Defense Minister Cantonment Board Cantonment road Indian Army Officer Army Wives

An open letter of General Kamath to defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Sharing a note from Gen Kamath to RM. He never misses a point and never minces his word:

Dear Raksha Mantri,

Since the time, you have been elevated from a ‘Party Spokesperson’ to a cabinet rank minister, we were very happy with your phenomenal rise. You surfed and rode over the ‘Mod Wave’ to your benefit. Two years later you were made the RM, and you came in to the inner circle of the government. You became the member of CCS and CCPA; the hallowed decision-making bodies of the Government of India. However, since then something is amiss. You were quiet junior in the party hierarchy and your elevation was not liked by your party colleagues. Though, you had a high official recognition to your appointment, your own juniority in the party circles, and your inability to project the problems of your constituents has made you a mediocre RM, might be shade better than St Anthony; who is considered the second worst RM, the country ever had; next only to Krishan Menon.

You started off very well; with countless photo-opportunities on land, in air and at sea. That has given you the confidence, but the sad part is that you have thought that you know everything and nothing more is there for you to learn! Such, an attitude inadvertently builds an ego, as there is no one to tell you the truth. You start believing in your own infallibility. Unless you have an intellect that sobers you down; you would have lost the plot.

In a series of your failing; the first was when you ganged up with Ms. Mufti to lodge an FIR against an Army officer, who was carrying out his legitimate duty in Kashmir. The beauty is that you later became silent on it, making people believe that it was done by Ms. Mufti, in isolation. Everyone knows that she rang you up before she filed a FIR. Your own party member Mr. Subramanyam Swamy; believes it as such. I will not labour on this issue further, as I have written about the incident before.

Next; you expressing satisfaction at the meager defence budget, that cannot pay even for the committed capital liabilities, let alone further modernisation; is indeed a cause for concern. Obviously; you were not able to project your case to the Finance Minister; hence the meager allocation of 1.58 % of the defence budget. It is not that we are not able to perceive your isolation and helplessness, in getting your point across to the other ministries; however, so be it. I understand these issues take time, till the time you consolidate your position in the cabinet.

Next; your views on the appointment of ‘Chief of Defence Staff’: At least, your predecessor tried his best and gave a number of statements in favour of the CDS. You have been remarkable on it, by your stony silence! Now that the PMO has appointed the Defence Planning Committee; whatever limited role you had in defence planning has further got marginalised. The Committee is headed by NSA, who has the three service chiefs and your defence secretary as its members. Though the recommendations would be routed through you; you will have no powers even to change a line in it, as it would have already gone to the PMO. The most you can do is put your initials and send it to the PMO. Having failed to appoint a CDS; you have lost the powers of an RM? Now; you are limited to give administrative clearances to the functioning of three services and all the operational matters; the PMO would have arrogated the powers.

Next; you want to showcase to the PM that his decision to appoint you as the RM is the best decision that he had ever taken. You have to prove to him that you are good; as a freshly appointed monitor of the class would like to impress her class teacher. This attitude, I see in your unilateral opening of all the roads in Cantts indiscriminately; just because the MPs of Cantonment areas wanted it? Do you know; what is the security of installations and military cantonments? On 9 Feb 18, the Sanjuwan terrorist strike takes place and the next day you released ₹1487 crores, after the MOD sleeping over the issue for two years; since the Pathankot Airfield strikes.

All cantonments are lungs of the cities in which they are located and now; you want to lose those lungs of the cities? Next, a number of separated families live in cantonments, whose husbands are serving in the far-flung field and operational areas; all along the borders of the country. You definitely want to make their lives insecure; so that the serving soldiers also need to worry for their families, living far away from them. Third; soldiers living in peace areas do not come home every day for rest at their homes; as you probably believe! They have sentry duties to guard armouries, ammunition magazines, unit treasure chests, perimeter patrolling and ensure the security of unit lines. In addition, three to four months in a year, the soldiers go for subunit/unit and formation training outside their locations and to their respective operational areas on borders. The entire cantonment is manned by only rear parties. This is the time; the entire cantonments are highly vulnerable, as the families of the serving soldiers and those serving in field stations are located there. It is so easy for any terrorist or antinational element to cause harm to military cantonments during these times. You; definitely do not remember the Kalu Chak massacre of 2002? Soldiers in peace stations are there not for rest and relief. They train for war; night and day. As also, when they are doing physical training and other routine activities they are highly vulnerable. They are also the soft targets as the anti-national elements would get resounding press should they cause any harm to any personnel or building located in a military station than causing harm to civilians outside. It is for these reasons the Cantonments were established in the first place. Hence, the security of the military establishments and cantonments has always been left to local commanders as they have the responsibility to safeguard their command. This responsibility cannot be abdicated to anyone else, as they are legally, morally and constitutionally mandated to fulfill their sacred duty. No; RM or anyone can take that away from them. It tantamount to abnegating their responsibility towards their command. Will RM or any bureaucrat would face the families of those, who get killed due to appeasement policy of the government? The buck stops on the face of the local commander.

Then; who will tell the RM? It is sad that the Military top brass has not been able to brief the RM before she took this unilateral decision to propitiate MPs, who want to gain cheap popularity in their constituencies. Any decision that is taken without consulting the stakeholders with vested interests in mind; the follies would haunt the decision makers; as their consequences would overwhelm whatever temporary gains that they have gained. This is the divine law!

Yours sincerely

PG Kamath (Veteran)


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