August 03, 2017

Army veterans make an impassioned plea that India grows stronger by celebrating differences

The Times of India

Voice of reason: Army veterans make an impassioned plea that India grows stronger by celebrating differences

August 2, 2017, 2:00 am IST in TOI Editorials 
The open letter written by over 100 armed forces veterans that decried stifling of dissent and diversity is a fine tribute to the Constitution of India and pluralist values that it upholds. It has become fashionable to juxtapose defence forces and their sacrifices with actions and events occurring in liberal spaces. The veterans have inverted the clamour of those who want so-called “anti-nationals” to learn patriotism from the armed forces with the thesis that the armed forces stand for unity in diversity. The retired officers have argued that differences in religion, caste or culture did not impede the cohesiveness of the armed forces and that diversity is India’s “greatest strength”. They go on to state: “Dissent is not treason; in fact, it is the essence of democracy.”
The ongoing attempts to cast complementary facets of a democracy as mutually antagonistic are rendered infructuous by this letter. The army exists to protect the Union of India and its democratic republic. Moreover, democracy doesn’t begin and end with visiting the polling booth once in five years; it is the freedom to dissent that secures democracy from slipping into authoritarianism.
This may be counter-intuitive to some. In their eyes, India is weakened by dissent and differences of religion, culture or opinion. However, India’s armed forces are not a political body. Their task is to uphold India’s territorial integrity and defend its citizens, of whatever political colour they might be. What the veterans understand, but civilian purveyors of hatred who want to shoot from the armed forces’ shoulders don’t, is that India’s very diversity and plurality is the source of its strength. Take that away and India becomes Pakistan, a garrison state which is failing because everything there exists to serve its army.