A Pakistani strategic scholar’s tweet and a former Indian Navy chief’s quote tweet earlier this week have drawn attention to the fact that while Pakistan has two functioning defence universities, India has none yet, despite one being proposed 53 years ago.
Adil Sultan tweeted on 12 October that he had joined as dean/head of department at Islamabad’s Air University, and the very next day, Admiral Arun Prakash (retd), the Indian Navy chief between 2004 and 2006, lamented that India’s National Defence University, conceived in 1967, is only marked by a “forlorn foundation stone” in a field in Haryana.
History of IDU
The idea to set up a national defence university as an institution of national importance was first mooted by the Chief of Staff Committee in 1967. In 1982, it was endorsed by the in-house Lt Gen. Sethna Committee. In 1999, the Kargil Review Committee revived it, and the proposal was endorsed by a Group of Ministers (GoM) report.
On 23 July 2001, the Ministry of Defence appointed a Committee on the National Defence University (CONDU) under the chairmanship of K. Subrahmanyam, a retired civil servant and father of current Minister of External Affairs and former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar.
With the GoM approval and the CONDU’s 2002 recommendations, Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff was tasked to process the case through the MoD for the establishment of the Indian National Defence University or INDU, later renamed to Indian Defence University or IDU.
The Union cabinet approved the proposal in May 2010, and the foundation stone was laid on 23 May 2013 by then-prime minister Manmohan Singh, at Binola, Gurugram, on land donated by the government of Haryana.
The final detailed project report (DPR) for the project was submitted in 2013, but no tangible infrastructure development has taken place since then, as no funds have been released for it.
The draft Bill was put online for public consultation in August 2016, and was subsequently submitted to the cabinet secretariat. The cabinet secretariat put forth certain observations, and after consultations with then-defence minister Arun Jaitley and other ministers, the bill was revised in December 2017, defence ministry officials said. This was also the time when the proposal was renamed from INDU to IDU.
Lt Gen. Satish Dua (retd), former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff, told ThePrint that the process of finalising the IDU was laborious, but was largely over by 2017.
“Getting the framework of the university approved, taking lessons from other universities and the inter-ministerial consultations were all done,” he said. “In fact, we were hoping that by 2018, it should have been announced.”
The Comptroller and Auditor General, in a report tabled in the Lok Sabha this year, noted that the bill was lying with the cabinet secretariat since then for approval.
The defence ministry had, in August 2019, informed the CAG that the draft bill was yet to be approved by the cabinet, and the detailed project report for the university could be finalised after the law was enacted.
The bill has been lying with the Prime Minister’s Office for over a year and a half, sources told ThePrint.
Reports said there was a renewed push on the bill after General Bipin Rawat took over as the Chief of Defence Staff. A presentation was made before him in February 2020, but there has been no progress since.
Top sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that the primary hurdle is a civil-military tiff over who would head the IDU.
“There is a difference in opinion as to who should head the institution. Purely on the virtue of being a defence university, it was proposed that an officer from among the three services should be heading it,” a source said.
“However, that has received some objections from certain corners who feel it should be headed by a bureaucrat instead,” the source said.
The CAG had observed that the project cost had increased from Rs 395 crore in May 2010 to Rs 4,007.22 crore in December 2017. Stating that the university did not fructify even after the lapse of two decades in the absence of revised cabinet approval, the CAG had said: “This has deprived the nation of an educational institution excelling in the area of defence and national security.”
While it was earlier proposed that the Union defence minister will be the chancellor of the university, the 2016 bill proposes that a services officer will be the vice-chancellor of the university.
As it stands now, the university will function under the Department of Defence, which is headed by the defence secretary.
In an article for ThePrint, Lt Gen. H.S. Panag (retd) had said the predominance of military personnel and the exclusion of bureaucracy in the management of the university does not reflect the desired civil-military synergy necessary for national security.
“The military and the bureaucracy must set aside the traditional rivalry to build a world-class institution dealing holistically with all aspects of national security,” Panag had said.
What IDU seeks to do
As it stands, the proposed university seeks to promote higher education and research in national security studies, defence technology, defence management and allied areas, and assist policy making.
It also aims at providing a common platform between services, intelligence organisations, police organisations, bureaucrats, scientists, technocrats and industry working in the sphere of national security.
It has been proposed that military tri-services institutions such as the National Defence College, the College of Defence Management, National Defence Academy and the Defence Services Staff College would be affiliated to it.
Two-thirds of the students will be from the armed forces and remaining 33 per cent would be drawn from other civilian government agencies and the police.
There will also be students from friendly foreign countries in the university, whose number will initially be 500, and eventually go up 2,500.
Almost all major countries such as the United States, China and Russia have defence universities, and Lt Gen. Rakesh Sharma (retd), former commander of the Army’s 14 Corps, told ThePrint that these universities are doing an “intense amount of research” and training functionaries of armed forces and those associated with national security in general.
“We need a university to commence research on future warfare and future geopolitical and geo-strategic environment,” Sharma said, adding that this is not happening with the required intensity.
Taking about the importance of the university, Lt Gen. Dua said that it is important to have a strategic culture in the country, and young people should be specifically trained as strategic experts, given that there are few genuine researchers at this point. The IDU will train such students, he said.
“There is a lot of ad hocism in place right now in some fields, where officials have to learn on the job. For instance, the defence university will have a separate vertical on acquisition to train students on the subject,” Dua said.
“There are several colleges under the armed forces which follow different methodology. The university will bring all of them under its aegis. It will improve education at higher levels of leadership and encourage knowledge in all specialised fields,” he said.
Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (retd) had written in The Hindu that said the university must be the prime mover of intellectual capital in a reformed Indian military.
Rashtriya Raksha University
The defence and security establishment had been buzzing about the long-delayed IDU project even before Admiral Arun Prakash’s tweet brought it back into focus. This is because Parliament, in its last session, paved the way for a Rashtriya Raksha University in Gujarat — which sounds like it means the ‘national defence university’ — but is actually an institution for policing.
The Rashtriya Raksha University Bill, 2020, was cleared by the Rajya Sabha in the monsoon session, declaring the new university to be an institution of national importance and repealing the Raksha Shakti University Act, 2009.
“It was surprising because the word ‘raksha’ translates to defence. Given that the university is dedicated to policing, the new name was confusing for many,” a defence source said. “There is now a rethink over changing the name of IDU again.”
However, the mandates of the two proposed universities are quite different. The key objectives of the Rashtriya Raksha University include providing dynamic and high standards of learning and research, providing a working environment dedicated to advancing research, education and training in the domain of policing, and promoting and providing public safety.