Kundu, Apurba. “Militarism in India: The army and civil society in consensus.”, 1998, I.B.Tauris, New Delhi.
The Comparative Analysis of the Armed Forces of India and Pakistan: Why India Never Had a Military Coup?
The army is an institution which commands immense respect and power in a nation, as it represents and protects the territorial identity of a nation. The history of armed forces or soldiers can be traced back thousands of years moving from a band of soldiers to a specialised but mercenary army to finally a standing army, but the modern armed forces gained special value with the emergence of the modern nation-states, which according to scholars like Benedict Anderson, was based on the idea of an “imagined territory”, and which requires a “self” and an “other”, an external enemy against which the territory will be defined as well as protected from. In the wake of the post-colonial Indian subcontinent, it becomes an interesting exercise to see how despite being the offshoot of the same landmass, India and Pakistan had strikingly different military histories. Even though both the countries as well as Bangladesh had their own turbulent phases the difference lay in their nature of politics and the way the question of military intervention was tackled by the civil society. In this particular essay we will try to analyse the development of armies of India and Pakistan in the post-colonial period.
The question which is often posed in the context of the Indian subcontinent is why the Indian army never came under the rule of the military, and why unlike its neighbours like Mynamar, Pakistan etc, India never came under the rule of Indian armed forces। Many scholars believe that to a large extent, the nature of armed forces was a legacy from the colonial times, which itself was a curious mix of strategic policies and idiosyncratic behaviour of the policy makers. Stringer Lawrence is considered to be the father of the Indian army for his attempt to establish a professional army. In this attempt, he tried to create a system of checks and balances, wherein rather than imposing British supremacy directly upon the Indian soldiers, a cushioning was prepared wherein the British commissioned officers worked above junior non-commissioned officers like the Subedars and Jamadars who acted as the mediators between the local sepoys and the officers. This ensured that the hierarchies of loyalty were maintained through a downward filtration method wherein every strand of loyalty was responsible for its immediate upper and lower rung. This policy was particularly important in the wake of the Keigwin rebellion of 1683 wherein the rebellious military leader decided to show his loyalty towards the crown rather than to the company. Thus it was a need of the hour to create out of the fickle-minded and untrustworthy mercenary soldiers to be converted into a professional army based on their allegiance to their superiors. This fostering of loyalty and the feeling of unquestioned surrender to the orders of the superior helped in creating a loyal army, who will be responsible for their conduct to their commander. In independent India, theoretically, the allegiance of the army lies with the nation, but in the time of practical application, the loyalty is still vested upon their superiors who command a supreme position in the hierarchy of the armed forces. Another legacy from the British government was the infamous martial race theory introduced by the British regime in the aftermath of the 1857 revolt to create more loyal and stable armed forces based on the traditional warrior tradition, wherein Punjabis, Sikhs, Jats, Rajputs, Marathas etc were recognised as warrior races and were encouraged in the army recruitment whereas Bengal was neglected for being an “effeminate race”. Similarly, the racial overtones restricted the inclusion of Southern India in the imperial army. For a very long time, the Indian army was disproportionately represented by the above-mentioned categories. But after the Independence, the destabilizing potential of this process was recognised and large-scale overhauling of the army recruitment was proposed wherein the participation of army men from diverse regions and cultures was promoted, and we see a discernible increase in the participation of tribal communities as well as representation from hitherto neglected regions including Bengal and Southern India. In Pakistan, the dominance of Punjabis and Pashtuns in the army proved to be fatal for the stability of the forces as they resisted any attempt which could dilute their dominance in the army. According to Stephen Cohen, one of the major factors leading to the 1958 coup in Pakistan was the dissatisfaction of the Punjabis in the Pakistan army over the changes in the army structure. Also, the coup of 1958 further led to a systematic exclusion of the Bengalis from East Pakistan as they were believed to be “effeminate” courtesy of the martial race theory. This exclusion hurt the Bengali faction a lot, which perpetuated their attempt to break free from the clutches of West Pakistan. Even during the 1971 war, the West Pakistani army underestimated the potential of the East Pakistani army because of their racial bias towards Bengalis, which in the long run proved to be a fatal mistake for them. So, the Indian state was clever enough to understand what qualities they needed to adopt from the colonial regime and what to leave out, something that Pakistan failed to do.
Apurba Kundu in his work Militarism in India: the army and Civil Society in consensus tries to understand the various motivations that define, reinforce or restrict the role of the Indian army in civil society. Apurba Kundu surveys a series of officers of the Indian army to provide a general theory as to why it is not feasible to have a military coup in India as has happened in many other parts of South Asia. The discussion has revealed that there is a very strong sense of allegiance to the values morals and ethics upholder by the army and loyalty is one of the major value that is enshrined in the psyche of the Indian army, which see revolt or rebellion not only as an unwanted digression but also an unpardonable sin. According to found the number one reason given for the lack of political activity was the army’s (and navy’s and air force’s) pride in its professionalism, a professionalism that is attributed mainly to the British military traditions which they have inherited. According to Paul Staniland, the USA, Britain and India represent those countries where civil control is absolute over the military role in the civil society particularly because of the lack of politicisation of the army and due to neatly carved out boundaries between the military and civil society, which even intersecting, and never overpowering or threatening. Coming back to Kundu’s survey, we also find a lack of engagement on the part of the Indian army to be involved in active politics as the army considers itself to be a warrior, a protector and not a ruler. Also, the army is largely seen to be a kaleidoscope of Indian diversity, wherein despite the vast heterogeneity of the Indian society, there has been an unflinching faith towards the democratic tradition of the nation as well as it’s constitution. In countries like Pakistan and Mynamar for example, the declining faith in democracy has also led to a compromise and manipulation in the constitution of the country, which is tilted to the favour of the ruling regime. Thus in times of crisis, there is always a possibility of disruptive power to snatch the power and tamper with the constitution to their favour. In India, there have been a series of amendments made to the constitution but almost all the changes have been made after careful discussions and keeping in mind the general faith of people in the book of the Constitution. Thus, despite the problems that may arise in the nation-state of India, the larger structure of the nation remains intact. Thirdly, Pakistan had to face the armed tussle quite early in its establishment, at the same time, India under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was trying to create a society modelled on the socialist principles and at the same time trying to create a space for the post-colonial nations to join together to fight imperialism, wars and racism among others. Thus, Nehru’s policies of Non- Intervention and Non-alignment also meant a reluctance to indulge in any tussle that could destabilize the territoriality and the peace of the newly formed nation. On the other side of the spectrum, the Pakistani army got the power and opportunities to negotiate with the external powers by themselves, which allowed them to amass considerable resources and power very early which proved to be a threat to the stability of its own regime, as the Pakistani army found itself to be empowered to resolve the internal crisis of the state when the actual representatives of the states failed to achieve the same. But the result of this intervention was not as ideal as was perceived by the nation, as Pakistan was plunged into a world of political crisis, chaos and anarchy. This acted further as a learning for the Indian army to remember the pitfalls of military intervention in a civil state.
According to Stephen Cohen, multiple factors contributed to The Indian army not falling into the trap of a military coup. One, The Indian army played a very limited role in the central decision-making process in the government and they were given the task to operate rather than to make policies. This operational authority allowed the Indian army to work in turbulent regional environments trying to resolve all sorts of crises ranging from Naxalism, insurgencies, revolts, riots etc. without ever trying to take power in their hand. This is the reason why Paul Staniland doesn’t agree with the “threat theory” of Michael Desch, which proposes how internal and external threats determine the role of army in the civil society. Paul Staniland instead points out that the internal and external threat loomed large over the Indian domain and in regions like erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir and the North Eastern states, the army do command at times extra-judicial position with provisions like AFSPA. So the boundary between the regions with lesser threat and greater threat is a false dichotomy as it gives too much emphasis on the external imposition of crisis rather than the internal dynamics between the state, army and civil society which determines the nature of the armed forces. Cohen points out that the fact that India has been involved in many internal and external tussles, has made it necessary for them to maintain a highly professional army. But there are considerable restrictions on how the army needs to conduct itself outside the purview of armed struggle. The use of military paraphernalia is not allowed for most civilian and military purposes, and even though we do find armed personals occasionally engaging in politics and taking up political portfolios, they have hardly done it while actively serving in the army (case in point Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and General V.K.Singh). In Pakistan, the army does see itself as a corrective agency, wherein they feel the need to intervene in the case of a nation-threatening crisis. Indian political system has evolved as more grounded and deeply rooted, which is difficult to govern using an iron hand. Thus the Indian army finds it safe to not get involved in the nitty gritty of Indian politics. A major example of the limited political role of Indian army can be gauged by the fact that the President of the country is considered to be the nominal head of the armed forces and the Prime minister is the one who governs a lot of military decisions. Thus, Indian army and their policies and power are not unchecked and unregulated. The Indian state has always recognised the need to create a space for the redressal of grievances of matter by the state even in the matter which governs the armed forces. For example, the complaints regarding the pension of the ex-army men and the grievances related to the quality of food provided to them were taken cognizance of by the civil state. A closed armed force wherein there is no space for any grievance to come outside the purview of the army creates an opaque system where there is a lack of any measures, policies, plans and even conflicts to be addressed in the civil society, which can be a threat to the democracy in the long run. India being a federal state always created a space for division of power, which doesn’t allow any part of the state to wield absolute power. And this is what separates India from its neighbours.
Lastly, In the context of India, the army is more of a rhetoric for the civil society to emulate and get inspired from, it is an ideal that is constantly used to pump up patriotism among the masses in large, but what works here is not the actual working of the army, but rather an image of the army, a distant image which is a glorified yet inadequate representation of what armed forces actually stand for. Interestingly, the army doesn’t even have an agency in defining and determining their own agency, as the image has been set up for them. This image is monolithic and ahistorical, as it doesn’t take into account the dynamics and modifications in the armed forces, it creates an image of a soldier fighting in the order, but choose to ignore the many more civil and military responsibility taken up by the armed forces, and the many roles they play apart from waging a war. In the context of India, the army is more of a commemorative tool in civil society, which is constantly venerated and glorified but there is a lack of active engagement with the actual working of the army, which creates a chimaera, which is strived for, but the distance between the reality and the image of the army becomes so large, that armed forces are not able to penetrate the psyche of the common masses in their historical form, without consequences. For the civil population, the army represents the fetish of nationalism, a rhetoric that can be used in speeches and the epitome of sacrifice which not all people can achieve in their lives.
- Kundu, Apurba. “Militarism in India: The army and civil society in consensus.”, 1998, I.B.Tauris, New Delhi
- Cohen, Stephen P. “The Indian army: Its contribution to the development of a nation”, 1990, Oxford University Press, Bombay
- Roy, Kaushik. “Recruitment doctrines of the colonial Indian Army: 1859-1913.” The Indian Economic & Social History Review 34, no. 3 (1997): 321-354.
- Staniland, Paul. “Explaining civil-military relations in complex political environments: India and Pakistan in comparative perspective.” Security Studies 17, no. 2 (2008): 322-362.
- Bhonsle, Rahul, “Civil-Military Relations: The Indian Case”, 2011, PILDAT, Islamabad