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Capsule Review

Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence

In This Review

Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence
Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence
By Steven I. Wilkinson
Harvard University Press, 2015 304 pp. $39.95 Purchase

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. A running comparison with Pakistan helps clarify how contrasting postindependence decisions there set the stage for the military to intervene frequently. The Indian success story, however, has its downsides. The army still does too little to recruit from underrepresented groups. And coup-proof institutions have left the country with cumbersome command-and-control mechanisms that do not perform well in combat.

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