New Delhi, May 5: General "claptrap" has broken out in the ranks of the Indian Army after its chief today banned the soldiery from bringing palms together in repeated motion to express applause "because it is against military decorum".
Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag, the chief, cited defence minister Manohar Parrikar's expression of surprise after the audience at an annual commanders' conference last month clapped after his speech in military headquarters. "I did not know that men in uniform clapped," the defence minister is reported to have said.
Parrikar, who was Goa's chief minister and still carries with him a whiff of the casual in his colourful bush shirts that are never tucked in and in his beachwear sandals, is still getting acquainted with military culture since taking over the office in January. Others present at the conference said Parrikar had said what he did about clapping "half in jest".
The joke was lost on the army chief. "Hereafter, we will maintain the decorum of not clapping in uniform," Gen. Dalbir Singh told the audience of mostly army officers but also some civilians. The occasion this morning was the induction of a missile system, called the Akash, made by a defence public sector unit after nearly 30 years of research and trials. But at the conclusion of the event, the army chief proceeded to do what he had advised his men against: he clapped, deliberately and slowly with great showmanship, after a vote of thanks by the official of the company that had made the missile, Bharat Dynamics Ltd. This chief said his act of applauding is a "one-time exception to the rule".
The manual on customs and traditions in the Indian Army does not forbid applauding a speaker by clapping. "Yes, we clap," said an air force officer who said his service did not share the army chief's sentiment. "But we discourage the thumping of desks, though sometimes that too is done."
"In the navy we often shout to express appreciation," said a commander. "That is because our palms are often greasy from working on our warships," he explained. In the navy, sailors also salute by turning the palm inward to avoid showing greasy hands.
There is no hard-and-fast rule about clapping in the army, said a colonel. "But you know this chief is austere, and a stickler for discipline; he dislikes flowers, for example, and has told his officers to abandon the practice of gifting them," he explained. "No," the colonel added. "The gossip that there is a tax on smiling is pure rumour."
The dour Dalbir Singh, who took over as army chief after turbulence at the top, is probably the fittest four-star rank in recent years. His slim and washboard waistline is still the envy of many of his juniors. He brings to the office he holds the dignity of a fitness freak. That does not include the air of jollity that another officer of the Gorkhas brought into South Block before leading India to its most famous military victory - Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw.
A man of ready wit and repartee, Manekshaw, who died in June 2008 at the age of 94, was widely reputed to hold politicians in utter contempt. In contrast with Gen. Dalbir Singh's genuflection to his defence minister's (misinterpreted) advice, Manekshaw once said on the military knowledge of politicians: "I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of defence can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter."
India's chiefs of army staff have often brought into their jobs personal whims that have been issued as commands to the soldiery. Gen. J.J. Singh, who went on to become governor of Arunachal Pradesh after retiring, famously introduced "Friday Dressing" - ordering all in headquarters in New Delhi to wear battle fatigues on Fridays to express empathy with soldiers on the frontlines.
Gen. V.K. Singh, now minister of state, did away with the practice.
His successor, Gen. Bikram Singh, re-instituted it.
Now, with the ban on the manual act of applause by a chief who proceeded to violate it, the army is complaining that it is caught in a "clap-trap".
(Source- The Telegraph)