New Delhi: Democracy is also being threatened by the increased politicization of the Indian Army, an institution that preserves the balance of freedom from being eroded and deposed by dictatorship. Indian democracy was always on uncertain grounds in respect of containing insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir, but forces of ultra-nationalism have rendered this task harder and more complicated, and its worst impact is observable on the institution of the army. Quite unprecedentedly, the army has been drawn into immense controversy concerning the conduct and actions of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi. This writer would refrain from pronouncing a blanket condemnation of the officer without ascertaining the full facts of the matter. But the episode should serve as a warning of where ultra-nationalism would lead the army as an institution with grave collateral consequences for freedom and democracy.

When Otto von Bismarck united Germany and wrought it into an imperial Great Power, he was aware of the danger he was courting by joining Prussian martial bravery with ubiquitous German thoroughness. Keen to avoid war except as a last resort, he created a web of overlaying and often secret alliances with Germany’s adversaries and friends alike. It prevented collusion against Hohenzollern Germany and it lowered the risks of war for his country. But the German rise had been so sudden in a span of merely two decades that responsible and sober assimilation of power did not occur as it did in older states of comparable mass. The genius of Bismarck contained the contradictions. But when he was removed by the impatient, insecure and basically incompetent Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany became a dangerous Great Power on the loose. In the circumstances, World War I was inevitable, just as it was fated that militarism would seize Germany, cast the monarchy by the wayside, and hurtle the great, suddenly-risen and angry nation into another and bigger conflict.

India is seized by militaristic ferment today. Its prospects are frightening for anyone reasonably knowledgeable about world history. Movies are celebrating superhuman warriors. Bombay’s beefcake heroes are portraying adventurous army officers. This trend has seamlessly merged into ultra-nationalistic military propaganda in the social media which bears no relation to reality. The army is not behind the senseless propaganda which can be traced back to ruling groups but it is liable to be misled. The Central government of Narendra Modi has to be aware of the hyper-nationalistic narrative taking grip of the country but it equally appears insensitive to the dangers they pose. The counter to insurgency and terrorism in Kashmir is planned and controlled operations on a quiet and sustained basis where army action is the last resort. As has often been argued by this writer, the army is trained for war and the employment of maximum firepower. It has a narrow and circumscribed role as a counterterrorism force whose principal leaders have to be the local police supplemented by paramilitary troops. The army followed these sensible guidelines after having lowered the threshold of violence in Kashmir in the 1990s. The past year has seen a policy upheaval, with the local police in retreat, paramilitary forces bearing the brunt of street anger, and the army stepping up counterterrorism actions with practically no ground intelligence. The buffer between local citizens and the army has worn thin, and further in this direction lies chaos and disaster.

Because the Narendra Modi government is following a hardnosed policy in Kashmir, the army is forced to the forefront of action. If Kashmiri citizens had not become so hopeless and alienated, a situation of desperation would not have arisen where the army had to be called to keep the peace. It is in such circumstances that Major Gogoi felt compelled to depart from lawful procedures to take the action he did. There is some discrepancy in his account of the controversial procedure which an army court of inquiry would have addressed if the Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, had not precipitately intervened with a commendation to the officer. Unknowingly, General Rawat wounded the institution of the army. His defence that his award was prompted by the sentiments of young officers lowers the prestige of the army. The Indian Army is not the Pakistan army to be swayed to misguided action by middle-ranking officers. Populism is not the same thing as boosting morale. To repeat, this writer is neither censuring nor commending Major Gogoi. The army as an institution was capable of handling the issue. It is the brazen meddlesomeness and interference of General Rawat in due process that has been painful and gravely hazardous.

General Rawat is not entirely to blame, however. It is the erosion of democratic politics at the Centre which has imperilled the institution of the army. Since the Narendra Modi government abandoned mingled soft and tough policies and replaced it with all-out militariness in Kashmir, the burden of internal security disproportionately has fallen on the army. It represents historical regression but the army uncomplainingly has accepted the challenge. However, the world has been revolutionized by instant and unrestricted communication which shines a damning light in the darkest places. Militarism sunk Great Power Germany. Militarism has brought Pakistan to the brink with sizeable populations in Baluchistan rising in revolt against military atrocities. For all these decades, the Indian Army operated as an instrument of a democratic republic, its admirable restraint being exercised in direct proportion to its awesome firepower. A nationalistic government at the Centre is blasting these sane and sensible rules of engagement. The future looks disquieting.

To be continued....

Read “Rating the PM - 1,” “2,” “3,” “4,” “5,” “6” and “7” here , here, here, here, here, here and here.