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Should army take over the government?

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Some of my civilian friends ask me this question, whenever they find the civil administration not being able to discharge its duties properly. It used be asked more often during Congress regime but not much now. However, there’re still occasions when an odd guy does pop this question, like when they see people begging for food or when they believe that even Supreme Court is not able to dispense justice. On such occasions they say that it’d be better if the army governed our country. They think that if it happened there’d be less chaos, officials wouldn’t ask for bribes, justice would be swift and poverty would be eradicated.

I don’t really blame them. The forces do have a penchant for doing things the right way. It’s possible that things may be less chaotic if the army takes over, however, I’m not sure if that’s good for us, or any nation for that matter. Democracy is no doubt chaotic, and ours is more so, but that’s the very nature of it. Given the diversity of our country there’re bound to be different voices from different regions vying for attention and trying to be heard. In a democracy, those voices need to be heard. A country which does not listen to the voices of its citizens cannot be a democracy. It was therefore funny to hear a Chinese diplomat remarking, there’s too much democracy in India. What a communist does not realize is that there’s nothing like too much democracy. It’s these different voices which keep the spirit of a nation and its diversity alive. Chinese wouldn’t understand such issues. They believe in standardization, of people, demographic ethnicity and behavior. That’s why they’ve forcefully changed the demographics of Xinjiang and Tibet, by settling the ethnic Han Chinese in these areas to balance out the Uyghurs and Tibetans in these regions respectively. As things stand today, such a thing would be unthinkable in a country like India. Moreover, we don’t need to. The beauty of our nation lies in its vibrant and colorful diversity. I’m not sure it’ll remain the same if the army were to take over the reins in India.

It’s not just the question of diversity but the overall development of a nation and its people. Democracy with all its flaws is the best form of government for the happiness, satisfaction and growth of its people. Finland, which is rated as the happiest country of the world, was the first nation which entitled its citizens with maximum number of voting rights as early as the year 1906 (76%). Kindly note, at that time it wasn’t even a free nation which it became in 1917. It was under the Russian Tsar at that time. Even US, Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and other European nations lagged behind Finland.

The freedom of citizens to do what they want to, say what they want to (of course within limits), without too many restrictions is what makes a nation great. USA is a prime example of it. Its spirit of freedom has led to such innovations which has propelled them as a whole into a league of their own. Imagine, if George Washington after leading his forces to victory had not sought voluntary retirement in 1784 and contested for president-ship as a civilian, would US have become the power it became? I think not. That’s because the spirit of freedom cannot survive under the army’s reign.

While it’s true that most nations from the West became developed BEFORE becoming universal democracies, yet there’re nations like South Korea and Japan who have become economical power houses after embracing democracy. Moreover, the Western nations have continued to grow at a rapid pace even after they implemented universal adult suffrage for its citizens. It goes to prove that democracy doesn’t really inhibit growth. Those of you thinking about China’s humongous growth need to know that it has come at the cost of more than 40 million lives, and counting. Nobody, except for the communist govt itself perhaps, knows the actual number, though. Till recently, married couples in China could only have one child, millions of Uyghurs remain incarcerated in camps, press is not free, and your individual rights don’t mean a thing in that country. As is obvious, it’s not a free a country. The rule of army wouldn’t be any different than what we have in China. You can decide if you’re ready to pay this kind of cost for development and growth. I’m not.

And if we aren’t ready to pay this cost, we only have one choice left, democracy, even if it’s chaotic. But, like I said earlier, progressive democracies can function and grow, enriching its people. However, there’re certain rules which need to be followed.

The first and foremost among them is that armed forces shouldn’t interfere in political process of the country, but remain under civilian control. Our forces have exemplified themselves in this regard. In 1975, when Indira Gandhi imposed emergency on the country, she asked the then chief of army, General Raina for support but he refused, and rightly so, upholding the principle that while the forces must remain under civilian control, they also must remain apolitical. This policy has held us in good stead all these years. Sadly, the same cannot be said about our judiciary. In 1975, the judiciary wilted under political pressure and justified the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi, with four out of five judges agreeing to the verdict. All four of them went on to become Chief Justices subsequently. Even after this, General Raina remained firm in not interfering with the politics of emergency. He let the political forces of the country deal with it. And they did. Within twenty months, they made Indira realize her blunder and she announced general elections to be held in March 1977.

However, on the other side of border in Pakistan, their generals cannot be accused of being patient with political processes. Whenever they felt that things were not going the way they would’ve liked, they rushed in to take over the reins. It started with Ayub doing the honours in 1958, followed by Zia-ul-Haq in 1977 and finally by Parvez Musharraf in 2001. Pakistan is paying dearly for not adhering to the principle of forces being absolutely apolitical. Essentially, we’re the same people, with us having even more Muslims than what they have, but are at completely different stages of development. That’s precisely because their army interfered in politics, nay controls their politics, and uses radical Islam to influence poor and illiterate citizens into Jehadism. Things have reached such a stage in that country that the army doesn’t need to stage a coup anymore. They’ve institutionalized their army’s role in their political processes. Anything important happening in the country has to happen only after due concurrence from them. Period!

Pakistan is not the only country in the world where the army has staged a coup. There’re numerous nations in South America, Africa and even Asia which can be counted in this list. But none of them can really be counted amongst the developed states. The developed world has understood the importance of having apolitical forces. Except for Spain, the western nations have all adhered to this golden principle. Even in Spain, they’ve remained democratic since 1975 when General Franco died after being in power for nearly forty years. And its progress is directly linked to more than generous help from other western nations during and after Franco’s reign.

The latest example in this regard comes from Sri Lanka, where the President recently dismissed a sitting Prime Minister and installed someone who didn’t enjoy the parliamentary majority. When this happened, there were calls for their military to take over. Thankfully, their Chief General Senanayaka desisted from doing so. Like General Raina in our case, he too let the political forces sort the matter out between themselves. It now seems that things may return to normal in not too distant future with the judiciary calling the President’s action, unlawful.

While we would prefer our democracy to be less chaotic and noisy, it’s still the only way to ensure unity and progress. Forces should always remain away from political processes of the nation.


  • Aman Posted November 24, 2018 10:06 am

    Very well penned..And coming from an Army officer it holds unbiased truth..Kudos to your very balanced writings..Real eyeopners.

    • Manish Jaitly Posted November 26, 2018 10:48 am

      Thank you so much!!!

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26/11 UNFORGIVEN, launch at Nagpur

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As I said in my talk, wars need to be ended and not just stopped. There’s a huge difference between the two things. Had UN been around during the second world war it’d have stopped it in the middle and allowed Hitler to continue to rule Germany. God only knows how many more Jews he’d have gone on to kill. In Kashmir, we didn’t allow the war to be completed in 1947, 65, 71 as well as in 1999. And we continue to pay for that blunder. We have lost more than a hundred thousand lives since 1947 because of our problems with Pakistan. Had we allowed the war to be completed, I’m sure this issue would not have cost us this much. Stopping a war before it completes its course prolongs the pain as the issue which caused the war doesn’t go away. It lingers on and on, till it brims over once again leading to another war. This is exactly what has happened with us. Even in 1971, we completed the war on our eastern border for benefit of Bangladeshis but didn’t do it on the western borders for our own benefit.