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Force divider

It’s hard for a frustrated and aggrieved military to remain apolitical

Written by V. P. Malik |
May 15, 2009 12:21:09 am

Two recent events,the ham-handed sacking of the Army Chief General Rookmangud Katawal in Nepal,and an ‘advisory’ to all ex-servicemen (ESM) by the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) to vote for a particular political party/alliance in India,merit attention due to the sensitivity of the civil military relations in a democratic society.

The adverse political consequences of the Nepalese event are many: a setback to the national peace process and political instability,a constitutional divide over the authority of the president and prime minister,and Nepal’s foreign relations with India and China. No less important are its military consequences,which are a lack of trust and confidence between the civilian government and the military,and a divide within the military hierarchy. Both these will have an impact on the command and control,discipline,morale and combat proficiency of the Nepal Army. Also,there is an erosion of the historic military-to-military cooperation between Nepal and India where traditionally,the army chiefs have enjoyed the honourary status of a chief in each other’s country.

The hot-headed civil and military approach to the absorption of Maoist military cadres was avoidable. I wish they had studied a similar military transformation following the first post-apartheid national elections and the adoption of a new constitution in South Africa. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) replaced the earlier South African Defence Force (SADF) to include personnel and equipment from the former defence and homelands forces,as well as personnel from the former guerrilla forces of the political parties such as the African National Congress’s Umkhonto we Sizwe,the Pan Africanist Congress’ APLA and the Self-Protection Units of the Inkatha Freedom Party. This process started in 1994 was completed in 2004 with the integrated personnel having been incorporated into a slightly modified structure. Today,the SANDF is an effective force in South Africa,also making a substantial contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations in Congo,Burundi and Sudan.

The ‘advisory’ and active lobbying to vote for a particular political party/alliance by a large ESM organisation during elections in India is not as serious as the Nepalese event,but is still unprecedented. It is not that men and women in the armed forces,and after retirement,do not vote,or that ESM do not join politics. But such an ‘advisory’ reflects a collective unhappiness and lack of confidence of the uniformed fraternity with the ruling alliance and is easily exploited. Considering that the ESM retain an umbilical connection with serving soldiers and maintain traditional camaraderie and kinship so essential in the profession of arms,many people would consider it as a step towards politicisation of the armed forces.

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The IESM took this step primarily on account of the 6th Central Pay Commission (6CPC) Report and its ham-handed,disdainful processing by the government in which representatives of the uniformed fraternity were deliberately kept out. The government delayed resolving serious concerns of the armed forces personnel and pensioners on the disparities,anomalies,and demand for one rank one pension. Little attention was paid to the advice of the service chiefs,several former chiefs,and to the ethos and functioning of the armed forces. Meanwhile,an impression got built that the ruling political leadership is going along with the bureaucracy and has little or no interest in the emoluments and hierarchal status of the armed forces in the government and society. This felt injustice led to the birth of the IESM,which organised rallies,fast unto death agitations,and surrender of war and gallantry medals to the president to draw public and political attention.

The discontent and street protests by the armed forces veterans has exposed fissures in the civil-military relationship and thus led to the political manipulation of the latter. The belated efforts to resolve the aforesaid issues have only confirmed the perception that the government acts under political pressure; being disciplined and apolitical counts little when political supremacy over the armed forces degenerates into civil servants’ supremacy.

This brings me to the core issue of the civil-military relations.

Civil-military relations form an essential component of a nation’s security system. The Indian armed forces inherited a legacy of maintaining an apolitical stance and have steadfastly preserved it through the years. With their oath to the Constitution,they have stuck to the concept of loyalty to the constitutionally elected government,not to any particular political party or alliance. The credit goes not only to the military and its traditions,but also to the political leadership,our egalitarian society and other well-established democratic institutions.

In India,there is little awareness about the armed forces: their systems,procedures,traditions and the issues and concerns that affect their functioning. During a war,the armed forces are glorified,greatly respected,even treated with awe. But after the war,they feel forgotten and neglected by the political class and society. Since the ruling elite in the country consisting of politicians,bureaucrats and industrialists have stopped sending their kith and kin to the armed forces,the distance between the civil society including the aforementioned three categories and the armed forces has increased progressively.

Morris Janowitz,in his book The Professional Soldier: A Soldier and Political Portrait,has emphasised that ‘civilian leadership includes not only the political direction of the military but the prevention of the growth of frustration in the profession,of felt injustice,and inflexibility under the weight of its responsibilities.’ If we wish to maintain good civil military relations to optimise national security,our political leaders must realise this important responsibility and ensure that (a) there is no feeling of frustration or injustice in the military profession,and (b) that the armed forces are not politicised.

The writer is former Chief of the Army Staff,and is associated with Observer Research Institute,New Delhi

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