We are now in the midst of a General Election that has been unnecessarily stretched to nearly two months for no logical reason. This has multiplied the usual negatives of electioneering in our country.

As the election reaches its crescendo in the next two weeks or so, we are likely to witness more and more violence and more self-praise for actual or false achievements by the ruling as well as other parties.

I am hoping that our political leaders will not continue to raise the recent operational actions of the military, despite being told to desist. In this respect, the Election Commission has unfortunately not been assertive enough to stop the politicisation of the armed forces.

In this paper, I want to discuss only two topics. The first is the tendency of our political leaders to bring the achievements of the armed forces in their election manifestos and ‘bhashans’. The second aspect deals with how electioneering has changed in India.

Elections in our country have always been a no holds barred affair, but since the BJP came back to power after a sabbatical of 10 years, it is determined not to repeat the defeat of NDA 1. However, one wonders whether their actions, promises not implemented and arrogance are conducive to achieving this aim.

My concern however is not about which party eventually wins and forms a government. I am particularly concerned by political leaders using or rather misusing military operational actions against state-sponsored terrorists in our neighbouring country, to earn electoral gains by the party in power. This is done ingeniously by virtually adopting them as their own actions! It is another way of politicising the Indian Military so that it benefits the ruling party.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, let me describe what politicisation of the military means, as there are different interpretations to suit individuals or parties.

The military serves the Constitution through obedience to the democratically elected government in power, without any regard for the political party or coalition of parties that is in power at any time. Being apolitical and nonpartisan, the military has been and continues to be apolitical and it has proved it by its actions and deeds. It is both a feature of its professionalism and underpins the Indian democracy, unlike any institution of the government.

A politicized military, on the other hand, supports (formally, informally or covertly) or is loyal to a single political party or a coalition of parties. It advocates for and defends partisan political positions and fortunes most of the time or consistently.

The nation’s history is the living example of the character of the Indian Military relating to being apolitical. This has been so in war, in counter-insurgency operations and in peace. This idea/ethos underwrites the peaceful transfer of power between the existing government and the one elected in General Elections. It also ensures that the Indian populace can make governance choices fearlessly, free from any threat or coercion.

Knowing that the Indian Military does not conform to partisan intentions of political parties, the elected government must freely trust military advice provided by the military hierarchy. The voters also are assured that the military will not interfere with the orderly transition of power.

In other words, the democratically elected representatives of the people would be able to count on the faithful execution of national security policy.

Another critical aspect of a nonpartisan military is that it protects the military from different political parties equally and hence there is no reason for those parties to treat the military differently based on partisan affiliations. Decisions about the funding, size, shape, and use of the military are much less likely to be motivated by a desire to defend partisan power and much more likely to be driven by wider strategic, economic, and public values. Moreover, selection and management of service personnel would remain a professional, non-political process.

Let me now move to the second aspect I want to dwell on.

While all political parties spend millions on making promises (some false); providing material freebies, bending and even abandoning laws; using fear as a weapon; and appeasement where violence or doles do not work, the party in power has obvious advantages, which in the present case have been used with impunity.

It is unfortunate that the funds being spent on trying to win 543 candidates by the political parties are so much that they have no comparison with what the Election Commission has ordained. This obviously translates into the reality that the winners will be able to recoup all the money they are spending and much more, as the large vistas that open up for them on being elected result in opening conduits for funds, besides power and pelf!

The moot question is whether a country like India can afford to spend/waste such huge sums of money in what is effusively called electioneering? In the past, elections were a simple exercise in voting for your preferred candidate, after evaluating who was the best candidate in your constituency. The party he belonged to was hardly a material consideration.

As the years passed and the political system started congealing, sadly in a ‘you pat my back and I will do the same for you’ configuration; the individual candidate was discarded in favour of voting for a political party. The few good men thus were replaced by party honchos, many with a dubious past. One need not count the number of parliamentarians who are charged with serious and heinous crimes and are not only fielded by political parties but all the force of the party is used to get them elected.

The third phase that is of recent origin and is currently in vogue is the move by parties to showcase a single individual, who becomes the focal point of elections these days. This smacks of dictatorship and not democracy, but political parties use this ploy when a well known person is made the focus and parties stop canvassing for neither a candidate, nor the party, but an individual.

This is the syndrome that prevails currently with the BJP asking for votes for Modi. When I asked one person whom he plans to vote for, pat came his reply: Modi!. I then asked him that since Modi ‘s constituency is Varanasi, has he changed his constituency? He grinned but gave no answer!

The people of our country are concerned with fundamental issues of living peacefully in a corruption-free environment; caring for their families; educating their children; and leading a life where the mighty ‘Sarkar’ lets them be and assists them by creating opportunities for advancement; giving a fear-free environment; providing employment opportunities; providing them with all the wherewithal of living decently; and caring for their aspirations, be they health-related, or the multitude of other wants/desires. Will the mighty political leaders give them this?

Neither our election system, nor our political leadership is going to change in a hurry, but it is the duty of all citizens who do not have a political axe to grind, to wake up and show these political leaders and their parties that they would no longer be influenced by these shenanigans, but will assert their voting rights to elect the person of their choice and not party or a larger than life figure, which tantamounts to moving away from democracy towards totalitarian society.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)