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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 38 New Delhi September 7, 2019

Dragging Armed Forces into Political Dragnet

Saturday 7 September 2019

by M.P. Nathanael

Perhaps for the first time in the history of election campaigning in our country, the success of the security forces in various operations against terrorists and even Pakistani soldiers and airmen across the borders was exploited to the hilt to garner the votes of the citizens. The sacrifices of our men in the paramilitary as well as the Defence Services were ostensibly drummed up to promote the courage and decisiveness of the political masters to over-shadow their inability to fulfil their promises they made before they were catapulted to the hallowed portals of the Parliament. What started as a free hand given to the Army, ended as a victory directly attributed to the topmost political leadership. Had the operations gone awry, the blame would have squarely been ascribed to the military leadership.

The matter assumed such serious proportions that well over 400 senior, including star-ranking, officers of the three Defence Services had voiced their concern about the politicisation of the Forces. They wrote to the President, Ram Nath Kovind, requesting for his intervention in the matter in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Though the President’s Secretariat had acknowledged the receipt of the mail, no action seems to have beentaken. By calling the Army “Modiji ki Sena”, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had cast aspersions on the secular character, lofty traditions and quintessence of military professionalism. The blatant misuse of the success of the Army and Air Force for political agenda to garner votes, the veterans emphasised, would “directly affect national security and national integrity” if the trend is not arrested straight-away.

While the Air Force and Navy have by and large kept themselves out of the political quagmire, the Army has been gradually sucked into the vortex of the political whirlpool with no resistance offered whatsoever. Some of the former Army officers, including Generals, have enthusiastically jumped on to the saffron bandwagon and have been known to be actively associated with the present dispensation in some activity or the other, more so to debate on various television channels in support of the party. Former Army Chief General V.K. Singh, who had a long drawn battle with the United Progressive Alliance-II about his date of birth, which he eventually lost, was duly rewarded with a ministerial berth when the present government took over the reins of the country. He, along with Brigadier B.D. Mishra and a few others, was instrumental in organising an ex-servicemen’s election rally for the then Chief Minister and present Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Rewari on September 15, 2013. Brig. Mishra was appointed Governor of Arunachal Pradesh on October 3, 2017.

Having served as the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh from January 26, 2008 to May 28, 2013 former Army Chief General J.J. Singh chose to join the Shiromani Akali Dal (Taksali) and unsuccessfully contested in the Assembly Elections in 2017 against the present Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, from Patiala in Punjab.

Just before the General Elections this year, seven former senior officers including former Lt. Gen. J.B.S. Yadav, Lt Gen. R.N. Singh and Lt. Gen S.K. Patyal joined the BJP in the presence of the then Defence Minister, Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman, at the party headquarters. Though there are reasons enough to believe that the saffron party may have approached the ex-servicemen to widen their base, it was upto these former officers to decline the membership of a political party.

During the April/May elections, there were allegations of Army personnel canvassing near the polling booths for a certain candidate who was believed to be related to a senior Army officer posted in the area. Indeed it is a matter of serious concern when defence personnel are roped in to support a certain candidate or party. Though a senior Army official has denied any such act of misdemeanor, the video that went viral shows the jawans evading the camera —reasons enough to believe that they are guilty of wrong-doing. The very apolitical character of the Army stands to be questioned when such instances come to the fore. Nothing could be more dangerous than politicisation of the defence forces which stand firm as a bulwark against the onslaughts of the forces inimical to the democratic process. It forebodes ill for the society and the democratic institutions of the nation.

In an interview to a Hindi daily, Lt. General H.S. Panag commented that the Army’s top leadership is responsible for the present state of affairs and added that after the Kargil War, when an attempt was made to politicise the victory, General V.P. Mallik advised the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee not to do so and the Prime Minister graciously acted on the advice. The present top brass of the Army seems to be ever ready to bend to the diktats of the political masters, perhaps with the hope of landing a gubernatorial or ambassadorial assignment post-retirement though there can be no gainsaying that the former Chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag’s appointment as Ambassador to Haiti a few months back was an exception.

Speaking at a seminar in Chandigarh on April 26 last, Lt General D.S. Hooda warned against military operations being influenced by political motives.

 When the top leadership of the Defence Services demonstrates its proclivity towards a certain party, the rank and file get the message instantly. Their voting pattern is influenced. Small wonder that enormous efforts were made to include nearly three lakh service voters in the electoral rolls this year raising the total number of such voters from the armed forces and those abroad to 16,62,993.

To arrest further politicisation of the armed forces, there is a need to impose an embargo on the entry of the armed forces personnel into any of the political parties at least for two years from the date of superannuation. There should be no relaxation granted whatsoever for joining any political party. Insulating the armed forces from political hues is indeed a pressing need of the hour lest our national security stands jeopardised. The secular nature of our armed forces, of which we feel proud, needs to be stoutly guarded.

The author is an Inspector General of Police (Retd.), CRPF.

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