Military & Aerospace

Denigrating the Armed Forces : a dangerous agenda
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Issue Vol 25.3 Jul-Sep2010 | Date : 06 Oct , 2010

While addressing the Passing Out Parade at the U.S. Naval Academy on 07 April 2010, Secretary of Defence Robert M Gates said, “You have answered the trumpet call, and the whole of America is grateful and filled with admiration. I salute you and thank you for your service. For my part, I consider myself personally responsible for each and every one of you as though you were my own sons and daughters. And when I send you in harm’s way, as I will, I will do everything in my power to see that you have what you need to accomplish your mission – and come home safely.” Can anyone recall similar sentiments expressed by an Indian political leader?

While watching TV on 03 June 2010, viewers were shocked to read breaking news – “Army shamed by sex scandal.” Another channel informed viewers that a serving Lieutenant General had been forced to resign for molesting another officer’s wife while on an official tour to Israel. Every channel tried to outdo each other by sensational headlines. Reputation of the military leadership in general and that of the General Officer concerned was torn to shreds. Most e-papers reproduced the news item released by PTI. The furor got somewhat dampened when the Army Headquarters (AHQ) issued a denial. It said that preliminary investigations had shown that there were a number of loopholes in the account of allegations and that further investigations were in progress. It also clarified that the General Officer had neither resigned nor had been asked to submit his resignation.

Compare the above coverage with the unearthing of enormous wealth acquired by corrupt means by an IAS couple in Bhopal. “¦ Media has neither cared to delve deeper into the matter nor carried out intense studio debates about the falling standards of morality as it did in the Sukhna land case.

It is learnt that the high level Court of Inquiry (C of I) convened by the Army Headquarters has found the allegations to be totally baseless. Apparently, either the concerned PTI correspondent had erred in not confirming the veracity of the report with AHQ or was a willing party to the slander campaign. It is doubtful if he would ever be taken to task for his transgression. Predictably, PTI did not consider it necessary to apologise for its senseless blunder. Similarly, it is unlikely that other over-enthusiastic media players can muster enough moral courage to regret their mistake publically.

Similarly, media coverage of the Sukhna land case is characterised by unrelenting campaign to tarnish the image of the armed forces by targeting its senior officers. Facts of the case were totally and intentionally ignored to justify allegation of gross misappropriation. The case was nonchalantly termed as a scam despite the fact that the land in question was privately owned and did not belong to the Army; no transfer took place and no money ever exchanged hands. The civilian owner wanted a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Army before investing resources in the construction of a school on the said land, lest there be objections subsequently. The total case revolved around an act of indiscretion by a General Officer when he recommended issuance of NOC to the incumbent Corps Commander. Incidentally, no pressure can be exerted by a Military Secretary as Corps Commanders do not report to him.

Not one media personality cared to find out as to what the scam was. The coverage dealt with the case as if it were another fodder scam or Chhattisgarh loot. As most TV channels thrive on sensationalism, speakers from various fields were invited to air their views. Without understanding the real nature of the case, they took stands as per their own prejudices and mindset. A rare sane voice was invariably silenced by an aggressive anchor carrying the mandate to steer discussion as per the channel’s agenda. Objectivity was the inevitable casualty. One self-proclaimed military writer of suspect credentials went to the extent of stating that the accused officers should be publically shot dead. He forgot that Indian governance works purely on recommendations – every political leader and bureaucrat issues numerous letters of recommendations every day. Should they all be shot dead or is the law of the land different for the services?

“¦ targeting military leadership amounts to targeting military as an institution as military sustains itself on the credibility that its leadership enjoys amongst the rank and file.

Nobody questioned Headquarters Eastern Command for ordering a totally unwarranted and belated Court of Enquiry (C of I). In any case, it had exercised its due right and overruled the Corps Headquarters. Worse, no questions were raised against the manner in which C of I was convened and conducted. No attempt was made by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to clarify issues involved to the media and present the case in the correct perspective. Worse, regular inputs were provided to the media to keep the case in the limelight. All limits of propriety were breached when details of private dialogue between the Defence Minister and the Army Chief were leaked to the press.

Compare the above coverage with the unearthing of enormous wealth acquired by corrupt means by an IAS couple in Bhopal. The whole episode has been put on the back-burner after a day’s exposure. Media has neither cared to delve deeper into the matter nor carried out intense studio debates about the falling standards of morality as it did in the Sukhna land case. No TV channel invited retired IAS officers to ascertain reasons for rampant corruption in the bureaucracy. Ostensibly, the media had been cautioned to play the incident down. Coverage of Sukhna land case has been compared with that of the arrest of the IAS couple in Bhopal only to illustrate different yard sticks applied by the media.

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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

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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