There are two possibilities prompting the Modi government’s slew of potentially disastrous ideas. One is that the ruling party panicked under increasing opposition and wanted to reassure its base that it is alive and well ideologically. The second is to self-confidently provide a preview of its manifesto, setting the stage for the next five years when it would take these decisions up.
One of idea is to move out the merit factor in the allocation of service to higher civil service inductees. Hitherto this had been based on their merit on clearing the Union Public Services Commission exam. The government now wishes to determine the service allocation on their performance at the brief Foundation Course at the civil services academy in Mussoorie. Critics recognised this as game plan to identify and place those with similar ideological moorings as the government power.
The other idea is to ensure all aspirants for recruitment into the security forces – the military, paramilitary (which presumably includes the central armed police) and police – clear a year-long course instilling a sense of ‘discipline and nationalism’ under the National Youth Empowerment Scheme (N-YES). The course is meant for those exiting classes X and XII and is to impart, inter-alia, training on ‘yoga, ayurveda and Indian philosophy’.
While acquaintance with information technology, disaster management, physical training etc., intended to be part of the course appear unexceptionable, the rest can only be window dressing for ideological indoctrination.
Currently, those signing up for the security forces are not short of patriotism, even if some opt for these avenues only for landing a job. What the government proposes is to make the course an ‘essential qualification’ for recruitment. This would incentivize enrolment in the course – along with the proposed stipend for those undertaking it – making the course a vehicle for propagation of the ideology of the ruling party and its supporting political and ‘cultural’ formations. And, with government funding – filched from the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and National Service Scheme.
This is the brainchild of the Modi-Doval combine, to which is credited India’s national security in the form of ‘Modi doctrine’ to some and ‘Doval doctrine’ to others. While PM Modi prides his NCC background, no doubt well below his shakha days; Doval is the product of a military school. To them, militarisation is the route to nationalism of the desired kind: one folk (majority), one realm (Bharat), under one – needless-to-name – grand leader.
Politically, it furthers the government’s targeting of youth with its ideological baggage. Other such measures have been episodes of Mann ki Baat devoted to youth matters, that children across the country forced to watch by school managements as dictated by subservient education officials. Another was the release of a book on on how to crack exams, authored – or so its dust jacket indicates – by no less than the prime minister himself. (It is another matter that the prime minister’s supposed bachelor’s degree remains a state secret, off limits even to information transparency under the Right to Information Act provisions.) The hope is when they join the electorate, they will heighten the crest of the next Modi wave.
This brainwave – if allowed to be implemented by the electorate allowing Modi the benefit of doubt for another term – has a wider agenda. It will help turn out an annual 10 lakh ‘force of youth’, expanding numbers currently restricted to attending Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas on public property, such as in mohalla parks, whence Muslims at prayer were at one location unceremoniously turned out. Together they will form India’s jugend. The debate over whether what India has been witnessing over the past four years is authoritarianism or fascism will be settled decisively thereafter.
What will such youth make of the military when in the military?
The idea will be sold to the military as a way to enhance its martial vigour. The national security narrative of a besieged India from a ‘two-front’ problem covers for such measures. On the disintegrating Russian front, the Hitler youth, conscripted into the Waffen Schutzstaffel, were at the forefront of suicidal attacks and last stands that the Wehrmacht itself avoided where possible at the cost of incurring Hitler’s wrath.
For such charging up, mere education will not do. Education must defer to militarism. Last year, an education ministry initiative called for updating of school curricula with a leaf from the sainik school repertoire that includes discipline, physical training and a ‘patriotic outlook’ (shorthand for cultural nationalism). Presumably, by now it is underway in centrally funded and controlled Kendriya Vidhyalayas and Navodaya Vidhyalayas.
Instilling martial virtue in recruitment candidates is a sugar coating. The question has a rather short, straight answer. While those not making it to the security forces deploy as foot-soldiers policing India against liberals, Muslim men, women, gays, Dalits, activists, ‘Maoists’ etc., the military – that alone can put them back into the bottle – would be paralysed, with its lower ranks sharing the world view. The military’s officer cadre – in which is anchored its professionalism – will be outflanked. In short, the military will be subverted.
This is an important precondition to the changes Shashi Tharoor warns about. There are constitutional changes afoot when the ruling party gets another lease in power.
A recent theme is the sanctity of the Constitution, which when changed would imply equal sanctity for the changes. Constitutional change could also do without pushback from other institutions, such as in the form of periodic cautionary open letters from retired civil servants and military veterans concerned at the downhill plunge of the republic. The public and publicized venting of hate on Swami Agnivesh recently, alongside four years of lynchings, should serve to silence. Hindu Pakistan will be midwifed by Hindutva’s jugend, mass produced with public monies.
The military in the cross-hairs needs reminding that this idea is not just another one it has been subjected to endure lately. It is of a different order than opening of cantonment roads. It is also of a higher order than whether 126 Rafale aircraft are better than 36 Rafale and whether half a mountain strike corps is enough.
It needs warning that an ‘essential requirement’ that its candidates be N-YES qualified seeks to undermine its secular, apolitical and inclusive footing. It needs iteration that a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and liberal democracy can only have a military subscribing to a liberal idea of India.