Why No Military Coup Took Place in India While Most Neighboring Countries Army Took Over
The Indian Army has a long and checkered history from the days of the Raj. It was earlier known as the East India Company Army and after the lapse of Company rule in 1858 and take over by the Crown, it came to be known as the British Indian Army.
During the days of the Raj, the commander in chief of the Indian Army was the lynchpin in governing the country and his status was second only to the viceroy. After independence in 1947 obviously, the commander in chief had to be downgraded in preference to civilian leadership. This is perfectly acceptable as the Army which was a force to perpetuate the British Raj during British days had an entirely different function after 1947. But there was a flaw in the thinking of the political leadership. The Congress Party which came to power and Jawaharlal Nehru was highly suspicious of the Army. It considered the army to be a vestige of the British Raj and imperialism and in their thinking, they decided to downgrade the importance of the army and also try and make it inconsequential.
Nehru was a towering figure in Indian politics but he had no concept of strategic power play and the role of the military in furthering the interests of a nation. So warped was the thinking of the Indian leadership that in 1955 the then Indian President at that time Dr. Rajendra Prasad reportedly made the statement that India should disband the Army, as it was not needed and the borders could be manned by the Indian police.
With this line of thought, Pandit Nehru created a situation in the country wherein the army became the fifth fiddle. Nehru was woken from his daydreaming when the Chinese army in a swift campaign in 1962 defeated the Indian Army. Nehru realized he had been living in an ivory tower and his reputation as a world leader took a beating.
One of the reasons why Nehru downgraded and emasculated the Army was his fear of a military coup. During that period General Ne Win seized power in Burma and a military dictatorship was ushered in. General Ayub Khan seized power in Pakistan.
Now the origin of the armies of Burma and Pakistan can be traced to the days of the Raj and Nehru was scared that the Indian Army may also carry out a military coup. He, therefore, set in motion a system of command and control where all decision making was taken out of the hands of the Army
Many people have asked me as to why the Indian Army failed to exert itself even when the political leadership even reduced pensions by 30% for Army personnel. The Indian Army accepted it as a fait accompli and apart from a few noises did nothing. One of the reasons why the Indian Army could not exert itself was because of its peculiar composition based on caste. Most of the Indian Army regiments are identified by their caste and religion.
This was the policy of the British Raj as the British had created the concept of the martial race and recruitment to the army was confined to the martial races. The net result was that there was no cohesiveness in the Indian Army. It was unlike in the Burmese Army or for that matter Thailand or Pakistan where there was the unity of command and religion. In India, the caste was an effective check and there was a very little amalgamation between the various castes, for example, the higher caste Rajput regiments considered themselves superior to say the Bihar Regiment. This division in caste was one of the main reasons why the Indian Army leadership could not follow the path of Pakistan or Burma.
Another reason was that the systems put in place by Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that only those officers who were the yes men of the Congress Party could rise up in the hierarchy. At this time it is difficult to understand that when the commander in chief's post was abolished the chief of the army was General Cariappa and later general Rajinder Singh ji. Both of them accepted the dictate of Nehru.
Cariappa, for example, was beholden to Nehru for being made the Army chief as he was junior to Lieutenant General Kulwant Singh who was superseded by Nehru. This playing with the promotion policy of the Indian Army ensured that only yes men became the chiefs. Even our most decorated general Field Marshal Manekshaw became Army chief curtsy Indira Gandhi. It had been announced earlier that General Harbaksh Singh would be the Army chief. Maneckshaw was beholden to Indira Gandhi for being made the Army chief and obviously one cannot expect that he will oppose Indira Gandhi. Despite a stupendous victory in the 1971 war, the Indian Army had pensions reduced by 30%.
The political leadership and the Civil bureaucracy ganged up to ensure that the army always remains the divided force, to ensure that the Indian Army should not carry out a military coup like it was done in the neighboring countries. Another fact mitigating against a coup was the caste composition of the Army where most of the infantry regiments based on caste and religion and there was very little in common between the various castes. The net result was that over a period of seven decades political leadership and bureaucracy set in motion a set of rules and regulations that emasculated the army officer code. They were downgraded in terms of pay and pension and also in the order of precedence.
All this was generally accepted without a murmur mainly because they were well aware that in case they planned a coup there was very little chance of it being a success. This was because of the caste regiments and the creation of separate geographical commands.
Another reason not much discussed is that the officers who have been promoted beholden to the political leadership for their ranks even now most of the veterans who have served in the army are strong of the view that the government should not be opposed. They feel that if the government wants to give it will give something otherwise might as well just accept what is given to you. With this fatalistic thought, the Indian Army has been reduced to a toothless tiger. The fact of the matter is that the Indian Army never won any decisive victory in the West against Pakistan and China. They did win the war in Bangladesh but there Pakistan had only one operational Squadron of fighter planes. Nevertheless, it was a great victory but the political leadership wanted to cut General Maneckshaw to size. He was put in the dog house and his successor General Bewoor whose case for Army chief was being championed by YB Chavan was beholden to him. He accepted whatever was told to him by the by the Civil bureaucracy
Despite all the lip service, the fact is in the political leadership and the civil administration even now is highly suspicious of the army. Not a week passes when some new regulation is not made which curtails the perks and privileges of the Army. Much of the fault lies at the door of the top leadership of the Army which despite being the biggest organized force in the country is unable to get even small concessions from the government.
I think it will now be clear that a military coup could not have taken place in India. There won't be one later on as well.