Political ascendance of India’s military Apolitical nature under stress

Political ascendance of India’s military Apolitical nature under stress


Political ascendance of India’s military Apolitical nature under stress

By Col Satish Singh Lalotra

‘The army will hear nothing of politics from me and I in turn expect to hear nothing of politics from the army’-H.H. Asqutih.— Ex. British prime minister.

The world over civil- military relations in any country impact the type of governance which it may have chosen for its countless millions, often relying on the tenuous coordination and understanding that the two different entities may have evolved for themselves and towards each other.

These two entirely different types of governance over their respective domains do not have any meeting ground when observed in their individual capacities and calls for all the reserves of statesmanship, foresight and sagacity of an extremely high order from both the uniformed fraternity as well as the leaders of the masses.

The Indian parliamentary system which has been a derivative of the Westminster governance model from the UK , has stood the stress and strains of this combo of civil-military relations right from independence when its might was under challenge from both internal and external dangers.

The present article of mine has been an effort towards examining this tenuous understanding as also taking a close look at this equation under certain rulings of a majoritarianism democracy on India’s military in the recent past that has the potential of marring the veneer of semblance of such fine balancing act.

On October 09 ,2023 ,the MOD directed Defence establishments to set up 822 Geo-Tagged ‘Selfie points’ in 9 cities to show case good works done in Defence and attract public attention. The armed forces of India are to set up and operationalize 100 ‘Selfie points’ under Government – defined themes of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’and ‘Sashaktikaran’ and send action taken reports.

The scheme, using the armed forces to promote and advertise Government policies has an obvious political intent that is unmistakable to grasp for even a simpleton. India’s armed forces are subordinate to control by the union Government of the day as is true for any democratic county of the world.

Another Government push to its ‘Good governance agenda’ using the armed forces as a convenient tool has been to promote its populist programmes of so called ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan, Sarvashiksha Abhiyan etc.

The most intriguing facet of this entire exercise to be carried to its fruition is laid on the shoulders of a hapless soldier who while on his well-earned leave from a back breaking tenure either from the glacial heights of Siachen glacier or the leech infested jungles of North east will be again shoved as a small cog in the vast Government machinery of the ruling party.

Before joining active service, an Indian soldier from the three wings of the armed forces swore allegiance to the constitution of India, and as established by law was duty bound to go wherever ordered by land, sea, or air thereby observing all commands of the supreme commander of the armed forces i.e the President of India in the line of his duty.

This makes amply clear to all and sundry that a soldier swore allegiance to the president of India with his loyalty tested on the anvil of the constitution of India and nobody else. With the above terms of reference as his governing principles where does that leave a humble soldier when seen in the light of the above Government /MOD dictates?

While the serving soldier is governed by the military law in addition to every other law which governs every citizen, certain fundamental rights available to every citizen are denied to him by section 21 of the army act and the army rules because of the nature of duties performed by the members of the regular army and for the maintenance of discipline among them.

Going a step forward ,the army rule (AR-20) Prohibits ‘political and non-military activities’ to be undertaken by any uniformed individual. Are these two very specific guidelines or acts insufficient for any Government of the day to make a wise decision when employing the members of the armed forces? Or is the Government of the day deliberately walking the path of political expediency to shore up its coffers of brownie points that it may encash during the next election jamboree? It is well understood that grant of leave is a command function wherein a soldier has been pulled out of active service to afford him temporary rest and relief by way of spending time with his near and dear ones with his official responsibility being shared by his compatriots.

Doesn’t the latest Government order to help publicize its populist and people-centric programmes in the country by soldiers on leave tantamount to wastage of this well-earned leave and unnecessary interference in the working ambience of the armed forces? Past performance of our armed forces is testimony to the command structure and its robustness tinged with an apolitical hue that has withstood the rough and tumble of tenuous civil-military ties.

For years on end, the plethora of surveys relating to politics, society and governance across the length and breadth of India reveals to no end that the people’s trust in its armed forces has been unshakeable in maintaining its numero – uno position with the judiciary trailing a close second position.

The least trusted are the police, Government officials and political parties. India’s public recognizes the apolitical nature of its armed forces as a criterion for trust.

With an acute short staffing of all its three wings in terms of its officer cadre, as also in its PBOR category the armed forces have maintained an optimum level of its operational efficiency often at the cost of an increased quota of stress.

This is where the ultimate panacea of de-stressing of its rank and file comes in the form of leave which seems to be have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

The increased cases of fratricide amongst the armed forces is a telling comment on the way our HR (Human resource) policies are being Implemented across the board. Getting soldiers to do such tasks indicates the Government’s cold shouldering of its armed forces with little or no regard to the exclusivity with which its uniformed fraternity is looked upon by millions of Indians.

In fact decisions like these point towards a deliberate chipping in of such a fine edifice like the armed forces of a country with certain more decisions of the similar ilk like denying non-functional financial up gradation (NFU) to the armed forces, delaying the payment of OROP arrears as ordered by the highest judiciary of the land etc forming the long list of litanies.

It is the duty of top military brass to convince the political leadership of the country to not pass orders which are political in nature and does not go with the stated principles on which the last bastion of democracy stands.

With India surrounded on both its northern and western frontier by nations inimical to its interests, the country should in fact try preserving the morale of its troops and not engage them in tasks which can be very well taken over by Government agencies like DAVP (Directorate of audio visual publication), and other state and central ministries of information.

It seems the country has not much learnt from its 1950/60s days when the troops were engaged as construction workers in the garb of ‘Troop labour’ to construct married accommodation for the Jawans as part of ‘Project Amar’ in Ambala as ordered by the then Defence Minister Mr VK Krishna Menon.

National security and maintaining of armed forces exclusivity is too costly an endeavor to pander to the whims and fancies of the ruling elite, who can only tinker the both at their own and country’s peril.

(The writer is a retired army officer)