Indian military must remind politicians that it’s loyal to the Constitution – not the party in power

Several recent events have contributed to speculation that the military’s apolitical nature is being compromised.

For several years now, a spate of events linked to India’s armed forces, including statements from the highest rungs of military leadership, have cast a shadow on their apolitical character. This is distressing even if it is a case of misplaced interpretation, factual ignorance or the shenanigans of individuals on social media. The military’s apolitical nature is a cornerstone of India’s democratic foundation; diluting it could be disastrous. But what are the beliefs that symbolise the nature and character of the “apoliticalism” of the Indian armed forces?

Its unending deployment for internal security in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East has resulted in the military becoming a permanent and key representative of the state’s coercive power in a politically charged atmosphere. Inevitably, most of the military’s actions are politically sensitive and it often finds itself in the midst of political controversies. This is bound to continue as long as the military is deployed in support of civilian authority. But the moot point is that such controversies must be dealt with by the military and civilian authorities acting in unison. What has regrettably become frequent is the military’s stance being in opposition to a state government’s with the central government supporting the military. The military thus becomes an object of Centre-state politics.

The “human shield” incident in Kashmir last April is illustrative. An unacceptable military act was justified in the name of operational expediency and institutionally portrayed as an act of heroism. The military’s stance was supported by the Centre but decried by the state government. The Army was mired in a political controversy and its act was both praised and supported by political parties. It seemed that the Army was taking sides in a domestic political battle and was, therefore, moving away from its apolitical character.

Image: PTI
Image: PTI

In recent times, the use of the armed forces for spreading yoga mats, spoiling the Yamuna riverbed, constructing railway footbridges and cleaning garbage from mountaintops is exceptionable. The government needs to handle the military with greater care, delicacy and respect. The military also needs to tell the government, behind closed doors, that it cannot be employed for the benefit of a political party or of a religious organisation it supports.

The military’s deliberate leveraging of its operations on the Line of Control for domestic electoral purposes suggests that the armed forces serve the political party in power, like in China. Such a portrayal has given rise to speculation that the military’s apolitical nature is being increasingly compromised.

The Army Chief’s recent comments about a political party, the All India United Democratic Front in Assam, suggested that the Army was taking sides in what is essentially a political battle between the ruling party and the opposition. Some commentators have argued that there is nothing wrong in the Army supporting the central government, which it serves, especially when it comes to matters of security. True, the Army is an executive arm of the government but it owes its loyalty to the Constitution of India and not to the party in power. Indeed, saying that the military is apolitical means that it does not take part in any political argument and even if it wishes to express its views about the impact of political manoeuvring on security, it should convey them behind closed doors. The basis of being apolitical rests on avoiding as far as possible the messy and murky world of domestic politics. Yet, recent incidents and statements put the military under the arc lights for all the wrong reasons.

Away from the limelight

Another important sphere of civil-military interaction is external security. Here again, statements of military leaders about foreign countries have significant impact on foreign relations. It is not unusual to convey signals to other countries through the statements of military chiefs. But such statements are crafted and approved at appropriate levels and reflect the government’s view. It would, therefore, not be incorrect to assume that recent statements of the Army Chief about Pakistan and China reflect the government’s viewpoint. If it were not so, the pronouncements would have been denied or contradicted. Since the statement that China and Pakistan are orchestrating immigration from Bangladesh has come from the Army Chief, we must assume it is true. But does such an accusation have to be levelled by the Army Chief, especially when no other arm of the government has brought it to the public’s notice? Clearly, there is a need to exercise greater discretion while commenting on foreign countries as it affects the sphere of political relations, driven primarily from outside the military arena.

Words are the primary weapon of politicians, not of the military. Although the military may also use words as a weapon, the power of the word in a democracy is better exercised by civilian authorities. The military need not seek the limelight. Instead, it should carry out its duties quietly, contain its views and disagreements on politically sensitive subjects to closed door sessions and let its actions speak for themselves. When it has to express its views, preferably through an official spokesman, the military should be guided by the tenet that one of the greatest values it brings to India’s democracy is not taking sides in the domestic political discourse. It is thus that the military will maintain the distinction of being an apolitical force.

Lt Gen Prakash Menon (retired) is Director of Strategic Studies at the Takshashila Institution and former military adviser to the National Security Council Secretariat.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Some of the most significant innovations in automotive history made their debut in this iconic automobile

The latest version features India's first BS VI norms-compliant engine and a host of 'intelligent' features.

The S-Class, also known as Sonderklasse or special class, represents Mercedes Benz’ top-of-the-line sedan line up. Over the decades, this line of luxury vehicles has brought significant automotive technologies to the mainstream, with several firsts to its credit and has often been called the best car in the world. It’s in the S-Class that the first electronic ESP and ABS anti-lock braking system made their debut in the 20th century.

Twenty first-century driver assistance technologies which predict driver-behaviour and the vehicle’s course in order to take preventive safety measures are also now a staple of the S-Class. In the latest 2018 S-Class, the S 350 d, a 360-degree network of cameras, radars and other sensors communicate with each other for an ‘intelligent’ driving experience.

The new S-Class systems are built on Mercedes Benz’s cutting-edge radar-based driving assistance features, and also make use of map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. In cities and on other crowded roads, the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC helps maintain the distance between car and the vehicle in front during speeds of up to 210 kmph. In the same speed range, Active Steering Assist helps the driver stay in the centre of the lane on stretches of straight road and on slight bends. Blind Spot Assist, meanwhile, makes up for human limitations by indicating vehicles present in the blind spot during a lane change. The new S-Class also communicates with other cars equipped with the Car-to-X communication system about dicey road conditions and low visibility due to fog, rain, accidents etc. en route.

The new S-Class can even automatically engage the emergency system when the driver is unable to raise an alarm. Active Emergency Stop Assist brings the car to a stop if it detects sustained periods of inactivity from the driver when Active Steering Assist is switched on. If the driver doesn’t respond to repeated visual and audible prompts, it automatically activates the emergency call system and unlocks the car to provide access to first responders.

The new Mercedes-Benz S 350 d in India features another notable innovation – the country’s first BS VI norms-compliant car engine, in accordance with government regulations to control vehicular pollution. Debuting two years before the BS VI deadline of 2020, the S 350 d engine also remains compatible with the current BS IV fuels.

The S 350 d is an intelligent car made in India, for Indian roads - in the Mercedes Benz S-Class tradition. See the video below to know what drives the S-Class series by Mercedes Benz.

To know more about the 2018 S-Class, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.