BJP Should Stop Trying to Politicise Army & Focus on Reforms    

Unveiling of Borphukan’s statue at army base is part of NDA government’s attempt to politicise the Indian Army.

4 min read
Legitimate distance between the army and politicians is in the larger interest of people. (Photo: Rahul Gupta/ <b>The Quint</b>)

Earlier this week, in a not too widely reported military ceremony, the chief minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal unveiled the bronze statue of a legendary 17th century Ahom General Lachit Borphukan who defeated the Mughal armies at the Battle of Saraighat, 1627.

Sonowal praised the General for his gallantry and patriotism, invoking the ideals of nationalism and nation-building. This is the byline the Modi government is promoting which sections of the media have lionised.

Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal being felicitated during the unveiling ceremony of Mahabir Lachit Borphukan’s statue at Dinjan Military Station, Tinsukia, 5 June 2017. (Photo: PTI)
Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal being felicitated during the unveiling ceremony of Mahabir Lachit Borphukan’s statue at Dinjan Military Station, Tinsukia, 5 June 2017. (Photo: PTI)

Unveiling Statue of Lachit Borphukan

The BJP is the ruling party in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, with many questioning the modus operandi of their victory in the last two states. It has vowed to capture the entire Northeast.

Apparently, the statue installation ceremony held inside the 2 Mountain Division Headquarters at Dinjan which is operationally responsible for the eastern stretches of the border with China, is the first of its kind involving the commemoration of a provincial General of reputed military prowess.

Even so, the induction into military headquarters of famous military leaders of yore would have required clearance from Army Headquarters and Ministry of Defence. Assuming this was done, on the face of it this does not appear to be a case of direct politicisation of the Army.

Or anything irregular. But it is something military veterans have not known to have happened earlier. The statue of a local legendary General is best displayed in the state’s hall of fame or at a prominent road junction or an equivalent vantage point in the state.

Pitfalls of No-Nonsense Army

In these testing times, when BJP leaders like Ram Madhav say all is fair in love and war about the security situation in J&K and a slow but perceptible politicisation of the military is taking place, those who care for the military have to be alert in preventing any undermining of the foundational roots of the military’s ethos: Apolitical, secular and professional.

Putting the army on a pedestal is a virtuous act but placing it beyond criticism by invoking a sense of nationalism, even patriotism, is not productive for the institutional integrity and cohesion of the force.

Giving the Army a free hand is good for operational flexibility but any freedom to prosecute a dirty war has to be within the rule of law and humanitarian law of war.

The limits to freedom of operations are circumscribed by the fact that the Army for its secondary task of maintaining internal security in J&K is an aid to civil authority. The Army has prided itself on its human rights record and use of minimum or proportionate force in good faith.

The military veterans are clearly divided over the new hard approach including the use of civilians as human shields. Is it innovative? Or simply insensitive? Creating the image of a tough no-nonsense army has its pitfalls. Abetted by the media, platoons of TV gladiators are demanding obliteration of Pakistan and hanging the severed heads of Hurriyat leaders in Lal Chowk.

Also Read: Debate | Using Dar as Human Shield Wasn’t in Best Interest of All

Posters lauding the Indian Army for surgical strikes had come up in states like UP ahead of Assembly polls. (Photo: Twitter/ <a href="">@sarawal1</a>)
Posters lauding the Indian Army for surgical strikes had come up in states like UP ahead of Assembly polls. (Photo: Twitter/ @sarawal1)

Surgical Strikes: New Political Metaphor

The current spell of politicisation of the army began with surgical strikes across the LoC last year which fortunately Pakistan denied, thereby avoiding escalation.

Within days of the success of the modest operation, the government went to town, vociferously taking ownership for it, in the past the UPA government for similar operations had kept under the radar.

Surgical strikes became the new political metaphor for the campaign for the five state Assembly elections.

Also Watch: Shivshankar Menon On Surgical Strikes: Effects Aren’t Lasting

I personally saw in Lucknow, gross misuse of the public face of the surgical strikes, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, Director General Military Operations, whose picture on posters was ringed by those of Modi, Amit Shah and Parrikar.

Undermining Army’s Apolitical Nature

The first bow for the cross-LoC strikes was taken at public rallies by Parrikar who later said it was his RSS training which helped in drawing the Hanuman spirit in the Army.

This chorus was endlessly chanted by Parrikar and his cohorts, willy nilly politicising the army operations by linking them with the BJP and the Hindu religion.

Later, at a grand ceremony in Lucknow, Modi was hailed as the Conqueror-in-Chief. These events undermined the Army’s apolitical and secular character.

When a recruit is attested as a soldier, a priest, pandit, Moulvi and Granthi are present at the ceremony. In many army units, soldiers of these denominations pray to their faith under one roof.

Also Read: Honouring Surgical Strike Heroes Is Fine but Focus on Covert Op

Much Needed Reforms

The Indian Army has miraculously escaped politicisation barring a brief period in the early 1960s. The predominantly Punjabi Muslim Pakistan Army which split from the mother British Indian Army abandoned the essential ethics and values of soldiering including civilian control by the elected government. That is why people say while countries have armies, Pakistan Army has a country.

The Indian Army must not let the moral and ethical compass deviate from its pole star, regardless of political persuasion. The government must stop sending ministers to tie rakhis to soldiers in Siachen.

Instead of frontline theatrics it should carry out strategic defence reforms rather than tinkering here and there. But for that you need a full-time defence minister.

(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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