In 2019, India spent 2.4 percent of its gross domestic product, amounting to $71.1 billion, on its military. This year, India was the third-largest military spender in the world after the United States and China. India also remained the second-largest importer of arms between 2015 and 2019, resulting in a massive outflow of foreign exchange.
India has a large, varied air force and a substantial navy, equipped with the latest weapons, including an aircraft carrier. If we draw a historical parallel, contemporary India could be compared to Tsarist Russia in 1914, in the sense that it is a major military power but a poor country with an indolent bureaucracy, which is ruled by largely pro-rich politicians. Since 1962, as Indian military expenditure began to rise substantially, those in power in India have spent a great fortune on making the country militarily secure from external and, increasingly, internal threats. Most of these “internal threats” have been produced by the several political and economic failures of the Indian state.
In addition to the accumulation of military hardware, special laws have been passed, starting as early as 1958, to give the army a free hand in curbing existing and “potential” insurgencies in large parts of a country that claims to take pride in its democracy. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 is used in many districts of the country, but particularly so in Kashmir and Manipur. Time and again, the Indian Army has opposed the dilution of the draconian AFSPA, and politicians have given in to the military. The army also enjoys a hallowed place in India’s popular imagination, which, in turn, is stoked by ultra-nationalism and the media’s adulation of olive green and khaki uniforms.