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Educating Future Generals

An Indian Defence University and Educational Reform

Vipul Dutta ( teaches at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.

As discussions surrounding the impending arrival of an “Indian National Defence University” gather pace with the draft Indian National Defence University Bill, 2015, the question of educating and training the future Indian military leadership hangs in the balance. The historical instances of military institutionalisation and the changing mandate and occupational profile of Indian military officership in the past decades have complicated the military educational policy framework. In addition to devoting attention to studying and recommending proposals for the smooth functioning of this space, there needs to be a more comprehensive analysis of the evolving conceptions that underlie officer education and “universities” today, and how this proposed “defence university” will emerge to meet institutional challenges.

The author would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for comments.

The idea of a proposed defence university in India—the Indian National Defence University (INDU)—has attracted the attention of several defence analysts and policymakers. Beneath this proposal of an all-inclusive military university, with potential affiliating provisions for other military training institutions, lies an intricate network of institutions that have continued to provide the broad elements of what is now known as Professional Military Education (PME), a field that is fast emerging as a site for academic research in its own right. Institutions such as the Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun, the National Defence Academy (NDA) near Pune, and the National Defence College (NDC) in New Delhi are familiar names for those in the military. The IMA and the NDA especially stand as markers of India’s self-reliance on military training and preparedness and are also household names that come up in wide-ranging and rambling discussions on the public image of the Indian military.

Yet, what is overlooked in the ongoing discussions around the upcoming university is precisely this iconic matrix of institutions, whose historical experience in managing the changing patterns of officer training and military service ought to be taken into account while configuring a new military university whose name and stature belies the historical institutional continuities, as well as contingencies associated with establishing new sites for training officers for future roles since the turn of the 20th century.

The proposed defence university, it is expected, would substantiate and not—to use a familiar term—“supersede” key questions of managing the modern demands of offering cutting-edge education to its officers. Themes like knowledge sharing, the regulatory framework surrounding the award of degrees and their applicability in civilian work spheres are important parameters that should be brought into a wider discussion on the proposed benefits of this impending military institutional innovation in India. Starting from the IMA in 1932, the NDA in 1949 and more with the NDC which was inaugurated in 1960 by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the larger blueprint for military institutional reform in India is riddled with significant policy measures that advise, in equal measure, action and caution for this next level of institution-building that is now being talked about in New Delhi. A more retrospective gaze at the historical waves of military institutionalisation offers key insights to understand the implications of the INDU for India’s military institutional landscape.

The IMA was established in 1932 in Dehradun after a lengthy process of consultations in London and Delhi on the proposed nature of the institution. Termed informally as the “Indian Sandhurst” after the British military academy, where since the end of World WarI, a small number of Indians earned their commissions alongside their British counterparts, the IMA symbolised the establishment of the first flagship officers’ training facility that was set up in India. However, much of the legislative and consultative process for the IMA started way before 1932, in which some key aspects relating to the importance and impact of its academic and pedagogic programme were discussed. It was the “Skeen Committee,” also known as the Indian Sandhurst Committee of 1925–261 that laid bare some of the most pressing concerns that would face the IMA once it was set up.2

Building Military Institutions in India after World War I

The Skeen Report heralded significant changes for military institution-building in the subcontinent, as it brought together critical themes relating to the management and administration of higher military educational institutions in line with what was happening at other civilian educational sites. This was a momentous process as it was to be repeated in the case of the NDA as well as the NDC, where questions of imparting military-strategic knowledge coexisted with the practical concerns about the inherent value of this knowledge sharing. Tasked with the objective to forward proposals to reform Indian feeder institutions, as well as suggest measures to improve the intake of Indian candidates for training at Sandhurst, the Skeen Committee travelled to Canada, Britain and the United States (US) to review their military training facilities, in order to suggest steps that could be taken to upgrade and enhance the capacity of Indian institutions. One of the institutions that was focused upon for capacity enhancement by the committee recommendations was the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College (PWRIMC), which was set up in 1921–22 to train a sufficiently educated group of Indian cadets who could study at Sandhurst.

The PWRIMC was one of the many such feeder institutions that had emerged not just to train and supply an annual cohort of Indian men desirous of joining Sandhurst as potential King’s Commissioned Officers, but also to circumvent the problem of an “undesirably large” number of failed cadets at Sandhurst.3 The Skeen Report recommended the expansion and upgradation of the facilities of the PWRIMC and the introduction of a curriculum that could make it compatible with university authorities to allow a broader acceptability of the PWRIMC graduates at both higher military institutions, as well as other networks of civilian employment.4 It also recommended the formation of sister colleges across India and to begin imparting training to prospective navy and air force cadets, signalling the impending trifurcation of the Indian military into service specific autonomous armed wings—a development which was fully operationalised only after independence.5 The upgradation of the educational curriculum at PWRIMC made it a formal academy in its own right—a site at which graduates of the other regional but underperforming junior “Chief’s Colleges”6 could go to undertake an advanced training and education in pursuit of an officers’ commission.7

This cycle of institutional reconfiguration of Indian feeder colleges around a central modified “model” institution would replicate itself repeatedly over the next decades. When the IMA had opened in 1932, several regional schools and colleges, like the King George Royal Indian Military Schools (some of which now function as regular, public funded military schools) and Kitchener College (later to pave the way for the NDA to be formalised), were upgraded and reformed to provide a better class of trained cadets for the IMA, which by the mid-1930s, was encountering institutional roadblocks. These challenges were related to the falling standards of cadet assessment coupled with the shortfall of cadets entering the IMA, as well as the practical administrative crises of running a newly formed academy which attracted Indian students from not just India initially, but also those living overseas.8 The reform of these institutions pointed towards enhancing the qualitative offering of military education to cadets which involved standardising educational protocols in line with civil matriculation codes, so as to enable graduates of these colleges to not just sit for military recruitment exams, but also seek opportunities in civil life.9

The development of military institutions, along with the parallel enhancement of the skills and role-profiles of prospective Indian officers, was a trend that would get accentuated with the emergence of the post-independence Indian officers’ academies like the NDA, the Staff College and the NDC—all three of which are planned to be affiliated to the INDU. Nonetheless, the expression of a “skills-based development” of the profile of military institutions as a policy resolution, through the offices of a consultative committee in 1925–26, signalled the beginning of an important institutional trajectory for the Indian military and its officers—a trajectory that will come full circle with the impending arrival of the defence university in the near future.

The reification and sharpening of this skills-based upgradation of the military institutions and their aspirants, by tying the “university” and the “academy” together, laid the basis for an overhaul of the administrative and functional basis of the subsidiary feeder institutions in the subcontinent, validating my argument that institutional reform is a multi-tiered phenomenon, with consequences for both the higher training architecture as well as the lower sites, which the former aims to subsume within itself, for both operational as well as institutional reasons.

Devesh Kapur and Anit Mukherjee (2016) argued—in the context of the INDU—for the appointment of an “Academic Council” with a broad representation from a cross section of other services and sectors, to learn the “best practices” in professional military education from other countries. These are necessary steps that would encourage a critical environment for inter-institutional knowledge sharing to take place, that can enhance the overall academic value of the education that the INDU aims to impart—an institution the INDU Bill suggests shall be accorded with “national importance.” Of course, in appointing an academic council—were it to happen —would not be a novel development, as in the case of the IMA the Skeen Committee did travel far and wide to review existing installations in order to suggest measures in India. A similar process of imbibing practices from other existing installations abroad also took place in the case of the NDA, when General Kodandera M Cariappa visited academies in the US and Canada. What is important in the case of the INDU, however, would be to sufficiently register the frequently shifting meanings of the underlying ideas that govern the conception, formation and administration of higher military institutions set up to train as well as educate officers.

It will be seen, with much anticipation, as to how the proposed university will alter the balance of the existing military institutional framework in India. How does the proposed university plan to harmonise and reconcile the institutional and hierarchical differences amongst these academies? Does the INDU plan to organise itself like a federal affiliating university much like the United Kingdom’s Defence Academy? These are some of the key questions that will shape the contours of any future military education programme in India. The draft bill suggests that some key defence institutions will be affiliated to it, although the IMA is notably absent from the list of four institutions that “currently stand affiliated to the University”: the NDA; the College of Defence Management, Secunderabad; the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington; and the NDC at New Delhi. Out of these four, the NDC has played a historic role in consolidating elements of higher military training for senior officers and its integration to the INDU will be studied with keen interest, not in the least because of the NDC’s own historical experience in handling and managing the senior officer cadres’ intellectual and occupational aspirations.

The Post-independence Decades

The post-independence decades marked a big shift in the political underpinnings of the security-related discourse in India. Although institutional developments in India accrued from the pre-1947 period form the bedrock of the military institutional network, the geostrategic direction of India’s foreign policy and its impact on the occupational mandate of India’s military forces was critical. The germination, consolidation, as well as propagation of this changed mandate was done through the delivery of a specialised corpus of knowledge that was produced at specific military sites—most of which were birthed during the colonial era. Thus, while formal independence altered India’s foreign and military policy aims, institutionally, this change occurred in spaces that straddled colonial as well as postcolonial sensibilities of reform. One prominent institution that exemplifies the change in post-independence discourse on military activities and its scope is the NDC in New Delhi.

The creation of the NDC, and its functioning in the following years was the culmination of a long process involving extended deliberations. By the turn of the 1960s, while India possessed all the required training architecture for the primary- and middle-level ranking officers, the NDC represented something that had been absent for the better part of the post-independence decades in India—an inter-service institution that could bring together senior officers from different armed and civil services. Several of these senior officers for whom the NDC was established in 1960 were graduates of the earlier academies like the NDA or IMA (or even Sandhurst, where a small contingent of Indian officers went to England to earn officers’ commissions). The NDC was the highest institutional training space devised for this “Indianised” generation of military officers in India—and continues to remain so.

The idea behind the NDC, however, was not unique. Similar institutions existed elsewhere in the world. Its establishment in India is notable because it occurred at a critical juncture. It was created for senior officers of the Indian military, representing a “generational upgrade,” given the fact that senior ranks were only beginning to emerge in the late 1950s, owing to the 1947 partition of the subcontinent into the two new nation states of India and Pakistan, which had caused a significant shortage of humanpower at the higher military levels in both the new nation states.

The NDC was meant to train the growing officer corps who were in the midst of an evolving operational context in the years after independence. A significant section of the Indian Army’s senior officer corps were engaged not just in security tasks and warfare, but were also part of international missions that made the Indian armed forces more intellectually cosmopolitan in its operational capabilities. The NDC, therefore, was a result of this intellectual cosmopolitanism pervading the Indian defence establishment after 1947, which was gradually getting sensitised to the wider international nature of security threats that faced India.

This international nature of security threats was highlighted in the Prime Minister’s speech during the inauguration of the NDC in April 1960. Terming the NDC as a “positive necessity,” Nehru called for a greater integration of governmental and military institutions in the appraisal of security issues facing the country.10 Alluding to his non-alignment policies that many termed as idealistic, the Prime Minister was aware and sensitive to the needs of developing a broad framework for the management of crises and security-related issues from a “realist” perspective and regarded the NDC as one of the tools to do so. Significantly, the speech highlighted the central tenet that defence “was not merely battle,” but a “term of such wide connotation” that it was imperative for “higher grade defence officers” to develop a broad perspective on defence matters.11

The immediate model of operations the NDC adopted was that of the Imperial Defence College (IDC) in London (now known as the Royal College of Defence Studies [RCDS] and part of the defence academy of the United Kingdom which comprises other British institutions), where a few vacancies were reserved for Indian officers in the early 1940s. It is critical to view the IDC’s stance in the late 1940s because it sat at the forefront of the regional and international developments relating to security and defence, and it may have had an influence on how the NDC developed its own curriculum initially.

The years after World War II were crucial for the IDC in London, because a number of non-military subjects were introduced into the syllabus:

indicative of the increasing swing away from the pre-war need for officers and officials to concentrate on the problems of the deployment of forces worldwide, towards the growing necessity to have as comprehensive a knowledge of the contemporary world as possible.(Gray 1977: 14)

This included delivering modules on the dominions wherein lectures on India, for instance, in the initial years, were delivered almost exclusively by the high commissioners, the first being done by Krishna Menon himself, later to be India’s defence minister, who undertook key steps to rev up the feeder training institutions in India, in addition to being closely associated with the NDC in its formative years (Ram 1997).

The evolving methods of instruction at the IDC, arising out of a changed international context for defence forces, saw the commonwealth dominions emerge as important players. They came to be regarded as critical areas of study in their own right, and generals who had served in the former colonies, came to occupy an important place in the ways in which the IDC stood to make sense of the post-war decades. The first post-war course had Cariappa as its student (later to be the first Indian commander-in-chief and field marshal). In addition to the British Generalship associated with the South East Asia Command who lectured at the IDC, P M S Blackett—who later moved on as scientific advisor to Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru—was also present, “representing the scientific profession” (Gray 1977: 16).12 This approach to international issues had an immediate resonance with the IDC mainly because of the speed with which they came to be taught and studied at the college. So, for instance, the military part of the syllabus came to be updated in the latter part of the 1950s and 1960s with the introduction of lectures on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and disarmament. This amalgamated the IDC’s twin roles of a higher defence institution and a place for discussing current policy issues, with a specialist staff who were not necessarily academic practitioners, but military officers themselves (Gray 1977).

In comparison, the current context surrounding the delivery of military education has changed. In addition to senior military directing staff, some of whom will be competent to instruct officers in aspects of warfare, there is also a great necessity for the presence of non-military academic practitioners at higher military institutions, who could add immense intellectual value to the nature, manner and outcome of knowledge delivery to officers. Consolidating and codifying knowledge requires an enormous pool of resources, including a faculty competent enough to undertake teaching, research and deliver outcomes to a variable class of officers who will be instructed. Currently, higher defence training and instructional facilities in India do not employ civilian academics (except in the case of the NDA and possibly other similar cadet entry- level institutions which recruit civilian faculty, but who are not otherwise engaged in research or policy formulation of the nature proposed in the INDU Bill), and it is hoped that the INDU would take steps to foster a more interdisciplinary, lateral and cross-sectional exchange of knowledge. However, this is not clearly spelt out in the draft bill that has otherwise proposed the appointment of the university council, a board of governors, the academic council and other authorities like the registrar, who would likely be a serving senior military officer (Ministry of Defence 2015).

The draft INDU Bill currently outlines four constituent units that shall serve the university: the School of National Security Studies, the School of Defence Technology, the School of Defence Management, and the Centre for Distance and Open Learning. Going by early assessments, each of these constituent units would require academic services drawn from a variety of existing research facilities, from not just within the defence establishment, like the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), but also other non-technical fields of security and conflict management that can help the INDU achieve its own stated objective to promote “avenues for higher education for defence personnel” and to foster “international and corporate fellowship programmes in strategic studies” (Ministry of Defence 2015: 4–5).

One of the most important objectives of modern PME, as Harsh Pant (2016) wrote, is to enable the efficient management of the “learning process” through a “critical engagement” with research on international relations, military history and other fields. Revitalising PME in the Indian context would necessarily involve an intellectual osmosis from different streams of security studies today, relying as Pant (2016) notes, on the social sciences to develop and apply knowledge in the military context.

However, the case for the inclusion of civilian faculty and emphasising the role of the social sciences should be made not just to diversify the pedagogic element in military academies (and help them achieve it successfully). More importantly, it needs to be argued that delivering military education through the rich intellectual field of interdisciplinary security studies paradigm should be able to successfully complement the changing operational context of one of the military’s core constituencies itself, that is, its officers. Since 1947, there is now a growing mass of middle to senior ranking officers in the military whom the INDU, through its various proposed departments and regional distance learning centres, will cater to. Addressing the educational needs of this officer corps is tied to not just training an officer corps well-suited for managing multiple security challenges, but also more importantly, to the changing occupational demands that are being made on the officers themselves since 1947. Delivering professional military education in the 21st century, therefore, needs to be aligned with the changing nature of the “job profile” of the officers themselves, many of whom, since 1947, are no longer restricted to maintaining the security of borders, but engage in a variety of military–diplomatic assignments, and after retirement, serve in a diverse portfolio of occupational sectors.

Changing Profile of Officers’ Roles since 1947

Catering to the shifting in-service as well as “post-service” educational requirements for senior officers is key to the efficient management of PME today. Therefore, studying the trends of occupational mandates of officers is vital before we design the institutional coordinates of the INDU. Much of the institutional context surrounding the emergence of the NDC—an institution that currently trains officers of the rank of brigadier and/or equivalent and slated to be affiliated to the INDU—was shaped by the post-independence “inheritance” of officers in India who participated in a range of domestic and international campaigns which tested their principles in “jointsmanship” with other corresponding non-military levers of governance. The importance of “jointsmanship” in training the military had been realised at the officer/cadet entry levels with the establishment of the NDA and staff college, but not at the senior or higher officer level.

The NDC, thus, filled this gap that had existed ever since 1947 on the issue of the training of senior officers in matters of national security. The NDC’s arrival, therefore, needs to be contextualised in this broad reappraisal of the role of the Indian military that was given momentum after independence, during the domestic and international conflicts the Indian military was deployed in. Chief among them were the Hyderabad Operation of 1948 as well as foreign missions such as the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) of the early 1950s in Korea, in which India played an active role as an international arbiter.

Part of the domestic and international foreign policy context in the management of these conflicts was laid down by Nehru’s own ideas on the use of force. This percolated down to the military circles and the foreign policy establishment which he led during the years he was Prime Minister. Srinath Raghavan’s (2010) incisive work on Nehru’s foreign policy gives a ringside view of how crises were approached by the latter and his advisors. The “inter-departmental structures for decision-making” (Raghavan 2010: 23), whatever little that were present at the time of independence, were under immense stress. This was compounded by the low numbers of experienced Indian senior general staff at that time, aided in part by the insufficient numbers of Indian officers making it to the top ranks. Nonetheless, some crucial civil-military links were forged during the management of these conflicts. In the cases of Hyderabad and Kashmir, the military acted in close cooperation with the civilian government and the strategy of resisting the invaders followed the policy laid down by the ministries
in charge.

Mix of Liberal and Realist Outlooks

The actions of the military during these crises were not divorced from how the governmental establishment approached the issues at the time. It was the “admixture” of liberal and realist outlooks, Raghavan (2010: 19) argues, “that predisposed Nehru to favour coercive rather than controlling strategies,” and a predilection “for coupling military moves to pressurise the adversary with diplomatic ones to explore opportunities for a settlement” (Raghavan 2010: 19). Such an approach laid the groundwork for a synthesis between military policy and the government in mitigating conflict scenarios. General  J N Chaudhuri (who served as army chief from 1962–66) and spearheaded the Hyderabad Operation—code-named Operation Polo—provides a wider view of the civil–military liaison in this incident in his biography (Narayan 1978). Chaudhuri attests to the joint meetings that took place in which representatives from the home and states ministries sat alongside chief secretaries and inspector generals of police to understand the workings of each others’ respective domains, in order to resolve the post-accession situation in Hyderabad. Eventually, these meetings led to the formation of an integrated task force that comprised officials from the civilian, medical, police, and engineering branches of the government that would work in tandem with the military force and bolster internal security (Menon 1956).Thus, the interdependent nature of conflict management in India was apparent right after 1947.

S D Verma, the officer who played a key role in setting up the Staff College in India in 1948, also briefly officiated as the commander of the Armoured Division that was to carry out the Hyderabad Operation. Verma’s account of the operation suggests the starkly non-military contexts in which the campaign was conducted. His insistence to his troops to desist from using excessive force as this was essentially a domestic operation, (Verma 1988) as well as the associated task of repatriating and deporting “non-Indian Muslims,” frequently brought the military into the evolving and often feisty debates on concepts like citizenship and peace-building (Sherman 2007, 2011).Verma’s efforts to reinforce the changed principles of a military campaign onto his troops, and the subsequent events in the campaign, prove that the nature of armed operations in a domestic context had begun to change. The Hyderabad operations reflected the significant non-military contexts in which the armed forces were required to function and mitigate challenges, bringing the latter into the domain of popular politics, interspersed with questions of “loyalty” and political ideology.

These early but important signs of cooperation between the military and civilian government signalled the “institutional gap” that existed in the training of senior officers in the principles of the higher direction of war, who until the NDC’s emergence, learnt these principles “on the job.” The NDC, thus, emerged at a point in time when the need for such an institution was being acutely felt, even though it was not consistently expressed. The small group of Indian officers at the time of independence who had been rapidly promoted to senior ranks had the experience of combat, tactics and armed warfare, but their familiarity with higher management of conflict needed fortification, which came only in the 1960s with the establishment of the NDC.

The diplomatic and international boost to more inter-disciplinary training also came soon enough. This was provided by the events relating to the NNRC in Korea. The NNRC was formed in 1953 in the aftermath of the Armistice Agreement that was signed after the Korean War. The NNRC’s mandate was to repatriate and/or settle all those prisoners of war (POWs) who had refused to repatriate to either the North or South Korean states as they stood after 1953 and it was India which was tasked with bringing about a peaceful settlement of this process (Heimsath and Mansingh 1971).

Although, General Kodandera Subayya Thimayya (later to be appointed Chief of the Army Staff, 1957–61) was assigned as the chairperson of the commission, he did not arrive in Korea alone. Initial planning on India’s proposed role suggests that Nehru was considering appointing a military officer as the “Indian Representative” along with a political adviser.13 Subsequently, India provided a “Custodian Force,” roughly the size of a brigade comprising three battalions and an ancillary staff (Praval 1987), under the charge of another officer—Lieutenant General S P P Thorat, who would later retire as a senior commander and member of the NDC. The force, called the Custodian Force India (CFI), arrived in Korea complete with its retinue of engineer and infantry units, along with a sizeable field ambulance and medical team (Khanduri 2006).14

The sheer international implications of repatriating refugees back to states who stood on opposing sides of the Cold War camps meant that India had to tread a fine line on adjudicating over various issues relating to the conflict. The conflict had critical legal, political and international ramifications, and came to be governed by a set of injunctions drafted by the United Nations, in accordance with articles pertaining to the Geneva Conventions. The prevailing conflicts and tensions over the precise interpretations of the document presented a unique non-military context in which the Indian armed forces were deployed. Mirroring the experience of the Kashmir War conflict of 1948 and Hyderabad Operation in the same year, in which hitherto unpractised forms of warfare had come to be learnt, the NNRC experience was a formidable “diplomatic” assignment for the Indian forces, which represented a steep learning curve. Thimayya found himself surrounded by a diverse cast of officials from different services: civil servants (B N Chakraborty, a civil servant, served as alternate NNRC chairman); Indian diplomats (P N Haksar); and an officer from the Indian Police Service who served at the NNRC. The Indian armed forces’ stint in Korea—complete with its newly emerging corps of senior and middle-level officers—represented a group of officers who passively learnt a great deal about the management of international conflicts that involved a substantive monitoring of certain associated legal, political and humanitarian aspects related to warfare.

The NNRC experience was a microcosm of the changed operational and institutional ecology which the Indian armed forces and its officers inhabited. It did not necessarily involve combat but rather “peace-making” and “peace-keeping.” The subsequent international peace-keeping operational deployments of the Indian Army in Africa and West Asia would become increasingly apparent in later years. The NNRC, though, represented the first such non-combatant experience for the Indian armed forces and this underscored the importance of having higher training institutions which could crystallise these experiences in the form of transferable knowledge and also develop proposals to better understand the military’s significant non-military operational assignments.

The enumeration of clearer guidelines on the precise institutional and instructional contours of the INDU will go a long way in resolving the constant tussle that Indian military training institutions have historically experienced over the years: are military institutions purely for defence and training purposes, or do they have a wider research-oriented goal for knowledge production? The INDU’s stated objective to “instil” a spirit of jointness amongst the “various elements of the national security system” (Ministry of Defence 2015: 5) promises to foster a culture of strategic thinking on defence matters, but institutionally, this will have to happen through a careful balancing act.

This is because the existing military architecture in India has grown out of an intricate network of institutional measures which were not always designed to forge inter-institutional cohesion. The very fact that the INDU will emerge as a result of a constitutional process through the proposed invocation of the “INDU Act, 2015,” will be a novel development as earlier military institution-building attempts in the subcontinent happened through a staggered process governed by executive actions. The constitutional basis of the INDU’s emergence promises to put in place the military training and education system in India on firmer ground, which has otherwise historically emerged out of a dissonant patchwork of diverse institutional objectives.

For instance, the arrival of the IMA in 1932 was the result of a concerted campaign to enable more Indian officers to gain commissions. However, by the mid-1940s, with the plans for the NDA under review, the whole nature of awarding commissions had undergone a shift. In addition to awarding more commissions, the debate had expanded to include discussions on the purpose that a commission would serve for the Indian officer who would soon be a member of independent India’s armed forces. These discussions necessarily led to further discussions on the importance of awarding accredited degrees that could benefit the officers. This brought military institutions, like the NDA and NDC, back to the centre of deliberations that has confounded planners ever since: how to balance the requirements of a research institution with the added responsibility to educate, train and commission military personnel.

INDU: Think Tank or University or Both?

This tussle between a military academy’s role and identity on whether to be a research institution or a purely defence training institution affected both—the IMA as has been discussed earlier, as well as the NDC and other sites. The issue of affiliating a higher training military institution is especially vexatious, given the long historical origins of this conundrum where institutions like the NDA, Staff College and the NDC have tried to secure civilian university affiliations but have faced roadblocks mainly due to the different nature of the institutions involved. This complex partnership with civilian universities raises more questions than it answers about the ways in which Indian military institutions have allied with civilian universities in the past. Civilian recognition for military academic coursework also highlights the need that is felt by military institutions to fit into the larger academic framework that can recognise and give due academic credit to the study undertaken at these institutions. However, this is a complicated process that involves reconciling certain contradictory features that have crept into the military instructional system.

It was, perhaps, during General Manekshaw’s tenure as Chief of the Army Staff (1969–73)—who also served as the commandant of the staff college before becoming chief—that the issue of affiliation for military academies was taken up more actively. Manekshaw’s insistence on equating “examinations the service man passes” with “university equivalents” was thought to have had an “incidental side benefit,” which was that: “the retired serviceman could boast of a civil degree, the chief requirement for job seekers …” (Singh 2002: 79). The initial proposal as one of his biographies suggests, was to

Equate graduation at the National Defence Academy with a Bachelor’s degree; graduation at the Defence Services Staff College with a Master’s degree; and successful completion of the National Defence College with a PhD. Likewise, lower examinations could also be equated with corresponding school certificates. (Singh 2002: 79–80)

Although the proposal did not see the light of day while the General served in his office, it acquired an institutional “after-life,” in which other academies like the Staff College and the NDA continuously worked to get civilian affiliation. Currently, the NDC awards an MPhil degree after the conclusion of a “National Security and Strategic Studies Course” and since 2006, the college is affiliated to University of Madras for the award of this degree. However, the wider, non-military applicability of this degree is unclear, given the fact that the NDC straddles two very different occupational divides: the military institutional hierarchy and the civilian higher educational academe.

The draft INDU Bill does mention that the university will be empowered to grant degrees. However, the precise institutional manner in which this will happen is not clear. This creates complications, given the fact that apart from the NDC, other military institutions too award degrees accredited with other universities to graduating officers—sometimes the same degree to different ranks, as in the case of the Army War College which awards MPhil to colonels, akin to NDC which awards an MPhil too, albeit to brigadiers who are ranked higher than colonels. The presence of other equivalent naval and air force colleges complicates the degree argument even further. Therefore, reconciling the “sameness” in the degree qualifications for colonels and brigadiers, who otherwise serve with obvious hierarchical and occupational differences owing to rank and command structures, is one of the many issues relating to regulation and policy that the INDU will have to carefully consider. While the problem of affiliation with civilian universities does not seem to arise in the case of the INDU as it will be conferred with affiliation and powers of accreditation, there is a risk that the duality in the character of a research-based university devoted to the study of defence-related issues will persist.

This duality is also going to be reflected in the manner in which defence research institutions are currently evolving in India. A characteristic feature of the policy architecture has been the proliferation of think tanks in major Indian cities. Armed with considerable resources and intellectual capital, and backed by multinational interest groups, governments or political organisations, the planned defence university—if it has to become a hub for cutting edge research—will have to vie for intellectual space within this burgeoning network of research centres. An inherent advantage, if it can be harnessed, will accrue to the defence university if it is able to set out a research agenda independent of the ideological and interest-based perspectives that undergird research across other private and institutional sites.


The INDU has been proposed as a centre for policy-related research and to serve as a “think tank” with an impact on policy formulation exercises. This offers exciting opportunities but it remains to be seen how this will be implemented in a space that will be shaped, in part, by the sensitivities and sensibilities of the military structure itself. Currently, the top administrative and leadership roles for the INDU will be staffed by senior ranked military officers aided by a board. However, the precise ways in which policy will be generated and disseminated can perhaps pose questions on this structure itself, for an academic discussion often thrives in non-hierarchical spaces that can enable a free and frank discussion on the issues involved. The “impact” of the knowledge that INDU proposes to be a centre of depends, quite significantly, on the manner in which this knowledge is produced and who is going to be producing it.

Thus, while the impending arrival of the INDU is to be welcomed and is a step in the right direction, it remains to be seen as to how this institution will resolve issues of higher military institutional management. Instances of historical military institution-building in India, discussed in this paper, point towards a multi-tiered process of reform and review of educational practices that have not always resulted in the emergence of an interlinked and cohesive defence training architecture. With the establishment of an affiliating national defence university, the contradictions inherent in military institutionalisation processes that have occurred in India since the past century may diminish in scope, but it remains to be seen how this institution will rise to meet these challenges.


1 Report of the Indian Sandhurst Committee;14 November 1926, British Library (hereafter BL), India Office Records (hereafter IOR) IOR/ L/MIL/17/5/1783.

2 The Skeen Committee was appointed in June 1925 under the chairmanship of Lieutenant General Andrew Skeen, KCB, KCIE, CMG, Chief of the General Staff, India.

Its members were: Pandit Motilal Nehru, Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA); M A Jinnah, MLA; the Sardar Jogendra Singh, Minister of Agriculture, Punjab Government; Phiroze Sethna, Member of the Council of State; Diwan Bahadur Ramachandra Rao, MLA; Nawab Sahibzada Abdul Qaiyum, KCIE, MLA; Subedar-Major and Captain Hira Singh, Sardar Bahadur, MBE, MLA, late 16th Rajputs; Ziauddin Ahmed, CIE, Member of Legislative Council (MLC), Pro-vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University; Capt J N Banerjee, Bar-at-Law; Major Thakur Zorawar Singh, MC, Chief Secretary, Council of Administration, Bhavnagar state (representing the Indian states); Risaldar-Major and Capt Haji Gul Mawaz Khan, late 18th Lancers; Major Bala Sahib Dafle, seventh Rajput Regiment; E Burdon, CSI, CIE, Indian Civil Service, Secretary to the Government of India in the army department. Pandit Motilal Nehru tendered his resignation as a member of the committee on 11 March 1926.

3 The number of failed cadets is unspecified. From The Army in India and Its EvolutionIncluding an Account of the Establishment of the Royal Air Force in India (1924): Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India, p 161.

4 Report of the Indian Sandhurst Committee; 14 November 1926, BL, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/1783.

5 Report of the Indian Sandhurst Committee; 14 November 1926, BL, IOR/L/MIL/17/5/1783. The suggestions for introducing Navy and Air Force curriculum was unique, especially because the two arms were relatively slow to develop in India, partly due to the highly technical nature of the services, as well as the budgetary constraints which had stunted reform in the aftermath of the Great War. This trifurcation into naval and air wings did not happen until after India’s independence.

6 The Chief’s Colleges were set up in the mid-19th century to provide education to the sons of princes and other aristocratic classes from the princely states. Some of the notable ones were established in Ajmer, Indore, Lahore and continue to function today albeit with a different administrative set-up.

7 Regulations for the Prince of Wales Royal Indian Military College 1934, BL, IOR/L/MIL/ 17/5/2285.

8 Letter from Deputy Secretary, Government of India, to Secretary Military Department, 4 April 1932, BL, IOR/L/MIL/7/19123, p 243. The Government in India thought it was impossible to “expect a successful candidate from England to … reach India in time to join the Academy by 1st October … It was for this reason they proposed … that candidates (from England) should be considered successful and admitted to the second term … and (should be) counted against the vacancies of that term.”

9 “King George’s Royal Indian Military Schools,” (KGRIM) by Captain T H L Stebbing, MC, MA, AEC; Commandant, KGRIM School, Jullundur, in The Journal of the United Service Institution of India, January 1936, Vol LXVI, No 282, consulted in—Subject File 15, B S Moonje Papers, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Archives, New Delhi. The Punjab Civil Code was considered as approximately equivalent to standard III of the English Board of Education Elementary system. Later, the standard of the syllabus was raised to the equivalent of the Punjab Middle School or Vernacular Final Examination, which corresponded approximately to a “stage slightly beyond the conclusion of the English Primary System.” However, it was soon realised that, if the boys of the KGRIM Schools were to be able to compete with their confreres from the civil world, the standard of their attainments must be raised again to keep progress level equivalent with the product of local schools.

10 Speech at Inauguration of the National Defence College, 27 April 1960, in Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, edited by Madhavan K Palat (Vol 60, Second Series), pp 627–31.

11 Speech at Inauguration of the National Defence College, 27 April 1960, in Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, edited by Madhavan K Palat (Vol 60, Second Series), p 629.

12 The post-war years were crucial in carving out a distinct identity for the IDC. No longer required to function as a purely military institution, it updated its syllabi in keeping with the changing position of the security framework in relation to Britain. All wartime service chiefs lectured at the IDC in the years following World War II, complemented by lectures on other non-military subjects relating to constitutional history, theology, etc.

13 Outward telegram from the Commonwealth Relations Office to UK High Commissioner in India (Acting), 1 July 1953, File FO 371/105507, The National Archives, Kew, London.

14 Khanduri states that the entire CFI establishment comprised initially of a brigade group. This group consisted of three field ambulance units, five infantry units and a unit each of the postal, engineers’ and field workshops. This entire contingent was also assisted by the Joint Red Cross teams.


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Updated On : 13th Aug, 2018


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