Monday, April 30, 2012

The Revolution for Respect- Civil-Military Relations

There is discontent among the veterans. The discontent that began with demonstrations and rallies against the non-implementation of One-Rank - One Pension by the government during 6th Central Pay Commission deliberations has taken the shape of a movement against injustice to the personnel of the Defence Services and Ex-Servicemen. Where is this movement of erstwhile soldiers headed? Will the veteran’s agitation transform into a vote bank and thus a political interest group? And will such a political entity lead to greater politicization of the armed forces? The past history of other nations in the world shows that such benign veteran’s mobilization can be exploited by forces inimical to the health of a nation. If the military was to emerge as a separate entity, will such an entity then be used by others to further their own parochial interests? 

The US Library of Congress has decided to preserve twitter messages for posterity. Twitter archives will be stored under the "Web capture" project of the library. This project has already stored 167 terabytes of digital material. The library uses the "universal body of human knowledge" for scholarly and research purposes. But one is hardly sure if such sophisticated data preservation and mining is carried out in India for trend analysis and policy research.

A look at the scores of ‘Yahoo groups’ and ‘Facebook’ pages related to the service community, adequately inform that the internet is a catalyst that helps rekindle the course and the squadron spirit among the long separated buddies. Here, men in uniform simply intend to connect to or locate their old friends - share the nostalgia of their younger days - seek post-retirement consultancy – find suitable service accommodation to facilitate their travel plans – seek advice on the career options for their children. Such bonhomie on the net is palpably innocuous and can easily be categorized as social networking that largely represents the technology driven new way of socializing and communicating.

Another trend that is visible on e-mail chains and ex servicemen blogs is the emotional debate related to the life of a soldier, his pay and perks, the One Rank One Pension (OROP), bureaucracy bashing and last but not the least a yearning for respect in a society that seems to be happy to keep the armed forces confined to the periphery of national polity. Some of these blogs and emails exhorting the entire service community to join hands give one an eerie feeling about the future of civil-military ties in India. For example one of the messages reads, "Come on be a man and stand up for the welfare of the veterans and please do not split the NDA slogan of ‘service before self’ to ‘self before Service’." In one of the e-mails Gen VP Malik is quoted, "If we wish to maintain good civil-military relations to optimise national security, our people, particularly political and media leaders, must realize this important responsibility and ensure that there is no feeling of frustration or injustice in the military profession.

This feeling of frustration reached its crescendo during the 6th Pay Commission deliberations. The services were then made to look weak and meek in front of the bureaucracy that just refused to take the service representative onboard the Commission that sat to decide the future pay structure of the armed forces. For every enhancement in their salary, the armed forces were literally made to beg. It is during such tumultuous times in 2008 that the ex-servicemen movements like the IESM came out on the streets demanding OROP. The IESM even went to the extent of returning their medals to the President of India. In a clear attempt to attract media attention, they even sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister signed in blood.

There is no denying the fact that the issues being raised are genuine. For example, the issue of continuous fall in the warrant of precedence (WoP) for the Indian Armed Forces is a cause of concern. The Service Chiefs now stand at number 12 in order on the WoP list, at least three notches below the UPSC chairman. That the civilians have been climbing up the ladder, pushing the Lt Generals to the 23rd slot is a story that narrates the mindset of the nation that either views the military as a "class enemy" or as "junta".

The above mentioned concerns of the Indian service community can best be described under the rubric of "corporate interests" of the military. According to Eric A. Nordlinger, the corporate interests include "adequate budgetary support, institutional autonomy, and protection of the institution against encroachments from other institutions and institutional survival". Nordlinger in his book Soldiers in Politics: Military Coups and Governments, also warns that interference with these corporate interests constitute "the most powerful interventionist motive". Unfortunately the Indian paranoia related to coup d’├ętat results from pathetic paucity of literature and knowledge of military sociology in India

It is primarily, this fear of intervention or praetorianism that leads erudite writers like AG Noorani (Frontline, August 13, 2010) to say, "It speaks for the strength of our democratic system that it survived those generals who did much harm. But it should not condone the trespasses of such men anymore. Only the moral and intellectual authority of the political leadership can nip the creeping menace in the bud". But the point that Noorani is missing is that post the 1962 war - once the Western influences on our military had considerably reduced, the Indian armed forces did settle down to following a professional ethical code, which led them to evolve as "managers of violence". They also dutifully accepted the civilian supremacy over the military - what Samuel P Huntington in his 1957 book, The Soldier and the State, described as the "objective control" of the military.

The Indian armed force’s acceptance of subordination to elected representatives was much in tune with the civil – military norms that had evolved in the industrialized world in the Post-War years. Once the ideology of Non-Alignment was clearly defined, the Indian armed forces followed it to the hilt. Despite, regular contacts with the Soviets for the purpose of arms purchases - one did not witness any ingress of communist ideology into the armed forces. Contrast this with the state of other newly independent third world nations (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand) that developed strategic and military ties with the West during the same period. They all ended up either being overtly or covertly controlled by military junta. That both the Indian military leadership remained unfazed by military takeovers in their vicinity speaks about their understanding of the international political-economy at that juncture in history.

It would be wrong to suggest that it was only the armed forces that acceded to the "objective control", The civilian leadership too granted the military a degree of autonomy to pursue professionalism. This probably explains the harmonious relationship between the two. The Indian armed forces (born and brought up under British tutelage) devoted their heads to master Soviet equipment, while their hearts continued to be governed by Western military ethos. The most sought after courses in the Indian armed forces continued to be the ones offered by the USA and UK. The Indian naval officers were encouraged to read Tom Clancy’s, The Hunt for Red October and the United States Navy Institute journal, Proceedings. In the staff college examination much emphasis was laid on the campaign studies related to Normandy landings or General Macarthur’s exploits both in the battlefield as well as in the US Congress. The influence of Western literature dealing with the World War II continued to be followed mainly for two reasons. Firstly, the military leadership that took over from the British was largely trained in the West. For them the victorious western militaries were the best in the world. Therefore, it was a matter of convenience to follow the British training curriculum. Secondly, the body of literature from Russia was hard to follow due to the language and there was hardly any attempt to build a body of indigenized military literature. Furthermore, post-1962 wars, the communists in India were demonized. There was a concerted campaign in the military to keep all and sundry, with even a modicum of left leanings away from the military fold. It is primarily, for this reason that many leftists continue to view the Indian armed forces as a "class enemy". The Indian extreme right with its natural predilection towards military masculinity believes in Huntington’s hypothesis that the "natural liberal inclinations" of society cannot be allowed to permeate into military structures because liberal tendencies can "fatally undermine its (military’s) effectiveness.

The end of Cold War and India’s embrace of liberalization ideology helped the military (much like the other Indian elite) to get rid of the burden of continuously balancing their mind and the heart. This new found harmony led the Indian armed forces to develop fresh linkages with their Western counterparts through joint military training programmes and exercises. According to Indian naval experts, "The professional skills and experiences exchanged during these interactions go a long way in enhancing co-operation and understanding the nuances of naval operations as well as disaster management and combating maritime threats of terrorism and piracy. Having initially involved only basic operations, the current interaction will feature advanced aspects of naval warfare, including anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine operations." Needless to mention here, that the Indian armed forces have been interacting with the US as well as other militaries on a professional front.

While no one can dispute the gains that accrue through such professional interactions, the cause of concern is how these interactions impact civil-military ties in the country - unfortunately in India no study is carried to evaluate such aspects either by the universities or by the think tanks. Since India has now entered into a strategic military partnership with the US, it becomes imperative for us to look closer at the impact of such a partnership on the Indian military mind. This is important because in almost all the countries that the US has established military ties with (barring the European countries), the military has emerged as a predominant political force. Take the example of Pakistan, it is widely acknowledged that "the Pakistan military is not just an apparatus of the state: it is the state." The extent to which the relationship between the military and the civil-society is soured can be gauged from the fact that majority of the experts are of the opinion that Pakistan is almost a failed state. Throughout the Cold War and post 9/11 the US has expediently encouraged letting the Pakistan army retain its power base and also determine the nation’s foreign policy. The Pakistan example leads one to agree with Morris Janowitz’s thesis that professionalism is not the best bulwark against coups. Janowitz’s book, The Professional Soldier: a Social and Political Portrait (1960) - that provided an important counterbalance to Huntington, argued that "the transformation of the military to one which ‘seeks viable international relations, rather than victory…leads to an inevitable politicization of the military. And with this comes an implicit challenge to civilian supremacy."

There are no visible signs in India that should suggest us that the military mind is tainted with any ideas about acquiring political power. However, certain indicators pose a disturbing picture about the possible future scenario. Just as majority of the country is disenchanted with the politicians and bureaucracy, the military veterans too seem to have lost trust. Now many would argue that veterans are also a part of the society and the government is capable of handling discontent in a democracy. However, a closer look at the current situation reveals that this time the voice of the veterans is not mixed up with that of the common masses. The body of veterans is fast emerging as a separate entity and their pronouncements have strong political undertones. The ex-military men’s natural propensity to support conservatism can lead to a head on collision with the civil society that is fast embracing liberal values in all spheres. For example, the Armed Forces Special Power Act, that many in the military consider a sacrosanct document and the role of women in the combat arms are being increasingly challenged by civil society and the media. Similarly, the recent incidence of a mother of an officer coming out openly in the press challenging the army’s version of her son’s death and demanding a CBI probe into army affairs points to demands for greater transparency in matters military. Furthermore, the liberal Indian society that has whole heatedly supported the armed forces in all wars fought for the protection of national boundaries may turn their back, if the military were to become a part of a coalition force fighting in some distant lands. The anti-war protests that one witnesses in Europe may get emulated in India too.

The conservative veterans with a focus on military are most likely to have an impact on the serving community too. The retired community is most likely to be in the forefront to prevent any ingress of liberal values into the military mainstream. And that such a body will be supported by right wing politicians in the country can also not be discounted. All this combined may impact the apolitical and secular character of the armed forces. Such a condition would be most conducive for our foreign friends to exploit for the purpose of their own national interest. One says this with a degree of caution, because most of the Indian veteran’s emails and facebook messages that one sees floating on the net are hinting towards replicating the American model to get respect from society that a soldier deserves. Comparisons are often made between the way the American President treats the soldiers and veterans and the way the Indian media and politicians handle the genuine grievances of the armed forces.

The trends are certainly a cause of concern, if not yet dangerous. The political class must begin to appreciate that inadvertently the Indian social order is veering towards greater militarization of the society. They must also begin to acknowledge that such trends cannot be nipped in the bud using the old Huntington’s methodology of control of the military - where the military acts as "a politically neutral profession, isolated from society and concerned with the efficient achievement of victory without regard to non-military".

The game changing relationship that we have entered into with the US is largely based on military to military relations. And it is indeed a paradox that those who support such interactions with the US are opposed to military offering any advice to the government on foreign policy matters. The time has come that the government will have to redefine the civil-military relations in the country. The need of the hour is that constitutional provisions must be enacted to integrate the armed forces with the society and the higher decision making in the country. India cannot afford to let the trust that the armed forces have in the state to erode. Like all other state institutions military too need an umbrella under which it can operate without fear of retribution. The Indian armed forces fully appreciate the fact that this umbrella has to have the logo of the Indian state. But it is incumbent of the Indian establishment to make sure that the holes in the umbrella are plugged. Plugging of holes is important to prevent the armed forces from seeking respect under more attractive umbrellas offered by national political parties of various hues or by the foreign powers with vested interests to court our armed forces.

This article was published in Purple Beret- September 2010 

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