Military & Aerospace

Democracy and the Military
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Mar , 2016

Despite  the accuracy or otherwise of whatever has been alleged by Mr. Manish Tewari, former Union Minister, his personal motivations aside, the stark truth is that citizens of this country have never woken up to tanks in their backyards or Army Generals telling them what to do. Given the near absence of political leadership, the insufferable quality of governance and continued loot of the public treasury over decades, it speaks highly of the ethos and traditions of our Armed Forces that they have not only studiously avoided any attempts to subvert the fledgling democratic process that we adopted on Independence but have continued to remain apolitical in word and deed.

… they (military leadership) deserve more credit for making our country a liberal democracy than all our so called national leaders, who have so effectively used the policy of divide and rule to achieve their own personal ambitions.

This is even more praiseworthy given the absence of democratic institutions in our neighbourhood for better part of half a century. For this, the military leadership as a whole, and especially our Army Chiefs down the line, need to be complimented. Their actions are even more commendable given the numerous slights and insults heaped on them, by the political and bureaucratic leadership, to curtail their authority over the military and lower their order of precedence within the hierarchy. In truth, they deserve more credit for making our country a liberal democracy than all our so called national leaders, who have so effectively used the policy of divide and rule to achieve their own personal ambitions.

Most right thinking people should wonder at what makes our Armed Forces so different from the others in the region, especially Pakistan, given that both our Armies have descended from the erstwhile British Indian Army and both continue, in many ways, to maintain and nurture centuries old traditions inculcated from the British.

Incidentally the one major difference between both the Armies at Independence, which has not been given much attention, was Mr. Nehru’s categorical refusal to let officers who had served with the Azad Hind Fauj rejoin the Indian Army, while the Pakistani Army, on the other hand, accepted them back. Pakistan, for example, has had three military regimes since Independence and continues to be controlled by the military, for all practical purposes, even at present. It is also an incontrovertible fact that despite the military regimes having performed indifferently, each of them was welcomed by the public at large when they first forcibly took over the reigns of government.

In fact, Field Marshal Ayub Khan was appointed as Chief Martial Law Administrator in 1957 to run the country by President Iskander Mirza only to depose him a year later.

The Pakistan military establishment was seen as a unifying force, which is probably the reason that all successful military coups there were led by the Army Chiefs.

The reasons why these regimes were welcomed, as experts on Pakistan like Dr. Charles H Kennedy suggest, were issues of national security, especially poor law and order, misgovernance, a polarized and fractious political establishment and wide-spread corruption involving the politician- bureaucrat-businessman nexus. The Pakistan military establishment was seen as a unifying force, which is probably the reason that all successful military coups there were led by the Army Chiefs. This has not been the case in most other countries where coups have been organized by middle rung officers as the top rung military leadership was also seen to be a part of the ruling elite and invariably removed.

All this is borne out by academic studies on the subject of military coups. These studies show that poor financial remuneration and lack of respect for the military when coupled with poor governance, high levels of corruption and ineffective democratic institutions and practices along with large scale public unrest are the major causes for military intervention. However, these studies have also suggested that military intervention is less likely if forces are large in size, as that gives an opportunity to diverse groups to join, especially if the forces are well led and properly financed.

It is therefore ironical that instead of learning the correct lessons from such studies and attempting to fully integrate the military into our democratic polity, the bureaucratic and political class uses scare mongering on this one single issue to work together in tandem. There is the unspoken belief among them that building a strong and cohesive military may result in military intervention. Thus, since Independence there has been a deliberate effort at distancing the military from the people, keeping it out of national security decision making and in ensuring that the civil bureaucracy at the Ministry of Defence remains all powerful.

There is the unspoken belief among them that building a strong and cohesive military may result in military intervention. Thus, since Independence there has been a deliberate effort at distancing the military…

In addition there has been a constant endeavour to lower the precedence and prestige of the three Chief’s and others by every successive Pay Commission and the unwillingness of the government to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff for single point military advice. We now have ill-conceived attempts to place Para Military Forces and Central Armed Police Forces on par, if not at a higher status, than the military by the Seventh Pay Commission, an obvious measure to ensure that the military is kept in its “place”. The media, too, has either deliberately or unwittingly played into this with its superficial coverage of aspects that impact National Security with its usual emphasis on sensationalism.

Despite the prevailing fractious political environment straining our democratic institutions and their functioning as also increasing law and order problems, the military continues to remain apolitical and focused on its primary task. Institutionally however it is facing immense internal challenges that have emerged due to the governments’ treatment of veterans. This has created a vast reservoir of ill-will amongst veterans and serving soldiers alike, apart from causing a rift between the senior hierarchy, who are already in receipt of OROP, and their command, which feels let down and betrayed. This growing anger is likely to gain momentum if the recommendations of the 7th CPC, which are absolutely disastrous for the military, are pushed through without appropriate moderation or determined opposition by the top military leadership.

In this one issue their credibility is at stake and any acceptance of inferior terms will have disastrous consequences for the military. Not only will we see these forces afflicted by lack of motivation and low morale, but even cases of individual refusals and mutiny among units are likely to increase. As we have witnessed in the 1980’s, angry soldiers with guns cannot be restrained for long and will turn on somebody, even if it is their own. That will be a sad day for the Armed Forces and we would have destroyed the last functional institution in this country.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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5 thoughts on “Democracy and the Military

  1. i was reading about sam saying no to pm and her cabnet to start 71 war,those kind of offrs are long gone sunderji with all his brillance said yes to golden temple action it was a disaster my unit 1para lead the attack . he sent us to lanka no plans at one stage we were with tamils the next day we were fighting them. you need senior offrs with balls who can give the right advise to these scumbags.they already destroyed police and all ias services,they are just waiting to destroy the armed forces. watch slowly how they start getting there hands on prime army land and build civil colonies for profit.its senr offrs who are letting the forces down thepoltical masters are just taking advantage of weak leadership sam

    Integrated field commands and Chairman, Joint Chief of Staff in Defense Ministry, available to PM for emergency advice is the need of the hour. USA, China and India are projected to maintain biggest standing armed forces in next 20 years. It is high time, Indian political leaders start a serious discussion on re-organization of military in contemporary WORLD. Here is one of the option USA is successfully maintaining over a century. There should be only 5 commands (NOT as Army, Navy or Air force but all three integrated) – Northern Command, Western Command, Eastern Command, Central Command and Maritime Command (including Strategic Command). Eastern Command will include areas right up to South East Asia. Western Command will include areas up to Russia. Maritime Command will include areas up to West Asia including Arabian Sea, India Ocean, right up to Australia. Northern Command’s area will be limited but Kashmir itself is very important and areas in China (Tibet) and Mongolia can be included. Central Command will contain all strike formations of Army/AF and all erstwhile area/sub area headquarters. All 5 commands should be commanded by a 4 star general from army, air force or navy, who will report to Joint Chiefs of Staff (4 star general but a higher appointment) deputed by another 4 star general. Both Joint Chiefs of Staff and his deputy will report to the defense minister and their offices will be in Defense Ministry and PMO. Prime Minister will be connected to all 4 star commanders in field by a hotline. There should be a situation room in PMO where regular meeting of top brass of security apparatus can take place. Current service chiefs of army, air force and navy will remain in service headquarters to maintain and inter command transfers of the forces, however the military commanders in field will exercise the command and control over the forces under their command. Instead of one defense secretary.

  3. More than anything else, it is the last point the author makes about “destruction of the last functional institution’ is most pertinent for the nation and needs to be emphasised. While not seeking a holy cow status for the Armed Forces, actions to denigrate/ degrade/ demoralise this ‘last bastion standing’ in any form could be termed an anti-national activity.

  4. There is inherent distrust, suspicion, hatred and jealousy amongst bureaucrats and some politicians. While most of the politicians may be totally updated about castes in their area but have hardly any clue of defence services- their harsh living conditions, risks in their daily life and problems faced by their families/widows. Basic fact is that Army is a costly hobby to maintain.
    Unfortunately, because of pyramidical structure in our services some senior officers become a pawn in the hands of such power machinations purely for their self-serving goals. So, some senior offrs rush in such traps, where even angels fear to tread. Media is effectively used to settle scores, tarnish image, belittle organization through planted stories and deliberate leaks. Media is a powerful tool, no wonder most of the scamsters, those involved in ponzi schemes invariably own media-TV, newspaper and magazines. Army also must reduce its offr cadre strength, if it wants better privileges –replace some appointments with JCOs. Army’s policy of churning out large number of offrs thru NDA is itself faulty and self-defeating, need to increase more short service intake, earlier policy of 150 to 180 cadets per NDA course was good. During Second World, War West Point did not reduce duration of trg nor increase the intake. You cannot sacrifice quality for quantity. Army also shares blame for the mess over the years, be it staffing, pay, OROP or cadre review. Army has always been short sighted in its decisions in past. They need to hire consultants for well reasoned and unbiased decisions. Regarding oft repeated morale – who cares!

  5. This is an absolute truism in it’s concept. It is surprising that without conscription so many dare devils join the Armed Forces in India. The personnel who join realise over a period of time that they are losing their esteem of being able to fight for their country simply because the Country does little to appraise their will.
    An excellent portrayal of what ails the Indian Armed Forces Morale.

    With Kind Regards,
    Capt. Atul Prakash ( Retired, Indian Army)

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