In the wake of the controversy raised by the Sixth Central Pay Commission, a retired senior service officer wondered if the bureaucracy was aware that by slighting the military it was demoralising soldiers, thereby gladdening the hearts of India’s enemies. Most service officers lament the fact that the bureaucrats do not empathise with them due to their ignorance of trials and tribulations of military life, as they hardly have any close relative or progeny in the services.
Both print and electronic media have seen unprecedented growth and proliferation over the last few years. The pace of propagation has been too fast for comfort, especially for the coverage of security matters. There are very few writers, reporters, anchors and correspondents who know much about military affairs. Due to their incapability to carry out any worthwhile coverage of serious issues, they resort to sensationalism of the poorest genre. For them, military matters mean problems faced by a few women officers, some enquiries about rations and some sound bytes about shortage of officers.
An observor was of the opinion that the services officers by their professional knowledge, smart dress, polished demeanour and impeccable manners make bureaucrats feel under-equipped and deficient.
Media must remain objective and provide balanced coverage. Criticising the military for sensationalism is highly unfair. It lowers military’s public image unwarrantedly.
For example, the media is quick to highlight that 15 officers or so have been court-martialled and punished for various acts of misdemeanour. Tone and tenor of the report faults the military for the falling standards and paints a negative picture. The media fails to recognise the fact that in a 1.3 million strong organisation, there are bound to be minuscule aberrations. It should, in fact, praise the military for being the only institution to take prompt disciplinary action against defaulters, whereas all others carry on regardless.
A woman officer committed suicide in Jammu last year. A major TV channel organised a discussion the same evening on ‘working conditions in the Army that force women to commit suicide’. It went on to flay the Army brass for gender-bias and ill-treatment of women officers. Apparently, the said channel did not ascertain facts and wanted to be the first to highlight the allegedly sorry plight of women in the services. Had it waited for the police investigations to be over, it would have realised that the suicide was due to matrimonial dissentions and the husband has since been arrested for abetting it. The working environment had nothing to do with it, yet the Army was subjected to public condemnation.
Despite having a plethora of TV news channels, not a single in-depth programme either on security concerns or on the tribulations of a soldier’s life has ever been telecast. For them, coverage of a film star’s visit to a military unit and dancing with the troops is adequate. Incongruity of media’s priorities can be gauged from the fact that twenty fifth anniversary of India’s world cup win was played up as an unprecedented achievement whereas victories in 1971 and the Kargil War are remembered in a perfunctory manner. But then cricket crazy India has little time for national security concerns. See box.
Despite repeated representations, India still does not have a war memorial in the capital to honour independent India’s dead soldiers. India wants to ape the West in all sundry aspects but not in matters that affect the well-being and morale of the armed forces. The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington in Washington, Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Cenotaph in London are admired by all Indian visitors. Yet, the absence of a suitable war memorial in New Delhi does not appear odd to them.
For most in the media military matters mean problms faced by a few women officers, some enquiries about rations and some sound bytes about shortage of officers.
All countries honour their war heroes by erecting their statues at prominent places like Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square. No statues of political leaders are seen in the developed countries. On the contrary, millions are spent every year in India on erecting statues of politicians as they are an essential part of vote-bank agenda of most political parties. It is not considered necessary to honour war heroes, martyrs and gallantry award winners as they do not fetch votes. One is reminded of those poignant lines of A Lawrence Vaincourt’s classic poem:-
“When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,
While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.
Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,
But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.
Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land,
A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?
Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,
Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?”
As seen above, the falling stature of the military is due to both historical and cultural factors. To a considerable extent military commanders are responsible for the same. Their conduct has certainly raised questions regarding the quality of leadership that the military is throwing up. It is a cause for concern. Additionally, the political leadership and the bureaucracy must realise the irretrievable damage they are doing to the morale and the fighting potential of the military. India survives today because, as General Sir John Hackett said, “A soldier places his body between those of the citizens of his country and those who are attempting to destroy them.” The media must also realise that most soldiers are posted at remote border posts or are battling insurgency against heavy odds and at great personal risk. Denigrating and lowering the image of the military can prove extremely dear to the country in the long run.
Finally, India will do well to remember the advice offered by Kautilya to Chandragupta on the treatment of soldiers. He said, “Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks only to the Mauryan Army standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action, day and night, in weather fair and foul, all eight praharas (round the clock), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, all through the year, year after year. While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to exist as a State! The day when the soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will also bode ill for the State. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be the King! It will also be the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!”