Unpacking Public Preference for Increasing Defence Expenditure in India

Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
Subject MatterArticles
Unpacking Public Preference
for Increasing Defence
Expenditure in India
Pooja Bakshi1
This article will examine public preference for increasing defence expenditure in India. It will be
argued that the following aspects have a bearing on people’s opinion about defence expenditure:
religiosity; people’s opinion regarding war being the solution to the India–Pakistan conflict; people’s
opinion about India’s global image; and people’s federal location in India pertaining to whether or not
they live in areas which have experienced the presence of the army for protracted periods of time.
Defence expenditure, public perception on defence expenditure, NES 2004, India–Pakistan conflict
National security is one of the most pressing concerns for most nation-states, including India. In order
for the nation-state to ensure its survival, protection of borders and maintenance of internal law and
order are prerequisites. A significant section of the budget in India goes into expansion/development
of security forces and security equipment.2 Given this context, this article will explore dimensions of
public opinion in support for a proposed increase in defence expenditure in India. More specifically,
an attempt will be made to analyze the following question: Which kind of people tend to think that in
spite of a perceived improvement in the national security situation in the Indian context, the country
should spend more on the army even if it is at a higher cost to ordinary people, and why?
For the purposes of this study, the people who hold the opinion that the country should spend more
on the army in spite of a perceived improvement in the national security situation symbolize hawkish
attitude. Hawkish attitude is defined by preference for accumulation of weapons, sending soldiers
to a contested territory or an act of war. This study examines the defining aspects of hawkish attitude
amongst Indian citizens. My argument will be that, first, the level of religiosity (defined as practice
of religion by people) impacts the manner in which people think about national security and defence
expenditure. Second, public opinion on whether or not war is the only solution to the problematic
1 PhD scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi.
2 Defence spending fell from $25.1 billion in 2000 to its lowest point of $19.8 billion in 2002, before steadily growing to reach a
record $37.0 billion in 2011. Relative to total defence spending, per soldier spending showed greater fluctuation. From around
$19,300 in 2000, it increased to $28,200 by 2011 (Hofbauer, 2012).
Studies in Indian Politics
3(2) 260–276
© 2015 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023015601746
Corresponding author:
Pooja Bakshi, 259 Kadambri, Sector 9, Plot 19, Rohini, New Delhi 110085.
E-mail: poojabakshi9.9@gmail.com
Bakshi 261
relationship between India and Pakistan and public opinion on India’s image in the world determine
people’s attitudes regarding India’s defence spending. Third, the federal location of respondents affects
the manner in which they perceive national security and requirement for defence expenditure—in the
sense that whether or not they inhabit states in India which have witnessed presence of the army for
ensuring internal security and maintenance of law and order for protracted periods of time has an effect
on people’s attitudes.
The Context
Intuitively, it would seem likely that those who think that the national security situation of the country
has deteriorated would prefer higher defence spending for redressing the perceived security threat.
On the other hand, people who have the opinion that national security of the country has improved or
remained the same should ideally not extend support for an increase in defence expenditure since they
are satisfied with the current scenario. However, data points out that there are a significant number of
people who hold an opinion that though the national security of India has improved, the country should
invest more in the army even if it is at a higher cost to people.
An examination of the literature on national security and defence expenditure in the Indian context
reveals that studies on public perception regarding these issues are scantily available. There is relatively
scarce data available to enable such analysis and the data which does exist has not been thoroughly
analyzed. Over the past two decades or so, India’s role in world politics has become increasingly signi-
ficant. Many analysts argue that India is on the way to becoming a significant global power (Farwick,
2006). January 2015 needs to be marked out as a significant time for the intensification and solidification
of the bilateral relationship between India and the United States (US). A critical component of this is
a proposed defence collaboration between the two states (The Economic Times, 2015). In this scenario,
India’s foreign policy decisions and defence strategy acquire enhanced importance as now they are up
for scrutiny not only within the country but on a global level also.
It is also important to point out that in India, access to basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing,
education and health services continues to be a challenge. In such a scenario, it becomes important to
be able to understand the rationale for disproportionately high defence expenditures.
India has had fraught relations with some of its neighbours, including Pakistan, China, Sri Lanka and
Nepal. India has fought four wars with Pakistan (1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999) and one with China (1962).
Ever since the Partition in 1947, an attitude of hostility towards Pakistan continues to mark Indian
foreign policy as well as public perception. The sentiment of religious nationalism becomes a determin-
ing factor in this context. In some ways, religious nationalism was the driving force for the partition
between India and Pakistan.3 My argument would be that this spirit of religious nationalism continues
to be a dominant factor in the Indian context even today, and this determines the way people think
about national security and defence expenditure. Further, it has been argued that national security is one
of the central elements of the ideology of the Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hindu
nationalism articulated by these groups projects a strong militaristic Indian state (Manchanda, 2007).
Work has been done on analyzing the foreign policy objectives of the BJP aimed at making India
3 During the time of the independence struggle, Muslim communalists and Hindu communalists rallied for the creation of a Muslim
nation and a Hindu nation as independent states (see ‘An Extract from the Presidential Address of M.A. Jinnah—Lahore, March
1940’, cited in Hasan, 1993, pp. 50–56; Shakir, 1986). For Hindu nationalism during independence struggle, see Dixit (1986).

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