When you go home, tell them of us and say, for their tomorrow, we gave our today…
For scores of years, this has been the defining credo of the Armed Forces which formed much of the perception the society had towards it. The Armed Forces have always been perceived as a group of brave men who give up all they have to stay in isolated border posts and guard the integrity of the nation. They are seen as selfless but removed from the society they protect, a group of men remembered in movies and songs but never actually seen in action.
However, as the world becomes a smaller place and the threat to a nation seems to come increasingly from within, the Armed forces has adapted to a plethora of roles once thought extremely different from their agenda. Today’s civil society requires the Armed Forces to act in a way they never thought they would have to. Today when the order in society (together with the law enforcement agencies that protect it) is increasingly getting polarized on political and communal lines, the Armed Forces remains the last bulwark of the completely secular India that Nehru envisioned.
From Gujarat to Nagpur, from Jammu to Bombay, whenever civil order has broken down and terror has reared its head, it has been the Armed Forces who have always stepped in to protect the people. When the police and paramilitary forces have been overwhelmed by the situation, it has always fallen to the Army to restore peace and calm. Even in cases of natural disasters, it’s the Armed Forces who step in with much needed aid. Be it the 2004 tsunami or the earthquake in Gujarat, the Armed Forces have always been t the forefront of relief and rescue operations. These activities have given them visibility above and beyond what has been their traditional role; guarding the nation against external threats.
Today the Armed Forces are seen as a last bulwark of honour and patriotism in a nation beset by corruption and nepotism. The incidents of “ketchup-colonels” and “whisky –brigadiers” are widely acknowledged as an aberration to the rule and not as the rule itself. One can see this by taking a look around our own neighbourhood. Democracies have been frequently torpedoed by military coups in Pakistan and Myanmar, in Bangladesh the government was ‘military supported’ ditto in Nepal. On the other hand, India with the strongest army in the region has managed to remain a vibrant democracy since inception. This is because the Armed Forces have had a long tradition of apolitical behaviour. They have seldom, if ever, gotten involved in politics and even those rare instances have been related to genuine grievances (for example the furore over the 6th Pay Commission implementation). The Armed Forces have resisted every move to usurp its secular credentials. It heavily criticized the Sacchar Committee Report which called for minority reservations in the forces. Summing up, it can be said without reservation that in an area as volatile as south Asia, if democracy has flourished as well as it has in India; one of the main reasons surely is the unflinching support of the Armed Forces to the constitution which envisions a secular, democratic government.
By sticking to its constitutional ideals, the Armed Forces have allowed the civilian government to function without undue pressure unlike in neighbouring Pakistan where President Zardari is currently quailing under a strong warning from army chief General Kiyani. Inspite of step motherly treatment from successive civilian governments, the Armed Forces have never deviated from their goal of protecting the nation from all transgressors, external and internal.
Thus today’s society recognizes the Armed Forces as much more than brave men immortalized in tales and stories. It perceives them as an inherent part and parcel of the society, a fifth column always ready to support and shore up civic institutions as and when they fail. Today the image of the soldier and the farmer go hand in had with those of other parts of society. The Armed Forces have integrated their roles as protectors of society both from within and without and in doing so have prepared themselves for the myriad of challenges that lie ahead.