Military in a Partisan Nation
Let me begin with quoting these pearls of wisdom through the Oped in Hindustan Times this morning (January 18). “These protests ( against CAA) are also witnessing a visible, unabashed assertion of religious identity, or more specifically, Muslim identity, including through the now controversial chanting of “La illaha illallah”. This religious assertion has made some supporters of the protests uncomfortable. This discomfort is misplaced. Rather than dismissing and wishing away the assertion of religious identity, it ought to be understood as part of India’s conversation with secularism and definition of its practice” . The author here happens to be one Yamini Aiyar, who is the President of Centre for Policy Research, a think tank that is liberally funded by the Ministry of Human Resources Development and is based at Chanakyapuri (the plot must have been given to it by the government at a throwaway price).
On the other hand, I have seen many nasty remarks by the secular likes of Aiyar in the social media against the newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, for his highly sensible suggestion at the Raisina Dialogue in the national capital on February 16 that Kashmiri children influenced by “radicalisation” from the secessonsit Islamic fundamentalists should be “put in de-radicalisation camps”, a highly successful and democratic way of dealing with terrorism not only in many other countries but also elsewhere within India. The critics, particularly “the Khan Market gang” , were literally wild with the General when he added “Terrorism is here to stay so long as there are states that will sponsor terrorism and use terrorists as proxies, make weapons and funding available for them. The war on terror is not ending, it is something which is going to continue, we will have to live with it until we understand and get to the roots of terrorism.”
In fact, it is not only a question with the “Khan Market gang”; our opposition parties, particularly the Congress under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, virtually led a verbal war with General rawat when he was the Army Chief, the latter’s fault being his strong words and resolve against enemies like Pakistan. In fact, there have been virtually no difference in what Pakistan says and what the Congress and Khan Market gang say about India under the Modi government. One gets the impression, i hope I am wrong, if tomorrow Pakistan attacks India under the plea of removing Modi from power, the Congress and the Khan Market gang will not only welcome it but also actively assist Pakistan in the war efforts.
Politics always plays a role in deciding whether a nation should go to war or not. It can always be debatable. Going to war is an offensive action; but resisting and fighting an aggression or war is a defensive measure. Therefore politics involving an offensive action is different from politics inherent in a defensive action. To put it simply, in a country, particularly if it is a democracy, it will be rare to find domestic or political consensus when it attacks another country; but consensus is easily found and solidarity effortlessly rallied when it is under attack by another country.
This explains why rarely one found bipartisan consensus when the United States attacked Vietnam or Iraq or even Kosovo or for that matter Britain under the premiership of Tony Blair participated in the war against Sadam Hussain’s Iraq. But when there were terror attacks on New York (9/11) or London or Paris (series of them in the last five years), people in the US, Britain and France stood together by forgetting all their differences.
However, the Indian democracy is an exception to this rule. Otherwise, we would not have been witnessing highly avoidable noises in our polity over the air-strike on Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26. Actually, India is a unique democracy which witnessed even some political support, howsoever insignificant it may be, for China when it attacked the country in 1962. India is a country where each and every terrorist attack on the country, be it attack on parliament in 2001 or attack on Mumbai in 2008 or attack on Uri in 2016 or attack on Pathankot air base the same year and attack on Pulwama on February 19, 2019 has been followed by political disunity rather than solidarity.
After each attack on the country, opposition parties’ tirade is directed more at the government of the day, not the attacker. Take the Pulwama episode. It witnessed immediate and then relentless attacks on the government by almost all the opposition leaders as to how “a Prime Minister with 56 inch-chest” has been downed and humiliated by Pakistan and how it is an “unpardonable” intelligence-failure on the part of the government.
However, after the Indian Air Force hit the terrorist –network at Balikot, the direction of the discourse might have changed but its nature remains the same. The opposition parties and their supporters were demanding from the government the concrete results of the attack in terms of the death tolls. What they wanted to portray was that in the absence of such figures, the mission was a huge flop. Some of them had even gone to the extent of saying that Pakistan came out better than India because of this strike. They were not impressed by the facts that by striking in Balakot of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), India made irrelevant not only the line of Control (LoC) but also the International Border with Pakistan, a huge strategic achievement that matters much more than the casualty numbers and damage and that Pakistan was completely isolated internationally. In fact, one is unaware of any victory or defeat following any military action or war in history that has been determined on the basis of how many died and what was the material damage.
It may also be noted here that it was not the first time that the Indian Air Force was prepared to cross over to Pakistan and avenge the terrorist attacks emanating from there. It had expressed similar desire following 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. And, in my considered view, the IAF in 2008 was much stronger than what it is today. But, if we go by former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon’s book, “Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy”, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not agree. As he writes, “ Personalities matter. With a different mix of people at the helm, it is quite possible that India would have chosen differently. In fact, if India is forced to make a similar choice in the future, I am sure it will respond differently.”
Menon, viewed thus, has been prophetic. By giving the IAF the green signal to go deep inside Pakistan, Modi did what Manmohan Singh could not dare. In fact, now Modi has done something which future governments will repeat when confronted with similar situation, irrespective of its political hue.
As a mature democracy, the IAF’s heroic achievements should have evoked discussions predominantly on the strategic and tactical implications. We should have spent more time on debating the weapon- systems we used and war strategies we adopted. Instead, the airtime in TV, newsprints in the print media and focus in the social media had been on the death tolls and the so-called politicisation of the airstrike. I am deliberately using the word “so-called”, because I really find it difficult to fathom the term “politicisation”. Under it, if the mission succeeds then the credit is of the armed forces only, not of the government of the day in any manner; but if the mission fails, then it is the government or the Prime Minister who is the villain. If the opposition lambasts the government for any mishap, then it is not politicisation, but if the government takes credit, then it becomes politicisation.
In fact, I do not know whether it is politicisation or not when some political parties described General Rawat, the then Army Chief as “ a street goonda” over his actions in Kashmir and the then Air Chief as “a liar” for his views on the procurement of Rafale aircraft. Similarly, I do not know whether it is politicisation or not when political parties drive a wedge between the Air Force and the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, not to speak of their role in the earlier controversies over the One Rank One Pension, Armed Forces Special Power Act and Siachen glacier. I do not know whether it is politicisation or not when a political party leads the campaign for proofs of the surgical strikes across the LoC on September 29, 2016 but invites the military leader of this very strike to prepare a report on national security after his retirement.
Of course, this leader, one of our finest generals, did not join that party and one hopes his services should be solicited in future by the other parties, including the present ruling party as well. But the worrying point here is the debilitating impact of senseless politicisation of our armed forces and armed actions. Let us remember one of the most cherished principles of the Indian military: its independence from partisan politics. Our military has not been built for a partisan nation.
By Prakash Nanda