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Indian Military: Apolitical and Autonomous

C. Raja Mohan

By Steven I. Wilkinson
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2015, pp. 295, Rs. 795.00


The very divergent political evolution of the Indian and Pakistani armed forces has long puzzled political analysts. Why has the Indian Army turned its back on domestic politics, while the Pakistan Army has directly ruled the country for extended periods and controls its national security policy? Why do the two Armies, cut from the same cloth, behave so differently? These questions have been asked before. Steven I. Wilkinson, a Professor of South Asian studies at Yale University, is not satisfied with the answers we have had so far and comes up with compelling explanations. In the process, he also explores one of the less trodden areas of contemporary India—civil military relations. One traditional answer to the puzzle is the proposition that the leadership of the Indian Army after Partition had imbibed the apolitical tradition of the armed forces under the Raj. That does not explain much because the Pakistan Army had inherited the same values in 1947. Another theory looks at the ethnic composition of the two armed forces on the assumption that armies dominated by one ethnic group are more prone to launching coups. It suggests that the ethnic imbalance in the Pakistan Army in favour of the Punjabis worsened after Partition while that in India became more national. Wilkinson, however, argues that the ethnic composition of the Indian army did not change significantly in the years after Independence despite the political interest in such a transformation. The need to expand the Army on short order in the wake of the 1962 war with China, the author notes, prevented the effort by Nehru to correct the bias in favour of recruiting ‘martial races’. Wilkinson’s rich narrative focuses on three other factors. One, the much larger existential threats that Pakistan faced at its birth made it a lot easier for the Army to emerge as the guardian of the new state. Two, Wilkinson points to the very different institutional development of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League. As a more representative entity with greater experience in the art of political management, the Congress was better positioned than the Muslim League in addressing the challenges that confronted the two nations after Partition. The weaknesses of the Muslim League provided the context for Pakistan Army’s intervention in politics early on and sustain its dominance over the decades. Three, the Congress leadership that was deeply suspicious of the armed forces ...

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