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Indian Armed Forces and 70 years of independence

It is easier to unfurl the flag than to defend it, let us hope people change their hearts' towards the military. Photograph: (Pinterest)

Delhi, India Aug 14, 2017, 08.41 AM (IST) Brigadier Deepak Sinha (Retd)

Pandit Nehru, first unfurled the National Flag from the ramparts of Red Fort, on 16 August 1947, a day after his famous “Tryst with destiny” speech. Ever since then, the political class has worked hard to make Indians believe that it was entirely their efforts that brought about India’s independence from Britain. A corollary to this assumption, deeply ingrained over time, was that it was the British Indian Armed Forces which allowed the British Empire to rule the subcontinent for over two hundred years. 

His loathing for the military was reflected in the manner that Prime Minister Nehru and his colleagues treated the military with utter contempt and neglect.
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Thus, the officers and men of the post-independence Armed Forces, which had evolved from its British roots, came to be seen as mercenaries as well as chief impediments in India's struggle for independence. His loathing for the military was reflected in the manner that Prime Minister Nehru and his colleagues treated the military with utter contempt and neglect. This was to a large extent tinged by the fear of being overthrown by his Generals, as had been the case with our neighbouring country and in many other newly independent states. This perception of the military was not only wholly incorrect but also ironical as it conveniently overlooked and even buried a simple yet compelling truth. 

What made the British to rethink was the military action of the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) who launched an attack on eastern India with the help of Japan.
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While Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress may have ignited the fires for freedom, independence and nationalism among the common people, the tactics of non-violence and Satyagraha had hardly hurt the British intent to rule over its Empire. Rather, what made the British to rethink was the military action of the Azad Hind Fauj (INA) who launched an attack on eastern India with the help of Japan. INA was organised by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose when thirty thousand odd officers and men of the British Indian Army had willingly forsaken their earlier loyalties and joined Bose. It matters little today that their opposition was in complete contrast to the servility shown by the members of the Civil Services and the police forces towards their British masters.

The impact of the Red Fort trials of the RIN Mutineers and increasing incidents of indiscipline as well as the refusal to obey British Commanders within the Forces cannot be underestimated. For example, in February 1946 a soldier, Joginder Singh, was brought to Lahore Jail to begin a life sentence because, as the newspaper The Hindu of 22 Feb 1946 reported, “Joginder Singh and some other Indians protested against the exhibition by the British military authorities of a film entitled ‘Ganga Din’ at a cinema hall in Greece. When no notice was taken of their protest, Joginder Singh visited the cinema hall and attempted to disturb the show”.  As a matter of fact, he did much more; in his attempt to smash the projector he killed a British guard who tried to stop him.    

One is unaware as to what motivated Mr Nehru to declare this as India's Independence Day, since the Indian National Congress, in its Lahore Session in 1929, had actually declared 26 January as Independence Day and celebrated it from 1930 to 1946.
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Incidents such as these made it clear that the British Indian Army, the sword arm of the Empire, could no longer be trusted to do the bidding of its masters. It forced them to unceremoniously bail out while they still could. Thus, the British Government announced on 3rd June 1947 that it had accepted the idea of partitioning British India into two states and their Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947. The new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, chose the second anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II, 15 August, as the date of power transfer. One is unaware as to what motivated Mr Nehru to declare this as India's Independence Day, since the Indian National Congress, in its Lahore Session in 1929, had actually declared 26 January as Independence Day and celebrated it from 1930 to 1946. 

This has, however, not stopped subsequent generations of politicians, with the assistance of a willing bureaucracy, from systematically cutting the military down to size by impinging on its powers, lowering its status and prestige while neglecting its requirements. The upshot, as is to be expected, has been an inability to get suitable volunteers, especially in the officer corps. This has led to a perceptible decline in standards, demoralisation within the rank and file, increasing distrust of the senior hierarchy, which is seen to be compromised and self-serving. 

The dysfunctional relationship with the civilian bureaucracy that has interposed itself between the military and the political leadership has not helped either. Due to this, the Services continue to be held hostage by a moribund system with archaic processes that represent a suffocating straitjacket, disallowing it to deal freely with the complexities of modern warfare. This has led to deliberate neglect over the years, resulting in obsolete inventories, colossal shortages of critical equipment and ammunition.    

Thus, as we celebrate our 70th Independence Day this month there is much to ponder over. Not only do we have an intractable and hostile neighbour in Pakistan, but more worrying is the sabre-rattling and relentless pinpricks from a risen and hostile China that, with the assistance of its “all weather” friend, is determined to keep India restricted to its immediate neighbourhood. It has also lost little time in fuelling and funding a host of insurgencies that have afflicted our North-Eastern States as well as Maoist insurgents who whittle away from within our heartland. There can be little doubt that our internal and external security environment today is both fragile and fraught with possibilities of events that can impact our territorial integrity and way of life.

This has forced the military to take on a responsibility that is rightfully not theirs, and for which they are constantly exposed to uninformed scrutiny and a barrage of allegations.
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In all of this, the Indian Armed Forces find itself in an extremely precarious situation. As events have repeatedly shown, the paramilitary and Central Armed Police Forces are far from achieving the necessary levels of competence required to handle the insurgencies that have been inflicted upon us. This has forced the military to take on a responsibility that is rightfully not theirs, and for which they are constantly exposed to uninformed scrutiny and a barrage of allegations. The Courts too, in their enthusiasm to uphold a skewed version of human rights, have forced the military to confront terrorists and insurgents from within and without while the soldiers have their hands tied behind their backs.

As Prime Minister Modi stands on the ramparts of Red Fort for the third time, it is unlikely that he will have a change of heart towards the military. But he would do well to remember that it is much easier to unfurl the flag than to defend it. The latter calls for more than just empty promises, it calls for focus, resolves and visible action.

Brigadier Deepak Sinha (Retd)

Brigadier Deepak Sinha (Retd) has extensive experience in airborne special operations forces and counter insurgency operations. He is presently a consultant with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, India

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