General Menon quoted in Moneycontrol on the merit-based promotion of 3-star officers in the armed forces. He said:
The current debate is in the context of the Narendra Modi government exercising its political judgement to select Army, Navy and Air Force Chiefs by disregarding seniority. It is framed as a binary choice between merit and seniority.
The prime argument asserted to privilege seniority over merit has hinged on the necessity to maintain the armed forces as an apolitical institution, a contention that rests on the notion that it would otherwise open the possibility of political favouritism, with military leaders attempting to cosy up to politicians, thus politicising the military as an institution. This is true and a perennial danger in a democracy.
The ultimate power to select the senior armed forces leadership must be left to politicians. It can be misused like any other power wielded by them. In a democracy, the main check is the electoral power of the populace as also the legal safeguards provided by the Constitution. This is reflected in the long-standing selection system for chiefs and army commanders or their equivalents. The final selection has always been done from a panel based on seniority and eligibility criteria.
A case can be made that India’s electoral system must be reformed to improve the overall quality of India’s politicians. An analysis of criminal, financial, and other backgrounds of the Union Council of Ministers post the Cabinet expansion on 7 July 2021 by the Association for Democratic Reforms, is indicative of the need to improve the quality of India’s political leadership. But we all know that the current electoral system of the first-past-the-post needs to be changed to move away from the reality that most elected leaders represent only a minority of their respective constituencies. But change is unlikely unless it comes through the legal route.
Let it be clear that the military will have to learn to cope with what might be considered as the unethical predations of India’s political leadership. It is simply the baggage that the Indian military must prepare itself to endure. It is a reality that cannot be wished away.
The Indian political class has tasted blood by leveraging the military for partisan politics. The mobilisation of the already stretched resources of the armed forces to demonstrate solidarity for frontline medical workers in 2020 is one example among several others, including the appearance of posters of the military after India’s military strikes post-Uri attack. The projection of the Prime Minister as the originator of the idea of flying beneath the clouds for the Balakot strike to achieve operational effectiveness may have convinced some admiring followers but was laughable to those in the know of things.
India’s quality of military leadership is already under test, and with the current trajectory of geopolitical tensions coupled with fractious domestic politics, its challenges may grow exponentially. In the context of selecting senior military leadership, politicians could plausibly be on a quest for minions. Only the military’s moral fibre can give it a fighting chance to overcome such deviant exertions.
Read the full article here.