Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Unspoken Social Contract - Army and Civilians

By Vir Sanghvi

At the heart of the relationship between the Indian Army and the people of India lies a mystery. It is a mystery so deep that even though the most brilliant scholars have spent decades trying to find a solution, none of their answers has been entirely convincing. Here’s the mystery: the Indian Army, as we know it, was carved out of the army of pre-Partition, undivided India. Therefore, it has the same heritage and history (except for the last few decades) as the Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies, which were also set up by the British during the Raj. Until recently, officers in the Indian Army had even served with their counterparts in the Pakistani Army in the days before Partition. But while the Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies have demonstrated a thirst for political power, the Indian Army has remained resolutely apolitical. Generals have run both Bangladesh and Pakistan. But no Indian General has ever come close to accessing political power.
What’s more, no Indian General has seemed remotely interested in becoming this country’s military dictator. Why should this be so? Why should the Indian Army remain content to take orders from civilian politicians when its counterparts across the border are so eager to grab power for themselves? It can’t be that our soldiers are merely following the British tradition. In that case, the Pakistani Army should never have left its barracks. It isn’t that our soldiers have enormous respect for their civilian masters. Give an army officer two pegs of a good whiskey, and he will tell you, in colourful language, how much contempt he has for the politicians who run our country. Nor is it that we have kept the army out of domestic affairs. We use the army frequently to fight insurrections — in Nagaland, Mizoram, Punjab and Kashmir. Even when a riot rages out of control, the cry goes out: ‘Send in the army’.
It could be that Indian democracy is stronger than the kind of democracy practiced by our neighbours. But even when democratic rights have been suspended and an authoritarian regime has taken control of India — as happened with the Emergency — the Army has shown no interest in getting involved with the running of the country. I have no solutions of my own to offer and the Army’s unwillingness to leave its barracks must remain a mystery. But what I know is this: there exists an unspoken social contract between the Indian Army and the people. Basically, this consists of an agreement on our part to protect, indulge, admire, pamper and respect the Indian Army. In turn, the Army will do its own thing until we need it to save our bacon. Then, it will leave its barracks, clear out the Golden Temple, restore order to Bombay or Delhi, throw infiltrators and invaders out of Kargil, and guarantee the security and integrity of India.
Our part of the deal is that we will protect the Army from political interference. Except for a brief patch in the early ’60s, when Krishna Menon was defence minister, army promotions have not been unduly influenced by politicians. The chiefs are given free rein to do pretty much as they please. When the army forcefully expresses a demand (for pay revisions, better facilities etc) it usually gets its own way. Also part of the deal is that Indians will hold the Army in the highest esteem. We will treat it as the one institution that has not been affected by the moral decline of Indian society. We may be prepared to criticise the paramilitary forces, and to accept that their men have committed human rights violations. But we will never accept that this could be true of the Indian Army. Equally, we will never blame the Army for anything.
In 1962, we were thrashed by the Chinese but the consensus was that politicians had lost the war while our brave soldiers had done their best.
The 1965 war was at best a stalemate (the Pakistanis also claimed they had won) but we treated it as a glorious victory for the Indian Army.
Operation Blue Star was a fiasco. But even today, it is Blue Star we remember favourably rather than Black Thunder (conducted by the paramilitary forces to clean up the mess left behind by Blue Star), a bona fide success. By and large, the social contract has worked.
The Army has nearly always got us out of jams when we need its services. Whether it was Delhi in 1984, Bombay in 1993, or Gujarat in 2002, we needed the Army to restore order. And during the Kargil War, young officers led from the front, sacrificed their lives and displayed astonishing bravery in the service of their country. Consequently, the army sometimes appears to live in a state within a state. Visit a cantonment and you will be struck by the contrast with the civilian part of the town or city where it is located. The roads will be broad and well-maintained, the buildings will be freshly painted, the surroundings will be clean, and an air of good manners and civility will prevail.
Visit an army town (Wellington, for instance) and the contrast will be even more striking. The order and cleanliness of the cantonments serves as a contrast to the chaos and filth of modern India. There is, however, one important aspect of the social contract that now seems to be failing. As corruption has spread in modern India, we have reluctantly accepted that most parts of our society are tainted — civil servants, the schools and even the lower judiciary. But somehow, we have always believed that the army is different. Oh yes, we hear the stories. We hear about Generals who take kickbacks on arms deals and about officers involved in canteen purchase scandals. But because this corruption appears to be restricted to the Army itself and because we believe that it is not widespread, we are happy to look the other way.
The problem with the Adarsh scandal and controversies over other land deals that have erupted recently is that they encroach into the civilian space. Senior army officers are seen to be conniving with politicians, bureaucrats and contractors to make millions. Worse still, at least in the case of the Adarsh scandal, there is a cynical abuse of the social contract. When we say that we will respect and pamper the army, we do not expect senior officers to grab flats for themselves in the name of Kargil martyrs. Earlier this week, the Army chief spoke about his resolve to cleanse his force. I am not sure he fully grasps how serious the situation is. The problem is not just that there are ‘a few bad apples’ in the army.
It is that Army corruption has now spilled out into the civilian space and that Generals are making big bucks by exploiting the regard we have for the heroism of the Army and the sacrifices made by its soldiers. If more such instances come to light, then the press will begin looking critically at the Army. The politicians will have an excuse to delve deep into the workings of the officer corps. This will give them the opportunity they need to play favourites. And the public, regretfully recognising that the Army has breached the social contract itself, will reluctantly acquiesce in the muck-raking by the press and the interference by politicians.
Once this happens, the social contract will not survive. The image of the Army will not recover. And the perfect balance we have built between the Army and the Indian people will topple over. So, the Army must urgently look at itself. It must crack down on corruption, identify the guilty men and act swiftly against them. It must do so now. Because too much is at stake. And tomorrow will be too late.
Exclusive to TNSE. More at www.virsanghvi.com. Follow him at twitter.com / virsanghvi Topics:


  1. Congrats Mr Sanghvi for this article. It was hightime someone wrote about this. We all glorify the army and respect their sacrifices. But many times i have wondered what the Army is really doing when Thousands of Crores are Looted and Army is just sitting by. Not one person is accountable . Trillions of Dollars have been taken to Swiss Banks. Take the Adarsh scam, CWG scam, Spectrum Scam, wherein Thousands of Crores have been looted. What is the Army doing? Even Pakistan Army or PLA in China, is better. They will hang the Looters. Here we have Indian Army who are drunk from the Booze supplied by the Netas and many times join the Netas in the Loot of India. Does the Army really care for the common man? Someone has to step in and hang the Bastards who have looted India. Otherwise Indian Army is useless. The Booze has to stop flowing and we need Indian Army to rule this country.

    By Bharatian

  2. How sanctimonious the press can get is exemplified by this article. "Social contract between the people and the army" is nothing but a figment of the writer's imagination. In reality the Indian army is applauded only in times of distress. For the rest of the time it is merely tolerated, The army personnel are considered unfit for assimilation in civil society, their problems are swept away as not worthy of consideration and whatever crumbs and sops are offered come through only after the ex servicemen are forced to remonstrate on the streets through agitations which most old soldiers consider undignified and no better than begging. So to boast about any social contract is only adding insult to injury. That the army is apolitical is as much a matter of geography as of inclination. The personnel are drawn from all over India and speak many languages. They do not get to be too clannish. Thank God for small mercies. But malign them too much or try and
    patronise them as pets only at your convenience.

    By Lt Col (retired) Revti Raman

  3. The army of any country mirrors its civilian life.....be it Pakistn, US, India OR China... being commissioned as an officer in the defense forces is a self-achievement.... not a self-sacrifice only naive, unpractical and gullible people make self-sacrifices ..... practical and rational people don't. How many people remember the sacrifice made by a young army commando
    [SAG NSG] who lost one eye fighting terrorists in the Mumbai carnage....he has been kicked, ridiculed and relegated to desk-staff duties and will at most make it to the rank of TS Lt Col. On the other hand I am aware of many ORD-ASC junior officers who have managed to send their children and in many cases relatives children to top management courses in The US / Europe....... bringing pride and respect to their home and social circle. And pls put things in prospective 90% of the beneficiaries of Ad rash scam are IAS babus & politicians A Raja (cabinet minister) moves in a beacon light car, with z level security.

    By RR

  4. I condemn all corruption, irrespective of who is involved in it. However, I wish to point out two important things: 1. Our newspapers and news channels are only targetting the army personnel and not doing the same with the politicians and beaureacrats. It seems corruption by army men is worse than by the netas and babus. Or are they scared to lose their privileges? 2. A general rank army personnel, who is the commander of the forces in Kashmir gets a salary of Rs. 40,000. This is a salary a junior level executive gets in a good private company. Considering the enormous responsibility that the commander of the forces in Kashmir shoulders, his salary should be much much higher. He is also a human being and aspires to a decent lifestyle after retirement. Corruption in the army is a direct fallout of this fact. Indian Army is one of the best fighting forces in the world whereas our netas and babus are the absolute worst. Let us not go after the good for a few rotten apples and let us do our best to rid of corruption.

    By Paul

  5. Mr.Vivek Comments show his total lack of knowledge and rational thinking. Probably he was not selected by selection board to wear uniform. Generalising is bad and the worst is making sweeping comments. Surprisingly the Editor has allowed such illinformed stupid comments

    By Group Captain V.Ramani

  6. Sorry, the author is way off the mark when he says that an officer needs to booze before he expresses his contempt for the politicians and the babus. I do not find any need for the strength of the spirit to share a conviction that the majority of citizens have. And may I know why the author has left the higher judiciary off the hook? Has he already forgotten PD Dinakaran and forgiven KG Balakrishnan (yes, of their's 'I am not within the purview of RTI Act' notority)?

    By Veteran Major P M Ravindran

  7. "Rationalizations can be invoked prospectively (before the act) to forestall guilt and resistance or retrospectively (after the act) to ease misgivings about one's behavior. Once invoked, the rationalizations not only facilitate future wrong doings but dull awareness that the act is in fact wrong. Indeed, if the rationalizations become a shared resource in the organization's (or industry's) culture, they may pave the way toward defining the practice as "business as usual—the way things work." I am quoting from "Business as usual: The acceptance and perpetuation of corruption in organizations" by Vikas Anand, Blake E. Ashforth, and Mahendra Joshi

    By Chandra Nath

  8. A well balanced article. I shudder to think whether the Chief or for that matter all the higher commanders put together are capable of solving the problem. I would go one step further and even say that I have serious doubts whether they have the tools even to understand and analyze the problem which has taken root deep within the organizational structure and the rationalization & socialization process that has been acting on it deep within its roots for too long a time. It is not the trouble with the individuals but the ethical dilemma the organizations go through and unless we can step back and analyze it with out being emotional, there seems to be an unsurmountable problem. "Professional ethics" is the answer to the problem but I doubt whether we are equipped to even recognize it leave alone solve it.

    By Chandra Nath

  9. As regards to corruption Army may be put at par with other segments of Indian society. What differentiate it from Pakistan and Bangla Desh is its composition and socio-religious background. Besides this heterogeneous cultural dimension of India contribute to keep it apolitical.

    By B.L.Chaturvedi

  10. Dude, before lecturing the Army look in the Mirror. You jurno's need to do introspect more than the Army. I am sure the Armed Forces will eventually do the right thing. But, you establishment journos are a almost beyond redemption.

    By Malavika

  11. People who joined the Defence in 60's had opted not only as a career but because of strong conviction of averse to dirty politics, Breaucrats, Politicians falling at the feet of their Leaders/mentors had a lasting adverse impact in the minds of self respecting people. Poltics was never discussed at the bar. Leadership Is the most important motivator in uniform. Seniors like Cariappa, Thimmaya Mukerjee, Arjun singh etc have been the Role model for juniors. Fabric of defence was in safe hands then. Motto was "U contribute and not contradict". Arrival of seniors with materialistic values is the cause for the downfall.Yes, it will take along time to regain respect to uniform.

    By Group Captain V.Ramani

  12. Most of the Indian Army Generals were/are Corrupt and on the take of the Netas. Take the Adarsh scam. A relative of mine was in the AirForce. He is no more. He used to tell us how the Army and Service guys were so damn corrupt. Added was the free/discount Booze that these guys were always on. During IPKF days, the Indian Army, Air Force, Navy guys were busy smuggling so many goods from Sri Lanka duty free. Every day the planes from Lanka would come, full of Goods to be sold in India. There was no customs or inspection. Bloody corrupt fellows. And these IPKF were so unprofessional, behaving in such bad ways with Tamils there. No wonder they got their arses kicked. That aside, Indian Army does not have the guts to meddle in Politics. That is where the PLA of China or the Paki army differ. The PLA will step in to kick the Butts of anyone in China. Indian Army-wimps

    By Vivek