Traditionally, functionally and constitutionally, the military in India has been ‘apolitical’. It was governed strictly as par the functional necessity and within the constitutional scheme. The president of the republic is the Supreme Commander and Article 53(2) provides that the Supreme Command of the Defence Forces shall be vested in the President. The exercise thereof is Constitutionally mandated to be regulated by law. It is noteworthy that the President while being the Supreme Commander does not hold any such superior position, be it in regard to the houses of Parliament, Judiciary, or the civil services. Mention of the military has been appropriately inserted where needed, for instance, in Articles 33, 72, 136, 227, 310 or in Part XVIII and entries 1- 4 of List I under the Seventh Schedule.
The military officers are granted the commission on their joining the service by the President. The parchment commission is signed personally by the President of India. Another significant practice worthy of reckoning rule is that while the persons working as Governors of the States, Cabinet Secretary, Secretary in PMOs, Home Secretary, Defence Secretary, etc. may change with the coming in office of a new government, there is no such change of the service chiefs. Such a practice contributes to functional continuity while at the same time dispelling any notion of bringing in favourites as incumbents.
In the above backdrop, there have been instances when the service chiefs were treated harshly by the political leadership but those instances did not rake up any charge of politicization. Examples in this regard may be given of General Thimayya being censured by Prime Minister Nehru in the Parliament after he was persuaded to withdraw his resignation rendered in protest against the mode of functioning of Defence Minister Krishna Menon, or General SF Rudrigner being reprimanded by Defence Minister for his remarks about ‘bandicoots’. Even sacking of Naval Chief Vishnu Bhagwat did not attract any criticism of politicization.
What exactly is meant by ‘Politicization’? The word means an action or causing any activity or event to become political in character. The word has generally a negative connotation. A matter or issue which has been politicized would imply its assuming a shape other than on merits.
It involves deliberately distorting actions, analysis or judgments to favor a preferred line of thinking, irrespective of evidence. Most consider `classic’ politicization to be which occurs if actions are carried out to conform to policymakers’ views. A number believe politicization also results from management pressures to define and prosecute certain lines of analysis and substantive viewpoints. Still others believe that changes in tone or emphasis made during the normal review or coordination process. Limited scope is afforded means for expressing alternative viewpoints.
Politicization of the military may take place by a variety of means. To begin with, the person at the top brushes aside any suggestions. Criticism or counter-points are discouraged. An authoritative stance is usually adopted and the decisions from the top expect implicit compliance. There may be crude display of favouritism and bias. Likes and dislikes are clearly demonstrated.
What are the examples of politicization injected in the military? Numerous examples can be given as to how was it practicized and in what matters. For instance, it was carried out by demoralizing or trivializing the armed forces. This became singularly apparent by the absence of President and Prime Minister etc from the Army Day reception. This showed an unexplained departure from decades old practice. Another example can be seen from the occasion when the Home Minister, rather than the Defence Minister, took charge of the ground operations against the terrorists at Pathankot air base. Needless to say, it sent confusing signals about the channel of command.
Political interference by discarding age old established norms was seen when roads in cantonments were thrown open to the civilians. Such a policy decision was taken without seeking views of the station commanders or security officials. Yet another example can be given when civilians were allowed entry for treatment in military hospitals. The sanctity of regulations was arbitrarily ignored.
Politicization can be said to have taken place when military officers, as a class, were discriminated against in a matter affecting large number of officers the benefit of Non Functional Financial Upgrade. The decision of the Armed Forces Tribunal was trampled upon and matter dragged on for months in the Supreme Court where serving military officers to their utter disgust found themselves being opposed by the Ministry of Defence. Further, the action of humiliation was brazenly demonstrated by insensitive remarks about service officers getting ‘palatial bungalows’.
Politicization became apparent when a peaceful agitation for grant of ‘One Rank One Pension’ OROP was brutally sought to be crushed by getting the old veterans & widows roughed up by the police.
It is an arbitrary and irresponsible interference that smacks of politicization when a Lieut General superseded two seniors and occupied the chair of Army Chief or when Vice Admiral Bimal Verma has almost been overtaken by Karambir Singh with the designation of the later to be the next Naval Chief.
It is open politicization when the credit for military action in retaliation taken in Kashmir was taken by the political leadership during election campaigns. Party posters were seen portraying release of Wing Commander as a major achievement. In all fairness any political party would like to take due advantage for their decisions. Winston Churchil is said to have won the second war for the British. However, what introduces politicization in such a matter is the subsequent claim when in comparison the previous governments were lampooned for their in-action against earlier terror attacks. A clear risk of such a politisation is present in an implied impression to the rank and file that the new government could make the same military perform better against the adversary. Thus, taking credit for a military operation (in the context of Pulmana and Balakot) and bestowing discredit on the earlier political regime is an instance of politicization that may confuse or demoralize the rank and file. Claiming credit for success of a military operation per se may not be unusual. But the recent claim led to eyebrows being raised specially when a political heavy weight Chief Minister called the armed forces as ‘Modi ki Sena’.
Why should’nt the armed forces be politicized? What is wrong in it? It is not to be done because the unity and territorial integrity of the Union can only be safeguarded, against an external aggression or armed rebellion by the armed forces functioning purely in a professional manner, divested by any political considerations. Defence of India is to be the prime and sole consideration. On the other hand, military that is politicized may get swayed by regional, cast based, religious or other factors. There lies a danger of its getting politically aligned on above lines.
Politicization carries another grave risk of its being a doubled edged weapon. Military leaders and commanders may turn to exploit opportune moments to their own selfish advantage. Personal advantage or ambitions in such cases may lead to total disregard of professional performance and functioning. This is to be totally avoided lest the military leadership in India takes up the example of their Pakistani counterparts.