Beginning in the early twentieth century, the Indian military training and feeder institutions underwent a transformation with a focus on Indianization: a political and nationalist process aimed at opening officer ranks to Indians in the Indian Army. Vipul Dutta’s book, Making Officers out of Gentlemen: Military Institution-Building in India, c. 1900-1960, examines the evolution of military training institutions from preparatory schools of the 1890s to the National Defence Academy established in 1954, the larger systemic relationship officers shared with the colonial and postcolonial State, and the scope of military Indianization policies. A comprehensive account of Indian military institutions, it raises several questions: what were the policy implications of the transformation of India’s military institutional landscape? How did Indianization influence the occupational profile of Indian officers? And finally, what is the overall impact of education policy on military decision making?

Carnegie India hosted Vipul Dutta for a discussion on the process of Indianization and its subsequent impact on military institutions in India. The discussion was moderated by Rudra Chaudhuri.

Discussion Highlights

  • Process of Indianization: Participants discussed the nature and characteristics of the decades-long process of Indianization which ushered in the replacement of British personnel and equipment in the Indian Army with their Indian counterparts. Participants explained that the primary aim of Indianization was to make the military forces bear semblance to the demographics of the Indian subcontinent. They elaborated that after World War I, the brimming nationalist sentiment turned Indianization into a political demand which gained steady momentum with the Government of India Act being passed in 1919. The nationalist sentiment also served as a significant aspect for the organizing principles behind the Indianization of the armed forces.
  • First Wave of Military Institution Building: The first instances of military capacity building took place in the north-west of British India where a cluster of military institutes appeared. Participants highlighted that these initial moves of military institution building were informed by the geopolitical context—a Russian threat from the north-west prompted British military architecture to be shifted closer to the region. However, with the end of World War I, the influence of geopolitics dissipated, and military institution building emerged as a pressing domestic political demand. Participants examined the strand of the nationalist movement which demanded a statistical and qualitative replacement of British personnel. Leaders like Motilal Nehru and M.A. Jinnah demanded a precise nature of military education for Indian cadets to make them operationally and ceremonially at par with British officers.
  • Second Wave of Military Institution Building: Participants noted that the second wave of military institutionalization was marked by the establishment of military institutes such as the National Defence Academy in 1949 and the National Defence College in 1960. Participants also addressed the post-Independence trifurcation of the Indian Army with the emergence of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. They observed that the period post the 1960s marked the changing occupational context for military institution building where senior Indian military officers were not only entrusted with combat duties, but they also participated in diplomatic events and political happenings. Participants discussed how Indian officers traveled overseas to countries such as the United States, the Soviet Union, and Canada to understand their military recruitment and education structures and expand the Indianization process.

  • Military Education and Recruitment: Participants discussed the nature and content of military education, which remained primarily scholastic, but was altered with military delegations traveling overseas and imitating a more practical method of military learning. Participants also deliberated military recruitment and its contingence on the caste-based debate. They noted that in 1919, due to limited opportunities in the Army, the caste discussion was overshadowed by questions regarding the class of prospective cadets and officers. Participants also examined the demographics of the officer corps in the Indian military and the post-1947 genesis of a system of fair and diverse military recruitment. They observed that with successive rounds of Indianization, military recruitment was broadened with greater representation from the north-east and southern states of India even though the Punjab component remained dominant in the Army.

This event summary was prepared by Anahad Kaur Khangura, a research intern at Carnegie India.