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Mainstream, VOL LV No 29 New Delhi July 8, 2017

Sangh communalising Indian Army for serving its Ulterior Motives

Tuesday 11 July 2017

by Arun Srivastava

The RSS and BJP have embarked on the mission to communalise and politicise the Indian Army. Behind the façade of nationalism, the main thrust of the saffron brigade has been to create a situation where even an objective analysis or criticism of the Army is taboo, a pariah. Never in the past has the Army been so much in news as it is today notwithstanding the fact that it fought many glorious wars against Pakistan which were even applauded and appreciated by the global fraternity.

The Army has been countering and containing insurgency and terrorist activities in Kashmir for the last sixty years. In the eighties the forces and Indian authorities were even accused of killing hundreds of marriageable youths. But neither the governments nor the rulers raised the bogey of nationalism as is being done of late. Never was the tag of nationalism tucked to politics. What has been quite interesting is the strategies to fight the enemy and uphold the spirit of nationalism are being chalked out in the studios and offices of the TV news channels. They have surfaced as the real Deshbhakts. A body-count will make it abundantly clear that the strength of such patriots would not be more than a couple of dozens, which include some retired Army officers. For them, all other Indians are anti-nationals and supporters of Pakistan. They have been the only saviours and the rest are the traitors. Actually they should be asked whose interest have they been serving beneath the veneer of ultra-nationalism.

This action must not be dismissed with contempt. It is part of a well-designed conspiracy. These people have in fact been raising the bogey of ultra-nationalism with a clearly defined motive. The people of the country, including the literati, intellectuals, and thinkers who believe in secular and democratic values, have been the major stumbling blocks in the Sangh’s design to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. It is only through terrorising and deriding these forces that the Sangh can think of accomplishing its mission.

India is passing through the worst phase of its existence. The Sangh has been systematically mixing religion with politics. Soon India will see religion and politics go hand-in-hand. This is being done not simply at the behest of the feudal forces but at the initiative of the capitalist forces and economy as it suits their political needs.

With the notion of a Hindu Rashtra being seriously but secretly pushed as its prime political agenda, the Sangh Parivar has also been running a hidden agenda. The Hindu Rashtra is being sought to be established by deriding and terrorising Muslims, Dalits, Christians and other minorities and by demolishing the principle of the Constitution. Kindling of the violent religious frenzy by the “gaurakshaks” and raising the bogey of ultra-nationalism, with the Army symbolising nationalism, ought to be seen in this background. The ruling elite has been brazenly patronising the military officers who nurse political ambitions and are indulgent to the Sangh’s political line.

In the past officers retiring from the services assiduously maintained a distance from the political parties. It is not that they did not subscribe to the ideologies of some political parties. But they refrained from showing their softness or inclination publically. We have before us Lt Gen S.K. Sinha. Indira Gandhi superseded him obviously for his political affinity, but Sinha did not manifest it publically even after long years of his retirement though he was close to the Opposition.

It is most unfortunate that the armed forces are becoming increasingly politicised, with declining standards of leadership. Politicians and bureaucrats have actively interfered in the internal working of the forces, while syste-matically downgrading their status and standing.

Several of the high-profile retired Generals are also employed by some RSS-funded research institutions. These officers have become the part of the think-tank of the Sangh. They are even attending RSS-organised public gatherings propagating Hindutva politics.This ultra-nationalistic position in India by the ruling party raises a serious question-mark over the state of Indian democracy.

The Indian Army commanded the highest regard of the common people. In fact the RSS has been trying to exploit this sense of respect to give a shape to its ulterior motive and design. Under the saffron design the Army unfortunately would be a used to enforce its plan to transform India into a Hindu Rashtra. An apolitical Army is the biggest threat to the saffron design. If the Army refuses to endorse their action plan, in that case the chances of saffronites accomplishing their mission would turn out to be too weak and fragile. Look at the manner in which the Army is being identified with ultra-nationalism. There is no doubt that the Indian Army is nationalist and it has upheld the highest order of the national spirit. Now the saffron brigade, under a well-planned design, is trying to identify nationalism with the Army. The RSS leaders have been busy sending the message that for being a nationalist it is imperative for one to blindly support the action of the Army officers. Ever since the BJP Government came to power in 2014, a sustained effort is being made to change the nature and character of the Army. Any officer, who is critical of the saffron brigade, is sidelined. Let me cite one small example. The government gave too much publicity to the surgical assault by the Army. It is was not that such action had not taken place in the past. But from the Prime Minister to the saffron spokes-persons, everyone tried to give the impression that this had happened for the first time.

Unfortunately the claims of the senior Army officers, who were associated with such operations in the past and had actually carried out this nature of strike, were not paid any attention to and their observations were summarily dismissed. The fact of the matter is that the number of clashes had gone down. Retired Lt Gen. H.S. Panag pointed out: “From 10,000 terrorists in the late 1990s, their number is now down to about 285. Because their numbers are small they do not engage very often either. What has changed is that now people are again returning to the streets as they did in the early 1990s to stop counter-terrorism operations.”

By indulging in such a nasty game, what message are the BJP Government and saffron brigade actually intending to send? This was really shameful and agonising. What did the BJP Government achieve? Significantly, it promoted a group of officers subscribing to the saffron ideology.

The Indian Army continues to remain apolitical but in recent months it has gained greater visibility in the public domain. Comments by military men and issues of corruption have put the military under the media glare. Rarely has the war strategy of the Indian Army received so much attention in the media as it is being done at the initiative of some officers.

India’s military has been carefully kept out of politics by our rulers and the secular leader-ship of the country, especially by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his deputy Vallabhbhai Patel. An apolitical, non-partisan military has been the hallmark of Indian demo-cracy and a trait of Indian military professiona-lism.

Army Chief Bipin Rawat may have voiced a privately held sentiment or opinion within the services when he said Indians should be made to fear the uniform. But his comment that he would have been happier if Kashmir’s protesters had taken up guns instead of stones is being seen within and outside the uniformed circles as an unnecessary provocation. “It is a most unfortunate statement which will further alienate people in the Valley and harden support for militants,” academic Radha Kumar said. Rawat had also told: “I wish these people, instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. Then I would have been happy. Then I could do what I (want to do).”

Kumar, one of the three interlocutors the then Manmohan Singh Government had appointed in 2010 to hold sustained talks with all shades of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir, said: “If the policy is to dominate Kashmir through fear, then it will fail as all such policies have in the past, whether espoused by the British, Chinese or Americans.”

No doubt these are not wise statements. This is virtually a declaration of war with our own people. Nevertheless, the BJP and RSS cherish it. The communal divide would provide a fresh ground for the Sangh to grow. It would unfold and widen up the long route before them. Such statements on Kashmir simply suits the Sangh’s hardline approach and caters to its nationalist-majoritarian discourse.

True enough, BJP President Amit Shah’s observation on Gandhi is simply a part of this design. His intention to deride Gandhi by calling the Mahatma a “bahut chatur (very shrewd) Bania” is a step in the direction of demolishing the moral values and democratic icons of the great republic. Shah referring to Mahatma, the Father of the Nation, by his mercantile caste is purely a crude move to denigrate the political establishment of the country. In his eagerness to condemn the Congress, Amit Shah maligned our national character.

“The Congress didn’t have any ideology or set of principles and it was only used as a special purpose vehicle to secure freedom. And therefore, Mahatma Gandhi, with a lot of foresight—he was a very shrewd bania—he knew what was going to happen in the future. He had said immediately after Independence that the Congress should be dissolved,” Shah added.

The Mahatma’s descendants underscored the “utter tastelessness” and said: “The man who overcame the British lion and snakes of communal poison in India was more than a chatur bania.” That his was a deliberate attempt to malign the Mahatma could be understood from the fact that he was quoting Nirad C. Chaudhuri, the irrepressible dissenter and provocative man. No doubt the comment was crude and ill-informed, unworthy of the President of India’s ruling party. But yes, it had a deep design. Shah uttered these at a time when the RSS was busy demolishing the liberal structure and secular icons of the country.

It is worth mentioning the statement of retired Lt Gen. H.S. Panag. He said such comments could alienate the Kashmiris. He said: “The terrorists and Pakistan’s spy agency ISI have been trying to pitch the Indian Army against the local people. With such statements, we play into their hands. If anything, this reinforces what they believe and spread: that the Indian state is against Kashmiris.”

For justifying his statement, Gen. Rawat claimed that he had to maintain the morale of the troops. Rawat is absolutely correct that it was his task to maintain the morale of his men. But this gives rise to one question: what happened during this period that he had to resort to this strategy?

In a democracy, the military is subservient to democratic institutions, both in command and in discharging duties. But what we witness in recent months, precisely during the rule of Narendra Modi, is that a concerted move is being made to turn it subservient to the political leadership, not to the political institution, with the defined motive to promote partisan politics and work for the image makeover of the leader.

However, political decisions about the use of the military and its operations need to be guided by wider strategic value and greater national interest and not be motivated by a desire to promote partisan politics. Appointment and promotion of Generals need to adhere to a professional, not political, process.

If the serving and retired Generals continue to take partisan positions on public platforms and regularly expose partisan loyalties, Indian voters might reasonably assume that the Opposition parties and leaders would fail to enjoy the support and confidence of the armed forces if elected to office. In a democracy, the Opposition might be seen as not capable of pursuing a national security policy effectively if the Generals openly support the ruling party. Such a situation is not good for democracy and also not good for the military.

Using serving and retired Generals to openly support and promote politically controversial military operations can be viewed by the public as the loyalty of the armed forces to the ruling party rather than to the country or its Consti-tution.

But, that has not stopped the RSS and BJP from openly engaging the retired Generals to promote their highly divisive Hindutva agenda. The ruling party is unabashedly using the military in actively building a warmongering media frenzy and promoting the fervour of fanatical devotion to the country for its own political opportunism.

Wherever the military plays an active role in politics, it limits popular sovereignty, the core character of democracy. Thus, Modi’s political opportunism can potentially extend the tutelage of the armed forces and undermine the sovereignty of India’s citizens. In the short run, Modi and the BJP might be electorally successful by actively using the armed forces to promote their political agenda. But this trend poses a serious survival crisis for India’s risky democratic fabric. Nehru’s real contribution was the conversion of a colonial state, where the military had excessive power, to a liberal system of democracy. He converted a garrison state into a post-colonial state with the firm civilian control of the military. That was an unusual achievement of the times and we must give due credit to him.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy as a Prime Minister is often sought to be tarnished by two issues: Kashmir and the China debacle. In recent years, revisionist versions of history have tried to portray that Nehru failed in both these ventures because he devalued the military. That is far from true. Nehru was a geopolitical realist.

One of the first steps taken by Nehru was to replace the commander-in-chief, the defence member of the council, the de facto Defence Minister, by a civilian leader, Sardar Baldev Singh. This was not done on a whim. As part of the measures to keep the military firmly under civilian control, the Motilal Nehru Committee had recommended that the defence member of the council should be a civilian as early as in 1928.

If Nehru’s thinking was clear, his orders were clearer. On the eve of India’s independence, the Indian Army’s British commander-in-chief, General Rob Lockhart, issued an order to keep the public away from the flag-hoisting ceremony. Rescinding this order, Nehru wrote back: “In any policy that is to be pursued in the Army or otherwise, the views of the Government of India and the policy they lay down must prevail. If any person is unable to lay down that policy, he has no place in the Indian Army.”

Nehru was not alone in institutionalising firm civilian control of the military. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, his Deputy Prime Minister, was angrier than Nehru when the British chiefs of the armed forces protested the government’s decision to position troops around the Junagadh state in October 1947, after it had declared accession to Pakistan. Both leaders made it clear that they were prepared for a showdown if military commanders didn’t follow the orders of the civilian government.

Steven Wilkinson, a Professor at Yale University, says Nehru’s high point of dealing with the military was in 1955, when he reduced and split the unified armed forces hierarchy into three separate commands, one each for the Army, Air Force and Navy. Each of them was headed by a nominally equal chief of staff. Nehru did this deliberately, Wilkinson argues, as he acknowledged in February 1963, “to reduce the role of the military on the Indian scene”. By the late 1950s, Krishna Menon’s assumption of the Defence Minister’s office led to situations which have raised valid questions about Nehru’s handling of the military, the most controversial among them being Army Chief General K.S. Thimayya’s offer of resignation in September 1959. Thimayya’s resignation, which Wilkinson rates as Nehru’s lowest point in civil-military relations, was due to a disagreement with Menon over the promotion of senior Army officers.

Prime Minister Nehru believed that the new India needed to rethink the role of the Army, and initiated a policy that would firmly subordinate it to the civilian authority.

Civilian leadership over the military has, throughout history and across nations, produced mixed results when it comes to military victories during wars but wherever the military took the upper hand, almost without exception, nations have been destroyed. From Truman to Obama, firing popular and respected Generals for indiscretions or independent policy-making, has ensured better results in the long run than otherwise. The aura of military effectiveness often blinds people to assume that unbridled military leadership would be a good thing, at least, in the area of defence.

The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at sriv52[at]

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