Features | Politics | South Asia

Will India’s Military Revolt?

Dispirited by a government that seems soft on the intifada in Kashmir, Madhav Nalapat says trouble is brewing in the military.

During the 63 years that India has been a free country, only once has an army chief ever veered close to planning a coup along the lines of the Pakistan model. That was Joyanto Nath Choudhuri, who was better at writing than at war, having conceded a stalemate to a vastly inferior Pakistan force in 1965.

Before him and since, the military has remained loyal to its civilian masters, even during the many periods when they’ve indulged in favouritism or in procurement scams. But there are signs now that a revolt may be brewing within the uniformed services over what they see as the United Progressive Front government's unwillingness to back them in their often bloody battle against Maoists, insurgents and jihadists across the country.

The resentment is greatest in Kashmir, a consequence of Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi's ‘Look the other way’ policy towards the well-organized intifada now taking place in that state. The movement is designed to attract international intervention in the state—preferably of a military nature—similar to that which occurred in Kosovo. This might seem like an outlandish idea, but the separatist leaders in Kashmir (who preach their venom openly while living in opulence) have been made to believe by their handlers in Pakistan that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and CIA chief Leon Panetta are in favour of robust US mediation in Kashmir. Such intervention, they believe, would ultimately ensure that the state would, in effect, become independent from India.

They claim that Pakistan's army chief of staff, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has made it clear to the US trio that his military's support for NATO operations in the Af-Pak Pashtun belt is conditional on such an outcome in Kashmir.

Certainly, US and other Western diplomats have ensured there’s a steady diet of reports on the intifada in Western media, almost none of which point out that the movement is confined to just a section of the Sunni population in the Kashmir Valley and is opposed by the majority of the population in the region comprising Shias, Gujjars, Bakkerwals, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. Indeed, the Western media reports also ignore the reality that what the Valley Sunni separatists seek is a religious state where the Saudi version of Sharia law would form the basis of jurisprudence.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Whatever the compulsions of Clinton, Gates and Panetta, the fact remains that the Sonia-led UPA has followed the Western press and diplomatic corps in ignoring the ‘silent majority’ in Kashmir, refusing to factor in the views of the non-Valley Sunni elements in the state.

What has infuriated the military is the parroting of the Valley Sunni line by Home Minister P Chidambaram (ever-focussed on winning brownie points with the United States) and the silence of Defense Minister A K Antony over the frequent criticisms of the military and the uniformed services generally—this at a time when more than 700 members of these services have been hospitalized for serious injuries sustained during the intifada. There’s also anger that thus far, no VIP has bothered even to enquire properly about these men, much less visit them in hospital.

The present chief minister of Kashmir, the youthful Omar Abdullah, was chosen for his proximity to the heir of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi. But in this first test of a Rahul brigade member in the field of fire, Abdullah has failed miserably, apparently seeking to curry favour with the instigators of the intifada even while doing nothing to stop the widespread corruption that has made Kashmir (together with the Northeast) the most administratively crooked part of India.

Sadly, each eruption of violence is followed by an increase in the volume of Delhi's largesse to the state, almost all of which gets used in the Valley and seems to end up in the pockets of the very Valley Sunnis who fan the flames. Kashmir for them has become a cornucopia, sustained by constant agitations that lead to fresh transfusions of cash, a part of which get used to initiate more trouble.

Those on the field say that it’s only a matter of time before a revolt takes place within the uniformed services—not just in Kashmir, but in other parts of India, where the present government is adopting a policy of hunting with the hounds and running with the hares.

But given the multiple arrests and other disciplinary action against uniformed personnel (which they contrast with the kid-glove treatment meted out to the intifada leadership), the time may be approaching when the hounds refuse to hunt. Instead, they may decide to step back to let Kashmir's political leadership and its Delhi backers face the consequences of a policy of winks and nods to pro-Pakistan elements seeking to prise Kashmir loose from India through international intervention.