Indian Establishment’s Quest for Power
The Nation
March 21, 1998
In an interview to the NNI news agency in New Delhi, Indian prime minister I K Gujral clarified media reports about the likelihood of a military take-over in India. Gujral’s main arguments is that since India is a stable democracy, it has no place for a martial law regime. How stable India is today is apparent from just one statement of an analyst of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, S R Maheshwari as quoted by AFP, in which he said: “People have lost faith in Indian politics and it is suffering from a lack of legitimacy”.

What Maheshwari has said reminds me of the historic demand of Biju Patnaik, former Orissa chief minister and a Janata Dal leader which he had made to the Indian army some two years ago, when the Hawala corruption scam was in the limelight. “The Army should take over the nation’s administration which is unstable in the hands of politicians, getting increasingly involved in corruption scandals.” –The Pioneer, January 24,1996. Patnaik, who played an important role in India’s independence movement, has since then stuck to his stand that corrupt practices of Indian politicians have made the people lose faith in them as well as in the political system.

Last week, a V J on STAR satellite TV’s V music channel was seen in the streets of Delhi questioning the Indian youth as to how they look at the elections going on in their country. The answers he got were depressing: It was a useless exercise. Why? Because politicians were corrupt. When every time the same criminals get elected, what difference does another election within two years make? Why waste so much money on such a meaningless and useless exercise?

To the shock of the V J, many young Indians recommended that it was about time the army took over power. Otherwise, as some predicted, India could fall like the Soviet Union. “There is every likelihood and a very grave danger that India will collapse like the USSR. India is not a nation. It has never been one nation. It is a collection of castes and communities”, said Nanji A Palkiwala, former Indian judge, in an interview with ABN.

“It is not unlikely that India, like the former Soviet Union, will ultimately split as it has been suppressing different national entities for decades”, said Sumon Chattapadhya, a popular singer of West Bengal, as reported by AFP from Dhaka on February 7. On December 25, 1997, more than 90 retired army officers—including seven Major Generals, eight Brigadiers, one Air Vice-Marshal (Dushyant Singh), and several Colonels—had joined the BJP “to help stabilise India’s polity”.

Last year, in March, when Congress president Sitaram Kesri had ditched United Front prime minister Deve Gowda, the first round of the foreign secretaries’ talks between Pakistan and India had just concluded in Delhi. Also present there was a team of Pakistani journalists to report progress in those talks.

Back home, these Pakistani journalists were of the opinion that they could hardly find any Delhi-based Indian journalist who did not have strong reservations against their country’s political system. Democracy to Indians had become a façade. A system, they believed, was not suited for countries like India. Democracy required political leaders whose sole responsibility should be public service, who are not corrupt, who are tolerant towards each other. None of these prerequisites of democracy unfortunately exists in India today.

We in Pakistan know very little about the clout that the Establishment enjoys in the Indian political system. Unlike the Establishment in Pakistan, which is easy to understand, the Indian Establishment is a much more complex phenomenon. Complex because ever since independence it has hardly come to the forefront. Why should it have, when it hardly ever faced any problem in seeking the necessary cooperation from the politicians to fulfil its own agenda?

The Indian Establishment consists of three state institutions: the Army, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and the South Block, as the country’s Ministry for External Affairs is commonly known. The South Block is well known for projecting the agenda of the two other pillars of Indian establishment, through-bureaucrats, politicians and media writers, who have always been more than willing to cooperate with it.

Fifty years after independence, the Indians find all the essential requirements of democracy altogether missing in their system. What they instead find is a sort of politics which is synonymous with corruption. The resulting public disillusionment with democracy, with the ability of civilian leaders to govern them, has already created a political vacuum, which might be filled by no other force than the Indian army. Two factors support this thesis: one, it’s the growing number of Indians themselves who want this to happen.

Two, even though it has so far not publicly expressed its desire to grab power, the Indian army, which forms the core of Indian Establishment, appears to have already started expressing its concern about the way politicians have messed up the county’s affairs. There exists media consensus in India that the key concern of politicians of all hues and shades has not been the manifold political, economic and social issues facing the Indian people; instead, it has been about grabbing power by whatever means possible.

One will again argue that the bankruptcy of Indian politics is evident from the fact that a party which ruled over India for four out of five decades since independence, the Congress, is being rescued by an Italian-born widow, Sonia, who got Indian nationality just over a decade ago.

It is also evident from the fact that Muslims, the country’s largest minority, who make 12 per cent of India’s 980 million population, have been courted by the fundamentalist BJP with as much vigour as the Congress, which claims to be a secular party. Unlike Pakistan, India being a closed society, survived all these years as a single political entity by offering various sorts of subsidies to its population. The free market, capitalist compulsions of the post-Cold War period have forced the Indian civilian rulers to withdraw these subsides—thereby creating widespread anger and discontent amount the people.

In such a climate, the insurgency movements are likely to become much stronger with every passing day. We should not forget the fact that the popular uprising in occupied Kashmir had also started when India was being ruled over by a weak Janata Dal government led by prime minister V P Singh. More hung parliaments, more weak governments will certainly give momentum to movements for self-determination in occupied Kashmir and the north-eastern states, meaning the days are not far away when the Indian army would have to take the lead in making a last attempt to keep the federation intact and in order.