One Side of the Coin
Other side of the Same coin
From The Hindu 10 Nov 14
Military needs and societal values
(Srinath Raghavan, a former infantry officer in the Indian Army, is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)
The military is responsible to the political leadership, which in turn is accountable to the people. But ensuring that the military’s requirements remain subordinate to wider societal values is not easy. These requirements may well be legitimate, yet they can vitiate the democratic fabric of our polity
It is a grim irony. Ahead of the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, two Kashmiri boys are cut down by the bullets of the Indian Army. This is not just because Nehru’s birthday is celebrated as Children’s Day. Rather, the incident in Kashmir underlines the extent to which one of Nehru’s principal contributions to independent India has been undermined. Nehru’s role in nurturing democratic institutions, especially Parliament, is widely acknowledged. Less well known is his role in fostering democratic control over the military.
In theory, the lines of control in a democracy are clear: the military is responsible to the political leadership, which in turn is accountable to the people. But ensuring that the requirements of the military remain subordinate to the wider societal values and interests is not easy. These requirements may well be legitimate, yet they can vitiate the democratic fabric of our polity. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, under whose cover the boys were shot, is a good example. One of the aims of this Act was to ensure that soldiers undertaking operations in good faith were not subject to mala fide litigation. Yet, AFSPA has been used in a manner that confers impunity on the Army.
Take the Pathribal case. Five officers were named in a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charge sheet for killing civilians in a fake encounter. The Army and the government used AFSPA to stonewall and prevent prosecution for years. Eventually under pressure from the Supreme Court, the Army agreed to try them by court-martial. Unsurprisingly, the court-martial found no evidence against the officers.
What’s more, despite widespread criticism, successive governments have been loath to repeal the Act. Their reluctance is directly proportional to the resistance from the AFSPA. Senior military officers are on record as stating that without AFSPA, the Army cannot undertake counter-insurgency operations. Such is the state of democratic control and civilian supremacy over the military.
Nehru was alert to these dangers even before he took over as Prime Minister. The British Raj was the archetypal garrison state — one that accorded primacy to its security and by extension to the military. Even in peacetime, up to half of the government’s expenditure was consumed by the armed forces. This extraordinary practice was possible owing to the institutional arrangements of civil-military relations in British India. The Commander-in-Chief of India also served as the Military Member — effectively the Defence Minister — of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. This enabled the military to have a dominant voice in the affairs of the government. In the run-up to Independence, the fusion of civil and military roles went even further. In 1943 the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Wavell, was appointed as the Viceroy. In its last days, then, British rule reverted to its origins as a military despotism.
Rectifying this state of affairs was on top of Nehru’s priorities. When the interim government took office in September 1946, the Commander-in-Chief was replaced as Defence Member by a civilian leader, Sardar Baldev Singh. Days later, Nehru instructed the Commander-in-Chief to initiate urgent reforms to nationalise the Indian Army. Recruitment, especially of officers, should be widened to reflect the composition of society. This would enable the armed forces to appreciate the values and aspirations of the country they served. Paramilitary forces should be raised to avoid using the Army for internal security and to keep it out of politics.
That said, claims about Nehru wanting to abolish the armed forces — given currency by Jaswant Singh among others — are utterly unfounded.* Even a cursory acquaintance with Nehru’s published documents from that period will show up the absurdity of such assertions. What Nehru wanted was democratic control of the military. Matters were complicated by the fact that in the aftermath of Independence, India was forced to solicit the services of senior British officers. The Raj had not allowed Indians to join as officers until late in the day, so there were few Indians with experience of higher command and staff roles.
Yet, Nehru was keen to set the tone for civil-military relations from the outset. Thus, when the Commander-in-Chief issued orders to keep the public away from the flag hoisting ceremony on August 15, 1947, Nehru struck it down. He wrote to General Rob Lockhart: “In any policy that is to be pursued in the Army or otherwise, the views of the Government of India and the policy they lay down must prevail. If any person is unable to lay down that policy he has no place in the Indian Army.” Weeks later, when the British service chiefs protested against moving Indian troops against the State of Junagadh that had acceded to Pakistan, Nehru and Patel made it clear that they were prepared to sack the chiefs. Such problems did not disappear after Indian officers took over the armed forces. In the summer of 1951, the Indian Army — apprehending a Pakistani attack on Kashmir — wanted to move its armoured division close to the border in Punjab. When Nehru demurred, General Cariappa met President Rajendra Prasad and requested him to lean on the Prime Minister. Although Nehru gave in, he was not oblivious to the implications of such actions. A few months later, when Cariappa began airing his views on policy matters, such as economic development, Nehru advised him to avoid straying into these areas.
The most controversial episode was the resignation of the Army Chief, General Thimayya, in 1959. The conventional wisdom is that the resignation was spurred by Thimayya’s unhappiness with the style of functioning of the Defence Minister, Krishna Menon. In fact, the problem was Thimayya’s demand to consider Pakistan’s offer of joint defence arrangements against the backdrop of clashes between Indian and Chinese troops. The nub of the matter was policy — not personalities. Although Nehru talked Thimayya out of the resignation, he emphasised in Parliament that “civil authority is and must remain supreme.”
The 1962 war and after
The defeat against China weakened Nehru’s position vis-à-vis the Army. Thereafter, the military began to insist that civilians keep away from its “operational” turf. Unnerved by the debacle of 1962, the civilian leadership substantially conceded the demand.
Democratic control over the military weakened in Nehru’s own lifetime in other ways too. Despite his desire not to use the Army for internal security, Nehru’s hand was forced by the Naga rebellion. In 1956, as the Army was preparing to move in, Nehru instructed that the Nagas were to be treated as “fellow Indians.” The Army had to “win the hearts of people, not to terrify or frighten them.” Nehru disallowed the use of machine-guns from the air and called for the use of “moderate force.”
Yet, when Naga resistance intensified, Nehru’s government enacted AFSPA in 1958. The Act was modelled on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance of 1942 — used by the Raj to quell the Quit India Movement. The irony lay not just in the fact that Nehru and his colleagues had been imprisoned during the movement, but that the 1942 ordinance was less draconian than AFSPA. The ordinance had authorised the use of force to kill by an officer of the rank of captain or above. AFSPA allows even senior non-commissioned officers to do so.
Introducing the Bill in Parliament, Home Minister G. B. Pant stated that it would allow the Army to function more effectively in the context of the insurgency. There were dissident voices in the House. A member from Manipur memorably called it a “lawless law.” Yet it was passed without much opposition. After AFSPA was introduced, Nehru continued to keep a tab on Army operations in Nagaland and even deplored — on occasion, publicly — the loss of civilian lives. When the insurgency raged unabated, Nehru adopted a more political approach — a move that culminated in the creation of the State of Nagaland.
AFSPA, however, remained on the statute book. Over time, it came to be used with ever greater impunity and grievous consequences. As Nehru’s engagement with this issue suggests, intentions of individuals cannot substitute for appropriate institutional arrangements. AFSPA makes a mockery of democratic control over the military. The Army’s resistance to its repeal and the government’s acquiescence fly in the face of all norms of civil-military relations. This may seem like a minor problem. But as Nehru realised, unless military needs are balanced against societal values, Indian democracy could be hollowed out.
AUTHOR NOT KNOWN
Interesting perspective. ..
मित्रानो नक्की वाचा @ soldiers involved in curbing militancy in Kashmir....
My name is Sep (Sipahi) Bhoop Singh. I am a soldier in the Indian Army. I’m from somewhere in India – it really doesn’t matter where exactly, because that’s not relevant. My identity is now that of an Indian soldier rather than a resident of some state.
Let me share a secret with you. It wasn't patriotic thought of serving and dying for my country which made me join the Indian Army. It was more of a matter of pragmatism. My father’s meagre land holdings were not enough to support all of us four brothers and our families that would come along in due course of time. So joining the Army seemed like a good option. Not as good as joining the police or some other government job. But my father couldn't afford the bribes required to pay my way through. And I was always very fit. So when the faujis came to our district to recruit, I signed up. And despite the rumours I had heard, we didn't have to pay a penny!
Four years down the line, here I am. My life, and the way I look at life, has changed a lot in the past four years. I told you that I didn't join the Army out of any great sense of patriotism. And even now, I really don’t identify with all this Vande Mataram and all that. Yet I do feel proud of being an Indian. You know, in the village I was (we all were – and a lot of my friends there still are) like a frog in the well.
During my four years in the Army, I have developed a strong pride in being a soldier, being a part of the Army, and I am especially proud of my ‘paltan’. I have forged a special bond with my fellow soldiers, and today they are as much my family as my own brothers back in the village. I have come to understand why soldiers like me fight in wars and risk their lives. It is not really for the sake of the country – well maybe, but I don’t think that is foremost on our minds when faced with danger. What actually motivates us is the thought of upholding the ‘izzat’ of the paltan, and of not being seen as wanting in the eyes of our comrades.
I don’t know much about politics, nor am I interested. I do read the newspaper and watch TV, but have never voted in any election. Frankly, it doesn’t matter to me which party gets elected or who forms the government. My life is more affected by my Senior JCO, Company Commander and CO – and unfortunately you can’t elect them. But by God’s grace so far they have all been decent people. But then, I have also never done anything to cross their paths. My discipline is good; I always follow orders, and am never late in getting back from leave. Nor do I ever sleep on guard duty. So I have had no reason to fear them.
Discipline is the bedrock of the Army – this is what is drilled into us right from the time we get our first haircut as recruits in the Regimental Centres. We used to have an ‘ustaad’ (instructor) at the centre who told us that in the ‘fauj’, there is a laid down way of doing everything, and we can’t go wrong if we follow it. So whether it is the way I have to fold my blanket, to the way I hold my rifle, everything is laid down. It’s good, because that way you don’t have to tax your brain too much about what to do and what not to.
This is why I have been very puzzled for the last few days. I saw on the TV that in Kashmir soldiers like me who were on duty at a check point are in trouble because they opened fire on a car which refused to stop at three successive barriers.
I saw lots of people arguing about it on news – about how the soldiers were wrong in opening fire on innocent boys – apparently they were very young, and two of them died. I know it’s sad, loss of life always is. I sympathize with their parents – it must be terrible to lose a child like that.
I heard the Defence Minister saying that strict action will be taken against the soldiers in this case.
I was a little disturbed and quite puzzled. Weren't the soldiers deployed there on the government’s orders? Weren’t they deployed there because there is a terrorism problem in that state?
And weren't they just following the laid down procedures when they opened fire on a vehicle which crossed three successive barriers and didn’t stop?
I was trying to imagine what I would have done had I been in their place. How would I know whether such a vehicle is being driven by innocent but mischievous boys or by dangerous terrorists? What if I let it go and the car is laden with explosives, and it goes and blows up at a crowded place, killing hundreds of innocent people? How much time would I have to weigh these factors and take a decision? I came to the conclusion that under similar circumstances, I would have probably done what these poor soldiers did.
I was discussing this with some of my friends in the langar. They all felt the same. Someone said, “the soldiers are not going there on their own, for a holiday. They have been sent there by the government. And they have been sent because it feels things are not normal there. The Army’s job is to defend the nation in war and war-like situations.”
So by deploying the Army the government believes there is a war-like situation there.
Otherwise, wouldn't the police and para-military forces be enough to deal with the situation?
And if there is a war-like situation, how can it be tackled only by the peacetime laws? Isn’t that the reason why the area has been declared as ‘disturbed’ and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) been imposed there?
One informed comrade told us that the AFSPA is meant to allow us to operate in the disturbed areas where we need to react quickly to deal with terrorists. If you are chasing a terrorist, and he goes and hides in a building, you can’t go looking for a warrant to search that building. Nor can you wait for an order from a magistrate to open fire on him, like we need to in when dealing with riots etc where AFSPA is not in force.
Any delay in such situations would result in the terrorists escaping, or worse, killing civilians and our own comrades.
“Then why is the Chief Minister of the state asking for removal of AFSPA?” someone asked. “He should just ask for the army to be removed and he will take care of the law and order with his state police.”
Nattha Singh, the wizened old havildar gave the final word. “Saala, I don’t care AFSPA shafspa. After this one thing is clear to me. When the paltan goes to the valley, I am not going to stick my neck out for anything. Let bloody terrorists kill as many people and escape. No one is going to hang me for that. At least that way there won’t be any risk – either of getting killed or killing someone, getting court martialled and going to jail. After all, this is their problem let them deal with it – I will spend my two years there doing nothing and retire peacefully to my village.”
There were nods of agreement all around. But I wasn’t so sure I agreed. “What about the paltan’s izzat?” I asked. “That won’t be at risk too,” Nattha said. “We won’t risk tarnishing it if we avoid doing anything. That way we will make no mistakes like those chaps did.”
I’m still not too sure.
Maybe Havildar Nattha is right.
* I wish he had read the book India’s China War by Neville Maxell, Chapter II – The Forward Policy page 179 onwards.