He had recently been to Burma, now it is called Myanmar. One fact that stood out was that the Burmese army had a constitutional role in the state government. I came to know that 30% of the seats in Parliament are reserved for the army and only the remaining 70% is up for grabs. This means that the army controls Burma. In addition to defense, border relations and home affairs remain under the control of the Army. I am deliberately giving the example of Burma, which is a Buddhist country and not Pakistan. The matter does not end with Burma and in Thailand as well, which is again a Buddhist country, the Army is in the driver’s seat.
Thus, in Southeast Asia, two of India’s immediate neighbors are controlled by the military. It can be safely said that if the military were not in power in these two states, the chances are high that there would be very little progress and the country could have degenerated into a violent place. This fact cannot be denied. Pakistan is the twin of India and it can be said that the roots of both nations are the same as they both inherited a British Indian army, but in Pakistan after 1957, when General Ayub Khan took over as president, the army Pakistan has a constitutional role in the Governance of Pakistan. As things stand now, Pakistan is beset by war from extremist jihadists backed by the Pakistani Taliban and ISIS. I can safely say that if the army did not act against them, the state of Pakistan would have fallen long ago and it would have become a fully theoretical state.
Many people have asked me about India. Here, too, the fisiparous tendencies are looming and the country, despite its enormous size, is incapable of exercising even against Pakistan, which is one-fifth the size of India. Even a small country like Sri Lanka captures Indian fishermen from Tamilnadu with impunity and the Indian government is still squatting.
What the story says
A look at history will give us some ideas about the role of the army in India. During British times, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army was the second most important person in India after the Viceroy. The Indian army literally perpetuated the Raj, which is why the commander-in-chief used to stay at Teen Murti’s house, which was later occupied by Pandit Nehru simply because there is a direct route from Teen Murti to Vice Regal Lodge and the commander-in-chief. -The chief could easily meet with the governor general for any political decision. Without being explicitly stated, the Army was part of the governing process in India during the days of the Raj.
After independence in 1947, the set of leaders who took power to the front in India were men with a very short strategic horizon and, in any case, they knew nothing of power politics or heard the name of Clausewitz. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who took over as Prime Minister, was highly suspicious of the Army and began taking steps to dismantle the Army’s control over the country. In this effort, it should unfortunately be noted that successive Army chiefs led by General Cariappa played ball with Nehru. Cariappa got the ball rolling when together with General Rajinder Singhji they agreed to abolish the C-in-C post. Cariappa was in debt to Nehru, having been appointed head of the army when he was not the highest general. Nehru at that time replaced Lieutenant General Kulwant Singh to make Cariappa the Chief of the Army. Obviously, he was in no condition to oppose Nehru. This state of affairs began from then on and successive generals, including the infamous General Bewoor, agreed to a 30% deduction from Indian soldiers’ pensions without a murmur.
Army of marginalization
Nehru and the Congress Party also put in place a series of checks and balances whereby generals who were direct or strong never rose. There are many examples of generals like Bhagat and Sinha who have been replaced. The Indian army thus literally became a shadow of what it was during the days of the Raj. The government also ensured that anyone who rose to the rank of colonel was a man who fulfilled the political leadership. There is nothing wrong with it, but the fact is that the political leadership had ulterior motives for keeping the Army toothless. This had disastrous effects, as India lost a war with China in 1962 and lost almost 40,000 square miles of Indian territory to the Dragon. India also lost Tibet as a buffer state and due to the vacillations of the political leadership, India also lost 40% of Kashmir. Unable to realize the severity of a Maoist revolution, the political leadership allowed the internal insurrection to flourish and even now this continues with almost 30% of the land in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand under Maoist control. The political leadership has made a complete mess in central India. This is not all, as there has been an insurrection in Nagaland and the Northeast since 1955 and it is still boiling.
Toothless Army Leadership
All of this could have been avoided if the army leadership had asserted itself and worked out a method by which it could have a say in the management of the government. But most of the upper hierarchy of the Army was not interested and their only interest was to move up with the result, the Army never pressured the government for anything. To give a small example, an advantage such as free rations for officers was suspended and Army Chief General Rawat has been unable to do anything about it. If an army general cannot exert himself in such a case, one can imagine what opinion he will have on politics. The political leadership has ensured that while India may become a second fiddle after China, they will not allow the Army to have a voice in India’s political setup. Since 1947, despite all the talk, the political leadership of Nehru’s time has been suspicious of the Army.
Much of this unfortunate situation rests with the high command of the army officer corps. It’s a lot of fun now to read some of the retired generals and admirals saying that the constitution is sacred and that the military should be happy with whatever they get. They also oppose a good agitation started by General Satbir Singh for a rank one pension. So far, the government has not sanctioned the RFMO and most of these worthy retirees continue to insist that there should be no agitation against the government. The reason is that these men, when they were on duty, never exerted themselves while feathering their own nest and now they feel ashamed of their background and stand against a good cause like Satbir Singh’s.
If India has to advance, there is no choice but for the army to prevail. To speak of old generals and admirals of the constitution is sacred would mean that a revolution should never take place. This is the man who would even like something like the French Revolution or the Chinese Revolution to never happen. This is a great danger for India. We cannot accept the status quo that speaks of caste and class divisions of society and divisions based on language and religion. The army must assert itself and be part of a constitutional process like the one that exists in Pakistan, Burma and Thailand.
I do not see this happening in my life, but I am optimistic and I am sure that the hour finds the man. There is a good chance that in the next decades a Revolution will happen in India, it may not be with a weapon, but if India wants to advance and be a nation, there is no choice but for the army to take over and participate in the government of this great nation.