Time to polish the brass

The Army, being part of the same social milieu, cannot remain unaffected. Cracks have developed in its image. These must be addressed vigorously and suitable corrective action must be taken. Some of this has to be done by the Army itself, and the rest by the government.

Addressing cadets at the US Military Academy, West Point, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “When diplomats fail to maintain peace, the Army is called to restore peace. When the civil administration fails to maintain order, the Army is called to restore order. It must never fail the nation.” The Indian Army has lived up to this requirement and more. During calamities, it has always responded magnificently to rescue the people. The latest example is during the devastating Uttarakhand floods.
It transformed overnight from a colonial to a national Army after Independence and became the most popular instrument of the government. It is the only apolitical Army in the developing world.
The British exploited the resources of India and impoverished her. Yet, for their own reasons, they built excellent institutions of governance like the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the police and the Army. Unfortunately, these fine institutions are greatly undermined due to rampant corruption and misgovernance by political leadership. Our society has degenerated disastrously due to widespread corruption and lack of values. The Army, being part of the same social milieu, cannot remain unaffected. Cracks have developed in its image. These must be addressed vigorously and suitable corrective action must be taken. Some of this has to be done by the Army itself, and the rest by the government.
The ethos and discipline of the Army require that government decisions must be accepted with a stiff upper lip. In 1947, the payscales of the bulk of serving Army officers were reduced drastically by about 30 per cent. In the case of their contemporaries in the Indian Civil Services (ICS) and Indian Police Service (IPS), their old scales were retained and reduced scales applied only to their successors recruited after Independence. At a Cabinet meeting on May 22, 1947, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel spoke against this unfair treatment. The Cabinet decided that this was unavoidable for Army officers because of financial constraints and their number being so large. Quick promotion on departure of British officers would compensate them, but this applied equally to the civil services. No Army officer went to court. Had anyone done so, this decision would have been struck down. Nowadays, even senior officers go to court at the drop of a hat, for what they consider unfair posting or denial of promotion or even change in date of birth to extend their service. Widespread corruption now prevalent in our society has also affected Army officers. Former service chiefs have come under a cloud for financial irregularities.
Serving officers should uphold the Army’s traditional code of conduct. The government should not ride roughshod over their legitimate rights and treat them unfairly. It is distressing that it took the government 33 years to decide the pay of the country’s first Field Marshal and release his arrears of `2 crore only a couple of weeks before he died. Supreme Court judgments on pension of officers are flouted for one reason or the other. In desperation, retired veterans returned their war medals.
Élan of the officer corps is a battle-winning factor. Unfortunately, since Independence the protocol status of Army officers vis a vis civil servants has been repeatedly downgraded. Every revision of the Table of Precedence (hierarchy of important positions) has downgraded their status from the Service Chief downwards. No special status was given to a Field Marshal. There has also been progressive marginalisation of the military from the process of decision-making at the highest level. India has the most irrational higher defence organisation in a democracy.
The popular image of the Army has suffered in counter-insurgency operations despite the Indian Army having a much better record than any other Army in the world, namely the US Army in Vietnam, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay or Pakistan Army in East Pakistan and Balochistan. Stray incidents of indiscretion do get reported.
Though these are unavoidable in such operations, every effort must be made to eliminate this and deterrent punishment given to the guilty. In a few cases, our soldiers have been dismissed and given rigorous imprisonment up to 14 years. However, the local media, particularly in Kashmir, and some human rights activists have been maligning the Army. Without curbing the freedom of the press and counter distortion of facts, all attempt to malign the Army must be appropriately countered. Pursuing its policy of appeasement, the government has paid no attention to this. Freedom of the press does not mean ignoring anti-national propaganda from across the border and by separatists. The Army must develop a media policy to counter misinformation and inimical propaganda. Late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stated: “Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”
Recent incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir have been disturbing. Pakistanis have come to our side and beheaded our soldiers. They killed five soldiers inside our territory this month. Professional scrutiny is required to identify tactical lapse and failure of lower command in the field. Immediate reprisal at the local level is necessary to punish the other side. The fear of this escalating into a full-fledged war is misplaced. Local commanders must be delegated authority to retaliate suitably without having to wait for orders from Delhi. At the highest political level, we should not be seen to be a soft state, craving for dialogue with Pakistan. This happened at Havana, Sharm el-Sheikh, after 26/11, and now after the killing of five soldiers. American President Barack Obama cancelled talks on the sidelines of the G20 Summit that took place in St. Petersburg with Russian President Vladimir Putin after Russia gave asylum to Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Why can’t our Prime Minister do the same for a far more justifiable reason?
The cracks in the image of the Army must be addressed vigorously. We must preserve the discipline, morale, proficiency and image of our Army, which is one of the finest in the world.

The writer, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir

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