Military & Aerospace

Army: Caught between Devil and deep blue sea
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 19 Sep , 2018

The Indian Army, as the most disciplined and organized force in the country, carries out every task with complete commitment and to the best of its ability, besides winning wars. This involvement, as the last resort, is necessitated by the successive failures of civilian agencies in delivering results, be they building over-bridges,  quelling caste or communal riots, rescuing children trapped at the bottom of bore wells, or saving lives during natural calamities.

What options do officers and men really have, after being slapped with FIRs, enduring uncountable slurs in agonizing silence, their honour and pride already torn to shreds by a sanctimonious media and NGOs…

There must be something radically wrong with a system, which penalizes those who stake their very lives to protect the integrity and unity of the country, but meekly surrenders to the forces of rowdyism and vote banks, fearing disruption of law and order. This paradox is doubly compounded by the fact that the soldiers, bound by oath of secrecy, are also subjected to outrageous barbs and allegations, flung at them by irresponsible politicians.

What options do officers and men really have, after being slapped with FIRs, enduring uncountable slurs in agonizing silence, their honour and pride already torn to shreds by a sanctimonious media and NGOs, except to approach the Apex Court for justice, in all fairness. All these groups justify the acts of fanatical stone-pelters, who shield terrorists from the consequences of the grave crimes they commit against soldiers and citizens alike. If a rifleman refuses to open fire on terrorists citing human rights issue, he faces court martial. And if he does, there is no running away from judicial wrath.  He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Truly the solider is caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

Which self-respecting country in the world would ever countenance such transgressions against its own citizens and its army and turn a blind eye to proxy wars? Yet the shrill human rights brigade magnifies every alleged violation by the Army and project it as an oppressive force. Conversely, US soldiers, given to brutality, would have no compunctions in bringing down a disproportionate volume of fire on such mobs, unlike their much more restrained Indian counterparts, eliminating every stone-pelter within sight. None of these activists would dare question their actions on the grounds they had actually acted in self-defence and also because they regard America as the fountainhead of liberty!

It is on record the US Army vented unspeakable barbarities on innocent villagers in Vietnam, not even sparing women and children, on a mere suspicion that they were in touch with the North Vietnamese Army, which culminated in the horrific My Lai Massacres.  Their brutality has also been graphically depicted by Captain Oliver Stone, a Medal of Honour recipient turned film maker, in his movie, Platoon. Yet, it is doubtful whether the United Nations ever took cognizance of the excesses committed by US forces on foreign soil?

But how can they battle the arch enemy within, the fifth columnists and human rights activists, who justify belching venom in the name of free speech.

Major Leetul Gogoi’s action appears almost benign in comparison. His sheer presence of mind saved scores of lives by the simple expedient of tying up the ring leader of the stone-pelters to the jeep’s fender. Otherwise, he would have faced the prospect of being lynched with his men. Instead of lauding his efforts in dispersing the rowdy elements with zero loss of lives and negligible force, politicians and leftists viciously targeted him on spurious grounds.   

In February last year, a blood thirsty mob held up the timely evacuation of a critically wounded Major Satish Dahiya of the 30 Rashtriya Rifles, as they engaged his men with stone pelting to enable the terrorists to flee. Consequently, the officer who bled continuously from a chest wound sustained in the firing, died on the way to the Base Hospital in Srinagar. Did any human rights activist or a ‘bleeding heart’ shed a single tear for the martyr’s grieving family? How long will the state overlook such acts of treason?

Decades of political skulduggery, criminal neglect and apathy, mismanagement and large scale corruption and scams, aggravated by the breakdown of law and order machinery in parts of the northeast and Kashmir, necessitated imposition of AFSPA in the ‘disturbed’ zones. The collapse of civil administration placed the entire burden on the Army. This Act confers some protection legally, but does it insure soldiers against hazards lurking around every corner and bush, during operations? These factors place the men under tremendous psychological pressure.

Judges, babus, journalists, human rights activists, politicians and sundry other groups, seldom realize that they owe their safety and well being to these valiant men, who always keep jihadis at bay even at the cost of their lives. But how can they battle the arch enemy within, the fifth columnists and human rights activists, who justify belching venom in the name of free speech. These forces of destabilization have built up a false narrative, projecting it as the gospel truth to discredit, demonize, demoralize and devastate the Army.  It is a prime example of a proxy war being waged by the ISI, at negligible cost to itself. Yet none in the government seems any wiser.

The rabble rousers never utter a word against the ongoing pillage and massacre of the Balochis, by an army which is also guilty of butchering three million innocents in the erstwhile Eastern Pakistan.  While the Allied Forces held the perpetrators of mass murders of Jews accountable and imposed exemplary punishment, Pakistani soldiers were let off the hook, thanks to Uncle Sam’s magnanimity. It had even dispatched its Seventh Fleet to protect the executors of the carnage and intimidate India.  But then Russia played spoilsport. Washington’s excessive zeal in highlighting the alleged violation of human rights in Kashmir seems hollow and misplaced, given its blatant disregard of ground realities, its own sordid record in Iraq and mollycoddling of a jihadi stronghold like Pakistan.

It must not be forgotten that the Army took a long time to recover from the humiliation of 1962. Fifty six years down the line, the Army finds itself in a similar predicament…

The stark betrayal by the politico-bureaucratic establishment in 1962, exposed soldiers to the ravages of the icy, unforgiving heights, where boiling tea froze the instant it left the kettle spout.  Yet they were denied warm clothing, basic supplies, artillery or air cover and left to die on the remote wilderness, by a coterie of haughty babus  sitting in Delhi. Their ordeals, though, relegated to mere footnotes in history, have been well brought out by Brigadier John Dalvi, in his gripping first person account, Himalayan Blunder.  

In certain instances, he writes, as many as eight stretcher bearers were required to carry each casualty (there were many) to the nearest medical post, located at a height of 14,500 feet, up from 10,500 feet. The steep and treacherous climb meant eight excruciating hours of exertion in the sub-zero temperatures. “This was an ordeal as the stretcher was constantly tilted or put down as the bearers tumbled, slipped or got tired. The same men would be required to carry heavy stores from the dropping zone to their units, on the return journey,” adds Brig Dalvi.

These hapless riflemen, serving as stretcher bearers, were commandeered from the already under strength units, which further depleted the numbers required for preparing defences, round the clock patrolling and observations posts.  They came from formations dumped on Himalayan locations, from the warmer Punjab plains, without previous training or acclimatization. Yet they were expected to fight a much superior enemy, poised advantageously on the heights. Only their fortitude and tenacity helped them survive.

Could there be a more conspicuous example of any country subjecting the soldiers to such agonizing punishments?  It must not be forgotten that the Army took a long time to recover from the humiliation of 1962. Fifty six years down the line, the Army finds itself in a similar predicament, facing open hostility and betrayal. It is for the nation to take a call and stand solidly behind the soldiers. Else it could precipitate a crisis of unimaginable magnitude.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Sudip Talukdar

is an author and strategic affairs columnist.

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5 thoughts on “Army: Caught between Devil and deep blue sea

  1. Very well brought out facts and challenges being faced by Army engaged in fighting terrorists in J&K and NE India. Our politicians and bureaucrats have simply turned a blind eye towards the challenges faced by soldiers and if these are not addressed in time then the nation should be prepared to face the consequences as we faced during 1962 war. Moreover, no soldier will be willing to risk his life while engaging a terrorist who have the sympathy and support of locals and separatist leaders like Hurriyat.

  2. If Modi Govt can’t understand the sad state of affairs, which else party would? Not the Congress, which of course is responsible for much of the woes or Forces, the Left, the caste/region based parties? Alas, we are yet to find a Govt and a Def Minister who would understand the ethos, the mechanism, the psychology, their needs of the Armed Forces. The MOD under the civilian bureaucracy, the much of the media, and even the Judiciary, lately, fail to appreciate how the nation must keep the Forces, battle ready, by insulating them and protecting them, continuously modernizing them. When I joined the IAF in 1968, I had noticed that the Army Officers and Jawans fully trusted the Govt that they would do justice to them in terms of Pay&allowances, conditions of living, more importantly, take care of their izzat, honour. Now I see every one is rushing to the Court for justice!! What a sad state of affairs. The nation must realize that we have 3 front war, not two front; the 3rd front is internal, the Left, the Urban Naxals, Human Rights groups, foreign funded NGOs undermining and subverting our national unity and the formidable religious groups funded by foreign agencies. We can ignore this 3rd front at our peril. The nation and its Forces, this includes the all Police as well as Central Armed Police Forces must be aware of this and gear up to fight this front with national will and vigour.

  3. a true reflection of the conditions prevailing in India. It is time for the Nation, the Supreme Commander and the Governments – both Central and States to wake up to realities and rectify their shortcomings in the shortest of time. Otherwise face the consequence of foreign rulers entering as history has warned.

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