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Tag Archives | subjective civilian control

An analysis of creeping role of the military in the state functions

The involvement of  the army for routine civilian tasks is indicative of failure of state institutions and polity’s lack of understanding of civil-military relations

If the understanding of civil-military relations of the present government is an indicator of the maturity of the political establishment, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding. Three instances immediately come to light. First, the tasking of Indian army units to lay yoga mats for the World Yoga Day on June 21st last year when a gust of wind blew away the yoga mats. Second, 250 soldiers of the army were sent for Yoga training under Baba Ramdev in January. It is understood that a total of 1000 soldiers will be trained in yoga by the guru, who in turn will teach yoga in their units to combat stress. Third, the episode involving 120 soldiers of corps of army engineers to build pontoon bridges for the world culture festival held in Delhi from March 11-13 by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation.

The first was covered up by the government under the excuse that it was an emergency situation and who better trained and equipped to lay the mats than the disciplined army soldiers. The second and third instances seems even more bizarre. For an event, which had been stridently objected to by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as it was being conducted on the flood plains of Yamuna, the decision to deploy the army for a private enterprise is nothing short of morally and ethically reprehensible. Reportedly, the NGT gave its nod to the event after slapping a fine of Rs. 5 Crore on the organisers.

In a democratic set-up, civilian control of military is accepted as a matter of fact. Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis elaborates that a military must remain apolitical to maximise its professionalism. By definition, professionalism enhances military political abstinence because it gives soldiers the autonomy to focus on state’s external enemies that fosters apolitical attitudes and behaviour in the officer corps. Huntington terms this as the “objective civilian control.”  Civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. In contrast, “subjective civilian control”, in which the state control politicises the military, thereby weakening its military effectiveness is highly undesirable. Samuel Finer, another scholar takes this argument to another level.

Finer enumerates that professionalisation provides militaries with internal cohesion, distinct ideologies, and a corporate identity as the servants of the permanent state rather than the government of the day. The professional military’s belief in this manifest destiny motivates it to intervene and save the nation whenever it deems that corrupt or incompetent civilian authorities are undermining the national interest—a set of beliefs that clearly attenuates the scope of control by temporary civilian politicians.

It’s just not pro-nationalist socialisation in the army that sets it apart from other organs of the state. An army is more professional than other organs of the state (at all corresponding levels).  Aqil Shah, a Pakistani scholar in his book on Army and Democracy concludes that professional development did not depoliticise the Pakistani military. Instead, it aroused the military’s interest in civilian affairs. As the civilian institutions were deemed weak, lazy, incompetent and corrupt, it was natural for the army to save the state. The result is there for all of usa country that is run by army rather than the other way around. At its extreme manifestation, military in politics can be highly repressive and toxic as numerous examples in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America demonstrate.

Could the Indian army Chief have said no? Going strictly by the rule book, the civilian government has the legitimacy to pass such orders which utilises the expertise of the army. To that extent, the army chief is bound by rules to obey his civilian bosses. But he certainly has the legitimacy of his office to bring it to the notice of his superiors that the army cannot not be used for such mundane tasks. The world yoga day was a government event. The world culture festival, on surface, had the explicit support of the government to a private trust. Even if the private trust uses the resources of the government, it needs to be done for a fee. It has not yet been clarified whether the army was paid for its services. The festival website shows a picture of Sri Sri Ravishankar with the PM and Advani. The President too was an invitee to this event which he eventually declined.

If these were not enough, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) recently invited the veterans to an event in JNU where homage was paid to the martyrs. It was ostensibly to infuse a sense of nationalist pride among the anti-national students of JNU and frame the discourse in binary terms.

Hence we have a double whammy situation here—the civilian bosses in the government use the army as a tool to ‘softly’ propagate its brand of Hindutva whilst the storm troopers in guise of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) cadres openly court the veterans in explicating their brand of nationalism. This government has started to walk on a slippery rope of legitimising all its actions in the name of national interest. One thing may lead to another. It was Yoga day and world cultural festival. Tomorrow, could it be something called World Islamic Congress, or a large event of the Catholic Church? Should the government say no to availing the services of the army? Where do we draw the line. It is now high time for the BJP-RSS combine to decide where and when to put a full stop and prevent further erosion of the institution of ultimate violence—the army.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Indian army trucks near Jammu, licensed from creativecommons.org

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Danger of Militarism over Nationalism in current times

The use of military veterans to portray nationalism for achieving political objectives has dangerous ramifications for civil-military relations in a liberal democratic society like India and must be avoided at any cost  

The use of military symbols to project nationalism by the present government has dangerous ramifications. In trying to portray Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid (the case is still sub judice) and some other students as anti-national, the government, aided by a section of the TV news networks, unfortunately used Lance Naik Hanumanthappa’s heroic death due to avalanche in Siachen glacier. The obvious aim was to steer the discourse in a binary framework: national versus anti-national or simply, us versus them. Ex servicemen have been commandeered to be the torchbearers of patriotism and nationalism by inviting them to meetings at the JNU. Prima facie, there seems to be nothing wrong with inviting veterans to the JNU. What is wrong is the brand of competitive nationalism that is being imposed and exploiting our soldiers to do the dirty job. The social media has been actively used for trolls and counter trolls. In an event held in JNU by ABVP on February 24, senior veterans were invited  to speak to the university administration. Reportedly, they asked for a memorial to be built in the campus and also volunteered to donate a tank.  The latest to join the fray is a 2 minute video titled ‘Freedom of Action?’ directed by Vivek Joshi.

The title is quite provocative and asks probing question from the audience. Two soldiers are on guard with their guns trained at the enemy across the border when they hear some anti-national slogans coming from own side. At this, one of them turns around and aims his gun in the direction of sloganeering (although, no one is visible). The other soldier laconically tells his comrade that killing them is useless, as  he would be killing only the men and not the ideology. To which, the second one replies that a man who has broken his relationship with his mother has broken all his relationships. And then, goes on to take aim. The message is very clear. Army can be the symbol of extreme form of nationalism and it will be used to eliminate whoever is deemed anti-national.  Getting the veterans involved in student politics that is within the ambit of state is nothing short of absurdity.  This rings an ominous warning and brings us to the complex debate of civil-military relations.

The Indian armed forces are modeled on the British system. The civilian control and oversight over the military is taken for granted in such a set-up. The military in a liberal democratic society must remain strictly apolitical for it to remain professional. Towards this, the officer corps plays an important role, for they are the decision makers of an arm of the state which is capable of utmost violence.  Huntington, a highly acknowledged American political scientist terms this as the ‘objective civilian control’ which is the most desirable for effective civil-military balance of power. This maximises military professionalism, and hence security of the state. The military’s and as a corollary, the officers’ role in politics is non-existent. The civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. This is in stark to contrast to ‘subjective control’ where the civilian assertion has dangerous portends of deprofessionalising the military which might ultimately result in a coup.

One doesn’t need to go far in the subcontinent. Pakistan is a standing example where intrusive interference by Jinnah involved military in politics immediately after independence.  Within a decade, the military overthrew the civilian government. There has been no looking back since then. Bangladesh too has had an uneasy relationship with the military wherein the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in a bloody military coup within a few years of its independence.  Myanmar has been ruled by its military for the better part of its existence. The complex of civil-military relations becomes a dangerous cocktail when mixed with religion. A benign flirting with religion at the beginning, subsequently leads to massive inroads into the vitals of military effectiveness and competence.

From its inception, military has been associated with masculinity, valour,  and defending the territorial integrity at any cost. The trouble starts when these values get mixed with symbols of religious identity masquerading as nationalism in a politically charged atmosphere with passions running high. A large standing army can be a beast— it can be extremely powerful and strong enough in thwarting an external aggression.  By the same token, it is also used to quell internal strife and insurgencies by remaining purely apolitical and non-partisan.  At the same time, it should be subservient enough to the civil authority and not become a frankenstein monster. Till now, by all available evidence, only a minuscule section of retired personnel have visibly showed signs of aligning with the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.  In contrast, the police in uniform has demonstrated its partisanship by looking the other way when violence broke out in the Delhi High Court premises. It must be borne in mind by the political masters in charge that the military has an almost paternal relationship with its veteran community. The politicians are only playing with fire by involving the veterans to realise before long that the serving officer corps too is afflicted with this. To achieve their ends, the stormtroopers in the form of foot soldiers of ABVP are being released as trial balloons. Once this genie of ‘military in politics’ is out of the bottle, it will be dangerous to control.


Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar 

Featured Image : Military unit in training by Elizabeth Anderson, licensed by creativecommons.org




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