The military’s apolitical ethos is key. Preserve it - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

The military’s apolitical ethos is key. Preserve it

Jul 04, 2022 09:26 PM IST

The need for an objective review and transformation of the Indian military is imperative of course, but the drivers must be those of abiding national security interests at all times

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s penchant for big-ticket reforms in the defence sector was on display in the recently unveiled Agnipath scheme, which is expected to radically transform the recruitment of soldiers, sailors and airmen, and, consequently, the profile of the Indian fauj. While many veterans have expressed their reservations about the potentially negative long-term consequences of this initiative on the combat efficiency of the military — the Army in particular — the die has been cast. The Agnipath scheme has been launched and the first batch of recruits under this framework are in the process of being selected and inducted.

Indian army soldiers stand guarding at Chakan-da-Bagh outpost of India-Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Line of Control of Poonch district about 250 KM from Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir on 14 January 2013. (EPA) PREMIUM
Indian army soldiers stand guarding at Chakan-da-Bagh outpost of India-Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) Line of Control of Poonch district about 250 KM from Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir on 14 January 2013. (EPA)

This policy move mirrors, in some manner, a similar far-reaching decision to create the post of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) that PM Modi announced from the Red Fort on August 15, 2019 — early in his second term — and the first incumbent was appointed on January 1, 2020. This was again welcomed as a decisive step because this issue was pending for a very long time, since higher defence reforms were mooted after the 1999 Kargil war, but remained suspended for two decades.

Tragically, the first CDS, General Bipin Rawat, died in a helicopter crash last year, and the post remains vacant currently. It may be recalled that Rawat was the Army chief prior to being appointed as the first CDS and this transition was seamless. It was deemed logical that as the first among equals, the CDS would be an officer who had held four-star rank — that is, a service chief.

For the past few months, there was speculation that one of the chiefs retired recently would be appointed as the new CDS, but in June, the government widened the pool for selection. Serving three-star rank officers (Lt. General and equivalent) will now be considered for CDS and, in a rare departure from existing rules and norms, retired officers of three-star rank may also be appointed. This has led to conjecture that the tweak was done to accommodate an officer more acceptable to the current political leadership.

While it is the prerogative of the elected leadership in a democracy to select officers to the highest ranks of the military — thereby asserting civilian primacy — overt and unwarranted political intervention in matters that are within the professional military domain can have negative consequences and imperil core national security. This was borne out in the Indian experience and warrants scrutiny in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of August 15, 1947.

India’s first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, had a challenging task in nurturing a nascent democracy and rewiring the exploitative colonial infrastructure of governance. While there was a very effective and sagacious home minister in Vallabhbhai Patel to enable the transition of the senior bureaucracy and police (the erstwhile Indian Civil Service and Indian Police Service) who had diligently served the colonial ruler, the Indian military was seen with deep-seated mistrust by Nehru. A lurking military coup remained unstated but the anxiety was palpable. This sentiment was exacerbated by the tempestuous Krishna Menon, who as defence minister vitiated civil-military relations leading to the infamous resignation of General Thimayya as Army chief in 1959 and the subsequent humiliation in the October 1962 war with China.

In the decade that followed, two highly regarded political stalwarts — Yashwant Rao Chavan and Jagjivan Ram — as defence ministers restored the institutional integrity of the fauj and the equipoise in civil-military relations. The 1971 victory that created Bangladesh became illustrative of the professionalism of the Indian military, despite many constraints.

Apart from defending national sovereignty and dealing with external challenges, the Indian military has played a quiet, but significant role in enabling the Indian democratic experience by its innate professionalism and proven apolitical orientation — which is in stark contrast to the experience of many post-colonial States that have fallen victim to military transgressions of different hues.

This was demonstrated during the June 1975 Emergency imposed by then PM Indira Gandhi, when the Army was sought to be requisitioned in a subversive manner by then defence minister Bansi Lal and the Sanjay Gandhi coterie. The Army chief at the time, General Tappy Raina, in a subtle but firm manner conveyed his inability to comply with this imprudent political overture and an undesirable precedent was avoided. Fidelity to the constitutional role of the military remained the lodestar.

In the current context, two structural determinants germane to national security and the democratic timbre come into focus in relation to the Agnipath scheme and the tweak in the rules to appoint the next CDS. How will the composite combat efficiency be impacted by the Agnipath policy at a time when the Indian Army is already looking to pare down its manpower by almost 100,000 personnel? This, when Galwan-like challenges in relation to China and the terror shadow across the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan remain dynamic. And secondly, by introducing a visible political filter to the selection of the next CDS, will the institutional rectitude and much cherished apolitical DNA of the Indian fauj be adversely impacted?

The need for an objective review and transformation of the Indian military is imperative of course, but the drivers must be those of abiding national security interests at all times.

Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar is director, Society for Policy Studies

The views expressed are personal

Get World Cup ready with Crick-it! From live scores to match stats, catch all the action here. Explore now!

See more

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On