Yoga as prelude to politicization of the military
This January, 250 army men of Western Command attended the Yoga Teacher's Training Course organised by Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. They are the first lot of 1000 yoga trainers who are then to return to barracks and conduct yoga for troops. That the media finds this association between the army and Baba Ramdev’s outfit as news worthy suggests the link needs further query.
The aim ostensibly is to de-stress the army in cantonments in Western Command’s peace stations before they return for yet another tour of duty in some or other counter insurgency area or high altitude picket.
Superficially, this is for the good in so far as physical and mental fitness goes. The army has figured in the news earlier for the wrong reasons: soldier suicides, fratricide and affrays between officers and men. Among the enabling conditions for such avoidable incidents is stress. Yoga is meant to mitigate such stress.
Yoga caught on in the military long before the three chiefs along with a brigade of Delhi based troops lined up behind the prime minister on the Raj Path for yoga last June. It has been in practice for about a decade, with the army turning its attention to the psychological scars of countering insurgency once the situation in Kashmir started stabilizing mid last decade. Art of Living had also made an advent at about the same time for similar reasons.
The problem is not so much yoga as much as the army’s institutional association with Baba Ramdev’s organization. The Baba is controversial with his business deals having come in for investigative scrutiny. The premises in Haridwar where army men spent couple of weeks hosted a convention for the RSS year before last. The Baba is a known cheerleader for Prime Minister Mr. Modi.
Such proximity is not without its underside. Yoga is enwrapped in a cultural context. Cultural transmission can be expected, such as of ritual, intonations and interpretation of Sanskritic texts. Since the program requires residence on campus, dietary mores and ashram routine would also be conduits.
A right wing associated organization is not about to pass up an opportunity for influencing the army with its world view. Even if tacit, the exposure of 1000 troops this training year, and perhaps more to follow in subsequent years, will enable a window of penetration of the right wing perspective into the army.
This raises the question as to why this apprehension escaped the army’s exercise of due diligence in going about its yoga training program.
I suggest that the impetus is from both directions. While it can be expected that right wing organizations are interested in the military, counter intuitively, it appears that the military is not averse to such attention.
The growing grip of Hindutva forces across polity and into society, such as over the education sector, the army should be alert to the possibility that it cannot escape like attention. This should have made it defensive, if not prickly, so as to reduce the politicization and corresponding effect on professionalism that penetration of cultural nationalism entails.
Its yoga program does not suggest that it is mindful of the otherwise obvious dangers. Since these are easy to apprehend, a plausible inference is that the army is courting Hindutva. Since it takes two to tango, are there are elements within the military opening the door wider?
An illustration is the appearance of articles on Vedic leadership in military publications, specifically in the Infantry Journal and on the website of the army think tank. This is of a piece with a leadership in the nineties by the Army’s Training Command on the leadership philosophy of the controversial godman, Sai Baba.
Is politicization underway? This is not in the usual sense of the term in a convergence of institutional and political interest of the military leading to its displacing of the government, as in Pakistan. This is better described as incidence of subjective civilian control in which the civilian ruling dispensation connects with the military by ensuring that the military shares its world view, in this case, of Hindutva, such as is the case in communist states.
This is as against objective civilian control in which the military is rendered politically inert by being left to its professional devices. The difference between the two is that where objective civilian control is exercised, the military not a political player. Where the military is under subjective civilian control, the military is kept out of politics because, in subscribing to the dominant perspective, it does not feel the need to intervene.
Such a move by Hindutva forces can be expected. Once they go about their reset of India in right earnest, they would prefer to keep the military to its professional till. Whereas the mechanism of objective civilian control is available to this end, the ambitious Hindutva agenda for India forces a preference for a tighter embrace of the military. This will ensure, firstly, that it can be kept out by decree and does not feel the need to intervene, and, secondly, that it can be made to weigh in on the side of Hindutva, in case Hindutva forces find the going tough over the longer term.
In light of Indian military’s apolitical record, it can be argued that such apprehensions of convergence of interest are outlandish. This is true in so far as the military’s interest, unlike that of its peer militaries in developing states, was never in a takeover of the state. This would continue to be so, the difference this time round is that the military will increasingly subscribes to the world view of the regime in power.
This is not troubling in so far as the paradigm is a conservative-realist one that militaries, universally, subscribe to. However, the makeover of India in the image of majoritarian nationalism is unlikely to remain a political and democratic exercise. Aware of this, Hindutva forces would like a placid military when they contrive to remain in power and their agenda goes beyond governance.
On this count, the army’s association with Baba Ramdev is only superficially innocent, to do only with yoga. The army is not so politically innocent as to be unaware of the upfront social and political changes ongoing in India. Its choice of Baba Ramdev suggests that it needs watching as much as the moves of the Hindutva combine to influence it.