Thursday, July 8, 2010


As one who haswatched the growth of Indian Armed Forces as splendid institutions of defence of a resurgent democracy for almost sixty years, the recent tendency to sting and smear the forces, is obviously disturbing and distasteful. Of course it is the right of everyone to express his opinion freely in a democracy. It is equally the right of others to differ with them. But opinions, to be credible, have to be honest, well intentioned and well informed not just subsidiary parts of sting operations so much in operation these days. Those, who might like to sit in judgment over the Armed Forces on the basis of an odd aberration here and there would give themselves away the moment they seek to compare the uniformed with the non-uniformed in terms of rank, pay, status and experience. Such comparisons are odious and offensive. For example, if one is over influenced by reports of some IAS officers being caught red handed in traps laid for catching the corrupt, by civil agencies, that would not mean that the entire Indian Administration is corrupt. Similarly, if some officers of the foreign service or the revenue service are held on charges of corruption that should not earn the entire revenue services or the entire foreign service the charge of being corrupt. If a police inspector is held for taking bribe or torturing the innocents, that should not be an indictment of the entire police service. There has to be a balanced approach towards the issue of crime and punishment while assessing services which are based on the principle of laying their lives for the defence of the country. If outsiders chose to smear the Indian Armed Forces for their own frustrations and defeats on the battlefront it is understandable. But if insider resort to sting and smear it has to be carefully examined on their motivation and objectives.

Nobody in India or the outside world would accuse the Indian Armed Forces of not having been under the control of the civil authority. The President of India, the final head of the civil authority, is also the Supreme Commander of the Army, Navy and Air Force of the country. Dawn the ladder of the executive; the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister of the country exercise their civil authority over the Armed Forces through the Ministry of Defence, where the Secretary of the MoD is a representative of that superior civil authority and not the exclusive policy maker and implementation authority of that policy. His wisdom and experience would be in his healthy and regular interaction with the Defence Minister on the one hand and with the Service Chiefs on the other.

There are some, who overlook the tough disciplinary system and military law system in which violation of discipline and code of conduct are summarily tried and dealt with unlike in civil administration, where those accused of corruption and often cognizable criminal conduct get away after long and tortuous inquiries and litigation. Military courts of inquiry, though confidential, are fair and fast track and Court Martials spare none in dealing out punishment to those found guilty. The Armed Forces are very sensitive about maintaining their honour and very senior officers too have to prove themselves innocent before a Court Martial. It should go to the credit of the Armed Forces and not made out to be a slur on their name. In fact there are some who feel that such an “Administrative Law” should also be enacted for Civil Services to hold summary inquiries and fast track court martial punishment for the civil bureaucracy in cases of corruption and criminal misconduct.

One hears a lot of uninformed talk about the Armed Forces being non-transparent and unaccountable to the public. Such a view is based on ignorance. Operational information, of course, cannot be given out to unauthorised persons, as it is covered by the Official Secrets Act. But the Army Educational Corps, appointed the nodal agency for the Right to Information queries has done commendable work in this regard. According to reliable sources as many as 6000 RTI queries were received at the headquarters and almost all relevant queries were answered cent per cent to the satisfaction of the query makers. The same fast track response was evident at the Area and Command level for the RTI queries. It would be interesting to know whether any central or state ministry or department could claim such accountability and transparency in action.

There were also those disgruntled souls today who even grudged the soldiers their ration and some compensation for serving in high altitude snowbound and burning hot desert areas of the country. They forgot these were people who had committed their lives to the nation and often laid down their lives to defend the democracy. Who else but a soldier would prove his accountability by giving his life. On the country there were cases where a former Defence Minister had to threaten the civil top brass with a high altitude posting to get the taste of the life at the Siachen Glacier. That yielded approval of a long pending proposal to provide snow-scooters to jawans posted at Siachen and other snow bound areas.

If the Indian Army had to fight a sudden aggression by a Himalayan neighbour in 1962, without enough shoes, socks, sweaters and blankets. Surely the “civil magistracy” and “civil authority” could not be absolved of their high ranking responsibility and the Armed Forces could not be denied their credit for literally fighting on their belly to defend the civil democracy. Again the grumblers must take a look at nighbours like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal and see what the Armed Forces had done there when civil authorities themselves showed incapability to exercise healthy and realistic control over their militaries. The record of the Indian Armed Forces in maintaining self-discipline and staying away from political and bureaucratic intrigues and factionalism brings out the Indian military as a great national integration force and the greatest multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious force. It may not reflect the spirit of the civil magistracy but it certainly reflects the spirit of the Indian nationalism.

Few armies of the world have had to come out to the aid of the civil authorities in order to help in a variety of emergencies including disaster management as the Indian Army. But oddly enough the same civil administrators and their apologists who are quick to seek help from the Armed Forces are among the first to start bickering campaigns on issues for which they have neither understanding and training, nor experience. Calling a general names would not make one a great civil servant, serving or retired.

A soldier’s real test is on the battlefield. The “Indian” as a soldier, coming from the same families which produced teachers, engineers, doctors, scientists, writers and various categories of government officials had his role to play in building new India, both in the cantonements and the civil streets. The Armed Forces had produced some of the best governors for the large and problematic states of India. Their governing assets were the discipline, dedication and selfless approach to challenges of the day. No wonder they were objectives of envy and grumbling by their civil compatriots.

There are even those who fail to understand that “Unified Command” concept in which Army, Navy and Air Force are expected to fight coordinated wars on land, sea and air, was conceived by policymakers who knew the realities of today’s and tomorrow’s wars. This correspondent had seen the action of the forces in close coordination and the victorious results in 1971. The aeration of Bangladesh was a geo-political byproduct. The Forces did not fight as “directorate” and “departments” under different bureaucrats but as soldiers, airmen and naval ratings fighting under experienced commanders.

In conclusion I would point out how the Armed Forces are emerging as the carriers of the global power imprint of the Indian democracy. The numbers of joint army, air force and naval military exercises, including counter terrorism exercises being held every year shows esteem in which they are held by the highest military powers of the world like US and China. The last comment of my argument. Please do not equate the clerk with the soldier. They are both doing different jobs. Let them do what they are doing.

(By Yogendra Bali, in Imphal Free Press)

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