Notes on features and role of the Military forces of India


The military force plays a crucial role not only in society but also in politics of a state. Unlike bureaucracy, Military does not have the same day to day impact on political system but the truth is that in today’s world no country feels free form the politics of military intervention. It has the capability of ruling the state directly for a short time and for a specific purpose, either to correct and consolidate the constitutional government or it may be to seize political power from a democratic government and hold on to it by force. The frequent military coups in the undeveloped and developing countries bear ample testimony to the influence of armed forces in the internal politics of a country and it has the capability to act in clear violation of the principles of a democratic system.

Background :

The development of modern armed forces or military can be traced back to the period following middle ages. It was the European powers who started to develop military establishments with a standing army and during the 19th century the military became a specialised institution. It expanded with a professional leadership and started alienating from the society.


The credit for popularizing military organization was European colonialism and military became a universal component of all sovereign state organisations.

Features (Nature):

The Military is a kind of political institution, having some distinct features. First, as an instrument of war, military enjoys a monopoly and total control of weaponry and coercive power of a state. Thus its loyalty and support is essential for the survival of the state and government. Secondly, armed forces are systematically organised and highly disciplined. It is based on a hierarchical system with ranks and a culture of command and obedience. Thirdly, the military is characterised by a set of principles, rules and values, that prepare its personnel to fight and kill enemies and if possible die but never to surrender. Fourthly, the armed forces, being directly responsible for the security and integrity of the nation, they generally feel ‘special’ and sometimes regard themselves as being ‘above’ politics.

All these features secure for them a special status, respect and an advantage over civilian organisations.


However, the nature and character of particular armed forces is shaped by internal and external factors, like the history and traditions of military units, the nature of political system, political culture, values of the people etc. In fact it is difficult to generalise the nature and significance of Military. The Military plays different roles in different political systems and the relationship between certain politicians and Military also differ in different set ups. For example, the political orientation of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China is influenced by the role it played in establishing Communist regime in 1949 and by strict Communist Party control.

Role of Military:

The role of military can be classified under following heads:

i) an instrument of war


ii) a guarantee of political order and stability

iii) an interest group

iv) an alternative to civilian rule.

i) Instrument of war


Military has the capability of defending a country against war and external aggression. However, this defensive role of the military depends on its strength, preparedness and might to match the aggressor. The armed forces are used by the state to pursue offensive or expansionist ends. This role makes the military to wage war against other states. When the military is able, willing and ready to act as an agent of aggression against an enemy state and is supported by public, the role and importance of military enhances. This leads to a high level of military spending, recruitment of military leaders into the process of policy making and the growth of militarism. Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany is an example of Expansionist state.

ii) Guarantee of Political order

Military plays a decisive role in domestic politics. The deployment of military for domestic or non-military tasks vary from state to state. In most states military is called to act as an emergency service in the event of natural and other disasters. In many cases, military is also used as a ‘political’ weapon to meet the partisan goals of the government in power. For example, it is used to control civil unrest or counter popular insurrection. During serious religious, ethnic or national conflicts the military is the only guarantee of the unity and integrity of the state. The Indian army has been used on a number of occasions to counter civil unrest and restore political order. These includes, the eviction of Sikh separatists from the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 1984 the seizure of Ayodhya from Hindu fundamentalists in 1992 following the destruction of Babri Masjid, etc.

iii) Interest Group


Like bureaucracies, the military possesses technical knowledge and expertise in foreign and defence policy matters. They too can act as interest groups that seek to shape or influence the content of policy. The civilian politicians depend on the advice of senior officers of the military relating to defence and strategic matters. Moreover, the public attaches great significance to the issue of defence and status of the military personnel as the guarantor and defender of national security and state integrity; this benefits the military to act like an interest group and to influence the Government regarding strengthening their own capacity and increasing defence expenditure. For: example, the desire of the senior military officers in the USA to justify high levels of military investment and demonstrating the effectiveness of new technology led to the outbreak of Gulf War in 1991.

iv) Military Rule as alternative to Civilian Rule

The control of weaponry and coercive power gives the military the capacity to intervene directly in political life, leading to the establishment of military rule. In military rule the members of the armed forces displace civilian politicians, directly or indirectly. It is direct when there is no civilian government and the military leaders are the supreme decision makers. It is indirect when the military leaders have a definite influence upon the civilian government and thereby mould its policy according to their will.

One type of direct military rule is the military junta (derived from Spanish word ‘junta’ meaning council or board). The military junta is a form of collective military government, centred on a council of officers, whose members usually represent the three services (the army, the navy and the air force). The type of military junta is most commonly found in Latin America. Military coup is also a direct military rule, when the military has the opportunity and the motive to intervene in the civilian administration. It is a sudden and forcible seizure of government power through illegal and unconstitutional action. Thus a form of military dictatorship emerges as a single individual gains prominence through military coup. In certain parts of the world, military intervention in .politics has become a normal occurrence and military regimes have become stable in those countries. For example, the rule of General Pinochet in Chile after the 1973 coup and General Abacha in Nigeria from 1993. In some cases, effective military government can be established without a formal bid to power, on the part of the armed forces, as occurred in Philippines under president Marcos, after the declaration of Martial Law in 1972.

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