-Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman
Armies are set up to defend the land from any external aggression and to protect the sovereignty of a country.In this regard the Indian Army a truly formidable and valour imbued organisation has time again proved its mettle in not only rebuffing any external aggression but mostly resoundingly defeating it with all its might. It is owing to the commitment, diligence and the sacrificial spirit of our soldiers that we are able to have a sound sleep. It is also important to remember that in spite of all the rhetoric the men in uniform have to contend with weaponry or equipment that may be crying out for modernisation or replacement. The fact is that in spite of all our appreciation of army the defence budget has increased from 2.0% of GDP in the 60s to 2.5% of GDP in the new millennium and this should be recognised as a sacrifice by the soldier and armed forces to allow the country to invest more in other aspects of development.
There are umpteen tales of valour and sacrifice of soldiers which keep on increasing with each passing day. Their dedication to the nation is evident as they stand to protect us in inhuman conditions such as on Siachen Glacier, spend days or months or years away from the family sometimes coming back in a wooden casket wrapped in the tricolour. However, the purpose of this article is not to eulogise the army for its valour which is indisputable but to highlight a few other aspects of the valiant forces which are usually not applauded but always taken for granted. The fundamental premise of such an appreciation needs to factor in that the Indian Army besides standing out on bravery and the dedication to even lay the lives at the feet of ‘Watan’ stands out as one institution that has abided by the constitution in letter and spirit.
First and foremost Indian Army has primarily remained an apolitical institution except for some recent attempts at politicising. As directed by the Constitution of India to which they owe complete allegiance the armed forces in India have always followed the dictum and command from elected Civilian authorities irrespective of the leaning, ideology, political or socio-economic mandate of the party responsible for governance so long as the command conforms to the basic tenets of our constitution. Contrast this with our neighbour where the Army is more political than the so called political parties that have either been sitting ducks for the army or reduced to a means of caricature evident by the six military coups (of which three were successful) that have happened in that country. Out of the seventy years of the mirage of freedom the Pakistani people have been under martial law for over thirty years. Consequently, even the name sake democratically elected parties in our neighbouring country are primarily subservient to the whims and fancies of a despotic army that has not merely tasted but has been often found gorging on ill gotten benefits and trappings of political power. The army men in that country particularly Generals and Chiefs consider it their birth right to usurp power and even organise rigged elections to legitimise their greed. Conversely, in India on more than a couple of occasions we have had situations in which the political spectrum in the country seemed either too authoritarian or too weak or bleak to handle the country but army stood steadfast in reverence and active defence of the constitution to forego any ambition, vision of self righteousness or greed for power to even remotely consider such an opportunity.
Till a decade back as part of insulating or even distancing themselves from the political alignments we never had any Army personnel joining political parties even after retirement and the diving into political arena by ex-army men is a more recent phenomenon. While legally or constitutionally there is nothing wrong with the men in uniform post retirement finding or expressing political allegiance there is some basic need of caution. There is a danger here of possible conflict of interest or loss of objectivity particularly in higher echelons in anticipation for post retirement affiliation or opportunity that a political party or political situation may provide.It is perhaps for this reason that some of the highly decorated officers in the past who could have enhanced the prestige and grace of any political outfit did not jump into political fray. The worrying factor is that in the last one decade there have been persistent shameful attempts by political parties to at least drag armed forces into political arena least of all by using them as a means of scoring points over each other in a most pathetic way. Therefore, currently it is important that the men in uniform should not get affected by the political shenanigans of a highly polarised polity in the country and continue to stand by the Constitution as they have commendably done throughout the history of Independent India. It is also critical that the political establishment realises its folly in using the name of armed forces to do politics and respect as well as preserve the sanctity of this apolitical institution while refraining from pulling it into the cesspool of the murky political field of today.
The second unsung element of the Army and defence forces is their adherence to secular principles enshrined in the Constitution of the country. The army is secular not merely because it has serving men from different communities but more because it has adhered to an ethos that keeps the national interest above parochial issues and adheres to an objective command and control mechanism where the soldiers or officers owe allegiance primarily to the constitution and operationally to the command and call of duty only. It is expected that they carry out the task assigned irrespective of or in spite of their political, social or religious leanings or interests, if any. Hence, while people from different religions and walks of life do work together in almost all institutions they are not always able to have a sense of duty only for the task at hand without colouring it with their faith, social or political leanings. It is a reflection of the faith in objectivity of the institution that in the past often in situations of riots there was always a call to bring in army to control the situation. Also, there have been situations in which at behest of the police establishment of the day army has had to act in operations directed at religious places and it has done so with utmost reverence and caution to minimise the loss of life and more importantly giving due respect to the place of reverence and sentiments of communities. Of course, for obvious reason the calling in of army in such situations is not desirable and needs to be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances.
Currently in a fast polarising Indian polity and society it is imperative that this institution should be left alone from the isms that political parties are promoting and creating. It is in this respect that we need to consider that while extending the polarisation factor to army may yield some returns in the short term but can have disastrous consequences for the country as whole in the medium to long run. It must be remembered that it was a despotic general who completely and almost irrevocably spoiled the polity in our neighbouring country by harbouring and promoting the pernicious Jihadist approach. The same approach was fed enormous fuel and fodder post 1999 coup so as to permeate and destroy the very fabric of society and polity in that country. Unlike our neighbour’s armed forces, the Indian army always realised and respected that the secularism enshrined in the Constitution was not meant to only protect the rights of minorities but was there necessarily as the very basis of sustenance, existence and growth of a diverse country.
Last but not the least the armed forces need to be saluted in their yeomen service in crisis situations and natural calamities. Umpteen times the forces have risen to the occasion in heroically saving lives and providing relief to communities impacted or affected by vagaries of weather and related disasters. Be it earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or storms, etc., one can trust the men in uniform to quickly swing into action to provide the much needed help, rescue and support to the suffering groups or societies. In a country where until recently devoted forces or groups for disaster management were non existent it was the armed forces only that spontaneously arrived like angels to get people out of trouble. It is important that government and society duly acknowledge this role and provide much needed incentives and appreciation to the soldiers. We need to institute more rewards and medals for applauding individual and groups of armed forces that play a critical role in ameliorating the suffering of the the grief stricken people.
Whenever I think of men in uniform I am reminded of the spirit of nationalism of my uncle, Late Atiqur Rehman, who at the age of 12 defying the curfew enforced by the Britishers climbed on the roof of his school to hoist the national flag during the Quit India movement. It is with that kind of zealousness and passion that our soldiers and officers protect our nation. We as civilians and responsible citizens of the country need to realise that army is one of the main institutions for upholding the constitution while ensuring the fundamentals of unity and integrity in governance of this diverse country. We must salute our soldiers and officers for their bravery and sincerity while coming together to defeat any attempts to colour them with political or other colours except honourable hues of their uniform.