Army chief General M.M. Naravane addresses press on 12 January in New Delhi | ThePrint photo
Army chief General M.M. Naravane addresses press on 12 January in New Delhi | ThePrint photo
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On 15 January 1949, Field Marshal, then General, K. M. Cariappa was appointed as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. The day is celebrated as Army Day. Post-Independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had firmly established civilian control over the military and symbolically converted the residence of the Commander-in-Chief — Flagstaff House — into his official residence-cum-office, rechristening it as Teen Murti Bhavan.

Field Marshal Cariappa, despite being a ‘pucca sahib’, was responsible for ‘Indianisation’ of the Army and laid the foundation for its apolitical character. “Politics in the Army is a poison. Keep off it— he wrote to all officers, soon after taking over as the Commander-in-Chief. However, he was indiscreet at times and had once publicly aired his views on India’s preferred economic model for which he was advised in writing by Nehru in October 1952 to give fewer press conferences and stick to safer subjects, implying that he should not play the role of a “semi political” leader.

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What was indiscretion on part of Field Marshal Cariappa seems to have become a habit with the military hierarchy today. The Service chiefs and other senior officers have been making public statements with political overtones in favour of the government of the day, and instead of being admonished, they are being lauded and defended by the politicians. The latest act of indiscretion has come from the Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who during his formal speech after the ceremonial parade on the Army Day, said: “Sena ke adhunikaran ke yeh prayas, adarniye Pradhan Mantri ke Aatam Nirbhar Bharat ki pahal ka abhinn hissa hai (The Army’s efforts of modernisation are an inseparable part of the honourable Prime Minister’s Atamnirbhar Bharat initiative).” On 12 January, during his interaction with the media, General Naravane had said that 80-85 per cent of the contracts for modernisation have been signed with Indian companies as part of the efforts to indigenise, and in keeping with “honourable Prime Minister’s” call for an Atamanirbhar Bharat.

This is probably the first time that an Army Chief has linked a government scheme/policy to the Office of the Prime Minister in a manner that is associated with the servile ministers in the government and other politicians, like a ritual before any public/media speech. In the same interaction, General Naravane also thanked the “honourable Finance Minister” for allocating the necessary budget — a duty that the minister does on behalf of the government after Parliament’s approval. Army Chiefs function under the directions and policy of the government, and not of individual ministers.

In all democracies, the military takes an oath to the Constitution but functions under the elected civilian government. Yet, all political parties tend to exploit the adulation of the masses for the armed forces who safeguard the nation and the people from external and internal threats. The endeavour is to make the Army, directly or indirectly, identify with their political ideology and policies. This is done by exploiting nationalism and weaknesses of the military hierarchy with respect to its aspirations for promotions, post-retirement appointments and, at times, due to compromised integrity.

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Despite very serious attempts in the first decade-and-a-half after Independence through cultivation of a pliant section of the hierarchy, which played a dubious role in the 1962 debacle, the Indian military has remained apolitical and functioned as per the Constitution. But for the last 6-7 years, once again, it has come under the onslaught of extreme nationalism-driven political ideology. Social media has made the heretofore cocooned soldiers extremely vulnerable to political propaganda. And a weak and pliant hierarchy is only compounding the problem. The hierarchy, on numerous occasions, has transgressed into the political domain to toe the line of the government.

In a sharp contrast, the United States military has remained steadfast and survived the onslaught that President Donald Trump made on various institutions to force them to support his ultra-conservative and Right wing ideology, rather than function according to the Constitution. I say “survived” because on one or two occasions, the military hierarchy did waver. But in totality, the hierarchy remained steadfast with respect to its oath to the Constitution.

On 12 January 2021, six days after the temporary siege of the Capital Hill by Trump supporters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a signed memorandum “for the Joint Force” – armed forces – reiterating the military’s commitment to defend the Constitution and the limits of the authority of the civilian government. The memo is a model for militaries of democratic countries on how to function under civilian control.

The memo emphasised that the military will obey “lawful orders from civilian leadership”, thereby implying that it will not act upon unlawful orders that go against the spirit of the American Constitution. It was categoric in stating that “the violent riot ……. was a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process” and “Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law.” Finally, the memo emphasised that the allegiance of the military is to the elected government and not to individuals — “On January 20, 2021, in accordance with the Constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Commander in Chief.” Last but not the least, the military did not give President Trump the ceremonial “send off”.

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After Donald Trump began to question the election, General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, preempted the President’s likely intent to exploit the Pentagon (full of Trump loyalists) and the military for his electoral battle. On 10 November 2020, he had said, “We do not take an oath to a king or queen, or tyrant or dictator, we do not take an oath to an individual. No, we do not take an oath to a country, a tribe or a religion. We take an oath to the Constitution, and …… every sailor, airman, marine, coastguard each of us protects and defends that document, regardless of personal price.”

On 1 June 2020, General Milley was indiscreet by being present with Trump for a photo op outside a Church while National Guards were quelling riots by a section of Black Lives Matter protesters.  Milley made a course correction after coming under pressure from the hierarchy, media and the public. He said, “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

It is time India’s military hierarchy too did a course correction to maintain its apolitical status. The Chief of the Defence staff and the Service chiefs head the most respected institution of the nation that functions under civilian government control as per the constitution. Armed forces  are not an appendage of the political party in power.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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40 Comments Share Your Views


  1. As an ex Army officer, I can vouch how apolitical this Army is , as an institution. Now, I do not find what is wrong in the statement of COAS. Honestly , we are too apolitical and regimental even after retirement and that is why you will not find much criticism of General Panag. In fact he is the one who is making political statements just because of his personal choices which he made during his career.

  2. In the way Nehru and Krishna Menon had misbehaved with GEN CARIAPPA , i THINK IF AT ALL GEN NARWANE OR CARIPPA IS TRAFFIC OFFENSE WHEREAS NEHRU HAS BEEN DISHONEST PERSECUTOR OF ARMY BRASS. NO WONDER GEN THAPAR PREFERRED TO TOE THE LINE OF NEHRU BUT LEAder like nehru must be held responsible for insuting hugh personalities every now & then. The very fact that at the time of china war Gen Thapar toed line because risk was Nehru would have ruined his career. Finally Chinese humiliation hit Nehru hard of his misconduct and lot of stupoditiers like telling army to throw out chinese without even a strategy .After Nehru telling Gen cariappa not to resign he was bashing him in parliament just after two days !

    in view of all this Nehru had lost right to suggest what he did

    May be Lt gen Panag has difficulty in accepting Modi govt but Aristotle has a;lready said a man is socio political animal

  3. When somebody says that he/she is doing X because it is in line with nation’s policy,
    is this to be construed as being servile to the PM/govt ? If I wear a mask, am I being
    servile to the PM or for the wider benefit of the society?

  4. Surprised by the comments of retired lt.general. Fail to understand how such narrow minded biased people reach the rank and drawing hefty pension and other privilege. Lacs of Indian men and women served for 40 years in the service of the country with little facilities. Such arrogant left leaning officers need to be condemned Hon’ble prime minister is head of govt and most respected and elected by millions of people of our country needs fair respect from everyone.

    • I have read Lt Gen Panag’s articles for some time now. They are a modicum of clarity and insight. He is a knowledgeable writer and a professional of the highest standards. In all my readings, I have not found a scintilla of being a left leaning officer! His warning about the politicization of the upper echelons of the armed forces should be taken seriously. The Army will be facing challenges this summer along its northern borders. It needs competent and professional officers to deal with these challenges and not incompetent officers who got promoted because of their political views. Panag is correct to call into question the mentioning of individual ministers or even the Prime Minister when the government’s policies and plans are sufficient. An officer takes an oath to the government and the Constitution and not to political leadership. India is still a functional democracy and not a strongman majoritorian state. lets keep the armed forces and politics separate. One only has look across the border to see the disastrous impacts of a politicized armed forces.

  5. Well General Panag must understand that there is no political overtone in the statements of General Narvane. He was only emphasising on the need of Atma Nirvar Bharat and how it is being done. As a government servant he has only tried to say about the government policies being implemented by the army. Last but not the least, is army above the government or the country. Atma nirbhar is a national policy, the policy of the country so General Panag the army chief has not done anything wrong in saying what he said. Please don’t express your personal frustrations in this manner. Thank you.

  6. How can people born and brought up in ‘pucca sahib’, culture and unable to get to the top in their days think of criticizing the top brass. These are the same people who have mostly opposed Indianisation for fear of loosing out on cuts. The very concept of Aatam Nirbhar Bharat takes away the privileges of FOREIGN everything for their future generations, with DRDO or HAL unlikely to foot the fancy bills. To make things worse the idea is initiated by MODI not the PM

  7. Gen Naravane did not have to take the prime minister’s designation or his scheme for lauding the modernisation of armed forces. That perhaps has a hint of sycophancy. I am not defending that. But, why do I always find something discordant in the writings of learned Lt.Gen Panag?

    For instance, when the armed forces are quelling terrorism in the only Muslim-majority state of India, can the armed forces really stay apolitical? Surely, officers of armed forces, above certain rank ought to be aware of country’s political atmosphere and more importantly the geo-political situation of India. I understand that such knowledge and awareness is deemed essential for officers above the rank of Colonel.

    Ours is a country where a sitting judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice PN Bhagwati wrote a laudatory letter to Indira Gandhi upon her victory in the 1980 elections. Our bureaucrats are amongst the most astutue political animals as they have to survive different governments during their career. How does one keep politics out of army or administration. Perhaps, it was possible during the simpler times which prevailed until about 1967, when for the first time, terrorism inspired by Islam started.

  8. Excellent article. It shd be like a pinned tweet. Armed forces of a country turning political indicates a rapid slide down a slippery slope.

    Modi-Amit Shah shd stop dividing the country on their narrow party ideology. BJP is going the Xi way in another sense n surely they will bear a high cost contrary to all their planning n expectation.

  9. As per the General i am a Right Winger C@mmun@l Voter . But Many of us did not Block Parliament when Vajpaye Was Thrown out Undemocratically. Is The General also trying to say that the Current Heads of our Armed Forces do not deserve their Positions ?

  10. its important that spell check should be done . its not “Aatam Nirbhar” it is “ATMA NIRBHAR”. and the error occurs TWICE.
    the author is drawing a straw man argument. i would focus on more serious issues…
    it looks like he is influenced by Ram Guha, because the Cariappa example is in the book “India after gandhi”.

  11. Army is part of democracy, it can’t be insulated with changes that is happening in society. To say we should not be self dependent just to show army is apolitical, is pure non sense and missing wood for the tree. Criticism to seek of criticism is not very mature thing.

  12. Need not be harsh on the author as the present hierarchy is competitively displayIng it’s pliant nature to a subservience seeking regime.

  13. I agree with Lt General Panag. The Army is being buffeted from many sides especially attempts at doing away/diluting its age ild traditions & customs, emoluments such as reduction in pensions, opening the cantonments to public etc. The Chief did not need to kowtow the PM publically. Maintain the dignity of the office.

    • The Armed forces run on their Honour (Izzat), their exploits and traditions. To strip them of their ceremonials etc, is like cutting off oxygen. The present trend is to pick pliant chiefs of staff and turn the Armed Forces to SS Waffen.

  14. The Chief sets the moral standards for the men and women under his command. As such, and to preserve the apolitical character of the Army, he should have spoken with measured precision, clearly steering away from any semblance of loyalty to any individual or allegiance to any slogan of the party in power. Such a tendency is very unhealthy in the long run for the organization.

    Let not the Army go the Pak way

  15. How these guys become wiser on leaving services. Moreover Penang can not always play “ devil’s advocate” to show he is
    more enlightened. I don’t find anything wrong with the views of Naravane.

  16. The Army chief should have instead lauded Pakistan or Bangladesh PM or may be POTUS. That would have been praiseworthy and secular. The Indian Army chief should never laud Indian government or talk about it especially on Aatma Nirbhar Bharat. Very correct and se(i)cular argument. Who wants a self reliant India anyway?

  17. Waste of good print by Panag.
    He is taking his revenge by criticising the Chief.
    He does not seem to have an idea of how much disillusioned the rank and file of the Army has been over the last few decades because of the policy of the PMs not to give modern weapons to the Army. The Jawan using outdated rifles or the terrorists having state-of-art weaponry vis-a-vis the Army has been changed only now.
    Wonder how such narrow minded soldiers can reach Army Commander’s levels.

  18. I agree with most of the comments as I know for sure that the Author goes overboard and has been critical of the government and the current practices of India army. He walks the talk i.e. “bash on regardless” – his moto. It not good for a Senior Lt General like him to write such anti establishment articles, but it is democratic country so he will continue to do what he likes.

  19. Stupid view . Gen.Panag is attepting to tell us that Mr. Jawaharlal was correct and Gen. Kariappa was wrong in advocating the preferred economic model. As PM he had the authority to tick off Karippa and so went on to warn him. But history tells us it was Nehru who screwed up the future of this nation and Gen.Karippa’s view would have done us far more good.
    Gen. Panag is inimical to Modi and hence this view. My advice to him is the same. What is good for the goose……. and hence if politics is poison for milary men, veterans are not immune to it either. Silence sometimes remains the domain of the wise.

  20. Ha Ha. Looks like the author couldn’t find anything useful to write. So he decided to pen down something that makes no sense. As someone wrote earlier ‘Much ado about nothing’. Better to give the pen a rest if there is nothing to write about but maybe difficult to let go of the retainership. The owners are free to pay for such drivel but one must not expect readers to contribute.

  21. I fully agree with General Panang. I am amused though not surprised at the comments here either seeing no impropriety in the Army Chief’s remarks or in attacking the author. The Chief of the Army Staff, much like a judge of the supreme court should refrain from overly flattering the political executive unnecessarily even if it was actually the case. Apart from the fact that the Atma Nirbhar Bharat is just an empty slogan like all the previous slogans like Make in India, Stand Up India etc. Nothing has been achieved as yet.

  22. Lt Gen H S Panag is of course a naughty boy! We now know he is also a nut! Earlier, he wanted to have court martial for Col Babu! One cant understand how someone who has been so apolitical as Army man, can become so biased and have visceral hatred for a democratically elected PM. Once can disagree with policies but not play politics!

    • Even Hitler was democratically elected, so was a dimwit Trump, a Dictatorial Putin and likes of Phoolon Devi. An idiot doesn’t become wise just after being democratically elected. Instead of pointing fingers to general Panang be wary of the increasingly political overtures of current military Chiefs like motor mouths like Vipin Rawat, Navarane.

      • To the point, but then how many can see the point? We are in the process of turning the armed forces to SS Waffen and people seem to be cheering it.

  23. Author — who had got an entire paragraph after his name (we will leave aside the vanity) — is a regular at bashing the current establishment. And he talks of maintaining political propriety!! Hypocrisy alas is not restricted to civilians.

  24. So the army chief said that we will partner with Indian industry to source indigineous goods. And that is controversial !!!!
    Did not expect this from Mr Panag .

  25. The propensity to sensationalize seems to be contagious as it has spread to “experts” and “commentators” too. Insulating the Defense forces in a “vibrant” democracy in the days where retired Government servants unabashedly exhibit there “knowledge” acquired during service for seemingly political ends, such a slippage was waiting to happen.
    Do we have more serious issues to address. Surely there are. The real issue of propelling the Nation forward lies elsewhere. An extract from a report….
    “Despite repeated warnings from the US, the European Union’s recent Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China raised eyebrows across the world. And even Donald Trump’s parting shot was to revive the trade pact with the Beijing administration. Australia also signed a 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with China in November. In a slowing economy, all three have revived some level of trade relationship with China. But as countries scramble to find new partners and new trade pacts in the wake of Covid, India is looking at a future where there is no China because of border tensions, and instead has lined up a few minilaterals whose outcomes are unknown.”
    Much more can be said…but as they say in hindi “samajdar ke liye ishara kafi hain” (“for those who understand a hint is good enough”)
    Views are personal

  26. The author is in the habit of slighting the present hierarchy of the Armed Forces and is adopting a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. If the Chief has said that the Army is following the PM’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in giving contracts; what is wrong with that? He has not named the PM. Isn’t PM a constitutional appointment? Nitpicking everything that the Chiefs do and bringing them into public discourse is not good for the country.

    • The worship of his highness Shri Shri modi should be made a part of a daily morning ritual in all govt agencies. We can also have chantings of harhar gharghar before start of movies in cinema halls. That will lead to new India and vishwa guru India.

  27. Wise men realise that times change. What may be in your favour today might come to haunt you (or your successors) in the future. In the high noon of popularity, the head of the present Govt (and army) must not forget that not only them but millions of Indians have sacrificed and continue to make sacrifices so that India prospers. A little bit of humility and wisdom goes a long way. Unwise actions (and words) of today may become precedents for tomorrow.


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