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Monday, May 26, 2014

politicisation of indian military - kashmir times

Indian army
The coming threat of politicisation
By Firdaus Ahmed
The Indian army's infamous brush with politicisation was counter intuitively in the Nehru era when arch liberal Nehru, using Krishna Menon, wanted to ease his ethnic kin, General Kaul, into the helm of the army. Placing him, an officer of the support services, as chief of general staff and later in command of an active corps in the mountains, 4 Corps, he hoped to elevate Kaul into the chief's chair once the incumbent, pliable general Thapar retired. In the event, the Chinese attack of 1962 proved inopportune for the trio. The good part was that India learnt a salutary lesson on the perils of politicisation of the military.

However, in all fairness to Nehru it needs being said that the inappropriateness of Kaul apart, he perhaps wanted to assure that his flanks were covered as he went about his modernisation agenda for India. The example of post-colonial democratic regimes falling to army takeovers was surely not lost on him since the phenomenon was on not only across the newly independent countries but close at hand in Pakistan.

Whereas the threat to democratic regimes from respective militaries was one form of politicisation - that of the 'man on horseback' - the other form was the one Nehru spectacularly failed at, that of subordinating the military through what in theory passes for 'subjective civilian control'. In this the regime controls the military through placing a like-minded leadership at the helm thereby having a compliant military.

Since 1962, India has been notably different in the developing world in largely practicing what is termed 'objective civilian control'. In this the government prefers an apolitical military providing it with a professional input and carrying out its decisions obediently. Whereas the Indianmilitary can be critiqued for on occasion allowing its institutional interest to colour it's otherwise objective input to national security decisions, such as for instance on Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Siachen, politicization of either kind - 'man on horseback' and subjective civilian control - has generally been absent.

There has been little threat to civilian power holders in Delhi; the controversy over General VK Singh moving troops towards Delhi during his 'date of birth' fracas with the ministry of defence notwithstanding. Nor have the powers that be attempted to make inroads into the military by having it subscribe to their ideological worldview for subordination. However, this happy state may be set to change in India soon.

The new government that takes control of Delhi has in its campaign promises projected a developmentalist agenda. It would attempt to deliver on this with a neo-liberal turn or with the second generation economic 'reforms'. In so far as this remains the primary agenda, civil-military relations can be expected to remain on even keel. The military for its part is internally pleased since universally militaries vote conservative under the impression conservatives are usually 'strong' on defence. India's military would perhaps be happy with the reversal of Indian 'weakness' associated with the UPA years starting from its perceived inaction to 26/11. The military would also be recipient of further monies from the growth oriented regime. With poll promises on being tough with both China and Pakistan as guide, it can be expected that the military would be pretty busy professionally. Therefore, it would have little time or attention span for the internal political scene.

However, the prognosis is that internal politics are the area the incoming regime would likely want to distinguish itself. It would attempt not only economic reforms as it has advertised but also the less visible agenda of its supporting political formations, the Hindutva brigade. The latter will likely be more subtle initially, with the former being the key area to gain time and legitimacy. The intention in the initial phase would be to placate corporates that have backed Modi to power. It would also gain his regime another term for a more decisive turn to the right since rebooting India would require additional time. This is a lesson from the BJP's earlier stint cut short by the Shining India campaign coming a-cropper.

But how could affairs turn out this time round? Economic measures over time leading to 'have nots' and the articulation of their resentment can be apprehended. India's recent elections and the ability for massive police 'bandobast' and its showing in managing Central India suggest that the government has suppressive capabilities in place. However, second wave reforms could trigger wider alienation. This may entail government leaning on the paramilitary.

The right wingers behind the incoming ruling party will also want their piece of pie. In fact, even as the economy is the visible area of concentration, the manner it fought the elections in the cow dust belt suggests that it has a wider social agenda. It may well be that this agenda is the more significant. The actions that it would take in pursuit of this will over time generate its own backlash not only from minorities, but liberals and those alienated by the resurgent Brahmanism. The national broadcast of Mr. Modi's prayers on the banks of the Holy Ganga indicates a possible direction of the future. As has been seen elsewhere, storm troopers may make an appearance as the answer to the possible internal security problems that will likely arise.

The twin-rise of the paramilitary and that of storm troopers - will be one element that could trigger civil-military tension since militaries traditionally see themselves as the sword arm of the state and are averse to competitors. Additionally, the military would likely be getting embroiled in the suppressive template that would now be applicable across the poorer segment of society that includes India's minority subject to right wing imposition.

It is to ensure against any reservations that the military may have at this stage that the politicisation in the form of exercising subjective civilian control will kick in. While initially the military may continue under objective control principles and mechanisms, over time the government would feel the need to preemptively shift towards subjective civilian control. This would be in the form of placing officers at the helm who share its ideology. Mere conservative views are not enough. They would need people in place who would turn a blind eye, if not participate actively, in the India reset. In fact, the military itself would be a site for culmination of Indianisation, with Hindutva defining India. To illustrate, the greeting Jai Hind, introduced by the current army chief, may possibly be jettisoned in favour of Jai Bharat Mata. Perhaps the threat of this prompted the chief to institute the shift out of the blue to Jai Hind.

Whereas politicization is most often derided, for the military to activate its political rudders, under such circumstance, may be politicization that is welcome. Challenging the government for conservative policies, such as the Egyptian army's current foray into politics, is not what is at issue. In fact a reading of publications by former military men suggests that they would not be averse to a rightward shift. However, once the extreme right wing kicks in then there may be a case for the military to play the role of a guarding praetorian in protecting the Constitution.

This would be praetorianism of a third kind in which the military launches into politics not for it self-interest but as a guardian praetorian, particularly as all other institutions of state would likely have hollowed out by then. The possibility of such politicization must continue in the backdrop in order to be there as a deterrent for the government going down this route in first place, given its proclivities, ideology and the fact that there is no opposition to balance it.

It is hoped that India would not need to wait as long as the German general staff, eleven years from 1933 till 1944.

(Firdaus Ahmed's blog Think South Asia is at

News Updated at : Monday, May 26, 2014

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