India is in the midst of a major controversy relating to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the subsequent attempt to shift focus of the people with the release of the news of the National Population Register (NPR) and the pending finalisation of the exercise carried out in Assam with a view to identify illegal immigrants.
Regrettably, India seems to have joined those countries that are in the middle of witnessing citizens venting their anger at the policies of their respective governments by agitating on the roads. The countries seem to be all over the globe, in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, East Asia and South America.
While these agitations are for diverse reasons, the common thread seems to be rigidity and reluctance of the ruling hierarchy to leave their exalted positions and change. What is unusual is that while some countries are listening to the will of the people and making some amends, our government seems to be unbending, hence the circle of violence and repression by security agencies continues.
Perhaps, with the overwhelming majority in parliament, the political party seems to think that its ideologies must be pushed through come what may. This is being done mostly unilaterally, although couched in the robe of parliamentary approval. In most cases, the small opposition is only perfunctorily consulted. These facts are well-known and need no elaboration. Wrongs are being sought to be made right by blaming the opposition, but there is no letup in the agitations.
A recent report indicating the flip-flop of the government on whether the NPR will precede the NRC or otherwise. While political leaders have gone on record to say the NRC will precede NPR, the Annual Report of MHA says that NPR is the first step. These changing saddles frequently, instead of assuaging the agitators, are having the opposite effect and add to the trust deficit.
Although the government has launched its own counter-offensive, including mobilising its regional and state satraps, with a view to explain that no citizen of India need fear from losing citizenship on account of these policy formulations ‘, perceptions of the polity are different, as lack of trust has taken its toll.
In the above situation, the armed forces must not have any role, as their roles and actions are well-defined; political jousts are for political leaders and parties, not for the armed forces.
The BJP does have a huge cadre of disciplined workers, who try to push the agenda of the party by all means, including by flexing their muscles and even stooping down to violence. Although most political parties in our country are prone to do this, the party in power does so with a vengeance, perhaps taking a cue from its leaders and ideologues; both believe in the adage – “Might is Right” and not “Vengeance is Mine said the Lord”, a biblical phrase.
In the 72 years of our Independence, we have had many political parties governing the country, but two facets of their broad demeanour are ‘listening to the calls of the citizens’; and abandoning/modifying/ delaying the government actions that are being vehemently opposed by the polity. Even the coalition government headed by Shri Atal Vajpayee did so, but lately, people-friendly initiatives are seen only as preludes to major elections.
Let me now draw you to the armed forces of the nation, which collectively believe in and follow the cardinal principle of being secular and taking no stands in political battles in all their manifestations, as laid out in our extremely comprehensive constitution.
To elaborate and taking the example of the army, although it is same in the other two services, the rank and file and officers up to the commanding officers and perhaps up to brigade commanders have been and are wedded to ‘no politics’; ‘no religious or gender discrimination; and ‘no caste or ethnic bias’. That is the strength of the army and that is the reason it has the trust and adulation of the people of India.
Most officers at higher levels also meticulously follow these precepts and the army way of life, but in recent years, some in the senior hierarchy seem to have abandoned and diluted it. The senior the officer, his/her appetite for the higher ranks – fulfilling other material ambitions, including amassing the filthy lucre – manage to abandon their inherited psyche and they let go of the constraints of morality in general and their training and upbringing in the service in particular. A most pitiable state as it has a direct and immediate adverse effect on all serving personnel.
For the layman, it is important to amplify the trait of ‘service above self’ by officers and soldiers of the Indian military and the adverse effects of politicisation, especially in this information age, where all military personnel are fully aware of what is happening in the nation and understand the pros and cons of political manoeuvring that various political parties resort to for retaining their power, pelf and electoral victory.
A politicised military is one that exercises loyalty to a single political party and/or advocates for and defends partisan political positions and fortunes. An apolitical, nonpartisan military is one of the norms underpinning Indian democracy and has been a feature of professionalism of the Indian military.
The military serves the constitution through obedience to democratically elected political leaders without regard for political party or partisan positions. This idea underwrites the peaceful transfer of power between successive governments and ensures that the people of India can make governance choices free from the threat of coercion.
This, if followed in letter and spirit, would automatically result in the political leaders getting sound professional military advice and to trust the expertise provided by senior military officers. Moreover, if the military also became what was coined as ‘committed bureaucracy’ when Indira Gandhi was the PM, voters might reasonably assume that the party would not be able to control the military if voted to power.
In other words, the democratically elected representatives of the people would not be able to count on the faithful execution of national security policy, if the military expressly favoured a particular political party. Such conditions would break down the public’s confidence in either the disfavoured party, or in the military, and damage the functioning of the government.
Another critical result of an apolitical military is that it protects the military, because the Indian Military serves elected representatives from different political parties equally; there is no reason for those representatives to treat the military differently based on their ideologies. In addition, decisions about the funding, size, shape, and use of the military are much less likely to be driven by wider strategic, economic, and public values. Moreover, service personnel management must remain a professional and not political process.
I do not want to quote rules and regulations, which do exist and form the basis of the military profession. They are well known and have been highlighted in the media.
So, why are very senior officers of the armed forces coming out in the media and giving their pro-government political views in public, without any thought to the office they hold or the adverse effects it will have on their commands? Is it for reasons mentioned earlier; or is it to repay the gratuitous rewards they had received or will receive, or some way of showing loyalty; in short, has the ‘committed bureaucracy syndrome’ seeped into the armed forces too? No, clarifications or later goody-goody comments can wipe out the adverse impact of what was spoken publicly and widely reported.
Instead of banking on statements from senior military officers, the government would do well to listen to the voices of the people, which are being made from all sections of the polity.
Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and former founding director of the think tank of the Army, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).