Army: discipline and legitimacy

By K.N. Pandita

After independence, our Army continued with the code of discipline blueprinted by the British rulers of India. By and large, the blue print was and is close to what the British adopted for their troops. World War II had helped bring about parity of discipline in the two structures. One significant advantage of India continuing as a member of British Commonwealth was that our senior officers in armed forces regularly updated their theoretical and practical training in military science at Britain’s advanced training institutes.  

What helped our armed forces in perpetuating the legacy of discipline is our democratic political arrangement which places armed forces under immediate control of a defence minister answerable to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and finally to the President as its Supreme Commander. Salute to our armed forces that have set down an enviable example of highest discipline. Compare post-independence history of our armed forces with any other de-colonized state, including our western neighbour or some of the African States, and you will understand the stature and status of India’s defence forces. Remember that our armed forces present the finest example of multicultural defence establishment in a heterogeneous society.

While enumerating positive implications of a heterogeneous society supporting a highly disciplined Army, the question demanding our attention is whether the post-independence history of our Army did find space for healthy and constructive socialization. According to the desk book theory, our Army is supposed to defend the country from external aggression. But additionally, it can also be called to assist in overcoming natural or man made calamity. Thus the army has a long history of coming to the assistance and rescue of earthquake, floods and fire sufferers besides providing healthcare facilities on limited scale to the needy at far flung places where immediate medical assistance is not easily available.

Undoubtedly this humanitarian assistance does contribute to the socialization prospect of the Army. But much remains to be done in this sphere. A general impression among our armed forces is that they are somehow distanced (I desist from using the word segregated or isolated) from broad civil society, and the civil society, in turn, somehow thinks that the armed forces need no social moorings or emotional and physical ties with it. Both perceptions need to be corrected.

Sixty-four years have passed when our country threw off the yoke of foreign domination. Today we are in an era of highly advanced technology in which, apart from other things, distances, physical or mental, have shrunk immensely. Scientific and technological advance has broken the walls of isolation and segregation. Globalization has made societies inter-dependent and interactive. This necessitates inter-play between the Army and civil society on a much wider plane. The impression that a man in olive green is “the other” is what has come down to us as legacy of colonial rule. A strong drive to remove such aberrations is needed.
Strict norms of discipline should not deny a soldier the legitimacy of constructive thinking about the future of the nation. In an age of sophisticated technologies, political perceptions cannot remain contraband and “touch me not” stuff for an active soldier.

In a country where poverty line is in the neighbourhood of thirty per cent and illiteracy around 40 per cent, it is not possible to suppress the reaction of broader masses of population. A good chunk of our defence personnel comes from the deprived and below poverty line segment of society. No doubt they are integral to the defence establishment but they are also integral to one or the other segment of civil society. They seek rationalization of this contradictory phenomenon.

While approaching civil society, a soldier essentially maintains Army’s code of discipline. After all he is a professional. But our civil society has not been able to strengthen its code of discipline if any. This is a precarious situation, sort of contagion which can infect Army rapidly. We have the recent examples of various scams in this country. For socialization process, it is important that a high level of discipline is inculcated among the members of civil society from early age, precisely from school going age. Therefore wide scale interaction between the Army and our educational institutions will remain the most effective instrument of civil-military socialization debut.

Civil-military interaction has to be of several tiers. Education, culture, sports, hiking, healthcare, tourism and amenities etc., are the vital fields that can throw up loosely-knit civil-military camaraderie.
Another facet of socialization and legitimizing army’s disciplinary outlook could be that of bringing some semblance of financial security to the forces. Why should not our army have its farms and factories and manufacturing and distributing centres? Why should not Army have a role in transport over National Highways of sensitive nature from security viewpoint? Why should not Army be a stakeholder in mega projects like water resource conservation and power generation? When the President is the Supreme Commander of the armed forces, why should not the CGS be ex-officio member of the Union Cabinet which is also answerable to the President?

It is legitimate for our Army to strive for effective interaction with civil society. The atmosphere of suspicions and no-trust syndrome created by the colonizers, still lingering in dregs, has to be replaced with freshness of confidence and credibility. Civil society must create more space for the utilization of expertise of active as well as retired defence personnel, officers as well as ORs in larger interests of the nation. The Army needs to be more visible and more familiar. Its role in contributing to policy planning at various levels shall have to be conceded. Its status as a decisive factor in nation building effort has to be recognized. A soldier is not a visitor or a guest; he is a close family member sharing the good and the bad of the household. The country is our household and we are all its members.

Indian army is no more an army of a de-colonized country; it is not an army of occupation, nor one with alienated mentality. The colonial time shenanigans have to be broken. It is a great and mightily disciplined army of a free and sovereign nation: a great mission awaits her on international plane to render meritorious services to the mankind. It has to be the part of “citizens of the world” concept. This legitimacy is bestowed upon her by her remarkable discipline and subservience to the rule of law.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir).

Comments are closed.