Nothing could have been more sordid, slanderous or shocking than the unprecedented attack on the Army in a prime time debate on a popular English news channel. It marks the murkiest depths to which mainstream journalism could have sunk in recent years. On January 13, a few disgruntled and retired NCOs leveled grave and intemperate allegations against the organization. Something unheard of in the country’s post independence history, which came in the wake of video clips released by a BSF constable and others, alleging bad food and mistreatment.
Public airing of such grievances and the circulation of video clips could have a demoralizing effect on the forces…
The gross discourtesy shown to two distinguished generals, compounded by an unrelenting tirade against serving officers, never before witnessed on TV screens, would make the raucous political class seem almost genteel in comparison. One of the panelists, a mortified ex-Army chief, told the senior anchor bluntly that “you could not have slapped the Army harder.” The channel acted like a judge, jury and executioner rolled into one, without an iota of responsibility.
Puerile comparisons apart, how can anyone equate the higher and lower ranks of the Army? Will it not be fatal to the cohesiveness and quality of the organization, most likely to disintegrate without a leadership, as amply borne out by military history? Who will motivate the men to act beyond the call of duty, fighting for the sake of regimental pride and honour and ensure that the nation’s territorial integrity remains intact, except for the young officers? To suggest that they would turn into tyrants is both absurd and demeaning to our military ethos. Some of the accusations, based on half truths and exaggerations, were about treating sepoys as serfs, discriminating against their children, making them stand in separate queues, etc.
There might be occasional abuses but the argument runs counter to ground realities. The orderly serves the officer in field areas, taking care of his weapons and kit and assisting him in combat. Some of these harmonious relationships continue even after life in the Army? “You have done for me what god could not have done,” a sahayak wrote touchingly to his officer, from a forward base, as a mark of gratitude for the critical help the latter had rendered. It speaks volumes about the virtues of buddy system. By the same logic, the common man can also justifiably demand similar facilities and perks given to legislators and bureaucrats. When these pampered segments enjoy them as public servants, not as masters, why can’t they have similar entitlements? But whittling down these perks might not be so practicable for reasons that are too complex to go into this analysis.
After all bad food is not such an insurmountable problem. In an organization of 1.3 million men, there are bound to be disputes.
Railway officers also enjoy the services of an ‘office peon,’ a factotum specifically appointed to cook, prepare tea, run errands, shop and dust furniture for the family. There may be nothing wrong in appointing civilians as sahayaks in peace stations. But it is doubtful whether the defence ministry acts on these suggestions? Maybe it is chary of the financial commitment, which would burden the exchequer.
Public airing of such grievances and the circulation of video clips could have a demoralizing effect on the forces, as Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat pointed out in his Army Day address. After all bad food is not such an insurmountable problem. In an organization of 1.3 million men, there are bound to be disputes. But then the electronic media, driven by TRPs, placed a different spin on the clips, hinting at the failure of IPS leadership, (heading these forces) while dragging the Army into the controversy where better food was admittedly being served.
Does Islamabad need the nation’s enemies to carry out subversive activities on its soil? The vocal support of the left-liberal and Aman ki Asha brigades abetted by the Lutyens media, helps it far more effectively. They have no qualms in publicizing the alleged violation of human rights of Islamic radicals and separatists in Kashmir. So when some of the ex-servicemen themselves jump into the fray with open eyes and vilify the Army, they acquire an unwitting ally and have reasons to feel doubly elated, one which is grist to the Lutyens’ mill.
The vilification of the Army on a national channel sends out a loud and clear message. That it is incapable of managing its own affairs, is not only deficit in integrity and competence, but also too weak to fight or protect its territory.
These hate India groups overlook Pakistan’s massacre of three million Bengalis and the systematic butchery of tens of thousands of Balochis and Pashtuns, now the victims of relentless chemical bombardment in the war against ethnic minorities. Has the European Commission of Human Rights Commission uttered a single word in condemnation of the depopulation of entire villages in the PoK, though they are loudest in protesting violence in Kashmir? Did they ever insist that the Pakistani army be tried for heinous war crimes, initiated by Generals Yayha Khan and Tikka Khan 47 years ago, on the lines of Nuremberg, but for the support of Nixon and Kissinger?
The debate degenerated into a slugfest, loaded with casteist and political sentiments, as the two generals watched helplessly. One of them, almost on the verge of walking out, warned the channel about setting a dangerous precedent, by permitting politicized ex-servicemen to vilify the Army on a public forum and potentially incite divisiveness within the organization. In one fell stroke, these retired NCOs made a mockery of the values the Army has always stood by; drilled painstakingly into the rank and file, which forms the bedrock of discipline and obedience, without which an army is just a ragtag bunch.
Anyone familiar with Army life would vouch that a complaint by a jawan or an NCO is promptly entertained by the superiors. To suggest otherwise would be a travesty of the truth. But the issue here involves much higher stakes. The vilification of the Army on a national channel sends out a loud and clear message. That it is incapable of managing its own affairs, is not only deficit in integrity and competence, but also too weak to fight or protect its territory.
The Army is being relentlessly targeted on its role in the Kashmir Valley, AFSPA, surgical strikes and now bad food and alleged exploitation of other ranks, especially after the resounding defeat of the UPA-II government in May 2014.
Lately, there is a clamour for equating the Army with Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) in terms of pay scale, facilities and special allowances, probably with the tacit support of the babus and politicians. Peaceniks, like Nehru, might argue that as the police (CAPFs) are already doing the job of the Army, why not disband it and avoid duplication. The exchequer would save lakhs of crores of tax payer’s money.