What constitutes a nation is not speaking the same tongue or belonging to the same ethnic group, but having accomplished great things in common in the past and the wish to accomplish them in future.
— Ernest Rennan
No nation state can be built without first creating and inculcating nationalism. The Indian paradox is that we are an old society and civilisation but we are a new nation state in the modern political sense. In its long history, India can be considered to have been a ‘nation state’ only a few times: during the Mauryan Empire (321-185 BC), in the Gupta Age (320-500 AD), the Mughal period (1527-1857 AD), and as the British India colonial empire (1857-1947 AD). The dynamics of these near whole or complete Indian nation states has been that each time, it has risen out of a hotbed of internecine quarrels and fighting among small states: a tendency which is sometimes felt even today.
As a nation state, India comprises myriad streams of culture; 22 scheduled languages, 200 dialects, a dozen ethnic groups, seven religious communities with several sects and sub-sects, and 68 socio-cultural subregions. That makes us a great as well as complex society and nation. This very paradox also poses challenges in building India as a nation.
What is nation building? Is it economic development and industrialisation? Is it building large metros, roads, schools and hospitals? Is it ensuring social equality and harmony? Or is it shaping a national identity based on our core values so as to mature as a strong and vibrant nation, proud and confident, backed by comprehensive national power to assume its rightful role in international affairs?
Nation building is a combination of all facets of progress. The last part stated above is the ultimate goal in nation building. This is also stated in the Preamble to our Constitution. In addressing the contribution of India’s armed forces in nation building, the starting point lies in understanding India’s military legacy. Military life, in its outlook and purpose, is heavily dependent on traditions of service imbibed over years of blood-stained history. These traditions, almost sacred to soldiers, can be traced upwards to patriotism and downwards to self-pride. These traditions are not only from the British Indian Army but also date back to the Mahabharat days. The Bhagwad Gita says, “Considering your own duty, you should not waver”, or as Guru Gobind Singh says, “Deh shiva war mohe ehse shubh karman te kabhu na taru. Na darro arr seo jab jaye larun nishchay kar apni jit karun”. Similarly, the Chetwode credo states: “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.” An oath is the bedrock of the true military profession which differentiates it from all other professions. Earlier, the oath was based on the concept of “Naam– Namak–Nishan: Be Honourable–True to your Salt–Uphold the Flag.” Today this oath is to the Constitution of democratic India. The armed forces are a true reflection of the basic national concept of unity in diversity. In an exemplary role model for the rest of our countrymen, soldiers of all classes, castes, creeds and religions are able to serve the nation with total dedication; living together in barracks, eating from the same kitchen, speaking the same language, and observing each other’s religious festivals. Secularism, discipline, integrity, loyalty, espirit-de-corps—these are essential values inculcated among our men.
Such motivated people not only make efficient and dedicated soldiers in service, but even after leaving the Services, continue as nation building role models for others. An important legacy of the Indian armed forces has been its totally apolitical outlook. As stated earlier, a soldier’s oath is to the Constitution of India and to the constitutionally elected central government. The ideology of the political parties or their hue and colour does not concern the armed forces. Our armed forces, unlike those of some neighbouring countries, have stuck to the concept of loyalty to the constitutionally elected government. They have, thus, contributed to the political stability of the nation and enabled it to develop its unique democratic political ambience.
Even in the insurgency-affected states of the nation, the Army has ensured an adequately secure atmosphere wherein India’s autonomous Election Commission can conduct free and fair elections. Even the Election Commission has asked the political parties, in a stronger and more comprehensive way, not to politicise the armed forces.
The Indian armed forces have played an important role in national consolidation from the day India became independent. Few political leaders foresaw the mayhem that could result amongst the innocent people who had lived together for generations in the undivided India. The communal frenzy that was unleashed by the artificial boundaries of partition was at that time beyond the control of the police. In 1947, the police was insufficient: neither well trained, nor well equipped and suffering from the trauma of communal fighting. The armed forces, led by Indian as well as some British Service officers, had to control the furious rioting and enforce civil order. It is generally believed that the British left India with a bloodless legal transfer of power. But the birth of the nation state that we see today was not such a smooth affair. Hyderabad and Junagadh had to be coerced to integrate with India by what came to be known as police actions. In October 1947, when Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) signed the Instrument of Accession to join India, the armed forces were swiftly inducted into Kashmir Valley and other parts of the state to thwart Pakistan’s design of capturing it by force. Later, the liberation of Goa, Daman and Diu carried forward the consolidation of our territorial frontiers.
Deployment of the armed forces enabled governmental infrastructure to follow in the remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh (erstwhile North-Eastern Frontier Agency), Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, border areas of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and some parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Till the late 1950s, the important Buddhist town of Tawang had very limited administrative links with India. The civil government representative was located many miles short, at Bomdi La. Even today, most Indians do not know where places like Mon, Moreh, Giagong, Chushul or Sumdo are located. The credit for initiating the feeling of nationalism in such areas goes to the armed forces. The very establishment of a military station generates a certain amount of business and developmental activities in and around the station. This is how the government’s developmental infrastructure like roads, electricity and tele-communication could reach out to remote and undeveloped areas.
The armed forces have also improved the ecology of the areas wherever they are located. The greening of the cantonments and the forestation undertaken by the Ecology Territorial Army (TA) battalions in Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and some other states has set a healthy trend for others to follow.
What about integration of the people? As stated earlier, there is no better example of unity in diversity than the armed forces. Unaffected by divisive politics or casteist social activities, military stations have always been, and are, totally cosmopolitan: oases of national unity.
The Indian army is possibly the leading force for inclusive development. The road and track infrastructure in the remotest areas over inhospitable terrain, has ensured outreach and connectivity with Indian citizens who inhabit these far-flung parts of the country. Combined with this the army has always taken the lead in building and running schools, medical facilities and habitat enhancing infrastructure in distant border areas. Interestingly, it has also been playing a key role in ecological sustenance through the various territorial army units.
The primary role of the armed forces is to defend the territorial integrity of the nation state against external and internal threats. Strong and well-trained armed forces are deterrence to our potential adversaries. If this is achieved, developmental activities and nation building can be progressed without external hindrance. This is central to the concept of national security and paramount for all nation building activities.
Territorial disputes with China and Pakistan require India’s armed forces to remain alert and deployed along disputed borders round the years. History is witness to the fact that whenever a nation has neglected its armed forces and their capacity, external powers have been quick to exploit it. In the 1950s, we overlooked this important lesson of history and allowed the security apparatus to drift till the Chinese shook us up in 1962. We had to relearn this lesson through an ignominious experience. Post 1962, we have had several skirmishes against the Chinese: at Nathu La in Sikkim in 1967, Wangdung in 1986 and Doklam in 2017. The outcomes have made it clear that the Indian armed forces are alert and determined to defend national territory. This has ensuredthat the Chinese and our leaders pursue agreements for maintaining peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and several other confidence building measures to improve relations.
Pakistan attempted to annex part of India’s territories in major attacks in 1965, 1971 and 1999. In all these conflicts, it was effectively defeated. In 1984, the armed forces preempted the Pakistan Army’s effort to illegally occupy the Siachen Glacier. Its many other minor intrusions and skirmishes along the Line of Control (LOC) too have been effectively foiled.
Nation building is hardly possible when we fight and kill each other, referring to internal security and stability. For example, the riots in Mumbai of 1992, when the economic capital of India came to a standstill. Communal and inter-caste riots, Naxalites, secessionist groups, militants and other anti-social elements, aided and abetted by foreign countries: internal security has always been a serious challenge to our national security. The demand or the need to use the armed forces, particularly the Army, for internal tasks which are primarily a police and Home Department domain, has been increasing year after year. At a higher level of violence, we have fought, and continue to fight, full-fledged insurgency and terrorism in many states. The armed forces have not allowed, nor shall allow, any attempt by any state, or even a section of the state, to secede from the Republic of India.
The positive impartiality of the Indian soldier in such situations— odd aberrations notwithstanding—is legendary. By and large, the Indian soldier is looked upon as a source of confidence amongst the people, not only in India but even abroad. During such operations, the military not only fights militants and anti-national elements but also reassures innocent people feeling insecure or neglected due to inadequate civil administration. Large-scale civic action programmes are undertaken by the military alongwith anti-terrorist operations. At such places the Army has formed an Army Development Group for this purpose.
First and foremost, it is the secure environment provided by the army as a guarantor of national and territorial integrity that ensures the path to prosperity and development for the country as a whole. Today the dimensions of conflict are manifold and not restricted to the border areas alone. Once again, it is this organisation which is combating the scourge of violence and terrorism unleashed by secessionist elements, aided and abetted by adversarial powers. As a vital organ of the state it is the army, the ultimate arbiter of national safety and security which ensures a safe environment for internal progress and prosperity. Post COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian economy is set for a northward trajectory and the stress by the government is on inclusive development. All this is not feasible without an adequate assurance of a safe and secure nation and the armed forces represent this insurance policy.
Another area where the army periodically occupies centre stage is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Navy has played a stellar role in providing critical help on foreign shores and also evacuation of Indian citizens in distant lands during times of natural as well as human crisis. The Air Force is vital during such disasters due to its speed and reach with both rotary and fixed wing air efforts. However, it is the army with its pan-India presence, especially in the far-flung areas of our country, which is omnipresent during any disaster relief efforts. Ideally, the various organs of state and central governments should come into play before the resources of the army are tapped for such eventualities. But invariably it ends up being not only the most potent responder but also the first responder due to its ingrained capabilities, equipment and disciplined application. The army’s network of field hospitals, its transportation assets, engineer plant equipment and reconnaissance and communication resources with its nationwide reach, has saved countless lives and provided succour to the people of India, during any natural calamity. The army and organisations like the NSG which are populated by army personnel on deputation have the core competencies in areas vital for crisis management and resolution. These include aspects such as hostage rescue, bomb disposal, search and rescue missions, heli-borne extraction and even rescue operations from blind wells.
The nation has always counted on the military in every disaster-affected situation. If it is not an earthquake in some state, it is floods somewhere or a cyclone in a coastal area. India has seen earthquakes, cyclones, landslides and heavy floods almost every year. Despite the raising of disaster management organisations and forces, the armed forces are acknowledged as the most dependable rescue and relief organisation in such circumstances. They are effectively the nation’s chief rescue and relief forces.
The armed forces have also enhanced India’s image abroad. Our forces, in support of the foreign policy of the government, have projected military power in Sri Lanka and Maldives when requested by these neighbours. Since the mid-1950s, the armed forces have been deployed in a large number of UN peace-keeping missions all over the world. They have worked in Korea, Congo, Gaza, Cambodia, Angola, Somalia, Rwanda, Namibia, Sudan and many other countries and done the nation proud by their impartiality, efficiency and dedication. This aspect has received international recognition.
The flavour of the season and the pointer to future economic prosperity is ‘Make in India’. Once again, it’s the Indian Armed Forces which is a major stakeholder in the success of the ‘Make in India’ pursuit. Being the largest single service, the matrix of numbers related to its equipment and wherewithal are of a very large dimension. Manufacture of military equipment not only gives a boost to the defence industry, it also builds up a dual use ecosystem of many smaller items and sub-items which in turn encourages entrepreneurship, generates employment and multiple other benefits. Success of ‘Make in India’ for defence equipment will lead to an enhancement of defence exports, accrue forex earnings and contribute significantly to the GDP. It also needs to be emphatically emphasised that rather than being a drain, the defence budget should be seen as an engine for economic growth.
Many significant products including 155mm Artillery Gun system ‘Dhanush’, Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’, LCH Prachand, Surface to Air Missile system ‘Akash’, Main Battle Tank ‘Arjun’, T-90 Tank, T-72 tank, High mobility Trucks, INS Vikrant, INS Mormugao, INS Chennai, Medium Bullet Proof Vehicle (MBPV), Weapon Locating Radar (WLR), Lakshya Parachute for Pilotless Target Aircraft, etc. have been produced in the country during the last few years which are being used by the Indian Armed Forces.
Within the country the army has provided key support to the central armed police forces in terms of training, equipment and cross attachment of personnel for absorbing best practices. Outside its own organisation the army has been a great facilitator in human resource development. The training and interaction imparted by its personnel to the youth of India, through the medium of the National Cadet Corps, is a stellar example. In fact, the NCC is widely regarded as an arena of discipline, duty and patriotism and many young spirits vie to don its khaki uniform. The army is also a great reservoir of trained, skilled and disciplined manpower, readily available for lateral absorption in other government organisations as well as the private sector. In that sense development of human resource has always been a hallmark of the Indian army.
Agniveer Scheme will help address the issue of unemployment to a large extent. Definitely, the intake of the Agniveers will balance out that weightage and ensure that the forces are not deficient or depleted in our manpower at any stage.It will aslo provide trained manpower to the civil sector after four years of service to the Armed Forces. Agnipath scheme for recruitment into Army, Air Force and Navy will make the forces young and recruits who exit after their tenure will prove to be a nationalist, disciplined and skilled manpower to the society.
Transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force ferried much-needed oxygen and other medical supplies from donor nations. The Indian Navy carried medical supplies from the neighbourhood. The Air Force and Navy both evacuated Indians from abroad and got them back to India. The Indian Army created dedicated Covid-19 facilities for civilians, and military medical personnel and set up hospitals and helped civilians in far flung areas of J&K and the North Eastern states. They helped the district administration set up a new oxygen plants and helped repair local oxygen manufacturing units that became non-operational. And also provided skilled and trained medical staff to assist the civil administration.
The nation expects the army to perform, whether in war, internal strife, disaster relief or any other contingency beyond other organs of governance and the army can proudly claim that it never ever fails on this count. In fact, it goes far beyond this and will always remain a key element in nation building. The Armed Forces is a great reservoir of trained, skilled and disciplined manpower, readily available. Development of Human Resource has always been a hallmark of the Indian Armed Forces.
A nation comprises not just its economic assets. A nation consists of its people, national character and core values, its culture, its unity, and its stature in the world community. We need to build India as a nation on the basis of a common ideology, high character and stable institutions so as to help create a strong and powerful nation which can improve the quality of its people. The Armed Forces of India have established and sustained their credibility through dedication, sacrifice, professional competence, operational effectiveness. Besides being defenders of the nation, they are the people’s Armed Forces, with recruitment from all parts of the country. The people of India, the most important element in our nation, have looked at them as secular, positive and impartial. The Armed Forces are proud of this achievement and image, and these will certainly be carried in spirit to the future too.
The secure environment provided by the Armed Forces, ensuring the path to prosperity and development for the country as a whole, is only a part of the larger and ubiquitous role played by the Indian Armed Forces in nation building.
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