Indian Army's Stellar Role in Nation Building

Besides ensuring India’s territorial integrity, the Indian army has played a major role in nation building. Ever since independence, the army has been involved in fighting multiple insurgencies and “militancies” with fissiparous tendencies and has participated vigorously in stemming the rot and stabilising the situation. It has also extended the reach of the state to inaccessible areas and, through egalitarian recruitment policies and secular conduct, it has contributed immensely to national integration. It could be said that the Indian army’s march through the six decades since independence has been a long “Knit India” campaign. It has been the primary force engaged in keeping the nation together in the face of internal discord, communal disharmony and fissiparous tendencies.
Interventions Abroad
Contrary to the popular belief of a pacifist culture, independent India has not hesitated to intervene in its neighbourhood in the national interest. The ethnic conflict between the Tamilians and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka sucked in India when, in response to a request from President Jayawerdene, the Indian army was deployed in Sri Lanka to implement the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in 1987. The army was called upon to intervene in the Maldives in the 1980s and was ready to set sail to come to the aid of the government of Mauritius, but it was not necessary ultimately. Individual soldiers and units performed heroically on foreign soil under extremely unfavourable conditions, including restrictions on the use of force. Besides these, units of the army have served with distinction in various United Nations peace-keeping operations. With these operations, India signalled the nation’s emergence as a pre-eminent power in the southern Asian and northern Indian Ocean regions.
Maintaining Internal Security
The Indian army has been engaged in internal security and counter-insurgency operations in the country almost throughout the post-independence period. The armed insurrections supported by various foreign powers in almost all the northeastern states since the early 1950s were successfully fought by the army and the Assam Rifles that is officered by the army. In Punjab, after the Pakistan-supported militancy had continued to fester for many years, the army was employed as a force of the last resort to neutralise Bhindranwale’s armed followers. The army was once again called out in the early 1990s to assist the civil administration to effectively control the internal security situation in conjunction with the Punjab Police.
Even as the situation in Punjab was coming under control, the demand for azadi reared its ugly head in the Kashmir Valley in 1989-90 and a new wave of Pakistan-sponsored militancy gathered momentum. The army was deployed in large numbers to combat this new "proxy war" from across the western borders and largely succeeded in restoring a semblance of normalcy. A need was felt for a national-level counter-insurgency force with the army's ethos and leadership and, hence, the Rashtriya Rifles force was raised in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Contribution to Nation Building
Dubbed “scrupulously apolitical”, the Indian army’s greatest achievement since independence is undoubtedly its monumental contribution to keeping the Indian nation united, despite strong fissiparous tendencies, strident religious fundamentalism, ethnic dissonance and externally aided insurgencies. Called out to quell numerous ethnic and communal riots, to disarm mutinying armed constabularies and state police forces and for many other allied tasks when the civil administration had failed to stem the rot, the army has always acted firmly but fairly and always employed the minimum possible force. The army’s unimpeachable impartiality has led to success in these endeavours and has earned for it the trust and admiration of a grateful nation as a steadfast defender of the supremacy of the Constitution of India.
The large-scale construction of border roads by the army has led to the socio-economic development of far-flung and remote under-developed parts of the country. Army outposts have often provided canteen services to the inhabitants of remote villages. Very often the unit canteen acts as the resident grocer for a cluster of villages, which have no access to a market. Army medical teams have been providing medical assistance and treatment to the inhabitants of remote localities on an ongoing basis. Indeed, for numerous citizens of India residing in the country’s remote frontiers, the Indian army provides the only contact with the administration. In these outposts of the nation, the army is the flag bearer -- the only visible face of India.
With its diverse multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural composition, the Indian army is a shining example of the national goal of achieving “unity in diversity”. The army is also an exemplary proponent of the power of positive secularism, as all ranks not only tolerate each other’s religion but also actively participate in all the rituals and celebrations in a spirit of genuine reverence. Hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen have spread the army ethos of secularism, tolerance, moral uprightness and selfless discipline in all the corners of the country. The serving jawans proceeding to their villages on leave also carry the same message with them. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Indian army has been a major force for national integration and has knit India together better than any other organ of the state.
Today, when the nation is at peace, the army continues to fight a war – even though it is only a proxy war and not a full blown conventional war. In the vitiated security environment in the southern Asian region, it is clear that the army will continue to play a dominant part in national security. It is up to the present and future leaders of India to ensure that this great national institution remains in fine fettle. Army men take pride in their calling and engage themselves wholeheartedly in the pursuit of professional excellence so that they can serve their country with honour. Passionately patriotic, with an apolitical and secular ethos, the Indian army is without doubt a strong and unyielding bastion for national unity and integrity.