Political careers of former soldiers may seem like an acceptable feature in a democracy, but it would be naive to discount the dangers of politicisation of the military.

The recent controversy over the opening of roads in cantonments yet again underscores the increasing gap between our civilian and military establishments. The military, including families and veterans, feels that the political leadership took an ill-considered decision guided primarily by the civilian bureaucracy. Although the defence minister has clarified that the army chief was consulted prior to issuing the order, the matter continues to simmer.

Meanwhile, there has been a barrage of commentary, especially on social media. Whatever the merits of this case, it is important to understand the deeper issues at stake.

The fundamental point is the emergence of the military as a significant political pressure group. This is a recent development — and one that does not portend well for our civil-military relations. While the military has seldom been shy of expressing its organisational interests and preferences, this was done predominantly through institutional channels. However, the agitation over One Rank, One Pension (OROP) broke decisively with this pattern. Ahead of the 2014 general elections, influential ex-servicemen groups decided to rally behind the BJP and Narendra Modi. They were obviously fed up with the long unfulfilled promises of previous governments. Still, it was a momentous shift.

Retired soldiers and families are effectively part of the armed forces with strong ties running in both directions. The veterans groups’ decision to strongly tilt towards the BJP naturally risked the apolitical orientation of the military. When the NDA government took its time in figuring out the OROP offer, the ex-servicemen raised the pitch of their agitation.

At the height of this agitation in August 2015, four highly respected service chiefs took the unusual step of writing to the President of India, pointing out that “the recent developments have not only triggered a process of politicisation of the Indian military, but also served to inflict grave damage on its morale and self-esteem”.

The process of politicisation has unfortunately proved difficult to stem or reverse. This is not only because the OROP eventually announced failed to satisfy all veterans groups. Rather, it is because the OROP campaign has become a template for the military to act as a pressure group in politics — one that is at once insistent and savvy in mobilising for the cause. Witness the manner in which military families and veterans have taken to the social and traditional media on the issue of cantonment roads.

While the wider military community may have some buyer’s remorse with the BJP — not least owing to the “Vijay Yatras” taken out by the party’s workers in some cantonments — the wider turn towards interest-group politics is difficult to change.

After all, political parties too have seen the potential benefits of treating the larger defence community as a special constituency. The demand for OROP came handy to the BJP in 2013-14. Recall that one of the earliest rallies addressed by Modi, after his anointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, was a massive gathering of ex-servicemen. Equally important was the fact that Modi was joined on the platform by former army chief General V.K. Singh, who had publicly fallen out with the government of the day.

Although V.K. Singh initially claimed to be disinterested in politics, he ended up contesting the elections on a BJP ticket and was rewarded with a ministerial berth. More damaging to the office of the army chief was V.K. Singh’s embrace of the RSS, including donning its uniform at a recent event.

To be sure, he is not the first retired chief to appear on an RSS platform or to sound a note of ideological affinity. As far back as 1964, Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa wrote in the RSS-affiliated publication Organiser that Indian Muslims’ “loyalty seems to be primarily to Pakistan. This is a crime unpardonable”. V.K. Singh, however, has gone (and gotten) farther than any retired chief. And his example will be a gleam in the eye of any senior military officer who harbours larger ambitions.

Political careers of former soldiers may seem like an acceptable feature of democratic politics. But it would be naive to discount the dangers of politicisation of the armed forces once we are on this slippery slope. It is equally credulous to expect political parties to stay out of the fray.

The Prime Minister’s comments on the campaign trail in Karnataka about Nehru’s alleged insults to generals Cariappa and Thimayya are a reminder that this genie won’t go back into the bottle. Yet every government has a stake in ensuring that the military doesn’t continue to operate in the political interest group mode — if only because of its implications for military professionalism and subordination to civilian authority.

The first step in preventing the perpetuation of this trend is to give the military increased stake in institutional systems and processes. As several committee reports as well as academic research by scholars like Anit Mukherjee have pointed out, the lack of integration of the services with the ministry of defence has led to suboptimal outcomes on a swathe of issues ranging from procurement to military readiness. The absence of an institutionalised and ongoing dialogue is also part of the reason why the larger military community feels impelled to mount public campaigns to get its concerns registered.

At the combined commander’s conference in December 2015, the Prime Minister said that “reforms in senior defence management” was an “area of priority” for him. Then defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, is also on record stating that the government was working towards the establishment of a Chief of Defence Staff.

The government, however, has done nothing beyond exploring ways to integrate some of the support and logistics functions of the three armed forces’ commands. Even eminently sensible proposals for cross posting of military and civilian officers between the MoD and service headquarters continue to languish. Unless the government moves decisively towards such reforms, the cracks between the armed forces and the civilian establishment may widen into a crevasse.

Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. We don’t have to be a politician to work for the downtrodden.It is time we stop equating a movie hero to real life character.Movies have totally misled the youth into taking law into their hands.

  2. True. The politicization of the Armed Forces is toothpaste out of the tube. But this was inevitable in a situation where the incompetence and lack of integrity of the Neta-Babus, particularly in military matters has grown in staggering leaps and bounds since 1947.

    The Government of India Act (1935) which was modified by Sir Maurice Gwyer for Nehru and Ambedkar to plagiarize into the Indian Constitution, and into which they embroidered ideas that they borrowed from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, such as “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” and “Four legs good, two legs bad”, envisaged that the Governor General representing the British Crown would attend to Defense, National Security, Foreign Policy and matters of propriety, while the Council of Princes (now known as Rajya Sabha) would maintain stability and cultural continuity. But with their abolition, India has enjoyed a vacuum in all these spheres since 1949.

    One symptom is that India looks to foreign countries for leadership and initiatives in these areas while focusing on Loot, Rape, and Persecution (including reservations) within the Country instead of on becoming powerful.

    Divisiveness and separatism is as integral to the Indian Constitution as inequality under law. Draavidism, Islam, Akalism and Daalitism were the primary centrifugal forces set in motion by the British which dominate India polity today.

  3. Dear Veterans,

    As you are aware that Fauji community is very upset with the attitude of present govt of BJP and its Babus towards AFs (Armed Forces) as today the AFs are at the rock bottom of their morale and every aspect be it the OROP .. NFU.. anomalies of 7th cpc .. their status .. offrs ration .. beating of veterans by Delhi Police … exposing their families to security threats and by civilian goons by the orders of WDM (worst Def Min) Nirmla Sitaraman.

    The BJP small time leaders called it their victory over AFs and distributed sweets … as the present COAS is sold to BJP at The behest of Ajit Doval. The BJP govt. has done irreparable damage to AFs but elections are approaching …..

    Some Jaichands in BJP ESM Cell have advised the BJP leadership to adopt a strategy to again bring the ESMs to their folds , not by holding big rallies like Rewari but by Small Group Interactions with ESMs for which BJP leaders and MPs MLAs have been tasked to organize small get togethers of veterans to convince them that BJP actually wants good of soldiers and apply some ointment to their injuries by sweet tongue in PEP TALK during such get togethers and finally show the country the solidarity of Faujis with BJP …. That is the strategy!

    Are you ready to fall to the trap of BJP as in REWARI …? Can you forget the injuries caused by the present govt to AFs … ??

    If not then please do not accept any such invitation that may come from your friends, relatives or an influential person you want to meet … you will soon start to receive such invitations.

    Do you know that the above fear in BJP is the fall out based on report of IB after Maha Rally on 20 May at Parliament .

    Jai Hind!

    Sainik Ekta zindabad!

  4. श्रीनाथ राघवन जी ने अच्छा लेख लिखा है।। एक सैनिक, अर्धसैनिक, सिपाही,आते तो समाज से है। विगत, वर्तमान और भविष्य सब उनके लिए भी वैसा है जैसा आम जनमानस केलिये है।
    विगत मे सीमाओं की सुरक्षा और सैनिकों केलिये हमारे र्कण धारो ने जो गलतीया की वो ज्यादातर सुधरी नहीं है। सेना के प्रशासन में असैनिक अधिकारी और राजनैतिक नेताओं की अनावश्यक दखलानदाजी उनकी सामरिक व्यवस्था को कमजोर कर रही है।इसी तरह १८६० का सड़ा-गला अंग्रेजों का पुलिस कानून आज तक नहीं बदल सका,पता नहीं कितनी समितियों ने अपनी सिफारिशें कर डाली,श्री प्रकाश सिंह जैसे लोग अपनी हर चन्द कोशिश में लगे हैं ।

    आज के राजनीतिक मदारीयो का हाल किसी से छुपा नहीं है, ज्यादातर खानदानी धंधे बाज बन गये है। अपनी सुख-सुविधा केलिये क्या नहीं कर रहे? राजनीति के व्यवसाय में घुसने का मतलब पैसा और ताकत उल्टे काम करने के लिए। इनके लिए सेना, अर्धसैनिक बल, पुलिस केवल अपना मतलब सीधा करने और उन पर अपनी बयानबाजी करने का जरिया है।यह सब अधिक समय तक नहीं चलेगा। भगवान का आशीर्वाद है कि हमारे देश की सेना, अर्धसैनिक,और पुलिस अभी भी बहुत अनुशासन में रहती है, अपने अपमान को भी देश सेवा हित में बर्दाश्त कर लेती है। उदाहरण के लिए कर्नाटक में ममता बनर्जी का सरेआम डी जी पी (जो खुद एक महिला है) को मामूली बात के लिए हड़काना क्या दर्शाता हैं। क्या ये राजनीति के ठेकेदार आज के नबाव है या जनप्रतिनिधि?
    अन्तिम प्रश्न यही है कि जो समाज से आता है,वो समाज में घट रही घटनाओं से अलग नहीं रह सकता और अब समय कहता है रहना भी नहीं चाहिए। अगर जनप्रतिनिधि अपनी मर्यादा और कर्तव्य भूल कर यह सोचना शुरू करदे कि सीमा पर सैनिक, आंतरिक सुरक्षा ड्यूटी पर तैनात सुरक्षाकर्मी और कानून व्यवस्था को चलाने वाले। सिपाही उसके हुक्म के गुलाम हैं तो यह उनकी भूल है। उन्हें इस मानसिकता से बाहर निकल कर आम नागरिक की तरह सबसे पेश आना चाहिए तभी हम एक दुसरे के पूरक होगै, वरना एक दिन ऐसा भी आसकता है जैसा पड़ोस के पाकिस्तान में है । भारत के बुरे के लिए ऐसा न हो और राजनैतिक नेतृत्व अपनी मर्यादाओं का पालन करें!

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