Friday, May 18, 2012

Give Military Man the Entry, or he will Kick it Open...

There are only two contenders for political power in any nation. The first is the political man backed by money and second is the military man aided by the gun. Since money is more powerful, the military normally accepts to play second fiddle to it. This acceptance of a subordinate role results more from expediency than magnanimity. While money has the strength to stand on its own feet, military often needs the crutches of the state to stand tall. However, the two normally stay together in a symbiotic relationship. 

For example, in China,  men-in-uniform are seen rubbing shoulders with other party members in the Politburo. Similarly, in America, money power vesting with the military industrial complex has ensured that the US armed forces elite are active members of the club that rules the world and garners  global wealth. It is this dubious connection of the top military leadership with the top 1% of the wealthy population that is agitating the US veterans who have fought in distant lands. As one US war veteran says, “Don't stand with the global 1 percent. Don't stand with these generals that continuously abuse their own service members and then talk about building democracy and promoting freedom." 

However, in the unique Indian civil-military set up (that has refused to change even after 60 years of independence), the military leadership continues to be debarred from entering the elite club that gives exclusive entry rights to politicians’, bureaucrats and businessmen. Having seen the enormity of dubious money transactions that happen in this shady club, the military man is feeling shortchanged for being kept out of its premises.  

There is growing perception among many veterans and serving officers that the sanctity and security of the country that Chetwode had described as the utmost duty of a soldier has been destroyed by the tainted Politico-bureaucratic nexus aided and abetted by unscrupulous businessmen. 

In the neo-liberal age, national causes look too profane and weak to be the raison d’ĂȘtre for the armed forces. Their association with business interests  is too obvious to be ignored. Over the past two decades, there has been considerable weakening of the state -military umbilical cord. 

I recently read an interesting blog by an army officer that once again asked the age old question – “What do I die for”? The article begins with Anatole France’s quote that the ‘soldier dies for the industrialists’. The author of the article, Col VP Singh further says, “Soldiers, today, must learn that they no more fight nation's wars but the conflicts started by inept, inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy in league with self-centered, greedy and corrupt politicians.” 

Unlike the pre-independence officer, the post-independence lot do not suffer from any guilt conscience of having served a colonial master. They have won victories for India in various wars and are not ready to buy the argument that confines the military to the periphery of power structures in the capital for the sake of democratic health of the nation. 

The trends hint at the armed forces trying to swim hard to locate an anchor. This search can either lead them to become more ambitious for political power or ferociously hanker for a trans-national alliance as an independent entity – similar to what Pakistan and many other third world armies have done by getting into a cozy relationship with the Pentagon or letting their elite mortgage them to the empire. 

We are almost back to 1950s, when the military leadership, like many good servants of the Queen, was skeptical about the ability of the home-grown leadership to govern India. The Indian military officers trained under British tutelage - had tasted - if not fully savoured - the glamour of power while working for the British flag. Post independence, the military elite thought that they would continue to be as important to democratic India as they were to the empire. However, the roles and missions of the newly independent India were completely at variance to the imperial aims. 

Leaders like Field Marshal Carriappa and General Thimmaya did try to disturb the civil-military apple cart by asserting the military supremacy. However, the progressive elements within the political class ensured that independent India’s military unlearnt their imperial lineages and were confined to the fringes of the corridors of power. The military leadership reeling under the guilt of their erstwhile mercenary connections accepted to remain a passive spectator and concentrate on their professional development. 

The generation of officers currently at the helm is witness to deterioration of political standards in the country. They have also seen the frontal assault on Indian democracy in 1975, when ‘emergency’ was declared. The question that comes to mind is, why is the post independence officer speaking up now - why did he remain a mute spectator to the growing criminalization, and communalization of Indian polity in the late 1980s and early 1990s? 

The only plausible answer to these questions is – in 1990, after the demise of Soviet Union, a new hope was sold across the world and the global herd began moving in the direction of generating wealth by hook or crook. The Indian military elite (more at an individual rather than at an institutional level) too got busy keeping up with the Joneses in the “race to the bottom”. 

However, as the gloss of capitalism started peeling off and the blatant loot of state assets started tumbling out from the closets of those who had been singing paeans of inherent virtues of neo-liberalism, the military officer could not believe that he has been fooled. 

Let us not fool ourselves and the nation by thinking that military leadership is short on respect and once they get this rather vague commodity, everything will be smooth. Because one is yet to find a military leader who questions the basics of the neo-liberal set up that is splintering the national security – they have never even once raised their concern about privatization of military that is fast usurping their turf. 

One is convinced that the battle for honour and respect that the military man is waging against the bureaucracy is just a decoy because much like the Englishman, the Indian military man too does not have any “false pretension to be loved; he wishes to be comfortable and to “make money”. The military man does not openly say it, but he also desires to be a part of the loot currently underway in the country. 

The military elite is cocksure, it has a natural life membership of the club that ensures how money is to be made and distributed within the nation, it is for the other club members to realize that they have very little choice but to make room for the military man.


  1. Atul,
    I believe you are being too cynical with regard to beliefs professed by the military elite. The fact of the matter is that as youngsters and middle piece officers all have a very black and white world view in which the country's well being and battalion/Regiment izzat are of prime concern and they live and die by that.Yes they do want a better life, more prestige and pay but you tend to be happy in the environment they are in and are not too concerned with what happens outside that environment. As one gets older, senior and (possibly) wiser one does tend to realize that there is this whole set of people who look at the country from eyes of what they can loot and one obviously does not have much respect or sympathy for them, but one still believes in the nation. To believe then that all senior officers would happily join them if they got oppotunity is unfair to the vast majority of senior officers (and also people of this country) who still believe in country and flag. The only reason why the services may probably ever act against the ruling elite is when they are forced to believe that the governing elite as a whole has joined the looters.
    I do not see the world's third largest standing army continuing to just stand by as the country disintegrates in the same manner in which the Soviet Armed Forces stood by as the Soviet Union collapsed around them.

    1. Dear Deepak Sir,
      You may call the harsh realities as cynicism but you can't dismiss them. Let us deal with this dispassionately.
      • There is civil-military problem
      • Military does not know what it is fighting for - It is using the pictures of American soldiers hugging their children and wives to demand respect from Indian government.
      • There are few odd military elite in the country who have altruistic motives in joining the national mainstream but rest does not have larger understanding of their role in the polity.
      • And sadly majority of the military elite too would join the exclusive club mainly to be a part of the money making machine
      • This country would continue to survive with corruption and corrupt people, sooner rather than later they will have to include the military elite in the money making club or else he will protest.

    2. very rightly said Deepak. definitely we also want a little more money and that will help too. but we also know the virtues of the uniformed profession which will help us to differentiate between the ethical and unethical, esteem and disgrace, honesty and dishonesty. therefore the military man is not going to sell his uniform and principles. shame that Atul compared the civilian and militay man on the same pedestal. if that has been the character of the forces of this nation,as projected by Atul, then we wld hv had gone the pak army way long back. the fact that it has not, shows the strength of character of the men in uniform in this country.

  2. I try not to impose perceptions but to give figures:

    The richest ten Indians (with declared assets) enjoy 10 percent of the GDP of the country. The richest 50 Indians divide 30 percent of the GDP. So, if the armed forces are there to uphold the constitution, ie, as the preamble says, to secure Justice, Liberty, Eqauality and Fraternity for we, the people of India; doesn't he have a right to ask whose J, L, E and F is he really securing. In the Navy, for example, one of the tasks that he is asked to do is to secure the SLOCs so that it would result in fulfilling the aims of the Constitution.

    With this irrefutable background, lets see the difference between armed forces and mercenaries; the latter is a person who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or a party to the conflict, and is "motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party".

    In short, the one who is not fighting for the country but for the interests of a few powerful people. Well, the armed forces of India, indirectly, are doing exactly what a mercenary does and don't get paid like a mercenaries. What they end up doing is to protect the interests of the powerful and the rich and the rest of the countrymen keep dreaming of J, L, E and F.

    Hence, if you are being used as a mercenary, why not get paid like one? The Indian Police is already paid like one; most of it underhand and most of it the rich and powerful don't mind paying.

  3. The 21st Century moving at break neck speed towards all kinds of Globalized Industrialization - traditional, info, medicine, tourism/entertainment etc can only throw up Industrial Czars! That is the only major difference to earlier times. It would be naive to think that it is Politicians and Bureaucrats who alone constitute the core Leadership of present day Nation-States. It is axiomatic that in a Globalised World it is Industrial Czars who will increasingly steer national policy which will dictate the employment of the Military. Its a reality - learn to live with it!

  4. Hi, I think Atul is right. Traditionally the Armies in pre-colonial and colonial era enjoyed status and power because they has a say in governance and the higher ups in the military also made a substantial amount of money being a part of the power structure. Post independence, the military man has been sidelined by raising him on the pedestal of ideal conduct and patriotism. But a person cannot be fooled for long. Military men by their very training need to lead and therefore have a say in the affairs of the country. Over the next decade, it will be the military man who will have to be included in the power structure and join the loot, if so be it. The middle and junior level officers will have to understand this. As it is, the culture of sycophancy has already taken deep roots as is evident from the succession story for Chiefs unvieled in the media by the present Army Chief. The military man has to understand that traditionally the rules for powerful men are different and the Chetwood idealogy will have to be sacrificed if one has to integrate in the power structure.

  5. Pleaaaaaase!
    No Anonymous calls on matter as important as this.