Last resort of scoundrels by Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam (DECEMBER 29, 2012)

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam on keeping armed forces separate from civilian sphere.

People of dubious character are said to hide their innate evil behind tall claims of patriotism. Of late, we have seen quite a few of them brandishing their alleged patriotism by arguing vehemently and vociferously for an end to the boundaries between civilian and military spheres. Such arguments are wrong.

I am referring to the misguided movement to create a memorial of armed forces martyrs around the India Gate. A Group of Ministers (GOM) has recommended such construction, which is as unwise the Advani-led GOM’s malicious report on madrasahs. This GOM was led by the Defence Minister, Mr Antony.

Mr. Antony and, under peer influence the GOM as a whole, played to the gallery, trying to please some army officers at the cost of civilians. Building a military monument at one of the busiest public opens would be a great disservice to our citizens. The reason is not far to seek.

Once the place passes into military hands, it would restrict public access to it. Except India Gate there are very few places where people go with their families to relax and play under open sky. It is a place with remarkable vistas, a site which has few parallels in the world. The Delhi Chief Minister and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation have rightly and sensibly opposed this anti-people idea.

Town planners and landscape architects will not support this idea for aesthetic reasons. Men and women in public life will reject it because it is going to destroy some of the best vistas in the world as well as deprive hundreds and thousands of citizens and their families of the pleasure of an outing in the evenings. This is because once the control of the site goes to the military they will find a hundred and one ways of restricting public access to the place. Already, high public officials have experienced being restricted by ordinary faujis from accessing the spot because some military officer was to visit. This is not acceptable in India, because like other major democracies, it is the civilian authority that is superior, legally and constitutionally.

Some extreme right-wingers are taking it as a snub to the armed forces. This is only a thinly disguised attempt to create controversy. Already the army has been earmarked a huge piece of land to create a grand memorial, library and other assorted facilities close to the military cantonement. They should accept it and run it as they wish, but keep away from the civil sphere. Any mixing is lethal. Look at Pakistan if you do not believe me.

No reasonable and enlightened person finds it desirable to mix the military and civilian spheres. The founding fathers of the US Constitution were not fools to demand complete segregation of the armed forces and ensuring it that it remained so. They reasoned that the armed forces were a highly organised group of able-bodied persons, equipped with powerful weapons. They must be confined to their barracks and special areas marked for them, equipped with all amenities, surrounded by acres of land under their complete control.

The US Constitution gives them all the freedom and amenities, but insists that they must never be allowed to enter the civilian sphere in uniform, carrying weapons because they can easily intimidate, bully and overpower the civilians, a situation that cannot be allowed in a democracy. The US Constitution also ensures that the armed forces would be under full civilian control at every level of authority. In India, too, from President to PM, down to the district magistrate’s level, armed forces are subject to civil authority. If the army is brought for some reason to a district, the leader of the army contingent must report to the DM and work under his plan.

My request to people trying to undermine the civilian cause and civil authority in the name of patriotism, which is a noble sentiment, but is also the last refuge of scoundrels, is that they should desist from imposing the army on our people. They belong to the cantonement. So does the proposed monument.


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