In theory and practice, civil-military balance is an over-arching theme of national security policies of modern democratic states. In 1957, Samuel Phillips Huntington, a renowned American political scientist, in his book “Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations” introduced the theory of civil-military relations and “civilian control” as a factor indispensable for the achievement of “civil-military balance” in a country. In Huntington’s view, civil-military balance is attained by exercising “civilian control.” Civilian control, he suggests, is the relative power of military and civil leadership. Decrease in the powers of military increases civilian control. Further, Huntington divides civilian control into Subjective Civilian Control i.e. maximising the powers of civilians, and Objective Civilian Control i.e. maximising the professionalism of military forces.
The evolution of military into a professional organisation renders it subservient to civilian leaderships, dedicating military services exclusively to society-determined security interests rather than individual-determined interests. Therefore, a professional military is apolitical body owing its loyalties to the state and not to state individuals. On the contrary, a politicised military is understood as a body that steers away from its professional commitments by establishing political positions.
The evolution of military into a professional organisation renders it subservient to civilian leaderships, dedicating military services exclusively to society-determined security interests rather than individual-determined interests.
Civil-military relations in India are overtly taking a new turn. Recent years of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rule have experienced echoing debates of self-motivated vs. political discourse-led politicisation of the Indian military forces. More specifically, the Indian military, which was fundamentally and tacitly kept away from Indian politics is currently experiencing normalisation of political tendencies. This is manifested by state’s employment of military for civil-political purposes. Also, quite recently, Indian military officers have also displayed a propensity to issuing politically-motivated remarks.
The dissociation of Indian forces from politics has been widely celebrated in India until recently, when trends of politicisation of armed forces overtly surfaced during BJP’s rule. However, it would be an overstatement to argue that the Indian forces have always remained apolitical. Indian military has been employed for violence limitation efforts domestically, which is the domain of civil establishment and India’s paramilitary forces primarily. During the 1970s, Indian Armed Forces were relied upon for quenching civil uprisings across Punjab, Mizoram, Ahmedabad and Nagaland. India’s anti-terror offensive in Punjab during 1980s, heavily depended on the military, leading to Lt. General R. S. Dayal’s (Chief of Staff, Western Command) appointment as home adviser to the Governor of Punjab – rendering the military a de facto control of home department. Owing to Indian armed forces’ opposition for the resolution of Siachen dispute, it remains unresolved till date despite political efforts taken up by Rajiv Gandhi in late 1980s and Manmohan Singh in mid 2000s.
More recently, India’s so-called 2016 surgical strikes were also domestically dubbed as PM Modi’s political capitalisation of a military operation. In April 2019, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Aditiyanth, referred to Indian Army as “Modi Ji ki sena (Modi’s Army)” – during election campaign. Similar trend was later followed by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a union minister.
The dissociation of Indian forces from politics has been widely celebrated in India until recently, when trends of politicisation of armed forces overtly surfaced during BJP’s rule.
The recent appointment of General Bipin Rawat as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), revs up the phenomenon and marks a new course in the civil-military relations in India. Before his appointment as CDS, General Rawat served as the chief of Indian Army for three years. During his tenure as Army Chief, Rawat raised several controversies regarding his political ambitions by issuing political remarks against Indian minorities, Kashmiri protestors, mass protests against Citizenship Amendment Act and neighbouring states like China, Pakistan and Myanmar. General Rawat’s appointment as the CDS has materialised following an amendment in the Indian services rules for Army, Airforce and Navy along with the carving out of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Indian Defence Ministry. Oddly enough, DMA has been designed to include not only military personnel, but civilians as well, under the command of serving military personnel. The Gazette order, allowing the establishment of the Department of Military Affairs, headed by the Chief of Defence Staff, goes on to scrap off operational scope of the Indian Department of Defence by removing armed services, their respective headquarters, the territorial army and works relating to the Army, Navy and Airforce from its ambit.
Establishment of CDS office is being hailed across some circles for being a bold decision that aptly responds to the need of building a synergy among the three services of Indian Military. At the same time, the development is also being heavily criticised as it serves to deepen the politicisation of Indian military. General Rawat’s appointment delineates that developing and overtly displaying political inclinations can instigate military men to ascend to upper echelons of power. Analysts have already pointed out that the politicisation of the armed forces will result in promotion of politically-motivated officers
On societal level, the politicisation of armed forces brings along a militarised society.
The negative externalities of politicisation of military are well-established and known since long. Post-colonial era has seen a number of developing states bearing the brunt of oppressive totalitarian military rules, leading countries into economic instability, political dissent and trans-border military engagements. India has opted for a retrogressive path as its dependence on military for gaining political ends is bound to come at the cost of a decreased civilian control. This shall entail considerable alterations in India’s long-held defence as well as civil apparatus. Increased involvement in domestic affairs might also compromise military preparedness for external threats. On societal level, the politicisation of armed forces brings along a militarised society. In the longer run, a deepening involvement of armed forces in political affairs, coupled with an increasing state-wide polarisation along communal lines shall borne an ideologically-motivated and a domineering military, calling the shots for civilian administration.
The potential of armies opting political courses was stated by a 20th century Italian political scientist Gaetano Mosca as “The class that bears the lance or holds the musket regularly forces its rule upon the class that handles the spade or pushes the shuttle.” To question the future trajectory of civil-military equation in India, one has to question the degree of resistance that the Indian military forces can assert against the push of political actors, putting to test, the long-held claims of an apolitical military.