+ International Studies

THE INDIAN REPUBLIC AT 63 - APRIL 15, 2012 By Siddhartha S. Bhadrakumar

The Indian Republic at 63


By Siddhartha S. Bhadrakumar


The Indian republic completed 63 years on January 26thof this year. At this juncture it is worthwhile to examine the state of the republic. These implications divide themselves broadly into the economic and political features of the republic at this important juncture in its history.


There is a wide disparity between regions in India. In India this is broadly on a west to east axis with regions witnessing decreasing development the further we move to the east. In the case of China the same phenomenon can be seen from an east to west axis. The coastal regions of both countries are more developed than their rural hinterland. That is probably the only point of comparison between both countries. Otherwise the north Indian hinterland has social indices comparable to sub Saharan Africa rather than China. So much for the economic disparity within the republic and between its rural and urban areas; but what about the political angle?


The most defining aspect of the political scenario is the hiatus in civil-military relations, a point not widely understood or perhaps even studied abroad. The equations between the civilian leadership and the military have been uneasy at the best of times. This has been best exemplified in the recent controversy over the age of superannuation of the army chief and his decision to contest the government in the Supreme Court over it. The army chief contends his date of birth is a year later than that entered in government records and that accordingly he should retire a year later in 2013 instead of this year. It might seem to be a storm in a teacup especially as the army is not united on the issue but it highlights as one commentator in the Indian English language press noted recently that the army has imbibed an air of exclusivity as an interest group capable of exercising an independent political agenda. This is a   trait that is honed to perfection in the military academies in the country. Not to be ignored either is the fact that the military is virtually a law unto itself in the frontier regions of the country such as Kashmir and the north-east where there is little or no identification with the rest of the country and where Indian rule rests principally through the medium of the military.


Not to be ignored either are the manifold threats to the Indian republic most notably evinced in the widespread Maoist menace. The Maoists have succeeded in establishing themselves over a wide swathe of undeveloped areas in the northern hinterland. The writ of the central government is virtually non-existent in such areas. The ultimate nightmare for Indian planners is if these elements integrate themselves with other militant groups in the country’s north -east and from that there is the ever present fear of external sponsorship through Chinese involvement. Indeed recent Chinese commentaries such as to breakup the great Indian federation into a million fragments and of the inevitability of a limited Sino-Indian conflict mooted by sections of the Indian press do not help matters.


Therefore as the Indian republic completes 63 years there are many moot questions before it. For one, will it get over its insular defensive posture and will it remain a democratic republic for all time to come? The military has in Indian history assumed a pivotal role in the various empires that emerged in the subcontinent and with the manifold threats the Indian republic faces today, power might still after all be based on the barrel of a gun as Mao would have put it. Under such circumstances the question to be answered is whether the military will always continue to do its political masters bidding, particularly when as now, there is a perception in the Indian armed forces that their operational effectiveness is being hampered by interference from defence ministry mandarins. What is undeniable is that India is once again set to maintain a tryst with history and destiny…