K Subrahmanyam on CDS vs CJCS

We need a CJCS, not CDS

In the light of the renewal of the debate on higher defence reform, there were some questions on the late K Subrahmanyam’s views on the matter. In my few interactions with him, Mr Subrahmanyam was resolutely in favour of a US-style Joint Chiefs of Staff and with theatre commands.

In an interview published in the May 2008 issue of Pragati he said:

Modernisation is a complex process. I have said in the Kargil committee report that we have not modernised decision-making process ever since Lord Ismay prescribed it in 1947. Our military command and control have not changed since the second world war. While we are talking about buying modern equipment, the force structure and philosophy go back to the Rommel’s desert campaign and Mountbatten’s South-east Asia Command. Nobody has done anything about it.

Now there is talk about the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) model. It pains me to hear this. The British adopted the CDS system, as they would never fight a war on their own. CDS is not an institution for us. Ours should be the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs and theatre commands below him

In response to an op-ed Sushant & I wrote, where we used the term ‘CDS’, he wrote back (in an email):

The term CDS is an inappropriate one in the Indian context. It is British terminology. CDS in Britain commands all three (Service) forces. This is what made the Indian politicians resist the concept of CDS.

What is called for is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will be the primary and senior-most military adviser to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister but without command over any troops. Therefore the reform of Chiefs of staff shedding their command should precede the emergence of CJCS. While this will not be possible to carry out in respect of the Airforce immediately this should be planned for in the longer run.

India should plan for a sixty squadron (air force) in the next 20 years but making theatre commanders fully responsible for operations and making the COAS and CNS wholly Chiefs of staff without command (over) forces can straight away be done. [Email dated 19.11.2008]

Pragati, refreshed

The Indian National Interest Review

Before we even realised it, Pragati is into its fifth year.

Issue 49 cover
New look, same old goodness
Some changes were in order. We’ve revamped the magazine in size and style to make it easier to read, especially on digital devices such as the iPad. The page size is smaller and Aditya Dipankar and Anuj Agrawal, our designers, have revamped the layout to make the pages more attractive and more importantly, easier to read. Download the digital community edition here.

It took us some time to get these changes in place, so this issue reaches you a few days later than usual. But what better day to publish the refreshed Pragati than on B R Ambedkar’s birth anniversary?

As usual you are encouraged to distribute this magazine among your friends and associates.

Read and Share.

The Pragati archives

Download every published issue of Pragati in PDF format

Many readers & researchers had complained that Pragati archives were not easily accessible. Well, that’s fixed now, thanks to the good Srijith Nair, who still can whip up lines of code faster than this blogger can mix his drinks.

You now easily browse and download every single issue of Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review in PDF format from our archives.

K Subrahmanyam, RIP

If only the Indian government had heeded a hundredth of what he had to say…

K Subrahmanyam passed away in New Delhi yesterday. He was the single most important strategist in independent India.

I had the good fortune of knowing him since around 2006, and he has been a source of encouragement and support to us at INI, Pragati and Takshashila. He would respond to some of my blog posts and articles over email, wrote for and gave an interview for Pragati, and, despite his age and health, turned up at the first Takshashila executive programme in New Delhi in December 2009.

You should listen to the interview in his own voice. You can also download the published interview in PDF.

Here’s a excerpt:

Nitin Pai: Looking back over the decades, what would you say were the best and worst moments?
K Subrahmanyam: One of the best moments was on 16th December 1971, when we achieved success in Bangladesh and the other has to be split into two—18th May 1974 and 11th May 1998, when we conducted nuclear tests.

One of the worst moments was on 18th November 1962. I was then working in the defence ministry, when I came to know that Prime Minister Nehru had written to President Kennedy asking for American aircraft to operate from India soil against the Chinese. This was when India itself had not even used its own air force. The imposition of emergency on 25th of June 1975 was the second worst moment.

10th April 2008

What were the learning points from 1962?
It is a learning point in a big sense. We had an army whose leadership was immature as they had been promoted too rapidly. They were incapable of handling such situations. This was true not only of military but also of the diplomatic community and to some extent it was true of politicians including Jawaharlal Nehru. He was persuaded that it would be either a full-scale war in which case other major nations were expected to support India or that it would remain as patrol clashes. That the Chinese could calibrate the operation so very carefully, mainly to humiliate him, and then withdraw, was something that did not occur to him. It was a very masterful strategy of the Chinese who took full advantage of Cuban missile crisis.

Have the lessons been learnt?
No. Take the liberation of Bangladesh as a case study. Pakistan held free and fair election in December of 1970 under a mistaken assumption that nobody would win a clear majority and the army would still be able to manipulate the country. I was convinced that the army would not hand over power and that we had to be prepared for problems. Then came the hijacking of the Indian aircraft that was blown up in Lahore after which Pakistani planes were banned from Indian airspace. The Pakistanis started building up troops in Bangladesh and the ships were going via Colombo. Everybody knew about it. But we didn’t do anything to warn our armed forces to be ready till 25th March 1971 when Pakistanis began the crack down (See page 21). When asked to intervene on 30th March, the Indian army requested for more time. When they got the time that they needed, they did the job beautifully well. But we did not anticipate this eventuality.

Let us take Kargil as another example. In the Kargil committee report, we have said that the Cabinet Committee on Security should have a regular intelligence briefing by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. But the government has not accepted this. There is no sensitivity to intelligence in India. The top decision-makers do not get themselves briefed on the state of affairs. They only expect to get an update if something happens. This attitude still persists and this is a major weakness.

The whole attitude to intelligence needs to change. Professor Manohar Lal Sondhi used to say that since I was the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, I should have nothing to do with academics! During the second world war, all the intellectuals were in intelligence.

American professors used to encourage students to join the intelligence community. Even today, I see many CIA advertisements in university campuses across America.

But when I ask people in Jawaharlal Nehru University to consider a career in intelligence, they simply refuse. Many consider it unethical. [Download the rest]

Pragati January 2011 – Securing Our Ocean

The January 2011 issue (No 46) is out. The highlight of this month’s issue is India’s relationship with its extended neighbourhood: first, we focus on maritime matters and second, we debate what role India ought to play vis-a-vis its neighbours. Featured are two book review essays, on the Indian Ocean and on the problems with military modernisation.

The Takshashila Institution launched its nationwide roundtable conclave programme in Bangalore last month, and you’ll find a report of what was discussed there.

Also in this issue: on the importance of ideas in politics, on corruption being “kicked upstairs, on human trafficking and on a new phase in the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Download the digital community edition in PDF format (3MB). Full articles are also available on Pragati’s website.

Plus: The wonderful people who run Quill Media have reduced the price they charge to bring you a printed copy. It’s Rs 50 per copy or Rs 500 per year (12 copies). Do sign up to receive our magazine in print each month, and take out gift subscriptions to introduce your friends to Pragati.

Cover versions

How dare ‘a little magazine’ accuse Forbes India of plagiarism!

Note: See an update at the bottom of this post

Take a look at these covers:

Pragati - October 2010 Cover
Pragati Oct 2010
Forbes India - Dec 2010
Forbes India Dec 2010, © business.in.com

Clearly, they both use the metaphor of Clark Kent changing into Superman that most of us are familiar with. There are hundreds of different images that depict this, but both are based on the same interpretation by Alex Ross. More importantly, they convey a very similar thought—about an Indian politician transforming for the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The image to your left is of the cover of Pragati’s October 2010 issue published online on October 1st 2010. The image on your right is from Forbes India’s December 2010 special issue, published on December 17th. Clarke Kent has been changing to Superman for several decades now, but Forbes India’s use of the visual metaphor, in a similar context came two months after our October issue.

I—and this is my personal opinion—think that this is not a coincidence. To me it looks like Forbes India copied our cover, and I said so in a tweet on New Year’s eve.

At Pragati we believe we are selling ideas and not magazines. Every issue of our magazine is available under a Creative Commons license for non-commericial use. We also allow commercial publications to reprint our articles free of cost (but after getting our permission, which we generally give if the original author allows). Since our contributors write or draw for Pragati out of passion, I think we owe it to them to ensure that they get due recognition and credit for their work.

In this case, our October 2010 cover is unique because it was entirely the work of Aditya Dipankar & Anuj Agarwal, a team of very talented designers. Usually I play a major role in designing the cover, but in this case, Aditya and Anuj pitched this concept to me, which I approved with some changes.

Now, it is possible that the design team of Forbes India arrived at their Superman cover independently of us and I might be wrong to allege plagiarism. I expected the editors of Forbes India to check with all members of the design team involved in producing the cover on where the inspiration came from. If they found it to be a mere coincidence, an explanation in defence would have satisfied both me and their readers. Otherwise, a “sorry, thank you” would have been in order. It wouldn’t take me more than a moment to apologise if I found my allegations to be erroneous.

Unfortunately, that’s not what they did. The official Forbes_India twitterer said—and the magazine’s editor, a Inderjit Gupta retweeted—that the Superman metaphor is well-known, famous, iconic and our designers might have been reading the same comics. As if we didn’t know that!

What was worse is that Peter Griffin, one of their editors—writing on his personal blog with a disclaimer that it was in his personal capacity—used intemperate language not only to disparage Pragati, Indian National Interest and Takshashila, but also to threaten us with legal action for slander and—hold on to your seats—violating the flag code! This wasn’t Mr Griffin defending his magazine against allegations. He was arrogantly excoriating a ‘little magazine’ for having the temerity to accuse Forbes India of plagiarism.

I see no point in responding to Mr Griffin’s vituperations against us because they are irrelevant to whether or not Forbes India copied our cover. But it must be said that he clearly is irony deficient. Forbes India can use Superman because that is well-known and iconic, but he says the Indian National Interest is a “rip-off” of the Nixon Center’s The National Interest. He dismisses us as “people who can’t even think up an original name aren’t worth paying too much attention to” but works for Network18, an Indian media company that owns CNN-IBN, CNBC-TV18 and, well, Forbes India. Or maybe he isn’t paying too much attention to them.

Update: Peter Griffin wrote to me this evening. He apologised for his remarks but maintained that my accusation of plagiarism is “completely unjustified”. He has published a part of this on his blog post. This is as courageous as it is correct and gracious.

On the charge of plagiarism, I have shared with him some information that caused me to suspect that there is more to this than mere coincidence. I am assured that he will look into the matter with the seriousness it deserves.

Second Update: Mr Griffin has followed up on the information I gave him and informed me on January 5th that my suspicion is unfounded. He also notes that one of his colleagues “may have seen the name Pragati in portfolios that he has seen, but has no recollection of it.” I will take Mr Griffin’s word on this, give his team the benefit of the doubt and retract the allegation with my personal apologies.

Takshashila’s Year Zero

Why, what and what next

India’s problems are scaling faster than the attempted solutions. In every country there is a governance gap—between the economy and its governance—but in our country, the problem is severe, acute and worsening. From telecommunications to finance, from education to agriculture, every sector of the economy needs both specialist domain expertise and management skills. To the extent that India is unable to inject these in its government agencies, it is obvious that we will continue to suffer not only poor governance, but also corruption and injustice.

At Takshashila, we have made it our mission to change this. We are acutely aware that the race we are running is marathon, that we will have to run it for decades and the chances that we will succeed are uncertain. Yet, it is a race we have to run.

We want to build one of the best schools of statecraft in India. It will be school that is as rooted in India’s civilisational values as it is global in its outlook. It will aim to bring together the best minds in public policy to impart customised, high-quality education to the most promising graduate students. That’s the vision. We have a sense of how to get there, but we do not want start the school tomorrow morning. Since it is to be a school rooted in the Indian experience, we want to scan the length and breadth of the country and build the body of knowledge first.

Yes, this is an audacious project for a bunch of people most of who did not even have greying temples when we started out (and most do not have them even now). So we want to earn our stripes—build credibility even as we validate our own assumptions—by establishing Takshashila as a networked think tank. This is the first step towards realising our vision of an outstanding Indian school of statecraft.

It is far more effective to connect talented individuals passionate about changing India for the better into a networked community, than to attempt to hire them and put them in the same building. We do not have the budget for it, and even if we did, we would still stick to the networked model, because we believe it is far more suited to the twenty-first century. [See the Takshashila website for more details]

Thanks to a substantial initial donation from Rohini Nilekani, chairperson of Arghyam, we could start much faster than we otherwise could.

So that’s the preamble. This year was our year zero—the year we got off the ground.

We launched our policy research programme and by January 2011, we expect to have more than a dozen fellows. A number of bright younger people have joined us as research associates. Fellows and research associates are spread across the globe, have day jobs and collaborate with each other over the Internet.

Our Executive Programme on Strategic Affairs (TEPSA) was got off to a start in December 2009, with a full-day programme for senior defence officials, in partnership with the National Maritime Foundation. TEPSA partners educational institutions, think tanks and private companies to train executives on public policy subjects. We will be doing more of these in 2011.

We inaugurated our Roundtable Conclave programme last month. Here the idea is to engage civil society by moving high-quality public policy discussions out from New Delhi into the towns and cities of India. We started in Bangalore, and intend to take the programme into other places over the next several months. The idea is to connect individuals who are interested in public affairs to be part of an informed and influential national community.

All this, of course, is in addition to our online initiatives at the Indian National Interest (INI) platform of blogs and on twitter. From the time we started, popularity and site traffic has never been our objective. We just wanted to put out the most credible, non-partisan opinion on what we think is in India’s national interest. And we will continue doing so.

Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review, a monthly magazine we started in April 2007, and which Rajeev Mantri’s Quill Media has been distributing print copies of since October 2009, is now into its 46th issue. Like at Takshashila and INI in general, Pragati has attracted a fantastic team of energetic, passionate and committed individuals, and great set of contributors, all working pro bono. From the editorial team to individual contributors, nobody gets paid. Yet Pragati has become one of India’s most well-regarded publications on strategic affairs, public policy and governance. In 2011, we want to increase the circulation of both the digital PDF edition and of the printed copies.

Since August 2010, I have personally been working on the Takshashila initiative on a full-time basis, thanks to a good friend’s personal sponsorship. I have been fortunate to receive encouragement from a number of people who saw value in what we are trying to achieve. Even so, such a step would be impossible if not for both the support and reality checks imposed on me by my wife…and well, by my children.

Takshashila needs your help in every one of the areas I’ve written about. We need financial support to build our endowment fund so that we can hire the best graduate students to work on cutting-edge policy research. We need organisers and volunteers across the country to help organise our roundtable conclaves. We need you to subscribe to Pragati, take out gift subscriptions and in general spread the word around.

It’s about building an institution that will last. It’s about being a lighthouse that will provide direction to all ships that are willing to navigate by its beacon. Two-and-half millennia ago Takshashila was the intellectual fountainhead not only of Indian statecraft but indeed of all walks of human endeavour. It’s about creating one for modern India.