Wednesday, 12 February 2020


Abstract: The rise to taking over state power after elections of 2014 by majoritarian forces in India has since witnessed weakening of institutions of governance. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP] has returned to power with an enhanced parliamentary majority in the 2019 elections. The rise of hindutva [Hindu-ness], the Hindu nationalist political philosophy of the formations comprising the BJP and the Sangh parivaar [organizational family of the Sangh] or affiliates of the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh[RSS], has reshaped the discourse on the ‘idea of India’. Under the extensive reframing in majoritarian nationalist terms of Indian political verities, it is conceivable that the Indian military, widely regarded as a professional, apolitical and secular force, will also be impacted.

There has been little academic scrutiny of the possible influence of majoritarianism on the Indian military. The paper examines impact of the onset of majoritarianism democracy on India’s military by taking a close look at the movement in civil-military relations under the BJP government. There is a shift in civil-military relations from objective civilian control, that enhances professionalism and keeps the military apolitical, to subjective civilian control, wherein the military is co-opted through subscribing to the ideology-based security perspective of the ruling party. This shift poses for the military a risk of losing their apolitical ethic. Erosion of the apolitical ethic of the military will open up the military’s secular ethic to modification.

The conclusions are both relevant for policy and theory. The relevance for policyliesin the need for  the Indian state and the military to preserve professionalism by persisting with the objective civilian control model. The theoretical relevance is in discerning limits to the concept of obedience of the military to the civilian political rulers. Where there is a threat from a political ideology or its penetration into the military’s intellectual domain with the potential to dilute the military’s professionalism, the military needs to pushback for the sake of national security.

Key words - Indian military, military sociology, hindutva, military professionalism, civil-military relations, Indian politics
The Indian military is widely regarded as professional, which is defined in civil–military theory as embodying expertise, corporate autonomy and social responsibility [Huntington 1967: 8–18]. In addition, India’s military also has a reputation for being apolitical [Cohen 1971: 166-67, 176] and secular. Its apolitical ethic has long distinguished it from peer militaries since historically it has stayed out of politics [Wilkinson 2015: 3; Cohen 2010: 5]. Its secular ethic is its being imbued with the notable Indian cultural value of secularism enshrined in the Constitution’s preamble [Ogden 2017: 13-14]. Of late there are concerns over the possible erosion in this apolitical and secular ethic.
As regards secularism, the apprehensions of a revision in India’s approach to secularism renewed with the votaries of hindutva [Hindu-ness] or cultural nationalism gaining power in 2014.It was accompanied by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attaining a parliamentary majorityfor the first time in thirty years[Ogden 2017: 19]. The ideological dominance facilitated by power has enabled reelection of the ruling party in 2019 with more votes than in 2014. The normalization of the world view of the BJP has shifted the high ground in Indian politics towards their ideas, which has “lastingly altered the Indian political landscape” [Ogden 2017: 19]. It is possible to predict the incorporation of cultural nationalist verities into the Indian political culture in its second term [Chandra 2019].
Hindutva is a concept articulated by its leading adherent, VD Savarkar, as defining the Hindu nation along the lines of special geography, a common language, a shared culture and belief in the native land as a holy land [Ahmed, H. 2019: 66-67]. The contours of the majoritarian national project of the right wing have been described by a political scientist as:“[I]deologically adherent to Hindutva [“Hindu-ness”] and premised on Brahmanical dominance, Hindu nationalists are amplifying their seemingly irreversible crusade to render India into a Hindu state [Chatterjee 2019: 398].” The change in political culture is evident from the dropping of the word “secularism” from the 2019 election manifesto of the leading opposition party, the Congress, [Business Standard 2019]. The common observation is that the opposition has taken to “soft hindutva” for its electoral calculations, suggestive of the near hegemonic status of the cultural nationalist ideology in electoral politics [Palsikar 2019: 101].
The argumentand scope
In theory, there are two options of civilian control over the military. Objective civilian control is the “maximisation of military professionalism” in order to keep it politically “sterile and neutral.” On the other hand, subjective civilian control is maximisation of the power of a particular civilian group in relation to the military [Huntington 1967: 80–85]. Objective civilian control underpins professionalism. Subjective civilian control entails subscription to the ideological orientation of their civilian political masters by the military. Ideology is “a set of values and attitudes oriented about the problems of state [Huntington 2005: 90].”Since political parties differ in ideological orientations, in a democratic polity the military needs to maintain its ideological neutrality, easing its deference to civilian authority of any ideological hue.
Thus far, Indian civil–military relations have largely been characterised by objective civilian control, wherein the military is kept distant from politics by an emphasis on its professionalism. India has been close to the Huntingtonian ideal of mutually respected political–military distance, wherein militaries restrict lobbying to such military-relevant matters as budgets, pay, weapons acquisition etc [Kundu 1998: 1]and protecting bureaucratic turf, without overly indulging in policy activism. On this aspect, Stephen Cohen’s observation of the early years of Independence, is that, “[T]o officers [in the Indian Army at least] profession comes first, and “politics” finds no place[Cohen 1971: 195].”
The paper discusses politicization by visualizing the cultural space as three nested circles: political, strategic and organizational culture. The three nested circles, with political culture at the outer layer and organizational culture in the core, have inter-permeable boundaries. Political culture provides the top-down context for strategic culture or political-military culture. Strategic culture is also subject to a bottom-up influence from the military’s organizational culture [Kier 1997].
Culture is collectively held at a national-societal-community level as “a set of unselfconscious assumptions as to seem a natural, transparent, undeniable and rarely debated part of the structure of the world” [Kier 1997: 26]. Political culture includes “commitment to values like democratic principles and institutions, ideas about morality and the use of force, the rights of individuals and collectives, or predispositions toward the role of a country in global politics” [Lantis 2002: 90]. The ruling party operating on a mix of authoritarianism, majoritarianism, nationalism and populism [Jaffrelot 2019: 4], is undertaking a makeover of India.The New India – a phrase coined by Prime Minister Narndra Modi - fostered by the “Hindu nationalist dominance to establish a majoritarian state in India [Jaffrelot 2019: 1],” may require more of the military than political inertness. The difference in political culture with right wing ascendance is in hindutva papering over shared divisions by emphasis on a shared religion. It is attempting to homogenize Hinduism, otherwise differentiated into several castes and sects.
Political culture impacts strategic culture. Strategic culture is an ideational milieu, setting pervasive strategic preferences for a state based on widely held concepts of roles and efficacy of use of force in political affairs by its political and strategic elites [Johnston 1995: 46]. Apprehending a consequent national weakness, the ruling formations have alongside militarized the social and cultural spaces. Militarism in strategic policy is also much in evidence. Riding on the back of an upward economic trajectory, military modernization over this century has recreated Indian military power. This has enabled a shift in strategic culture from strategic restraint [Cohen 2010: 13] to strategic proactivism in the Modi era, best signified by the surgical strikes [Ahmed 2016]. 
Strategic culture abuts organisational culture, which is, “the patterns of assumptions, ideas, and beliefs that prescribe how a group should adapt to external environment and manage its internal structure [Legro 1994: 115].” Since military culture comprises “beliefs and norms about the optimal means to fight wars [Legro 1994: 109],” organisational culture has an autonomous influence on military preferences.There are two routes for political cultural impact on organizational culture: one being the direct influence of political cultural change on the military’s organizational culture; and second, is through mediation by an intervening strategic culture.
Since the military, as a political community, is resident within a larger political community, its host society, it is affected by the dominant tendencies within the larger national community [Rosen 1996: 267]. So far, India’s military as a technical and professional group maintained an isolation from society – best signified by its inhabiting cantonments distinct from local communities – not only due to inertia since the days of its origin as a British colonial institution, but also in order to keep away from the social and political tumult. Rapid political cultural change is voiding old verities. There is a collapse among the three circles with a monocular – saffron-political culture engulfing organizational culture, impacting the latter’s apolitical and secular facets.
The paper only briefly probes for changes in secularism, though a detailed study is separately needed. Secularism has been under redefinition by cultural nationalism [Chandhoke 2019: 538]. Briefly, the incidence of cultural nationalist thinking has not been unknown in the military. Omar Khalidi, taking a sociological look at the military of the nineties, made critical observations on this score [Khalidi 2003: 38-40].  The trend is a continuing distancing from civic nationalism towards religion-based ethnic nationalism [Ansari 2019].The hindutva version of secularism is not based on respect of plurality stemming from India’s diversity, but on the belief that India is secular since Hinduism issecular [Noorani 2019: 376].
The military is predominantly Hindu in social composition. The military’s sociological composition is unrepresentative of India’s social diversity [Rosen 1996: 206, 239; Jaffrelot 2019: 43-46]. While numbers are not in the open domain, Muslims comprise about three per cent of the army and less than two per cent of the more consequential officer corps [Ahmed 2018]. Even so, this does not ipso facto imply the military need be any more receptive to hindutva or political Hinduism.
Hindutva doctrine is essentially politicized Hinduism, a reactionary version of the syncretic Hindu faith.A case to point on the drawbacks is brought out in Christine Fair’s work [2014] on the Islamisation of the Pakistan army in the years of President Zia ul Haq. Drawing analogy by likening political Hinduism with political Islam, it is averred here that diluted professionalism, or departure from modern rational-legal norms,could accrue in case of India too.
Methodology and layout
The paper is a qualitative study based on secondary sources. The paper takes the rise of the political Right in Indian politics as an independent variable and the military’s professionalism as the dependent variable. There are two intervening variables within the military’s organizational culture: apolitical ethic and secularism. To observe the impact of hindutva on the organizational culture, the paper confines itself to observations on the apolitical ethic. It presents the shift from objective to subjective civilian control as evidence of implications of hindutva for the apolitical ethic. Change in the intervening variable - apolitical ethic - can be expected to herald a change in the sister ethic, secularism [discussed briefly in the paper].
The paper has two parts. In Part I, it undertakes a case study of the February 2019 crisis between India and Pakistan and the immediate aftermath[Nuclear Crisis Group 2019] to highlight changes in the apolitical ethic of India’s military.This part highlights the manner in which the military has supported the government’s political interests by egregiously intervening in the then ongoing election-relevant debates. In Part II, itdiscussespermeation ofhindutva into organizational culture.As evidence of a direct route of such penetration, the paper presents an article published in a professional journalof a training institution of the army wherein the author, the head of the institution,reveals political polarization within the military[Ghura 2018].A brief sub-section carries illustrative examples of presence of right wing trope in Indian military professional journals.
Part I - Case study on the India-Pakistan crisis
The political contention
In the run-up to the 2019 national elections, over 150 veterans of the armed forces wrote an open domain letter to the President of India [Wire 2019a]. Noting the references to military operations in electioneering, in particular by the ruling party, the letter expressed apprehensions over the politicisation of the military.The letter served the purpose of bringing the threat of politicization of the military into the open.
In the run up to the 2019 elections, persuasive narratives spelling a challenge for the BJP built up around such issues as unemployment, the effects of demonetisation, the implementation of the goods and services tax, farmers’ suicides, rural distress etc.[1] However, as the elections approached, the game changer turned out to be the Balakot aerial strike by India on 26 February 2019. The aerial strikewas the first one inside Pakistan since the 1971 War, Balakot being inside Khyber Pukhtunistan province. Aerial targeting of an alleged terrorist training facility was conducted by India in retaliation for the 16 Februarycar-borne improvised explosive device attackon theIndian security convoyin Pulwama in Kashmir that resulted in44 troopers as casualties.[2]
On the campaign trail, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took credit for the strikes.  He had been rather critical of the preceding Congress-led government’s response - or lack thereof - to the Mumbai terror attack, 26/11, in November 2008.[3]His posturing over security in the election run-up met with the opposition’s protests to the election commission that thatviolated the model code of conduct. The election commission found nothing amiss, though, as it later turned out, its decision lacked consensus.[4]Over subsequent days, the government’s version was exposed by international media as lacking substance.[5] This led to the pushback by the opposition seeking to undercut the ruling party.  
The BJP’s election strategy had precedence in its similarly playing up the land-based surgical strikes of 29 September 2016, whenacross a wide front the army had launched multiple trans-Line of Control [LC]raids on terrorists’ camps in retaliation to the terror attack on the army garrison at Uri on 18 September 2016.[6] In the event, Pakistandenied those had ever takenplace.[7]The surgical strikes wereput to political use by the ruling party in state elections in Uttar Pradesh in February 2017, resulting in its sweeping victory. The government hyped up the surgical strikes yet again in 2018, this time by observing Parakram Parv, Surgical Strike Day,[8]as elections to three cow-dust belt state assemblies – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - loomed large. Nevertheless, later in the year, the BJP lost the three assembly elections narrowly, setting the stage for the national elections.
The BJP, seemingly checked, was looking out for an opportunity to reframe the election narrative away from issues of governance. The opportunity came in the form of the Pulwama terror attack, allowing it to use its bold retaliation at Balakot to elevate national securityas the core election issue. To assert its strong-on-defence credentials, it also undertook an anti-satellite weapons test, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi using an address to the nation to proclaim the success of the test.[9]Sensing the reframing of the electoral agenda, the opposition Congress party claimed that while in power it had similarly launched trans-LC raids[Scroll 2019]. It specified six such strikes, with former commanders testifying along the same lines in the media.
The army’s partisanship
In so far as the claims and counter claims played out between the two political parties, it could be taken as par for electioneering course. However, the military joined the electoral debate on the side of the government. Whether it was put to it by the government or its action was at its own behest is unknown. In either case, it was a political intervention on the part of the military.
In the case of the controversy surrounding the surgical strikes, the military contested the version of a retired general who had conducted the September 2016 surgical strikes. Retired General DS Hooda had been critical of the government for overhyping the surgical strikes. Hooda had been contracted by the opposition Congress party to write up its national security doctrine.[10] The Congress party wary of being accused of being soft on security used Hooda’s doctrinal ideas to inform its manifesto to pep up its electoral prospects.In response, the northern army commander, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, argued that surgical strikes helped tocommunicate deterrence to Pakistan.[11]The controversy resurfaced as voting came to an end. Contradicting the Congress’ claims on overseeing surgical strikes in its time in power, the army operations branchclaimed that it had no record of any previous surgical strikes[Bhat 2019]. The northern army commander, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, seconded the operations branch[Business Standard 2019], yet again at odds with the claim of his predecessor, retired General DS Hooda.[12]
This indirect public exchange at the election time between a former and a serving general - with the serving general, Singh, contradicting the retired one, Hooda, associated with the opposition party -is an instance of politicization.[13]It is not known whether General Ranbir Singh was acting at his own behest or was put to it by his political masters who wanted to refute the authoritative voice of retired General Hooda seen as favouring the opposition. In either case, it amounts to an intervention by the army relying on its professional credibility and credible image in the public eye to back the ruling party’s caseand is, therefore, an avoidable departure from its apolitical tradition.
The air force plays partisan
A similar departure from the apolitical credo can be made out from the controversy surrounding the Balakot episode and its immediate aftermath in a counter aerial strike by Pakistan in the Rajauri-Naushera sector on 27 February 2019. India lost a fighter plane in the dogfight and claimed to have shot down a Pakistani F-16. An information war with Pakistan resulted fromthat.[14] India subsequently awarded a combat medal to the pilot of its downed aircraft for having shot down a superior Pakistani fighter jet prior to bailing out in Pakistani territory. [He was later repatriated by Pakistan in a gesture that de-escalated the crisis.] The election time gain for the BJP is its image of a new, muscular India , which was provided bythe narrative of exacting a higher damage on Pakistan for the loss of its Mig 21 fighter jet. The air force’s lending credibility to the narrative – of having shot down an F-16 - amounts to political partisanship since it obscures its loss of an aircraft. 
In addition, a major controversy played out in the national media over alleged procedural lapses in the acquisition of the Rafale jet aircraft from France. The Rafale aircraft purchase was fast-forwarded by the prime minister during his visit to Paris in 2015. The modified deal led to fewer aircraftsto bepurchased than in the original agreement. The departures from the procedures this entailed led to allegations of benefits from the linked offset contract going to a corporate house allegedly favoured by the ruling party. In the event, a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court in the government’s favour stoppedfurther attempts.[15]
As the controversy unfolded at the political level, the air chief publicly rued the absence of the Rafale aircraft[Peri 2019]inthe inventory. The implicit criticism was that non-realizationof the deal in a timely manner deprived India of a technological edge. This was suggestive of a slovenly approach to defence procurements by the Congress-led predecessor government, which had long negotiated over the deal without finalizing it. In contrast, the BJP had it that the lack of aircrafts was caused bythe Prime Minister Modi’s decisive intervention in the Rafale purchase when he clinched the deal in his trip to France in 2015., In the process,he generated the controversy over the off-sets clause of the deal, the comparative price of aircraft and the fewer numbers settled for. Given the political backdrop of the Rafale deal, the air chief’sunbidden reference to it was questionable.
Moreover, the air force delayedan inquiry over the downing of its helicopter in a fratricide incident over Budgam in Kashmir on 27 February, at the time of the heightened crisis when Pakistan carried out its counter strike. The cover up during elections was with the excuse that the black box recorder of the helicopter was stolen by Kashmiri locals, thereby delaying the inquiry.[16]Thetiming of the release of the outcome of the inquirytill after the elections is suggestive of a political rationale.Friction is intrinsic to military action. The loss of the helicopter was dueto the friction from the military action in the crisis, the responsibility for which did not require to be hidden. To the extent the military kept the reality voters, the military’s actions can be seen as partisan.
Significantly, after the election, the air chief went on to claim that there was no intervention by the Pakistan air force into Indian airspace in their counter strike of 27 February [Times of India 2019]. This contradicted the government’s statement complaining of an air intrusion [Ministry of External Affairs 2019]. No clarification ensued. The air chief used the credibility of the military uniform and his appointment to rewrite the record of the crisis to the government’s advantage. 
Part II – Political-organizational cultural interplay
The cultural milieu
Stephen Peter Rosen in his book, India and its Armies, recalls noted political scientist Myron Weiner’s observation of the sixties that there are two political cultures in India: a traditionalistone – Hindu -, and,the second one - elite - apolitical culture with a modern and national outlook [Rosen 1996: 33]. The latter – the elite strategic culture - subsumes the strategic subcultures: hyper-nationalist, neo-liberal and Nehruvian [Bajpai 2002]. The difference in the three strategic subcultures conceptualized by Kanti Bajpai is in the differing utility accorded to use of force and alternatives as economic incentives. However, over this decade, the rise of hindutvahas substantially dominated the elite political culture in India’s ideational milieu. Resultantly,Weiner’s traditionalist Hindu culture now partially straddles the hyper-nationalist and neo-liberal strategic subcultural spaces and has decisively edged out Nehruvian strategic subculture.
Tenets of a revivalist strategic subculture are references to a hoary past vandalized by invading Muslim hordes.  A worldview propagated by the prime minister early in his tenure is that Hindu power was eclipsed by subjugationfor over a thousand years, including two hundred years under the colonial power, the British.[17]The revivalist strategic narrative acounts that by disunity within. Consequently, India needs a unifying adhesive, readily available in the shared Hindu religion, culture and heritage.[18] This puts religion at the center of nation-building, with access to and control of state power necessary to extend thishindutva project.
Religion has the advantage of being a step higher than a caste, compensating for division intocastsby religious affinity. Stephen Rosen surveyed the pervasive role of caste in its host societyand its effect on the army [Rosen 1996: viii-x]. With divisive caste superseded by harmonizing religion, military power could potentially be optimized. The separation of the military from society - to keep the divisions in society from being reflected in the army - could then be minimized. Strategic self-assertion has been largely welcomed by the military.[19]
A view of the military’s internal debates
The polarisation within
The direct route of political cultural impact on organizational culture can be viewed in thearticle titled, “Keeping the military apolitical: Looking inwards” [Ghura 2018: 20-25], authored by the then commanding general of the army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School [CIJWS] in Veirangte, Mizoram, in the training institution’s flagship journalPratividrohi [Counter insurgent].[20]The questionhe posesis, “How do soldiers get polarized[22]?”The question he poses presupposes polarization within the military and a shortfall from his definition of apolitical: “[A] soldier is said to be apolitical if his biases toward any political party / politicians does not affect his ability to do his duty in service of his nation on orders of the Govt [government] or that political party in power [20].”He underlines the touchstone of the apolitical ethic, thus: “The military needs to be apolitical so that the rule of law and democratic process prevails in the country in accordance with the Constitution. Military alignments can lead to crating biases amongst voters / citizens and election of politicians who may be Military favourites, which is neither acceptable nor desirable in democratic India [20].” By this yardstick, he apprehends “a real danger - breakdown of professionalism [21].”
In India, polarisation is usually a euphemism for a divide along religious lines. Ascendance of the ruling party has been attributed to its increasing polarisation within society, furthered by the ruling party for political gains. The political strategy is to marginalize the minority, India’s Muslims, and to generate for the BJP, a vote bank ofthe denominational majority, the Hindu community, comprising 80 per cent of the population[Jaffrelot et al 2019: 8-11].Polarization in society has been promotedby the personalized style of the Prime Minister Modi’s politics[Jayal 2019: xxix]. In the article, the author appears to refer to polarization within the military between those in support for the ruling party and those wary of the ruling party and the traditionally neutral. the extent to whicn support for the ruling party implies support for its hindutvacan only be definedthrough a wider survey-based study. Itis not possible to conduct in a relatively closed military domain.
Querying the policy of deep selection
The author apprehends a possibility of compromise of the apolitical ethic in observing a “perceived change in the attitude of Senior military commanders as a result of the changed policy of selection of higher ranks with in the Services[22].” To him, in such an environment, “decision making and risk taking ability becomes casualty[22],”presumably because generals so afflicted would be looking over their shoulders to a cue from their political masters. He decries the resulting onset of “political ambitions of serving and retired military personnel[22].”
He refers to politically inclined generals positioning themselves for higher ranks by signaling political pliability to the government. This change has been facilitated by the government’s policy of deep selection of higher appointments against the earlier system of seniority based selection. This may incentivize ambitious generals to political proclivities of the ruling party, as spelled outby a former general: “Though it is good to have a meritocracy, there must be clear criteria for determining merit. Otherwise, generals will start approaching politicians who can promote them to the top, and that will end the apolitical character of the army.”[21]
A case to point is controversial beginning ofthe deep selection system adopted by the government in the elevation of the army chief, General Bipin Rawat. It resulted in supersession of two of his seniors.[22]An explanation put out was that the appointment resulted from Rawat’s operational experience in counter insurgency and on the LC against Pakistan. This would prove useful for the government in its hardline policy against Pakistan involving retributory surgical strikes. Rawat had in a previous appointment overseen similar strikes in Myanmar territory in 2015[23] that had set the stage for replication of the tactics on the LC in 2016.[24]
Selected for concordance with the government’s hardline policy, allegations of partisanship have since plagued Rawat [Wire 2019b]. He courted controversy in conferring an award on the perpetrator in a signal human rights violations case, the “human shield” episode in Kashmir. The case in question was in which an army major tied a Kashmiri to the bonnet of a jeep and paraded the jeep past a few villages as deterrent against stone throwing.[25] Rawat once ventured out of his remit in controversially referring to domestic politics in India’s north eastern state,Assam, that has a relatively delicate ethnic balance, claiming a link between a regional political party and a voter base of illegal immigrants.[26]
Recently, during his 2019 Independence Day speech the prime minister announced creation of the position of the chief of defence staff [CDS]. The CDS would be a four-star appointment, mandated to oversee joint operational and support entities of the armed forces.Critics have it that, “Modi has shown a marked preference for officials either already known to him or those considered ideologically reliable [Gupta 2019: 12].” A CDS appointed on the basis of like-mindedness would open up the military further in-roads. The power of the government for elevating senior commanders to higher appointments may translate into a loyalty test.In the governance structure, NSA Doval, who was earlier head of theright wing think tank, is incharge of national security with a cabinet rank.[27] There is a palpable danger to the apolitical ethic.
Direct political-organisational cultural osmosis
The author refers to a second conduit of domestic politics into the military: the retired military fraternity. The politicized section of the veterans’ community acts as a transmission belt of political positions.[28]The ruling party has inducted military veterans in large numbers into its ranks.[29] The first election foray of Narendra Modi in his 2014 bid for national power took placeat an ex-servicemen rally organized by theretired army chief, who then went on to a ministerial position in Modi’s council of ministers.[30]
Within the military, pro-Modi elements within the ranks amplify the right wing trope in social media groups internal to the military, making such spaces politically charged.[31]The military is a conservative institution with its members being of a largely realist and nationalist persuasion [IDS 2017: 59]. Therefore, the ruling party ideology holds resonance in a military constituency. The projection of decisiveness and being strongondefence issues enable Modi’s adherents – bhakts[devotees] in colloquial parlance - to rationalize their support in national security terms. It obfuscates their political inclination and political behavior under a populist sway. With the support of the media, Modi has personalized foreign and security policy for electoral ends [Noorani 2019: 365; Varshney 2019: 335]. This sets a process of direct interplay between political and organizational culture.
A pushback from within
In his article, the author perceptively notes, “[H]ighlighting military successes for political gains, like surgical strikes / success in war and tasking soldiers for unauthorised tasks demotivates the soldiers[23].” This reflects the resentment within the army for its operational successes being appropriated for electoral purposes, highlighted by the veterans in their letter to the President of India [referred to in the earlier section], writing: “…unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be “Modi ji ki Sena” [Modi’s army][Wire 2019a].”To the extent this is in line with the opposition’s view, the military apparently has within ita segment responsive to Modi’scritics, too. This underlines the polarization the author addresses in his concluding recommendation below:
One can keep dwelling on how the Politicians, Media and the society at large is forcing the Military senor leaders and personnel to take sides or become politically aligned to a party. ….[we must]recognise this challenge and address it upfront. However we must also discreetly inform the Governments in power not to politicize the Military actions or successes, since it effects and weakens the organization and Nation[25][italics added].
Evidence of right wing cadence
Evidence of right wing thinking surfacing within the military’s intellectual sphere is visible in a recent issue of the professional journal, Pratividrohi, Autumn 2019.In the lead article of the journal on insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir [J&K], the author – a serving colonel – writes:“[A]t the time of independence, J&K had 77 percent [sic] Muslims favouring accession to Pakistan…[Gupta 2019: 2].” It is difficult to agree with that since it is well known that the major Kashmiri political party popular with a substantial section of Muslims wanting accession to India in 1947 was the secular National Conference. On the current situation in Kashmir, the colonel goes on to write that, “Proliferation of large number of religious places has led to a constant flow of radical material for the masses [Gupta 2019: 6].” He equates religious literature in mosques with “radical material” implying that in his mind’s eye Islamic cultural transmission within the social sphere of a mosqueequals radicalization, a precursor to terrorism. Frustrated with the interference with military operations by stone pelting mobs of the Kashmiri youth, a feature of the last few years in Kashmir, he recommends, “Stone pelters have to be dealt with as terrorists to negate their nuisance value during operations [Gupta 2019: 5-6].” Remarkably, this rather extreme measure of elimination of unarmed stone pelting youth, that goes against the army’s well-regarded doctrine of ‘winning hearts and minds’ in counter insurgency situations, is carried in its premier professional journal on counter insurgency.
Another illustration in the same journal is from the article by the CIJWS’ present Commandant, Major General MK Mago, who claims, “Global Jihadists into the country and tacit support and merger with home grown radicalized groups such as Student (sic) Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Indian Mujahedeen has deeply Radicalized people of a particular faith [Mago 2019: 90].”He defines radicalization as “the process of adopting an extremist belief system including the willingness to use, support or facilitate violence, as a method to effect societal change [Mago 2019: 88].” The reference  to Indian Muslims as “deeply radicalized” is arguably false. Such imagery is usually found in right wing literature for political purposes of Othering and marginalization of India’s Muslim minority.
The general goes on to conclude that, “there is a need to revitalize India’s and the region’s socio cultural ethos, wherein countries should not just represent political unions but should emerge as organic, composite entities. In the absence of a strong social fabric and common cultural ethos, security measures can never prove sufficiently resilient against the threat of Radicalisation [Mago 2019: 96].” This extract has echoes of cultural nationalism.It is not known as to whether right wing motifs finding their way into military literature is part of a policy of the government or individual proclivities of right wing inclined officers.
Future course of politicization
Polarisation within the military has opened it up to subjective civilian control, the first stage of politicisation. A closer embrace of the military is made possible bythe right wing’s dominance of political culture, exercise of parliamentary majority and populist leadership at the helm. This creates the conditions for the second stage of politicization - indoctrination with cultural nationalism. This will preclude the military having a different worldview, setting it at odds with the changed polity. Incentive thus exists for the government to proceed down this route.
Institutions and agencies of governance have been under pressure to conform to a cultural nationalist dictate[Varshney 2019: 342-345]. The military cannot be an exception. Universally, military members largely vote for conservative parties; this is valid also for the Indian military. A former army vice chief, Vijay Oberoi, notes the affinity of the military with conservative parties, stating, “The language of those on the right of centre has always had greater appeal for men in uniform in most democracies. I have done a course in the United States and I saw 90 per cent of the officers were Republican [Datta et al 2008].” This predisposition makes iteasier to bridge any gaps in the conservative world view of the military and cultural nationalism.
The army cannot be an institution for the autonomous formation of a worldview or ideology among its personnel. However, besides the usual national security and institutional interest related lobbying - for arms purchases etc. for instance - the military cannot be a player in domestic politics. If it is at odds with or is aloof from the cultural nationalist enterprise, it could by default be taken as favouring the other side in domestic politics; thereby intensifying the struggle between political forces for its affiliation. This threat of the military being sucked in willy-nilly into domestic politics makes it necessary to settle on ground rules keeping the military outside the religion and ideology framework and maintaining objective civilian control.

Being apolitical has the advantage of preserving the three planks of professionalism: expertise, advisory and corporate autonomy. Expertise is diluted by elevation to apex military positions of officers inclined to the dominant ideological position. This may be occurring at the cost of their expertise, since their professionalism may be overlooked in favour of their ideological affinity or amenability to political manipulation. The second – advisory - function stands to suffer in case such appointees proffer advice that the political principal may wish to hear. The third – corporate autonomy – is compromised when the pliant organizational leader subordinates the organizational interest to the political interest of the governing political party.
More importantly, alternation of ruling parties in thedispensation of democracy implies that the military owing allegiance to a particular political partybecause oftheir ideological affinity would run afoul of other political parties elected to power. Exercise of the advisory function would be visibly affected, in addition to tensions in civil-military relations. Modi’s adoption of a muscular national security policy has tapped into the doctrinally-expressed strategic preferences of the military.[32] In Modi, the military has a pro-military leader. Pro-military is a predisposition to being sympathetic to a military viewpoint [Huntington 2005: 97]. The personalization of the connection compounds the problem, threatening to compromise the military in its relations with other political groupings if and when elected to power. 
Anattraction for hindutva cannot be withoutits anti-minority baggage,leading todetraction from secularism. Proximity to hindutva implies disdain for religious and cultural diversity [Jaffrelot 2019]. Contraction of secularism means a setback for modernity and scientific thinking. That the change is occurring can be seen in the messagefrom the new naval chief. In the letter to naval members, the navy chief required curtailment of religious rituals in official ceremonies.[33]This tacitly suggests that religious observance was increasing to such levels that the armed forceshead had to curtail it.
Finally, the army is heavily involved in internal security operations in Kashmir, where there is a Muslim population. A major prospective adversary in a possible future war is Pakistan, a Muslim state. In case military operations acquire a religious colouring, emotive issues may cloud professional judgment.
India is turning into a majoritarian state. Right wing ideology has it that India’s millennia-long weakness has been its diversity and its respect of diversity. An overarching sense of affiliation tying citizens together and to the state can be instilled by pan-Indian Hinduism. The right wing has acquired democratic power to give effect to their re-imagination of India as a Hindu India.
Since hindutva has not acquired political hegemony so far and is only making a bid for it politically and socially, having taken over the state through the ruling party, politically ascendant hindutvavotaries would be inclinedtouse the military as part of their project. To them, displacement of the apolitical ethic in the military is a small price to pay for the larger national transformation. Adherence to cultural nationalism will make the military a reliable instrument in the defence and propagation of hindutva.Thus incentivized, the right wing take-over of the military willfascilitate cultural nationalism and theirhegemonic status.
This calls for a watchfulness on the military’s partand a self-regulation on part of the political class to follow the time tested norm on keeping the military out of politics. In case of neglect of such an early warning, involvement of the military into politics sets the stage for the military’s involvement in politics on its own volition. If the onset of subjective civilian control keeps the military subordinate to its cultural nationalist overseers in the initial phases of the national transformation exercise, it also simultaneously creates the conditions for military interference in politics subsequently. A cultural nationalism-inclined military maximally could veto democratic transition to a popularly elected future government not subscribing to hindutva or minimally prove insubordinate.
Politicisation of the military may prove both, the benchmark of success for the political project of hindutva,and the instrument of hindutva spread. That the incipient politicisation is underway is evident in the polarization within the military. cultural nationalism has beendirectly seeping into the military’s organizational culture by way of the leadership cult around Modi, popular with the middle classes, from which spring the officership of the military, and due to the wide societal approval and allegiance of cultural nationalism. Indirectly, this has been reinforced through the strategic cultural shift to strategic proactivism that has the military’s approval,under Modi.
The manner in which the military’s organizational culture shapes up,will depend on the consolidation of hegemony of hindutva. Even if cultural nationalists succeed, the military will remain traditionallypolitically neutered through subjective civilian control. subjective civilian controlof the military then may arguably be employed as it may be necessary to ensure the military’s subordination. However, a premature shift to subjective civilian control at the time when hindutva is contested can end up making the military a site of the competition by ending its traditional and hypothecated neutrality. This paper states that the apolitical ethic of the military is currently on the frontlinedue tointentions ofhindutva revivalists to co-opt the military in their reshaping of India and their desire to find partial resonance within the military.Consequently, the cautionary word for the government and the military is that both need persisting with the tried and tested mode of political direction and military subordination respectively.
Ahmed, Ali [2016]: “From Restraint to Proactivism: India’s Strategic Shift”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 51, Issue No. 48, 26 Nov, 2016, pp. 10-12.
Ahmed, Ali [2018]: “The Missing Muslim Army Officers”, Vol. 53, Issue No. 4, 27 Jan, 2018, pp. 12-14.
Ahmed, Hilal [2019]: Siyasi Muslims, New Delhi: Penguin.
Ansari, Hamid [2019]: “The RSS - A Menace to India”: Hamid Ansari’s Speech at the Book Launch,” Leftword, 15 April, viewed on 15 August,
Bhat, Sunil [2019]: “In RTI reply, Centre Says No Records of Surgical Strikes during UPA Regime,” India Today,7 May, viewed on 10 August,
Business Standard [2019]: “Congress promises”: Apart from NYAY, nearly 200 others to take on BJP,” 12 April,
Business Standard [2019]: “First Surgical Strike Was Carried Out in Sept 2016, Confirms Lt Gen Ranbir Singh,” 20 May, viewed on 11 August,
Chandhoke, Neera [2019]: “Secularism under siege,” in Neerja Gopal Jayal [ed.], Reforming India: The Nation Today, New Delhi: Penguin, pp. 537-550. 
Chandra, Kanchan [2019]: “The Roots of Hindu Nationalism’s Triumph in India,” Foreign Affairs,
Chatterjee, Angana P. [2019]: “Remaking the Hindu/Nation” in Jaffrelot, C, Angana P. Chatterjee and Thomas Blom Hansen [2019]: Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, New Delhi: HarperCollins, pp. 397-418.
Cohen, Stephen [1971]: The Indian Army: It’s contribution to the development of a nation, Bombay: Oxford University Press.
Cohen, Stephen [2010]: Emerging India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Das, Shaswati and Utpal Bhaskar [2019]: “The Events that Led to Jammu and Kashmir Losing its Special Status,” 7 August, Mint, viewed on 15 August,
Dutta, S. et al [2008], “Something Not Uniform”, Outlook, New Delhi, 24 November 2008
Fair, Christine [2014], Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ghura, MS [2018]: “Keeping the military apolitical: Looking inwards,” Pratividrohi, Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Autumn 2018, pp. 20-25.
Gupta, Ashwani [2019]: “Insurgency trends in Jammu and Kashmir: Reflections and Prospects,” Pratividrohi, Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Autumn 2019, pp. 2-7.
Gupta, Smita [2019]: “The Modi PMO” in in Neerja Gopal Jayal [ed.], Reforming India: The Nation Today, New Delhi: Penguin, pp. 3-28.
Huntington, Samuel [1967]: The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Huntington, Samuel [2005]: Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, New Delhi: Nataraj Publications.
IDS [2017]: Joint Doctrine for the Indian Armed Forces, New Delhi: Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, New Delhi.
Jaffrelot, C, Angana P. Chatterjee and Thomas Blom Hansen [2019]: Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, New Delhi: HarperCollins.
Jaffrelot, Christophe [2019]: “The Fate of Secularism in India,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 4 April, viewed on 13 August,
Jayal, Neerja Gopal ed. [2019]: Reforming India: The Nation Today, New Delhi: Penguin.
Johnston, Alastair I. [1995]: “Thinking about strategic culture,” International Security, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 32-64. 
Kanti Bajpai, “Indian Strategic Culture,” in South Asia 2020: Future Strategic Balances and Alliances edited by Michael Chalmers, 245-304 [Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2002]
Khalidi, Omar [2003]: Khaki and ethnic violence in India, New Delhi: Three Essays Collective.
Kier, Elizabeth [1997]: Imagining War: French and Military doctrine between the Wars, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Kundu, Apurba [1998]: Militarism in India: The Army and Civil Society in India, New Delhi: Vikas Books.
Lantis, Jeffrey S. [2002]: “Strategic culture and national security policy,” International Studies Review, Vol. 4 No. 3, pp. 87-113.
Legro, J. [1994], “Military Culture and Inadvertent Escalation in World War II”, International Security, 18 [4]: 108-142.
Mago, MK [2019]: “De-radicalisation”, Pratividrohi, Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Autumn 2019, pp. 88-96.
Ministry of External Affairs [2019]: “Pakistan Demarched on the Act of Aggression against India,” 27 February, viewed on 1 August,
Noorani, A.G. [2019]: The RSS: A Menace to India, New Delhi: Leftword.
Nuclear Crisis Group [2019]: South Asia Post Crisis Brief, June,
Ogden, Chris [2017]: Indian National Security, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Palshikar, Suhas [2019]: “Towards hegemony: The BJP beyond electoral dominance”, in Jaffrelot, C, Angana P. Chatterjee and Thomas Blom Hansen [2019]: Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India, New Delhi: HarperCollins, pp. 101-116.
Peri, Dinakar[2019]: “IAF Achieved its Objective in Balakot: Air Chief Dhanoa,” Hindu, 15 April, viewed on 1 August,
Scroll [2019]: “Ex-Army Officer Who Oversaw “Surgical Strikes” Says Cross-border Operations Were Conducted Before,” 5 May, viewed on 5 August,
Times of India [2019]: “Pak Planes Did Not Cross LoC during Feb 27 Dogfight: Air Chief Dhanoa,” 24 June, viewed on 4 August,
Varshney, Ashutosh [2019]: “The emergence of right wing populism in India”, in Neerja Gopal Jayal [ed.], Reforming India: The Nation Today, New Delhi: Penguin, pp. 327-345. 
Wilkinson, Steven I [2015]: Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence, New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.
Wire [2019a]: “Veterans Ask President to Urge Parties to Stop Using Military for Political Gains,” 12 April, viewed on 12 August,
Wire [2019b]: “Why India May Need a CDS - But It’s Not Bipin Rawat,” 21 August, viewed on 22 August,

[1]The Guardian, “India”s jobs crisis casts shadow over Modi”s re-election hopes,” 1 February,
[2]Economic Times, “44 dead in J&K”s deadliest attack, convoy had 78 buses with 2,500 jawans,” 15 February,
[3]India Today, “Modi played despicable politics during 26/11 Mumbai terror attack: Congress”, 27 Feb 2018,
[4]Indian Express, “Election Commissioner Lavasa opposed five clean chits to Amit Shah, PM Modi”, 5 May 2019,
[5]Suchitra Vijayan and Vasundhara Sirnate Drennan, After Pulwama, the Indian media proves it is the BJP”s propaganda machine”, Washington Post, 4 March 2019,
[6] Ministry of External Affairs, “Transcript of Joint Briefing by MEA and MoD [September 29, 2016]”, 29 September 2016,
[7]Al Jazeera, “Surgical strikes: Pakistan rejects India”s claims”, 30 September 2016
[8] Joshi, Manoj, “Surgical strikes day” is just a pre-election dose of patriotic political fodder”, Observer Research Foundation, 24 September 2018
[9] Prime Minister”s Office, “PM addresses the Nation,” 27 March 2019,
[10] Hooda, D.S., “National Security Strategy”, Indian National Congress Manifesto,

[11]News18, “Surgical Strikes Were a Successful Tactical Operation: Army”s Northern Command Chief”,

[13] Joshi, Manoj,The politics of surgical strikes”, Observer Research Foundation, 12 December 2018.
[14]Economic Times, “None of Pakistan”s F-16 fighter jets missing after US count: Report,” 5 April 2019,   //
[15]The Wire, Rafale Review Petition: Full Text of Written Submissions by Bhushan, Shourie and Sinha,” 22 May 2019,; Shourie, Arun, “If I Had Got More Than a Minute to Speak: Arun Shourie on Rafale Proceedings in SC”, The Wire, 20 March 2019,
[16] Javaid, Azaan, “Kashmir villagers say didn”t steal crashed IAF chopper black box, uniformed men took it,” The Print, 2 May 2019,
[17]Prime Minister’s OfficeText of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s address to the Indian community at Madison Square Garden, New York,” Press Information Bureau, Government of India, 28 September 2014,
[18] Mehta, Pratap Bhanu, “The tactical Sangh,” Indian Express, 14 September 2019,
[19]Economic Times, “Ex-Army chief Dalbir Singh praises PM Narendra Modi for surgical strikes in Pakistan, Myanmar”,  11 July 2018, //
[20] Words in initial capitals in the extracts below from the article are of the author, Major General MS Ghura. 
[21] Ajai Shukla, “Controversy Clouds Out-Of-Turn Appointment of Bipin Rawat as Next Army Chief,” Wire,
[22] Josy Joseph, “Questions about an appointment,” Hindu, 21 December 2016,
[23]Economic Times, “Myanmar operation: 70 commandos finish task in 40 minutes,” 14 July 2018, //
[24] Saikat Dutta, “Rawat”s appointment as Army chief is in line with Modi”s aggressive foreign policy,” Scroll, 19 December 2016
[25] Rowlatt, Justin, “Why Indian army defended Kashmir “human shield” officer”, BBC, 31 May 2017,
[26]Wire, “Assam up in arms as army chief wades into political territory, 23 February 2018,
[27] NDTV, “PM’s Office Defines Work For Top Bureaucrats, Security Advisor Ajit Doval,” 17 September 2019,
[28] Other avenues such as family ties, caste affiliations, social media groups, glossy publications in the national security publications, national security websites are not discussed here, but form the ecosystem propagating Hindu nationalism. 

[30]NDTV,Narendra Modi addresses rally in Haryana, his first as BJP”s PM candidate”, 15 September 2013,

[31]Ali Ahmed, “Dark side of Army”s social media groups,” Tribune, 2 March 2017,
[32] India”s military doctrines can be viewed at
[33]The Print, “New Navy chief”s first order — no “quasi religious” functions, please, we are the Navy,” 6 June 2019,