In independent India, as survival instincts ebbed, socialistic dreams drowned and opening of the economy ushered in an ‘emerging India’ – its fractured and deeply polarised society sought a unifying rallying cause that embellished quasi-majoritarianism under the garb of hyper-nationalism. Alongside, the political appeal of appropriating the army became an irresistible device to enhance nationalistic credentials.
2014 general elections saw the soldier-rabbit pulled out of the hat, to conjure a seductive image of muscularity, decisiveness and patriotism. Still, while its suitors are many, and the army has taken failed promises on its chins, it has remained steadfast, ramrod straight and absolutely silent on the question as to who exactly owns it. It rightfully swears to the Constitution of India and not to any political party, person or religion.
Does the Indian army belong to Raj Thackeray who offers Rs 5 crore to it, to Kargil martyr’s daughter Gurmehar Kaur, to Mohan Bhagwat, Kanhaiya Kumar, gau rakshaks or Umar Khalid? The simple answer is, it belongs to ‘all of the above’ and to the 1,300 million other Indians, irrespective of their opinions about the armed forces.
Recent times have seen the armed forces being inserted into so many political contexts – from Afspa to surgical strikes, Pakistani artistes, even demonetisation. The ‘soldier’ is the leitmotif of the nationalist, rationalist and even anti-nationalist, getting redefined by usage and context. All the while the armed forces officially choose to keep mum, as they have for the past 70 years.
The vicarious voice in the form of the veterans, which emerged powerfully in the OROP agitation, has sadly but successfully been divided with the old fogeys echoing party lines with typical military bluster on social networks. Many among them have morphed into ‘newsroom warriors’, in tilted regimental hats, adding incontestable patriotism to party flags. Yet despite multiple provocations, interferences and allusions, the armed forces have not chosen one Indian over the other!
Recent state elections saw the tragic misuse of the Indian soldier in watermark, with reference to ‘surgical strikes’. Similarly the woes of demonetisation were brushed aside by rote invocations of “if our soldiers can stand for hours every day guarding our borders”. The inherent danger of such a casual invocation of the Indian soldier is the willy-nilly invitation to force a political flavour on an institution that is proudly apolitical. The last and only successful bastion of inclusivity, secularism and region-agnosticism runs the risk of prefixing ‘pseudo’ to most of these adjectives, which define and exemplify their current conduct.
Political parties weigh every action from the tactical and dynamic prism of electoral relevance, but the Indian armed forces have historically been spared the blatant misuse of context. We must continue with this tradition and the Indian soldier needs to be spared the condescending words, and worse, the jumlas. Instinctively, the army believes in actions not words and therefore needs to be given space and time to do what it does best, ie protect the nation at any cost, as it is India’s army.
Source: Times of India, April 8, 2017