Fancy hats and General Dyer: Let’s get real about the Army

 Deepak Sinha, COAS, Indian Army, IMA, Dyer

COAS Gen Rawat reviewing passing out parade at IMA

Source: Indian Army

So why exactly have a number of politicians, media personalities and the odd professors, among others, got their knickers in a twist over what the Army Chief has stated in the media? Defending Major Gogoi for his innovative action in protecting poll officials from a lynch mob, warning stone-pelters bent on hampering counter terror operations to behave and suggesting that the Army is ready to face a two and a half front war are only to be expected from an individual primarily responsible (along with the other Service Chiefs) for defending the sovereignty and integrity of our country, both from external and even from internal threats when civil administration finds itself unable to do so. For those who believe this is actually the job of the Defence Secretary, as the Government’s Rules of Business ordain, please get off the medication…. It is not something that any Defence Secretary has been held accountable for since Independence!

The truth is that unlike his illustrious predecessors, who like shy ballerinas, were only seen and not heard, this Chief has not hesitated from facing the media to convey his views, that of the military hierarchy and even the rank and file, especially their concerns, unambiguously without pulling any punches and with little effort at political correctness. May be if his predecessors had thumped the table publicly the Forces would not be in the rather sad state they find themselves in, but that is another matter. This is what this scattering of politicians like Dikshit, Brinda Karat and her comrades, along with Professors Alok Rai and Partha Chatterjee and their ilk find so disconcerting, especially since they have little or no clue about matters military.

What politicians like Dikshit or Karat feel is of little concern as they are either nonentities, marginalised or on the verge of extinction, desperately attempting to remain relevant, any way they can. In fact, they and other politicians like them, are the very ones responsible for creating problems that finally require the Army’s intervention to resolve, while they hide behind the protective screen of “Black Cats” in well- guarded bungalows in Lutyens Delhi. That they have the temerity to throw tantrums about the use of so called human shields is a mix of sheer hypocrisy and hyperbole. The worthy professors, however, deserve to be heard since they have attempted to use arguments other than that of just political one up man ship to make their case.

Leaving aside the crass comparisons to General Dyer and fancy hats, both of which were certainly in very poor taste and completely unjustified, the major grouse that both professors seem to have is the manner in which General Rawat defended the actions of Major Gogoi.

They would, therefore, do well to go through the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, especially Article 8. This article clearly defines actions which would be considered as the use of “Human Shields” and would then constitute war crimes.

They would then be forced to conclude that neither was Farooq Ahmed Dar used as a human shield nor that “a most horrendous war crime” was committed. As for the fact that Mr. Dar claims he was just an innocent bystander who was returning after casting his vote, let’s take it with a pinch of salt. Otherwise, by now his signature on the electoral roll at the polling booth he allegedly voted at would have been public knowledge, given the fact that this election was being overseen by the State Election Commission.

Clearly, if no crime was committed then the General was perfectly justified in backing up his officer. Moreover he has further gone on to state, on more than one occasion, that while Major Gogoi’s actions were one off and cannot become standard practice within the Army, his decision must be supported because as the commander on the ground he dealt with an extremely difficult situation as best as he could to avoid casualties among civilians and yet accomplish his mission successfully. All those who have been vehemently critical of the officers’ action have not bothered to suggest a better course of action that he could have adopted.

To suggest, as Prof Rai does, that the Army Chief, by refusing to support any dialogue with separatists, is “straining for a fight” verges on the ridiculous because more than anyone else, a soldier knows that war is serious business and the only ones who pay in blood will be his comrades, certainly not professors sitting in Delhi or elsewhere. All stakeholders must be well aware that given the level of violence and unrest in the Valley, no credible or equitable political solution is feasible at the present time. The Army has its job clearly cut out, as enunciated by the Army Chief, which is to once again take strong measures against militants to bring down the levels of violence to levels that allow civil administration to function effectively and provide space for the commencement of political dialogue.

It is sad commentary that earlier Governments, members of which now scream the loudest at the existing situation in the Valley, did not take advantage of what the Army had earlier accomplished to work towards a just and equitable solution to the problem. That the Army has been forced to once again confront a fresh cycle of violence, through no fault of its own and it is only trying to accomplish an extremely complex task in difficult circumstances at great cost to itself. Therefore, to expect the General to suggest dialogue at the present time makes little sense.

The other important conclusion that Prof Chatterjee attempts to push through is that by inculcating an outlook of “patriotic duty”, which was lacking in the British Indian Army, the present day army is becoming increasing less professional and more prone to politicisation.

While this appears to be a swipe at the nationalist lobby, it is difficult to understand the connection between patriotism, professionalism and patriotism that the good professor attempts to make. Love for the motherland is the cardinal motivation for any army, not just ours, and to imply that patriotism is something obscene makes little sense. Professionalism on the other hand is a reflection of the quality of manpower, ethos, training and experience and by all accounts the Army has become increasingly more professional despite the deliberate attempts to downgrade it over the years. While every soldier has the right to his own political views, as an institution the Army has always been completely apolitical and fair in its operations ever since Independence. It is this that makes it a much loved institution among the citizenry, despite what some may feel.

This commentary originally appeared in Times of India.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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