In the mad race to boost circulation and viewer ratings, the media may have, in one go, started the process of demolishing one of the last institutions that has stood rock solid in defence of idea that is India.
The Indian Army’s greatest tragedy!
In my three decades of reporting on the Indian military, I have never felt more uneasy about the military-media interface as I have in the past three months.
This is not because the media has been accused of being sensationalist or because many unsavoury truths about internal rivalry and groupism in the military brass have created bad blood in the top hierarchy.
My unease stems from the damage that the events of the past few months have inflicted on the average Indian soldier.
For at least a quarter of a century now, we have been lamenting the steadily diminishing status of the ordinary Indian soldier in society; that soldiering is no longer respected as a noble profession in our rural areas; that the jawan struggles to get his due from a civil administration increasingly contemptuous and apathetic towards him; that he continues to get paid poorly and treated unfairly by a society solely driven by materialism.
Now, following a spate of reports based on half-truths and outright lies, motivated by God alone knows what, we may have done the ultimate disservice to the Indian soldier: Planted the seed of suspicion about his loyalty in the minds of ordinary Indians.
The ultimate disservice to the Indian soldier
While I will defend the right of every media person to report what he or she thinks is right, I am afraid none of us has thought through the consequences of the effect it will have on the psyche of the Indian soldier and, more importantly, the way ordinary Indians will view the Indian Army.
In the mad race to boost our circulation and viewer ratings, we may have, in one go, started the process of demolishing one of the last institutions that has stood rock solid in defence of the idea that is India.
For the first time in my now reasonably long career in journalism, I feel like hiding from my friends in the military.
I feel we have not paused to think about the long-term damage we have wrought upon the profession of soldiering.
While all dramatis personae are equally culpable in the current controversy, we in the media certainly have a greater responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.
The Army is India’s Brahma Asthra
I say this because from disaster relief in floods, tsunamis and earthquakes, to rescuing an infant Prince from a deep tube well and from quelling rioters in communal strife to being the last resort in internal counter-insurgency operations, the Indian Army has been omnipresent.
It is, what I call, India’s Brahma Asthra (the ultimate weapon).
The Indian Army’s versatility, adaptability, selfless attitude and resourcefulness has allowed it to be what it is today: Nation Builders.
Viewed in the context of India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood, the Indian Army’s stellar role stands out in stark contrast to its counterparts in other countries.
Remember, the Indian and Pakistani armies originated from the same source, the British army. Yet, six decades since they parted ways, there couldn’t be a bigger dissimilarity in the way the two have evolved.
As they say, India has an army while the Pakistani army has a nation!
More importantly, despite India’s increasing dependence on its army to pull its chestnuts out of fire time and again, the Indian Army has scrupulously remained apolitical.
A systematic assault on the Indian Army
The Indian Army’s contribution in nurturing and strengthening democracy with all its faults can never be underestimated.
It has put down fissiparous and secessionist forces within India at great cost to itself over the last 60-odd years. It has protected India from within and without.
The Indian Army also has a unique distinction of helping create a nation (Bangladesh) in the neighbourhood and then quietly walking away to let the people take charge.
In contrast, the Pakistani army has never really allowed democracy to flourish in its country. Instead, it has created a military-industrial complex that has spread its tentacles in every aspect of governance.
Even today, the Pakistani army does not let go of any opportunity to undercut democracy; it nurtures and treats jihadi elements as its strategic asset against India and the United States.
Even in other smaller nations around India — Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, for instance — the armed forces have had to intervene and run the affairs of those countries at some point.
The Indian Army has also withstood systematic assaults on its status from politicians and bureaucrats who are forever looking for ways to downgrade the military’s status.
While the principle of civilian supremacy over the armed forces is well entrenched and understood in India, what is incomprehensible is the constant chipping away at the military’s standing.
The Army, the civilian and the politician
The nation as a whole, and indeed the people at large, have the highest regard and affinity for the men in uniform for the yeoman service they render in every conceivable situation.
However, most mandarins at the ministry of defence and some politicians do not have the same opinion and are repeatedly trying to run down the military without realising the immense damage they cause to the only available bulwark we have against any attempt to Balkanise India.
Now, unfortunately, even we in the media seem to have joined this ill-informed and devious bunch of opportunists.
As a former chief of the army staff, General S Padmanabhan, says in his book, A General Speaks, ‘Even after Independence, India’s political leaders found it convenient to keep the Army, Navy and the Air Force out of the policy-making bodies. The service HQs were left at the level that the British left them — that of being attached offices of the ministry of defence. Even at the level of defence minister and service chiefs, exchanges on major matters of defence policy were few and far in between.’
Another former army chief, General Shankar Roy Choudhury, has observed: ‘It is essential in the national interest that the armed forces are upgraded and updated on an ongoing basis, something which governments have been traditionally loath to acknowledge and undertake, the Indian government perhaps more so than others in this respect.’
We must back the nation’s strongest asset
Historically, it is to the credit of the Indian Army that it has fulfilled its role as an organ of the State; it has functioned effectively in every type of role, in spite of the general lack of a supportive government environment by way of adequate finances, resources, equipment, personnel policies, or higher political direction.
A nation’s military provides what is called a hard-edged back-up to its international standing.
A strong military — and especially a powerful, well-trained, fully-equipped army — acts as a deterrent against adversaries.
It is therefore essential that the nation’s decision-makers consciously back the army and provide it with the support it needs to meet diverse challenges that exist and are likely to come up in the coming decade.
So far, the Indian Army has fulfilled its role in nation building admirably well.
All of us — ordinary citizens, media persons, politicians, bureaucrats — must continue to back the nation’s strongest asset and further strengthen it, if we desire to see India as a global player in the decades to come.
The Army is vital for India’s survival
Centuries ago, Kautilya, the wily old strategist, told Emperor Chandragupta Maurya why the soldier is important for the kingdom’s survival.
If India has to survive as a nation-state, this advice (reproduced from a piece written by Air Marshal S G Inamdar for the USI Journal) is worth repeating in its entirety here.
As the learned air marshal says: ‘It is amazing how clearly those ancients saw the likely faultlines in governance, the intricacies of management of the military by the state functionaries, the nature of the military and the citizenry and the close interplay between them all. It is truly amazing how those observations continue to be so completely relevant today, even after 2,000 years.
‘Here’s what Kautilya told the king of Magadh:
‘The Mauryan soldier does not himself the royal treasuries enrich nor does he the royal granaries fill.
‘He does not himself carry out trade and commerce nor produce scholars, thinkers, litterateurs, artistes, artisans, sculptors, architects, craftsmen, doctors and administrators.
‘He does not himself build roads and ramparts nor dig wells and reservoirs.
‘He does not himself write poetry and plays, paint or sculpt, nor delve in metaphysics, arts and sciences.
‘He does not do any of this directly as he is neither gifted, trained nor mandated to do so.’
What the soldier does for his nation
The soldier only and merely ensures that:
‘The tax, tribute and revenue collectors travel far and wide unharmed and return safely;
‘The farmer tills, grows, harvests, stores and markets his produce unafraid of pillage and plunder;
‘The trader, merchant and moneylender function and travel across the length and breadth of the realm unmolested;
‘The savant, sculptor, painter, maestro and master create works of art, literature, philosophy, astronomy and astrology in peace and quietitude;
‘The architect designs and builds his Vaastus without tension;
‘The tutor (acharya), the mentor (guru) and the priest (purohit) teach and preach in tranquility;
‘The sages (rishis, munis and tapaswis) meditate and undertake penance in wordless silence;
‘The doctor (vaidyaraja) tends to the ill and the infirm well, adds to the pharmacopoeia, discovers new herbs and invents new medical formulations undisturbed;
‘The mason, the bricklayer, the artisan, the weaver, the tailor, the jeweller, the potter, the carpenter, the cobbler, the cowherd (gopaala) and the smith work unhindered;
‘The mother, wife and governess go about their chores and bring up children in harmony and tranquility;
‘The aged and the disabled are well taken care of, tended to and are able to fade away gracefully and with dignity;
‘The cattle graze freely without being lifted or harmed by miscreants.’
The soldier is the very basis of a nation
He is thus the VERY BASIS and silent, barely visible CORNERSTONE of our fame, culture, physical well being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity.
‘He DOES NOT perform any of these chores himself directly: he ENABLES the rest of us to perform these without let, hindrance or worry (nirbheek and nishchinta).
‘Our military sinews, on the other hand, lend credibility to our pronouncements of adherence to good Dharma, our goodwill, amiability and peaceful intentions towards all our neighbour nations (Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinaha, Sarve Santu Niramayaha…) as also those far away and beyond.
‘These also serve as a powerful deterrent against military misadventure by any one of them against us.’
‘If Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort, O King, it is so because she is secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks to the mighty Mauryan army constantly patrolling and standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action (animish netre) day and night (ratrau-divase) in weather fair and foul, dawn-to-dusk-to-dawn (ashtau prahare) quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, loss of life and limb, separation from the family, all through the year, year after year (warsha nu warshe).
‘While the Magadha citizenry endeavours to make the State prosper and flourish, the Mauryan soldier guarantees that the State continues to EXIST! He is the silent sine qua non of our very being!’
Can we all people in uniform, civil services, politics, media and society at large — imbue this spirit?
Nitin Gokhale is Security and Strategic Affairs Editor, NDTV. This article first appeared in rediff.com.
An outstanding piece. Wish we could all imbibe that spirit and get over the mindless gloom and disbelief that has unfortunately invaded our minds about every single institution of our country. But, most of all, we need to spare the one institution that Nitin very correctly appreciates as the sole guarantor of the very survival of our great nation.
While there are several points of value to secrecy and discrimination in matters of “National Security”, one must remember that it is secrecy and immunity to media inspection that has fostered corruption in the Armed Forces. But for the expose of “Adarsh”, the Government would never have had the compulsion to bring in Gen.V.K. Singh, an outsider to the cozy golf courses, free booze, messing, complimentary carpets and furniture of the main stream General Staff, was brought in from outside the “line of succession” established over decades by the Congress party to soothe the ruffled feathers of the honourable sections of the Officers’ Corps that comprise the junior echelons and real teeth of the Army and who were extremely upset by the Adarsh scam et al that called their very self image and raison de etre into question. His being brought in led to several startling revelations including the the lack of ammunition and the hollowness of the military and the misuse of the military and the “defence budget” to bribe influential politicians of recalcitrant states to “purchase” stability. We should take a cue from the United States. The proceedings of the Senate Overview Committee on Defence is conducted in full public glare. The money spent on defence is spent on defence. Corruption is minimised by openness. India will be made more powerful when the secrecy and the sleaze that flourishes within it in the name of “patriotism” are eliminated and the higher echelons of the armed forces are made as professional and appreciative of integrity and merit as the lower echelons of the Officers Corps.
Yours is precisely the kind of behavior that Nitin has decried. While your views may never rise above the level of speculative insinuations, considering that you cannot possibly have any first hand information on the subject, it is the fact that you smear the name of the organisation when you thus speculate, that you fail to understand. Guess, there’s only so much that good old sane advice can achieve.
I hope the people sitting in the power of corridor in North n South Block wake-up and stop all this interferance at once and leave the great Indian Army to do it job in the manner they are doing till date with Dignity and Hon our.
I have grown up admiring the devotion, integrity and professionalism of the Indian military in holding the nation together when all else seems to be falling apart. Yes media activism and transparency are understood but when imbecile politicians like Lekhi comment on the moral fibre or the integrity of the armed forces there is a time to take a deep look at the rot. Yes there would be bad apples everywhere but to discredit the men fighting an inhospitable 5000 Km border, numerous insurgencies and internal duties are demonised..my blood boils.
Thankful to Nitin Gokhale for initiating and summarising the truth about Indian Army. This is the only institution left over, to save country from disasters. Govts should make It stronger and leave them alone for the safety and security of country . Present state of Army Is because of politically immature Govts mishandling it on the advice of incapable staff . A corrective action taken earlier will be better for all in this country.
Nitin, While I agree with you about the current turmoil and the greatness of Indian soldier, I tend to disagree about Indian Army being great organization.
What you see today are all advanced symptoms of a cancer that started a long long ago.
On the stroke of midnight of Aug 15, 1947, a British Mercenary army transforms into a patriotic national army. Not single colonial loyalist was thrown out. Sadly we had mercenary officers from Britain serving our army. We inculcated most of the colonial practices as our ‘tradition’. Can you believe that indian army units still flaunt battle honors like ‘Bharatpore’, where they fought and killed own countrymen for the British?
Ever wondered whose names are inscribed on the walls of India Gate where every sucker allegedly pays homage?….Third Afghan War.
Self serving individuals never make a good army. Sadly we have lots of them amongst veterans and in uniform now.
Army needs to get out of the colonial culture and peace time Ladies Clubs. They need to become ‘professional’ to earn respect.