NSG). The latter two are clearly central government paramilitary organizations; but the Assam Rifles is officered by the Indian Army (partially at lower levels and almost completely at higher levels) and the NSG is an amalgamation of top resources from all the police, paramilitary and military organisations. It clears the air that both these organisations are funded by the home ministry.
The RR is a different kettle of fish altogether. It is fully manned and officered by the Indian Army – a far cry from the original idea of the then PM Mr. V.P.Singh to raise some battalions of ex-servicemen and locals in militancy infested areas (the experiment is now again being repeated with the ‘home and hearth’ Territorial Army battalions). They wear the same uniform, use the same equipment, have the same personnel policy, are budgeted under the Defence ministry and their top boss, the DGRR is a part of the Army Headquarters at Delhi under the Army chief. So, are they the regular army? Yes and No!
They are regular army at the personnel and organisational levels only. Their equipping and role, though similar, is not the same as of a regular army unit. It would not be incorrect to classify them as specialist counter-insurgency units of the Army; that is why these units are grouped under the nomenclature of CIF – Counter Insurgency Force – V, R, K and U for Valley, Rajauri, Kashmir and Udhampur respectively.
So, what are the reasons for not classifying them as regular army? Ostensibly, they are not equipped or organised like one. A contrasting view is that the Indian army wants to play down its numbers in J&K. RR is not counted towards regular army deployment in J&K and it helps with the statistics put forth in various fora. Another contrapuntal argument put forth is that this circumvents the cap on the maximum strength benchmarked for the army and legislated by the Indian government. So, you still have the second largest standing army in the world while the actual numbers are, putatively, much greater. With more than 60 RR battalions authorised to the Indian army and including their ancillary units and headquarters, it should add another 70,000 or so to the numbers. Probably, the truth lies somewhere in between the two divergent positions.
So, how big is the Indian Army actually? Figures vary from 9,80,000 on Bharat Rakshak to 1.1 million men and women strong on the official website of the Indian Army to 1.3 million on the wikipedia page. Accepting any of these figures to be true, do we really need such a large standing army? The obvious answer – Of course, we do. The Army is like an insurance policy for a nation. We pay for the future. If we take this allegory to its logical conclusion, what is the ideal premium (a.k.a. defence budget) for this life insurance? Should a Kalahari bushman pay for an insurance cover against frostbite (even in these times of global warming)? Can the insurance agent hold the insured hostage to (ir)rational fears of the future? Where does the prognosis and the medical case sheet of the insured point to? These are the questions that need to be answered.
The parliamentary standing committee on defence in its 11th report (May 2006) made these telling observations while recommending setting up a high level empowered committee to examine the entire security gamut and suggest reforms including re-structuring of the armed forces.
The Committee note (sic) that there has been no thorough review of the structural set up of the Armed forces since independence, especially of the Army whose strength constitutes almost ninety percent of our defence forces. The need of the hour is to optimally use the available limited resources. For a country like India, there are several budgetary constraints even for the defence forces and, therefore, the fund (sic) allocated have to be utilized judiciously. The proposed Committee should be given the mandate to suggest suitable manpower restructuring by way of trimming the force size (teeth to tail ratio) with corresponding increase in the use of advanced and sophisticated technology in our Armed forces; review the authorization the peace and war establishments which are existing since the second World War. The Committee should also examine the relevance of involvement of the Defence forces in non-defence activities like military farms, stud farms and other such activities that can be outsourced. It is high time to effect substantial savings within the available Defence budget for restructuring and modernizing our forces. The entire defence budget is a Government Budget without any other source and hence the savings become all the more important.
To be concluded…