Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2019-04-18 09:57:53 Published on Apr 18, 2019
With elections in progress we find that our choices are extremely limited.
Riding the tiger

That a lunatic with an automatic rifle can cause immense mayhem, such as the Christchurch massacre, is sadly something we have seen before, elsewhere. It clearly demonstrates not just what evil men and women, too, can do when they put their mind to it, but also the horrors of modern technology in the wrong hands. That being said, the massive and universal outpouring of grief, compassion and empathy towards the victims and their kin, not just symbolic torchlight marches, truly sets that country apart, an exemplar of what we should aspire to be.

Yet, above all of this, what was truly remarkable was the display of outstanding leadership by Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in the manner she handled the fallout. Not only did she promptly initiate steps to ban military style semi-automatic and assault rifles with high capacity magazines but also unequivocally condemned and called out anti-immigrant nationalist bigots, displaying genuine sympathy and concern for the injured and the next of kin of those murdered. Finally, her refusal to name the killer, thereby denying him the attention that he was so desperately seeking, shows her maturity, courage and statesmanship, refreshingly devoid of politics. It is indeed ironical that in these troubled and uncertain times, the oldest democracy in the world that should have been our guiding light has unilaterally abdicated its role by electing a gross, unethical and racist pseudo-nationalist bully. Today, despite over two centuries of nurturing, its democratic institutions are showing definite signs of wear and tear.

In our context, with elections in progress we find that our choices are extremely limited. We should have no illusions that given the manner in which our politics have evolved over the years we are still an extremely long way off from producing leadership of the standard displayed by Prime Minister Arden. To the contrary, politicians of every persuasion have worked tirelessly to divide us along ethnic, class and religious lines. That their efforts have only been partially successful has much to do with the inherent wisdom of the silent majority as well as the humongous size of our population and the vast diversity that exists in terms of ethnicity, religion and culture therein. However, where they have succeeded to a great extent, having control of the levers of power, has been in the subversion of our democratic institutions, including even the mainstays of our democracy, the judiciary and the media. In this they have been very ably assisted by fifth columnists, akin to termites, who have hollowed out these institutions, all but destroying their ethos and purpose.

Thankfully, the Armed Forces had been kept cloistered and isolated from this insidious sabotage of democratic structures as politicians obviously understood the grave dangers of tinkering with an apolitical military. That is, till the Modi government came to power in 2014, on the back of a hugely nationalistic wave. This was supported by the vast majority of the approximately 26 lakh military veterans and their kin. In fact, their unambiguous promise to initiate a host of measures to enhance the military’s combat potential, build a National War Memorial and concentrate on the welfare of veterans, including grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP), not only enthused veterans but was an election winning move.

Unfortunately, they turned out to be no different than the politicians before them as Prime Minister Modi lost no time in reneging on nearly every one of his promises. To be fair, he did give a modified version of OROP, with great reluctance it must be said, which though substantial did not fulfill the definition of OROP as had been accepted by his party and Parliament. He also initiated work on the National War Memorial, which has since been completed, and the National War Museum that is in progress. However, what was most distressing was that more than veterans, serving soldiers found themselves at the end of a series of measures that has put the long-suffering military on the mat, literally, including laying mats for World Yoga Day.

Not only was the defence budget reduced to an abysmal and unsustainable low of 1.45% of GDP, but also the 7th CPC made further inroads into reducing their standing and prestige. For example soldiers in Siachin were granted less Hazard Allowance than that authorised to civil services personnel serving in Assam! Instead of reforming the MOD and enhancing the efficiency of it’s over half a million civilian employees paid out of defence estimates, the government succumbed to vested interests and introduced measures that only hurt the uniformed community. All talk of integration of the Services, appointing of a CDS and fully integrating service headquarters into the MOD were forgotten. Instead the powers of the service chiefs were further eroded by placing them under, in all but in name, the National Security Advisor, a former police officer, who is devoid of any constitutional authority. To add salt to the wounds in a blatant and ill-considered move to benefit the land mafia the military cantonments were thrown open to civilians without even a semblance of a discussion with the military authorities most affected on the adverse security impact of the move. It also had little hesitation in utilising the Forces in purely non-military tasks, some of them demeaning to soldiers, such as cleaning up garbage in high altitude tourist spots and the construction of foot over bridges for the railways.

Admittedly some of these measures have been no different from the manner in which earlier governments have treated the Armed Forces. However, where this government has differed is in its unabashed interference in matters pertaining to selection of senior officers and with military traditions and customs. In the name of “deep selection” it has promoted officers, including service chiefs, who it believes are more in tune with its ideology. Some of whom, in turn, have been more than obliging leading to a perception that there has been overt politicisation within the ranks.

More worryingly, this appears to have led to a widening rift between senior officers and the rank and file, who see them as wholly subservient to the government and unwilling to protect either their or the service’s interests. This can be gauged from the series of cases lodged by junior officers and men with regard to such diverse issues as lack of protection from criminal action while serving in disturbed areas, discriminatory promotion policies and on the issue of status vis-à-vis their civil service and police counterparts. All these issues are clearly the responsibility of the senior hierarchy, and it was for them to have resolved with the government of the day so that confidence of the rank and file in their superiors could be maintained.

There is little doubt that much of the blame for where the military finds itself has to do with those senior officers who have given organisational interest, integrity and ethical conduct a go-bye and done the bidding of MOD bureaucrats. Obviously hoping for lucrative post- retirement sinecures or even for furthering their political ambition seems to have been the motivating factor. All this has hurt their credibility and undoubtedly left an impact on the psyche of the serving soldier. Unfortunately, having missed the overt signs of resentment among the rank and file over their mistreatment, the bureaucrat- politician nexus has become more arrogant and increasingly complacent. It has also filled them with a sense of entitlement and added to the contempt that they hold the Forces in, which is visible in the very manner they talk of the military publicly.

It is in this context that Chief Minister Adityanath’s disparaging comments, referring to the army as “Modiji ki Sena,” need to be seen. However, what Adityanath and other politicians’ of his ilk, intent on politicising the military and using its sacrifices for their own electoral benefit, forget is what is best conveyed by that old Chinese proverb ‘He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount!’ It is their ignorance of history that makes them deliberately choose to play with fire. They would do well to remember that all it took was just one Sepoy Mangal Pandey to start the conflagration that shook the British East India Company to its very roots.

Few will disagree that in all these years since Independence our military has played an extremely vital role in protecting and maintaining the Nation’s sovereignty and integrity. Its reputation is such that in this climate of misgovernance and corruption, and in the absence of any leadership, it has a fairly large and growing constituency rooting for it to set things right. We are fortunate that it is only the maturity and wisdom of the senior hierarchy of the Forces, and their blind adherence to the principle of civilian supremacy, that has ensured that our democracy has continued to thrive. It would be a sad day, indeed, if the military were ever to be pushed into politics because of the arrogance and stupidity of a few short-sighted politicians.

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

Read More +