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The politicisation of the armed forces must stop

Swaying it for electoral gains by proclaiming successes of the military against the traditional adversary Pakistan is certainly leading to politicisation of the military. This must be stopped

analysis Updated: May 22, 2019 18:04 IST
Deepak Kapoor
Deepak Kapoor
The Indian military is highly professional, secular and apolitical. In the past 72 years since Independence, it has never let the nation down(Nitin Kanotra / Hindustan Times)

Thanks to the current general elections, national security has been brought in to focus. Whether it will continue to remain in focus even after the results are announced, depends on the new dispensation that comes to power at the Centre. An inescapable feature of a national security discourse is that the military of the nation occupies a prominent space. Thus, despite steadfastly straining to remain apolitical on its own, the military becomes vulnerable to politicisation when opposing parties in the discourse try to build public support on the basis of their self-proclaimed nationalism.

When we talk of cross-border retaliatory strikes of the military after the terrorist actions at Uri in September 2016 and Pulwama in 2019, these have to be viewed in the context of what they had set out to achieve and how successful they were in accomplishing those goals. By any stretch of imagination, they cannot be seen as reflective of a nation’s military might since not even 1% of it had been physically employed during the strikes.

The first aim of both the strikes was to retaliate against the heinous terrorist acts against our soldiers at Uri and Pulwama, both of which were aided and abetted by Pakistan. Second, it was to destroy the terror infrastructure created by Pakistan all along the Line of Control (LoC) in support of the proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Third, to send a message to Pakistan that its continued support to the terrorists would invite similar retribution in the future. Lastly, the overall aim was to ensure peace and normalcy is restored in J&K by stopping Pakistani support to the proxy war.

Retaliatory strikes against the terror infrastructure across the LoC and within Pakistan were largely successful, thanks to meticulous planning and perfect execution by our professional military. However, only the portion of the terror infrastructure which was struck at could be destroyed, leaving the rest of it intact. That does not seem enough to deter Pakistan from continuing its support. As a result, there has been no let up in the intensity of acts of terrorism and the situation in the Valley continues to remain highly volatile and turbulent. The low turnout for polling during the Lok Sabha elections is a clear indicator. Continuing the intense pressure post the strikes could perhaps have ensured better achievement of the above mentioned aims.

The military has the prime responsibility of ensuring the territorial integrity of the nation. Its apolitical character enables it to serve national interest and remain above narrow parochial and partisan considerations. A democratically elected government has the constitutional obligation of providing the military with the wherewithal to discharge its responsibilities towards the nation. Regrettably, in the last 10 years the annual defence budget as percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) has been progressively coming down and currently stands at an abysmal 1.52% of the GDP against a requirement of approximately 3%. Therefore, our conventional superiority against Pakistan is gradually diminishing and vulnerability vis-à-vis China increasing since it has been spending almost four times more than us on defence for over 20 years now.

While national security has been the central theme of the current elections, it is important that serious issues like modernisation of the military, infrastructural development in border areas, civil-military relations, finalising our national security strategy, streamlining the Defence Procurement Procedure, hastening indigenous defence production through Make in India projects and promoting jointness among the three services, which constitute important facets of national security, are part of the new government’s agenda for the next five years. If national security was used purely for securing electoral gains, then its negative effect would certainly contribute to politicisation of the military, which needs to be avoided at all costs.

The national security debate during elections has also unfortunately revealed the ignorance of our political class to issues connected with it. Engrossed in local issues like employment, poverty, literacy, health care, development etc, most candidates in the electoral fray hardly have the knowledge and even inclination to dwell on national security. A glance at the list of incumbents in previous parliaments would reveal the minuscule number who have ever served in the military or have had any formal education or training in it. Worse, the electorate straining to earn its daily bread and butter to survive, is much less informed or concerned with national security. Thus, swaying it for electoral gains by proclaiming successes of the military against the traditional adversary Pakistan is certainly leading to politicisation of the military.

This politicisation also leaves an unrealistic and incorrect picture of the state of the nation’s military in public perception, leading to a false sense of security. Currently, there is a tremendous degree of hollowness in the military, thanks to a lack of long term planning in defence matters by successive governments. All three services are facing major deficiencies and obsolescence of equipment. No wonder the media have been lately full of reports of huge ammunition shortages in the army and avoidable casualties of precious soldiers due to defective ammunition. Yet the feeling generated by the electoral hype is that of tremendous strength and well being. In the long run, this does not bode well for the nation’s security with a dual threat lurking along our northern borders.

The Indian military is highly professional, secular and apolitical. In the past 72 years since independence, it has never let the nation down. National security is its prime concern. However, to continue to perform at the same high level, it is essential that its apolitical characteristic is sustained and it is provided with the necessary wherewithal to discharge its responsibility honourably. This can only be ensured by the political authority of the nation.

Deepak Kapoor is former Chief of Army staff
The views expressed are personal

First Published: May 22, 2019 18:03 IST