The Military and Democracy

Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence (Harvard University Press, 2015)

In Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence (Harvard 2015 and in India, Permanent Black 2015) I explore the reasons why India, unlike many other countries that inherited colonial ‘divide and rule’ armies, has been able to consolidate its democracy and make its army safe for democracy. The contrast with its neighbor Pakistan, which emerged from the same colonial Indian institutions, is especially instructive.

Of the most time consuming aspects of researching the book was building up a picture of the Indian army’s changing recruitment patterns over time. One of the most interesting things I found was found how little the colonial army recruitment patterns changed for the first few decades after independence, despite the many promises India’s political and military leaders made from 1947-1949. Here’s a picture of those recruitment patterns here:



Reviews of Army and Nation

The Telegraph (Kolkata) names Army and Nation: The Military and Democracy in India since Independence one of its 2015
non-fiction books of the year. In its December 2015 review it says that “The depth and richness of Wilkinson’s research help unravel the subservient role that one of the largest standing armies in the world has diligently played to a democratic polity”

ARMY AND NATION was also named Vipul Dutta’s 2015 Book of the Year in Biblio: “A comprehensive account of the organisational principles of the Indian Army and employs a unique, inter-disciplinary methodology to address key concerns of civil-military relations in India….It is a significant addition to the scholarship on not just civil-military relations but also post-colonial ‘governance’…”

India’s leading security analyst C. Raja Mohan favorably reviewed Army and Nation in the October 2015 Book Review, saying that “Why do the two Armies, cut from the same cloth, behave so differently? These questions have been asked before. Steven I. Wilkinson, a Professor of South Asian studies at Yale University, is not satisfied with the answers we have had so far and comes up with compelling explanations.

….India’s successful civilian dominance over the military, of course, had a downside. Wilkinson notes that the ‘constraints that have helped prevent a coup have hurt military effectiveness and preparedness in at least three important ways’—the weakening of the Army before the 1962 war, the creation of an unwieldy defence bureaucracy, and the current huge shortage of officers arising from the downgrading of Army’s pay and perks (p. 29).

[Wilkinson]  highlights a very important and troubling consequence of excessive civilian dominance over the military in India. In return for putting up with extraordinary constraints, the military gained considerable autonomy over operational matters. This very questionable separation of the ‘political’ and ‘operational’, Wilkinson notes, has not been good for Indian democracy….By digging deep into the evolution of civil military relations in India after Independence, Wilkinson has offered rare insights into the disturbing state of higher defence management.”

“…a finely crafted and argued explanation….Based on original and detailed historical analysis.” Robert H. Taylor, Asian Affairs Issue 3, 2015, pp.528-30.

“Writing a compelling and informative book, Wilkinson has mined a very wide range of sources: army reports from the late nineteenth century onwards, recruiting handbooks, parliamentary debates, collections of published correspondence between key Indian leaders, transcripts generously provided by Cohen and the Rudolphs from their interviews with important army officers and politicians from the defense and external affairs ministries conducted in the 1960s, even Wikileaks cables. The many lines of tension between the political and the military leadership, and within both these worlds of action, make the stories that populate this book come alive.” Neeti Nair, American Historical Review, February 2015.

“…to understand the durability of our democracy, we need to explain why India never came close to experiencing military rule. This is the question that Steven Wilkinson sets out to answer in this brilliant book….Although a political scientist by training and orientation, Wilkinson has trawled deep and wide in a range of archives. In consequence, the book speaks as much to historians as political scientists. His presentation, however, is very lucid and easily accessible to the general reader. Indeed, his answer to the question posed above should command the attention of all thinking Indians….his superb analysis and presentation of quantitative material is one of the signal accomplishments of this book” Srinath Raghavan, The Telegraph (Kolkata) April 24 2015.

“…while Pakistan quickly slipped into a rhythm of juntas, India, with much the same colonial heritage, consolidated the world’s largest democracy. Why? Steven Wilkinson’s Army and Nation offers a new answer to that old puzzle. It is a story of what happens when armies fail to reflect the societies they defend, as well as a meditation on Juvenal’s famous question quis custodiet ipsos custodes?-who shall guard the guards?….As India raises 80,000 new troops to face down China, Wilkinson’s book is an excellent guide to the world’s biggest democratic army.” Shashank Joshi, Financial Times, February 13 2015.

“Wilkinson explores the contours of India’s unique success and Army and Nation is, perhaps, the most important book to come out on India’s armed forces in the recent years.” Sushant Singh, Indian Express, March 24 2015.

“India’s success in this regard is most striking when we compare our post-independence trajectory with that of Pakistan. Despite our shared history and culture, as part of the same British Raj, in one country the army has scrupulously stayed away from politics, whereas in the other it has actively intervened. A convincing interpretation of these divergent paths is provided in an impressive new book Army and Nation, by the Yale political scientist Steve Wilkinson….” Ramachandra Guha, Hindustan Times May 24 2015

“The protection of Indian democracy from military intervention looks on the surface like an unlikely achievement, given the weak institutions of civilian control that India inherited from the British Raj. Reaching back to the early years of independence, however, Wilkinson shows that India’s new leaders took measures to prevent coups, such as institutionalizing internal divisions within the army’s leadership, placing top officers under surveillance, assigning domestic intelligence to a civilian agency, and creating civilian-controlled paramilitary forces to handle internal security and counterinsurgency. In this insightful book, he pays most attention to what he calls “compositional strategies”: shifts in recruitment intended to weaken the ethnic coherence of the military and its constituent units.” Andrew Nathan, Foreign Affairs September/October 2015.

[An] insightful book. (John Waterbury Foreign Affairs 2015-09-01)

“A thorough, detailed, scholarly work and major contribution to studies of praetorianism.” (M. G. Roskin Choice 2015-09-01)

“an excellent analysis of the relation between the army and the state – and even society – in post-independence India….[a] remarkably well researched book, which combines the best of quantitative and qualitative methods, fills a gap in the literature, and shows how civil-military relations contribute to our understanding of India’s politics.” Christophe Jaffrelot, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 2015.