Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tell It Like It Is - Denial of military history weakens the quality of Indian democracy

The recent controversy over the orders by the armed forces tribunal to rewrite the history of the Kargil war is in many ways ironical. For, this is an army whose official website wishes away its entire post-independence history by saying: Post-1948 operations are classified, hence not mentioned. In fact, the militarys entire post-independence history is slave to biographical and selfserving accounts. Unfortuna-tely, most discussions on this subject focus on Indian military historys sensationalist aspects like the destruction of files pertaining to the 1971 operations or the Henderson Brookes report and, though these are legitimate aspects in their own right, this allows a greater travesty of justice to lie unaddressed. The state does not have a procedure that allows the stories of important institutions military, paramilitary, police, diplomacy, among others to be told. And this denial of history not only weakens the quality of Indian democracy but,alarmingly, has negative consequences on the operational effectiveness of all these institutions. Indias parliamentarians would do well to concentrate on this issue.

That the defence ministry, among other security agencies, lacks a declassification procedure is beyond doubt. There are almost no official records available to scholars interested in this field. Even scholars at Indias official and service-affiliated think tanks consisting of IDSA, CLAWS, CAPS, CENJOWS and NMF are denied access to data. As a consequence, they mostly churn out papers on every subject but that which analyses processes within the military. On the rare occasion they do so, it is usually an opinion rather than an analysis with empirical data from official records. A decade after the Kargil review committee recommended the creation of some of these think tanks, the hardware and physical infrastructure has been established but the software, in terms of data, is absent. Like many other recommendations of post-crises defence reforms, this idea too has died in its implementation. Denial of access also prevents the creation of civilian expertise on these matters, weakening the quality of debate and ultimately Indias democracy. As scholars and citizens are denied historical documents, there is little serious study or instruction on these institutions in civilian universities. Discussions on national security issues are monopolised by former officials belonging to these bureaucracies. Hence Indias strategic enclave, unlike in most major democracies, almost exclusively constitutes retired officials. Rare is an enclave member who can challenge the institutional myths and official positions of his parent organisation. In the long run, this is harmful for democracy as different perspectives and counter-arguments are not adequately debated. Lack of a declassification procedure hampers the operational effectiveness of the Indian military, and other national security agencies. There is little emphasis on teaching military history in professional schools of instruction. Even when taught they rely almost exclusively on biographical accounts of the participants. It makes little sense why this is so, especially since no one comes out second best in their own autobiography and hence,unsurprisingly, many of these accounts are contradictory.

Lack of historiography results in a constant re-learning of lost lessons and restricts the officer cadres intellectual development. For instance, while there is current talk of developing capabilities for out-of-area operations ,there is little study of Indias only expeditionary counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE in Sri Lanka. By not studying the military past, officers are almost condemned to repeat its follies. This is an issue that is perhaps best addressed by the respective service chiefs and especially by the chief of army staff, General V K Singh, if he is serious about improving the militarys internal health. Despite the urgency of the issue, the debate around declassification is not new and has followed a tortuous path. In the early 1990s, the historical section of the defence ministry, relying on certain official documents, wrote its version of the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. These accounts were restricted and unavailable to most scholars. Later in 2001, a committee was established under NN Vohra to examine the publication of these volumes but, despite its positive recommendation, no action was taken on its report. Currently, the issue has hit a dead end. The armed forces maintain that they have no objection to declassification but the final decision has to be the defence ministry's. Defence ministry officials, in turn, state that only the classifying agency can decide on declassification!

It appears as if politics prevent declassification. There might be fears, at all levels, that declassification may tarnish the elaborate images constructed of our political and military leaders. Ultimately, it is the duty of young politicians to make the case that they are willing to learn not just from the achievements of their forefathers but also from their mistakes. Not doing so reflects an appalling lack of confidence and insecurity. Perhaps this is a crusade best led by Rahul Gandhi and other young politicians willing to admit that, to prepare for the future, one must know the past. That does not absolve the rest of the political ,bureaucratic or military community. It is time to overcome our collective insecurities. There are stories there that must be told lest we forget.
(By - Anit Mukherjee - a research scholar, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.)

1 comment:

  1. Sir, i am a exservicemen, retired in 1992, when applied for ECHS it was rejected saying that i am getting medicasl allowances, later i followed thru the bank to stop the same. but till now it didn't happen, please let me know from where i can get this medical allowances be stopped.
    I am from AP, Krishna District, Ex-indian Navy.