Friday, November 14, 2008

The Hindutva virus can have all manner of consequences for the Indian armed forces

The Kargil affair was a text-book example of an intelligence failure. There was failure first in assessing the strategic intentions of the Pakistan Army, and then in tracking its tactical movements across the border. Both the Research & Analysis Wing which was responsible for strategic intelligence and the Military Intelligence which should have caught the infiltration on the ground failed. It was not as though the information was not there. It was, but those who were supposed to be tracking it could not see between the woods and the trees. Sometimes when you are not looking for something you don't see it, even if it is right there in front of you.
Something of that kind could be happening to not just the Indian Army, but our security agencies with regard to Hindutva terrorism. The investigation of Lt Col Purohit's involvement in the Nanded and Malegon blasts is in its early phase as yet, so it could be a trifle risky to generalise.
The Indian Army remains a remarkably secular force in the true Indian tradition of sarva dharma sambhava.
In some ways the Indian Army is truly unique. There are few armies in the world that tamely accept the kind of bureaucratic manhandling that the Indian Army does. In the 1950s and 1960s it refused to get involved in the country's politics despite gross mismanagement by the political and bureaucratic class. This was a time when it was said that the involvement of the army in politics was a question of when, not if. Among the potential successors American writer, Welles Hagen named in his book After Nehru Who? was General K.S. Thimayya, the chief of army staff. Since then, the army has been involved in pulling the politicians chestnuts out of the fire in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and the North-East, but at no time has there been a suggestion that it has either been affected by the blight of communalism, or undermined the concept of civilian supremacy over the armed forces.


A great deal of the Army's management style comes from the British who learnt their 1857 Mutiny lessons well. The soldiers are kept isolated in cantonments and a system of watch has been established to ensure that they do not become potential recruits to one of the many millenarian movements that are erupting in India all the time. The finest, and as yet unrecognised hour came in the 1947 Partition in which the newly divided army did not degenerate into a communalised killing force. Instead, on both sides, it protected civilians regardless of their religious affiliation and helped put down the flames where it could.
The problem in the Purohit case is that it involves the breakdown of the very agency that is supposed to police the Army — the Military Intelligence directorate. In some ways this is not surprising. Intelligence and security personnel have an exaggerated notion of their own patriotism. In this scheme of things traitors are to be found everywhere — politics, government, media, especially the media. Anything to the Left of Manmohan Singh is potentially traitorous. Is it any wonder that R&AW does not have any Muslim officers even today? Add a dash of Hindutva to this addled patriotism, and you have an explosive mixture.


Reduced to its bare minimum, the key attribute of a nation state is that it retains the exclusive power of organised killing, and its key instrumentality here is its army. It is not surprising that nationalism, or the celebration of the nation state, is its core ideology. But there is a paper thin division between patriotism and super-patriotism or nationalism and ultra-nationalism. There are no dearth of examples in history when armies have been afflicted by the problem. Super-patriots have decided that the civilian leaders are not nationalist enough and have usurped power. The consequences of ultranationalism or super-patriotism have always been baleful, whether in Japan in the 1930s or Serbia in the 1990s or Pakistan since its very independence.
Ultranationalism has had another edge in India — that of Hindutva promoted by the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar. For them, nationalism, or really ultranationalism has been linked to the promotion of Hindu chauvinism or a concept of nationality linked to the religious identity of the majority community. They have never been very clear as to what fate they have intended for the minorities — the tens of millions of Muslims and Christians. But recent developments suggest that it cannot be very comfortable. These were, of course, ideas mirroring those being put forward by people like Sir Muhammad Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
But the India that came into being in 1947 self-consciously rejected this notion for the most practical of reasons. Within the union were castes and communities belonging to several religions and ethnic origins. The only possible compact that could work was that based on the notion of secularism.
In India the danger does not arise from the army, but from the acceptability of majoritarian communalism. The government can and must take steps to ensure far better bureaucratic management of the military than has been available in recent years. The Pay Commission wrangle is a classic case of missing the woods for the trees. The IAS Defence secretary went into the issue as an IAS officer rather than as an officer servicing the armed forces. The angry buzz that has resulted should not be a cause for comfort for anyone. Neither should it be seen as some kind of a rebellion. It is a straightforward reaction to a stupidly provocative act. The government must ensure that within reasonable bounds, the armed forces remain physically and ideologically isolated from the masses. Whether it involves more cantonments, better housing and perks, or surveillance, is something it has to decide.


But even the government cannot isolate the armed forces from the political and social trends in a country in which Muslims and Christians and other minorities are demonised.The Bharatiya Janata Party, the saner and more practical part of the Hindutva network, needs to reflect on what happens when the Army gets involved in politics on the pretext of protecting the nation.
In contrast to the mainstream Indian national movement which sought to unite all of India's various communities and castes into a single nation — the Pakistan movement insisted that Muslims were a separate nation. This improbable concept has resulted in Pakistan remaining a nation-in-being, sixty years after its independence. Today, as a wag has put it, Pakistan is an army with a country, rather than a country with an army.
In India, the nation that emerged was avowedly secular and its armed forces, despite some hiccups, fitted in reasonably into its national ideology which emphasised equality of all citizens regardless of their caste, creed or colour. Changing the national ethos requires the destruction of the prevailing ideology of the state's ultimate instrumentality. This is not an impossible project; witness the sharp descent of the Pakistan Army between 1947 and 1958. But it has long-term consequences which may not be as beneficial to the Sangh Parivar, leave alone the nation.
This article first appeared in Mail Today November 12, 2008

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