Military & Aerospace

Internal Cohesion: Key to Military Prowess
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Issue Vol. 38.2, Apr-Jun 2023 | Date : 14 Jul , 2023

What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people.” – Debate in Constituent Assembly, November 1949.

Return of Divisive Notions?  

Profession of arms does not leave much time for experimenting with history or social sciences. That however, does not prevent the rise of dismay among the military, and of course the larger civilian strategic fraternity when they find that political divisiveness had been at the core of our thousand years plus of subjugation at the hands of invading powers. In fact, political divisiveness has often overridden the hoary tradition of pan-India societal integration to weaken the collective power of Indian States. Foreign powers had thus been tempted to colonise the sub-continent, rich as it was in the nature’s endowments. The disturbing part is that success of most such invaders came withconsiderable passive and active help from the divisive and short-sighted native rulers and their blind subjects. 

Dismay among the strategic fraternity is affirmed by a recent rise in rumbustious divisiveness in India’s internal politics. The trend finds sustenance through pan-India propagation of divisive activities and is manifested by internecine societal violence of organised as well as instantaneous kind. Having suffered the consequences of‘divide and rule’, and having won independence for our integrated nation-state after suffering centuries of subjugation, the rise of ethnically, socially and politically instigated animosity among the citizenry cannot but have ominous implications for the future of India.

Needless to state that internal divisiveness has profound ill-effects on a nation’s external security. It weakens the foundation of national defence and proceeds to undermine the nation’s military capability to defend own national interests. In that context, the Indian situation is particularly grave when flanked by two powerful, militarist, aggressive and expansionist neighbours who view India as a threat to their over-riding aspirations. And that calls for some discussion over the poison of divisiveness. We may begin with the background of India’s past undoing. 

Undoing of Bharatvarsha

Formost part of the first millennium, India’s great indigenous empires had either repelled or subsumed astream of invading forces, who attracted by India’s natural bounties and riches, came attacking repeatedly. India’s military prowess had thus manifested in terms of security against societal enslavement, alien rule, religious persecution or economic exploitation. Even when the sub-continent was ruled by several contemporary regimes, it was these empire’s hard power that offered stable environs for the advent of sublime, pan-India civilisational accomplishments like the disciplines of science, art, culture, religion etc. That ‘Golden Era’ of powerful political and economic dispensation had prevailed, culturally if not politically, across the entire pan-subcontinental realm. Those times of the Golden Era affluence seems to have faded the peoples’ and their rulers’ strategic understandings over time.

Great empires braking-up to turn into mosaics of politically unimpressive states and principalities, has been an eternal formula across the human civilisation. Thus, there was nothing unusual in the great Indian empires of the first millennium braking up into smaller empires and then into smaller kingdoms, many of these even turning into punny principalities.These States sought sovereignty, more pompous than real, in their own rights. That process of division of Bhatavarsha into a mosaic of small states had been completed between the late first and early second millennium. That was a time for the alien invaders, beaten back earlier, to saddle-up with renewed resolve.

Militarily powerfulinvaders from barren lands, motivated by prospects of plunder and moulded with religious sanction, began gaining victory against local rulers.[1] Political divisiveness and individual jealousy among the strategically vain rulers prevented formation of strong coalitions to ward-off the common menace. In many cases, local rulers joined the foreign invaders in defeating their fraternal counterparts in hope for being spared the invader’s sword or to profit from the invader’s leftovers. That allowed Muhammad Bin Qasim, in spite of many previous defeats, to finally succeeded in annexing the Sindh into the Umayyad Caliphate in 711 CE. Invariably, he and his following invaders had received active help from one or more native rulers who were intent on settling their internal scores. That explains the bizarreness of a few thousand West-Central Asian, and later the European, invaders traversing thousands of miles to ravage the defenders’ in their home turf, again and again.

By early second millennium, there remained no trace of indigenous rule in most of Bharatvarsha. Indians had been relegated to localised Jameendari-Sarpanchi-Chowkidari (land ownership-village headmanship-constabulary) in service of their imported lords.        

Decay of Native Military Culture

During the course of India’s aforementioned ‘Golden Era’ of political stability and economic affluence, the measure of hard power was relegated to occasional ego-satiating fratricidal battles between monarchial forces afflicted with obsolescence of weaponry and stagnant military concepts. Battle tactics were held captive to self-inflicted codes of morality that eulogised individual swordsmanship before being cut-down at the hands of militarily skilled enemies. Valour and sacrifice, rather than application of innovative strategies, audacity, cunning, surprise and deception to crush the highly professional invaders, became the misplaced measure of military acumen among the Indians.

With the enthronement of the Central and West Asian dynasties in India, native military and civil leadership got excluded from strategic level affairs of the State. Admittedly, there had been many highly competent native Indian military commanders and civilian administrators during the foreign origin rulership as well, but these were exceptions few and far between.[2] Thus, by the early second millennium, Indians had lost whatever strategic culture that had been left to survive the stable, peace and affluence of India’s aforementioned ‘Golden Era’.

Finally arrived the British trader-turned-colonisers who, after banishing the barbaric Portuguese, the Dutch and later the more civilised French competitors, usurped rulership over the sub-continent. The British, while looting the ‘jewel on their crown’ into destitution, took the ultimate step.  In order to perpetuate their rule, they ensured the final burial of India’s tradition of military leadership by excluding Indians from military leadership functions above the company level.[3] That indeed has been the Indian’s destiny during the past centuries of slavery. Hereafter, the Indian’s military tradition would only be measured by their soldiers’ resoluteness and courage in battles – outsider rulers’ battles led by outsiders, of course.

Over time, the hoary military tradition that had once petrified the invading hoards was obliviated from the Indian mind.The affliction persists even today; our stories, films, political rhetoric and defence policies offer many examples of our distorted understanding of military prowess. Arguably however, there is a discernible change in the recent years. But coming back to the theme of the nation’s inner strength, strategic wisdom will work only if the nation is in cohesion and stability prevails over the societal differences.

‘Invitation’ to Vandal Rule

Our consternation over the English trading company’s usurpation of India is misplaced. It was the provenance of our divisive native rulers who invited, repeatedly, the foreigners’ to intervene in their internal rivalries. In return fortheir help they, over time, landed up ‘outsourcing’ their responsibility of governing their realm. Notably, exploitation under the Sultanate, Mughal and Maratha Empires had been so excruciating that the masses of native ryots had welcomed the East India Company’s rule in its early decades. After all, in contrast to the ruthless conditions the peasant Indians had been subjected to in the past, the more cunning British held a veneer of fair play, with partisan exceptions of course.

Disorientation of Post-Independence Polity

A millennium of non-indigenous rulership had led to vivisection of the traditionally integrated pan-Indian society. That finally led to India being partitioned at independence. Indian polity of that generation understood the value of national unity. Our celebrated Constitution and State structure are the consequences of that wisdom. However, having lost our native strategic culture over the centuries past[4], leaders of independent India, despite their socio-political foresight, could not fathom the role of military institution in nation building. Despite their deep wisdom and commitment, they could not reconcile between the roles of constabulary and military, and appreciate the unique and acute characteristics of a nation’s military prowess. Inheriting a comprehensively looted and devastated nation, they did not, or could not, manage the contradictions of international order wherein possession of military power is as much of adeterminant for peace and stability as socio-economic progress is.

Till recently, India’s political leadership’s appreciation of national defence had not gone beyond a hopetosecure a far-stretched border-linewith less than minimum investments and covering up military inadequacies with pleasing gestures. Thus except for some decades after the formidable display of military power in 1971, India’s deterrence has not been able to contain the adversary’s incessant attempts to undermine her national sovereignty and integrity. There seems to be a lack of alacrity in restitution of our pre-slavery tradition of strategic culture and to factorise military power into the nation’s political calculus.

Recently, the State has shown signs of ameliorating that deficit. Thus, modernisation and indigenisation of hardware, build-up of logistic infrastructure and reorganisation of higher level defence structure have begun with due alacrity. Of course, these would need many years to bring about any appreciable enhancements in our war-waging potential and so to reflect our desired level of military deterrence. The process of catching-up with the lost options is rather time and fund consuming.

However, in a hurry to catch-up, there is a tendency to side-step the military institution’s foundational attributes like the extra-ordinary extents of personnel management, motivation and battlefieldtraining. Inability to differentiate the rigours ofspirit, orientation, staminaand skillsrequired of the military forces, as distinct from the para-military and armed police, and myopic attempts to introduce civilian norms into the military culture are also evident.[5] Great wisdom is needed to negotiate through these pitfalls and to prevent the gravity of military commitments to the nation from getting diluted.

A nation practically surrounded by innately hostile and aggressive enemies cannot afford another era of overlook of the requisite level of its overalldefence, and specificallymilitary, preparedness, either of which must commensurate to the nation’s political mandate. Whereas overall defence preparedness is a multiple organisational platform for the military to stand-up and fight to win, the level of defence actuation is determined by political handling or mishandling of national issues. Accordingly, the State’s thrust behind the recently undertaken defence initiatives have to be sustained against the pulls of fiscal and societal constraints, which can be manageable, and ill-conceived hurdles posed by opinionated lot of military and civilian ideologues, which need more acumen to manage.

Rise of Divisive Trends inInternal Affairs

In its unique brand of democracy, India’s political scene is witnessing the emergence of certain rather disconcerting trends. Our political history points out that even if found superficial and frivoulos, and dismissed as such by the saner majority, such trends spew enough venom to atrophy the nationalist cause. This disconcert is elaborated under three heads:-

    • Rise of Perceptive Disorientation;
    • Spread of Socio-politicalDivisiveness; and,
    • Vitiation of Centre-States Relations.

Rise of Perceptive Disorientation

This is the era of ‘Social Media’. Enabled by galloping technological advances, the human society is experiencing a new phenomenon of existence. Whether in smallest and largest possible groups, every interested being has free access to information – and of course, misinformation. That freedom comes with little accountability while the ideal of freedom of expression comes in the way of marking, restraining or indicting inappropriate broadcasts. Liberties are being taken to abuse this freedom to instigate social divisiveness and violence. The phenomenon enthusesunscrupulous individuals and groups who float misinformation and redacted versions of events across a barrierless information universe.

In recent years, incessant bombardment of nonsense, for titillation and more sinister motives, by abuse of the advantages of technology aided information age, has become a threat to our domestic sanity. This is serious since perceptive disorientation of even some sections of the citizenry is liable to dent the purpose ofnational consolidation, and consequently, national security.[6] As to how this menace is to be controlled within the provisions of democratic ideals is a matter for the strategic communities in partnership with social scientists and societal mentors within and without the state apparatus, to devise.

As for strengthening the cause of our national security, the national leadership’s first goal must be to prevent our military culture from sliding back to the pre-slavery period of strategic innocence. Indeed, it is for the polity to protect the military institution from the afflictions of spiritual corruption, parochialism, and professional indolence, even if they cannot overcome such ills for themselves.Within the military institution’s internal domain, there is the need to prevent any ill-conceived dilution of the pristine role of junior leadership, officer-men bonding, practicaltraining and extraordinary level of motivation in all theirinspirational aspects.

So far, thepurpose appears to be well attended, but only time will revealthe true efficacy of someof the recently instituted measures as well as those which are mired in inertia. Tri-Service integration, the Agnipath Scheme of recruitment, policies on professional enhancement of troops and officers, realist conduct of field training, Atmanirbharta in defence production and so on are some such measures which need continuous attendance. The imperative for the political leadership as well as the military hierarchy is to monitor the military’s pulse and respond to its beats with due alacrity.

Spread of Socio-political Divisiveness

Generational Divisiveness. Accommodation of social diversity under a democratic dispensation, rather than nurturing unity, appears to stoke ‘divisiveness’– as against ‘dissent’ that is at the core of democracy. In their quest to secure socio-economic betterment through consolidation of political power, the contemporary generation of Indians,informed and ill-informed alike, seem to have mortgaged their conscience to turn ‘supporters’ of dynastic, religious, casteist, linguistic and even muscular, ‘elites’. These ‘elites’ find it profitable to trigger religious, linguistic, social and ideological fractures among their captive audiences of ill-informed and brainwashed constituencies. Social media and technology offer them ready platforms to perform such mischief. Over time, such influencer-influenced inter-dependency has consolidated into anexpedient ladder to political heft. Thus, we have the Indians being divided into Hindu, Muslim, Tamil, Naga, Dalit, and numerous such segregations; 135 crore of us thus stand divided into small rivaling, if not antagonist, groups of few crores each.This cult of social and political divisiveness seems to follow a pattern similar to our pre-slavery past. Divided we had fallen then!

Political Debasement. In politics, dividing people and keeping them dependent on political patronage seems to be the nearest ladder to the perch of power and wealth. The malady of political debasementbegins when clinging to power regardless becomes the sole objective of vote harvestingpolitics, much to the avoidance of the rigours of nationalism. Nationalist ideals are then jettisoned by the coalescence of partisan interest groups of political, business, farming, religious, regional, casteist and criminal descriptions. Thesepartisan voter groups use their numbers to thwart any call for systemic corrections while perpetuating their disparate ways of garnering undue aggrandisements from the nation’s common assets. With such divided and misguided electorates, politics has turned to opportunistic alliance of diverse self-seekers.While such societal manipulations have been a usual practice, the current race among the political parties and social manipulators to ‘divide and rule’ has exploded to massive proportions. All political parties are culpable of this disastrous approach to nation building. In that, active and passive complicity of the citizenry is also evident. No doubt, India today stands divided in numerous factional loyalties, and so grow the seeds of moreoutbreaks of internal conflicts. If it continues, the trend could escalate to rend our national fabric. That would bea repeat of our pre-slavery follies.

Polluting Debates andFaking Narratives. Exposing wrong doing and demanding betterment is an essential function of democracy. But in many of the instances, this function is abused bywayward politicians and their dependent followers, educated lot of societal rascals and the agenda-dictated Non-Government Organisations (NGO) to pollute, through expletives and falsification, even the most serious socio-political debates. The lot of detractors, serious and frivolous alike, under their ‘progressive’ pretentions, are thus encouraged in their mischief of spreading fake insinuations against the State and other dedicated institutions just to provoke gullible classes of people. This abuseof communication freedom has become a handy tool for the anti-socials to grab instant relevance; by the timesuch venomous narratives are exposed, the damage to the social fabric, physical and psychological, has been done. Here again, the culpability cuts across all the classes of the polity. Common citizens are thus led to form their understanding of external as well as domestic security issues through the prism of misinformation, suppressed facts, and even more dangerous, contrived information.[7] The perceptive damage caused is a potential threat to nationalist cohesion which is a pre-condition for making a strong, cohesive and stable nationhood.

Vitiation of Centre-States Relations

Welcome rise of regional political parties seems to have been sullied by mixing-up of partisan differences with constitutionalgovernance and rule of law. Some political parties in opposition at the Centre but ruling in States have shown ominous signs of subverting national security preservation measures adopted by the Central Government. Conversely, national parties, unable to muster majority in the Parliament and State assemblies, depend upon regional parties to form governments. Miniatures have thus become powerful enough, with just handfuls of legislators, to not only constrain the governance, but even transgress into the federal and State responsibilities.[8] Even enforcement of domestic laws is dictated by political partisanship, leading to subversion of the civil services and compromise of national level interests.[9] Of particular concern are the instances of gross violations of the spirit of democratic dispensation when one powerful group attempts to tarnish the State agencies while another misuses such agencies for its partisan purposes. Arrest of such imbalance in Centre-State functions is therefore a compulsion for our survival with honour.

Challenging Nationhood

History tells us that malignancy of politics invites national nemesis, while disregard of public concerns adds to its substance. That is a situation in which national security – internal, and by default, external – gets undermined for the enemies of the nationhood to strike at. Yet, in a rerun of our past records of divisiveness, internal conflagrations are incessantly flaring-up within the pan-India realm. It is as if either the democratic ideals are failing to march in parallel with the fast-changing times or its practitioners have been caught unprepared to adapt to the 21st Century society. It is far-fetched yet to fear return of the situations that prevailed when the Maurya, Gupta and Mughal Empires started disintegrating – but that menace may not evoke dismissible disbelief either.

A Case for Self-correction     

The ideal of united, free and democratic India is founded upon the sublime spirit of nationalist citizenry, dedicated public and private institutions and wise leadership. The system is not designed to endure when the leadership succumbs to shortsighted and divisive enticements. More than that, India’s hard-won freedom cannot endure when reckonable parts of her citizenry compromise with anti-national afflictions for out-of-turn group and individual aggrandisements.[10]  Vitiations arising just within a span of seven decades to shake the foundation of that nationalist spirit cannot be but a matter of grave concern. 

We have to take cognisance of the historical fact that moral degeneration and corrupt conduct of larger sections of the citizenry are but inveterate harbingers of compromises over the State’s integrity and sovereignty. The trend of provoking socio-political friction has therefore to be reversed to prevent the danger of pushing the Indian nation-State towards another period of divisiveness – which would invariably be followed by imposition of modern versions of enslavement.The time to correct the deviations when sovereignty seems to be going in reverse, has not come too soon. 

The threat of divisiveness exacerbates as India develops to realise her destined power potential. As her stakes in international politics rise, our foreign collaborators as well as competitors are instigated to cast their influenceon our domestic affairs, for their self-interest, of course. That is but a usual part of international Statecraft. But that also calls for foresighted measures from the Stateand the people to contain the ever-present lots of native as well as planted promoters of divisiveness fromcasting their spell over our State, private institutions and the people-at-large to satiate their quest for self-promotion at the nation’s cost.[11]

Socio-political wrestling under the canopy of democratic freedom is a natural phenomenon. But the rising trend of finding real and perceived excuses to drive wedge between the people, for frivolity or profit, needs to be nipped in the bud.  As it is, independent India has been beset with unending outbreak of constitutional breaches, rebellions and insurgencies. We may not add to those woes. As to how might the political scientists identify a right balance between reasonable freedom and reasonable restraint, and to what effect, only time will tell. Matters of India’s national security, however, are too serious for the harmful aspects of socio-political divisiveness to be left unattended.

After centuries of slavery, the malaise of political ‘divide-and-rule’ over national security issues is too strong a venom to taste. Hope comes from the past narratives of human societies. When the license for mischief brings the societal order to a brink of disaster, societies respond by devising means to rescue themselves through express amelioration of their overlooked fault lines. We need not to invoke that inevitability. We may forestall it.


[1] This story begins with Umayyad campaigns in Sind and repeated again and again through the Ghazni-Ghori, the Sultanates, Afghan, Moghul, Portuguese, French and British campaigns against Indian powers.

[2]During the Sultanate, Moghul and Afghan rulership periods, there had been some glorious examples of leadership coming from the clans of the Rajputs, Maratha, Ahoms etc. But these were exceptions.

[3] Appointment of Nellore Subedar Yousuf Khan as Commandant of the Company’s forces in 1754-63 is possibly the only instant of an Indian given high command.  A brilliant military commander, Yusuf Khan brought many victories for the East India Company, before rebelling and declaring himself as the Nawab of Madurai. British never repeated that mistake.   

[4]Rajput Generals in Mughal service were few exceptions. British, however, kept Indians out of their strategic machinery, confining them to cannon fodderrole which our forefathers performed brilliantly, in line with their tradition of valour and loyalty.

[5] Despite their divergent roles, methods and structure, there are misplaced expediencies to standardise the various types of forces and to civilianise the military. One can only look at such attempts in the past, in India and abroad, to understand the catastrophic fallouts of such catastrophic enthusiasms.

[6] Reference here is to political loud-mouthing, false insinuations against arms of the State, propagation of fake ‘news’ and agents provocateur sowing divisive trends among classes of people – religious and linguistic provocations, for example.Vilification of the judicial system is a recent aberration for which the judiciary, polity and the State are equally answerable.

[7]Some examples of externally propagated misinformation and suppressionsrelate to theRussia-Ukraine War, confrontationist developments in the China Sea,the Korean Peninsula and Indian Ocean regions, and machinations of the US-Western powers-NATO alliance. In the domestic arena, there are the growing instances of falsifications, outrageous accusations, spurious claims and public incitements on matters such as reservations, judicial verdicts, administrative compulsions, counter-terrorism and even defence acquisitions and military operations. All thesehave direct and indirect repercussions against build-up of national defence. 

[8]Friction between the States and the Centre, contrived on blatantly partisan grounds, remains a major impediment to domestic stability. Accountability over fiscal and law-and-order matters are the major casualties of Centre-State differences.

[9]Overlook of illegal migrations, alien infiltration and promotion of ‘criminal-turned-politicians’are some examples. Then there are the instances of subversion of national level policies on water sharing, ethnic settlement issues, law and order,anti-terrorism,and even the civil servicesrules to undermine the foundational ideals of the civil servants. No political party is free from this malaise.

[10] For example, the nation’s Constitution is not cater for street-like quarrels among state and central leaders, nor does it cater for criminals being accorded role in law-making.

[11] Instances of penetration of foreign intelligence agencies into public and private institutions are well known.

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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

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee

former Commandant Officers Training Academy, Chennai.

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