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Sunday, July 10, 2011

military-society disconnect

The relationship between military and the society is one of historic proportion.In many sense there is considerable confusion over if it should be connected or not.

The present Indian Army is an offshoot of the British Army and has been maintained till now mainly to hold India in subjugation. It has been completely segregated from the general population, who in no sense regard it as their own.

The politico-military class is occupying the place vacated by the colonialists. Today, if any Britisher were to come to a military gathering in Delhi, this auditorium he would feel that except for colour everything was the same – whether culture, language, clothes, or food habits in our nation.

The national desire for a true ‘Indian’ military, without the hangover of its colonial past, remains unfulfilled so far. Despite the above exhortations and many more of similar ilk over the last 60 years, the only ‘Indianisation’ of the Indian Armed forces has been in the spheres of corruption, erosion of values, short-sighted and selfish higher leadership, hankering for power and lack of public probity. Let us delve a little into the history of the untended subject and the emergence of the imperatives that dictate the current philosophy of interaction between the military and the civil society.

During the British period, the Indian Armed Forces existed in a sanitised and compartmentalised atmosphere with no socio-cultural interaction with the civilian population. The only exception was non-interference in family connections and related economic activities as well as religious activities of the Indian soldiers. It was ensured that the Armed forces were perceived by the Indian public as an isolated, coercive, elite instrument of British power.

Though the imperial component of the doctrine disappeared with the departure of the British from India in 1947, the psychological attitude and general mindset that the defence forces should remain insulated from the people as an autonomous and somewhat exclusive instrument of state continued even after independence. The argument on which it was based was that familiarisation and fraternisation between the Armed forces and the mass of Indian citizens would politicise the former and drag them into the domestic political crosscurrents. Such a situation would erode the credibility of the Armed forces in the public mind as the defenders of the country and it would also affect the motivations and efficiency of the country’s Armed Forces.

When India became independent, the senior officers of the defence forces were steeped in the British colonial tradition and shared the view that the Armed Forces should not hobnob with the civilians and the politicians, nor should the common citizen get too familiar with the defence force, as it would reduce the image of exclusivity and the capacity of being the ultimate sanction of state power in the public mind. There was also a feeling in the higher command of our Armed forces that if the politicians and the civil bureaucracy are allowed too much interaction with the defence forces, discipline and cohesiveness of the Indian Armed Forces would be reduced because of the mixed motivations of politics, which generally animated the thought and decision making processes of civil society. The result was a continuing distance between our civil society and our defence forces and the lack of awareness about defence matters amongst the public, the politicians and the bureaucrats.

Thus even 60 years after independence, the Indian defence forces continue to exist in compartmentalised isolation away from the socio-political, cultural and economic impulses and ferments characterising Indian public opinion and influencing the polity of India. Our defence forces emerge in public consciousness attracting their focus of attention only during major conflict situations, whether it is with Pakistan or China. They recede from public awareness once these events became part of history – public memory being short-lived, these achievements of the Armed Forces fade away. There is glorification, there is awe, there is respect for the Indian defence forces in the public mind; but there has never been and there is no awareness of the defence forces as the most significant and ultimate instrumentality for sustaining the Indian polity, for protecting its unity and territorial integrity, for consolidating its national identity and as an institutional manifestation of the collective will of the Indian people to create and sustain themselves as an important and influential member of the international community. There is no knowledge or informed concern in Indian public opinion about the need for emotional, psychological and institutional linkages between the people and the defence establishment and the Armed Forces of India.

However this colonial legacy of military-society disconnect has its huge downsides. The operational capacities, the ideological determination and the collective psychological resilience and grit of our defence forces depend on being their deeply rooted in the Indian socio-cultural ethos and their being backed up by the support based on informed and enlightened public opinion. Where there is no continuous process of interface between the defence forces and civil society and the people which it is defending, the defence forces will not be able to define security objectives and to undertake operations in conformity with the overall concerns and political aspiration of the people of the nation.

It is tautological to state that the military draws its strength from the civil society; but the weaknesses of a society are also amply reflected in the nation’s armed forces. The British General Sir John Hackett in his book The Profession of Arms emphatically posits- What a society sees in its Armed forces is exactly what it asks for – no more, no less; what it asks for tends to be a reflection of what it, the society, is. When a country looks at its fighting forces, it is looking in a mirror, the mirror is a true one, and the face that it sees, will be its own.

Leon Trotsky exserts the postulation that …the army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature.

Teaching points prepared by Biju P R,Assitant Professor in political Science,GBc,TLLy.OPEN COURSE

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