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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Modi And The Military: Not Quite An Innocent Beginning
By Firdaus Ahmed
21 September, 2013
Mr. Modi’s political sense was on display at the very first rally on his nomination as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Addressing ex-servicemen at Rewari he laid out his security agenda that would no doubt have been music to the ears of the gathering. Declaring an intent to make Pakistan behave, China back off, the civilian defence sector deliver and have the coffers cough up ‘one rank one pension’, he suggested that since all this would require a ‘strong’ leader, he was the best man for the job. Missed in the deconstruction of his speech has been the more significant aspect: that of politicisation of the military.
Flanked by General VK Singh of the DoB (‘date of birth’) fame, a score of retired generals and an Olympic silver medallist to boot, Modi was not merely playing to the gallery. He was instead attempting to gain the military’s endorsement on two counts. The more obvious one is that it would be useful to have the military alongside as he goes about resetting India in the Hindu nationalist image. With their longed for goodies, both in terms of military toys and seventh pay commission largesse, close at hand, the military can be expected to go about their business with redoubled intensity since the security environment would simultaneously be vitiated by worried neighbours reacting to Hindu India flexing its muscles.
But more important and urgent for Modi is that politicisation timely may prove useful if his past was to catch up with him in the Gujarat related cases that are yet unspooling in various courts. If judicial push comes to policing shove, he could ‘Cry foul!’, citing Congress chicanery, and, having the military’s weight behind him, deter any deflection from 7 Race Course Road.
Given the apolitical image of the army, it does appear counter intuitive that a dais heavy with the brass as witnessed at Rewari could amount to this. However, that conservative parties universally carry the military’s vote is a verity in military sociology. The BJP therefore has the advantage and doubly so, on account of the uninspiring defence minister the Congress, fearing another Bofors, has foisted on the army over two terms. As a senior minister, his political engagements meant the hijack of the policy agenda by the bureaucrats. A resentful military can be expected to take its civil war with bureaucrats in South Block into the political arena.
The military, no monolith, is internally differentiated. It has subcultures, some of which are at variance with its public image that can make a bid for dominance. While the majority in the military is apolitical, secular and professional, it could in this circumstance end up as the silent majority. It would be the politically alive element that would set the military’s position on what promises to be a momentous run up to elections over the coming year. Evidence of its existence and of precedence is in the manner this segment had dominated the military’s counter insurgency campaign, leaving the Valley littered with unmarked graves.
This politicised segment could firstly perform the function of keeping the military inert to the goings on in politics brought on by the right wing’s philosophy of ends justifying the means. The cover of being apolitical will sit easy in such a circumstance as the right wing attempts steal the election with its communalisation of the political and discursive space. Muzaffarnagar is a mere trailer.
Secondly, it could even prompt an intervention in case Modi falters at the last hurdle, even as the majority looks on nonplussed. There is precedence in which General VK Singh is alleged to have moved mechanised formations in the dead of the night ostensibly to check if they can react to contingencies in the midst of Delhi’s winter fog, but, to some, to influence any government decision to sack him for taking the government to court over his date of birth controversy. Such innocuous movements can be resorted to by formations with commanders subscribing to the reactionary political subculture as messaging to the government against any moves to permit the judicial noose from tightening around Modi’s neck.
The fact that the government vets the military’s chain of succession very carefully was very obvious from the accusations and counter accusations during VK Singh’s ‘date of birth’ episode. This suggests that apprehension of the military going political is not as far-fetched as the popular image of the military suggests. Predisposed to conservatism and desiring a turn to realist foreign and security policies, this segment could delude itself into believing it is acting in national interest. Absolving itself thus, it could seek to install Modi to power irrespective of the election verdict and perhaps because of the returning to power of a dynastic order revolting to the segment’s sense of self-worth.
The military’s views are set by its officer cadre that increasingly identifies with the middle class. The reactionary discourse of late in the middle class is well known and finds resonance in officers’ messes. Ex-servicemen serving as a right wing catchment and their increasing beltway into the consciousness of the military through cyber space, defence periodicals and presence in cantonments, strengthens the politicised subculture.
The BJP had attracted several generals, including respected ones such as Jacob and Sinha, in its earlier foray. The difference then was that Vajpayee was at its helm. This time round not only are the generals on the BJP bandwagon of dubious standing, but the BJP is led by a figure no stranger to controversy. Therefore, the relationship is no longer an innocent one but is one pregnant with forebodings not only till the elections but also beyond them.
Firdaus Ahmed is a freelance writer on security affairs. His blog is Think South Asia:
This article was filed before news reports emerged that "Ex-Indian Army chief VK Singh accused of masterminding coup to topple J&K state govt"

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