By RSN Singh, Canary Trap
The recent upheaval in an artillery unit – ie, 226 field regiment in Nyoma in Ladakh sector – is not merely a rupture between officers and their men. In the past, the underlying impetus to such upheaval was religious or ethnic ferment amongst the troops, but in the instant case “class clash” is being insinuated by certain quarters, specially the media.
The character that the upheaval acquired after the initial spark has typically ultra-leftist footprints. Reportedly, when the Divisional Commander visited the unit to take stock of the situation, the next day he found that no personnel was wearing his rank on his shoulders or arms. When questioned, they replied that they had repudiated all rank structure and they were all ‘jawans’.
The disturbing question is this: have the Maoists started infiltrating and subverting the Indian army? The overground Maoists, particularly those in the media, have, in recent months, been drumming up absolutely outrageous propaganda that the Indian state, “as part of its war of attrition on the poor”, has pitted poor jawans in the police and paramilitary forces against poor Maoists. In this propaganda, officers are labelled as agents of the state.
In a seminar organised by a think-tank associated with the ‘profession of arms’, the editor of an English weekly unabashedly and with impunity, in the presence of uniformed personnel, unleashed this propaganda war.
The incident, therefore, should be of concern for its egregious portents and ramifications. It undermines the very foundations of the Indian Army. All armies, in fact all nation-states, draw their strength from accountability at various levels predicated on hierarchy. In the army it is called the ‘chain of command,’ whose sanctity, if attacked, leads to anarchy.
There are any number of versions of the said incident, each adducing more serious motives and breach than the other. Nevertheless, it definitely emerges that after the immediate trigger, which involved criminal transgression on the modesty of an officer’s wife, the spontaneity factor had soon given way to planned, meditated and organised rebellion and violence. At least two newspapers reported that violence had spilled onto the streets of Nyoma village and the troops had degenerated into a bloodthirsty mob, raising slogans on megaphone all through the night.
Above all, the matter of gravest concern is the dissolution of all intervening levels in the organisational and leadership hierarchy between officers and men – ie, JCOs and NCOs. As in the case of the Kargil conflict, the role and efficacy of JCOs beggars drastic review. Whether this violence is mutiny or near-mutiny is not the question. The critical issue is that the most vital ‘officer- men’ link, which welds a unit, snapped. It is never sudden or episodic, but is the result of constant fraying.
This rupture in the ‘Officer-Men relationship,’ such as in 1857 and 1984, is a rare phenomenon. More recently, it also happened in Bangladesh, wherein Bangladesh Rifles, the paramilitary force responsible for security on the Indo-Bangladesh border, mutinied against their officers, essentially drawn from the Bangladesh Army. In each of these upheavals, it was not the case that the officers were responsible, or that all the subordinates were consumed by the unmitigated passion of revenge against the officers, but such was the threat and compulsion of the instigators that they had no option but to associate themselves.
Both in 1857 and 1984, the rebellion was against the ruling dispensation and the officers were targeted primarily because they were seen as stymie – which is the sacred duty of officers no matter how overwhelming the opposition and how heavy the price.
The Element of Subversion
Such upheavals in the army are seldom without sustained subversion of men. The 1857 upheaval, call it ‘mutiny’ or ‘war of independence’, was preceded by the bizarre ‘chapati movement’, wherein unleavened bread spread like wild-fire throughout the subcontinent. Since the ‘chapatis’ did not bear or carry any message, the objective of this movement elicited a wide range of eerie and inauspicious interpretations. The native troops in the cantonments were greatly disquieted by these interpretations, which did evoke suspicion about the British and British officers.
The 1857 upheaval, as is well known, had religious underpinnings. So was the case in 1984. It is also established that ethnic and religious subversion began to be implanted by the ISI through some self-styled leaders of the Sikh community settled abroad. Similarly, the recent mutiny in Bangladesh Rifles was engineered by the ISI in collusion with Islamic fundamentalists, who were disconcerted with the ascendance of Sheikh Hasina as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The objective of the powers behind this mutiny was regime change by assassinating Sheikh Hasina.
The China Factor
The involvement of inimical powers, organisations and agencies is more often than not implicit in such incidents. The place of the incident, Nyoma, has a recently constructed strategic airfield. Subversion of a few personnel of the unit through internal agents by agencies inimical to India cannot be ruled out. It is also possible that some personnel of this unit, which has an all-India composition, may have been indoctrinated in violent ideologies even before joining. This phenomenon can hardly been denied in the police forces of previously communist-ruled states as also Maoist-infested states. Even the bureaucracy does not remain unaffected. The army too draws its men from the same stock. Mao, too, had infiltrated communists in the nationalist forces who caused considerable subversion.
On the Eastern frontiers, Maoists are making fast inroads into Arunachal Pradesh. This is corroborated by home ministry reports based on arrests and interrogation of some Maoist recruits on the Assam-Arunachal border. It is also confirmed that the anti-dam protests in the Dibang Valley has a Maoist bias and is serving as a fertile recruitment ground. Some of the Maoist cadres apprehended by the security forces were armed with AK-47s. There are already reports about the emerging linkages between Maoists, insurgents in the Northeast and Myanmar, the ISI and China. The ISI is known to be reaching out to the Maoists through various jihadi organisations based in Bangladesh.
It can, therefore, be inferred that China, directly or through its proxies, would be aggressively engaged in subverting and compromising the Indian defence set-up in Ladakh where its vital road through China-occupied Aksai Chin passes.
Indian plans to raise a strike corps for the mountains, construction of new airfields in the vicinity of the Indo-Tibet border, and Indian maritime posturing in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea has surely unnerved China.
China, therefore, is employing every method to keep India, particularly the border regions, disturbed and unsettled. Its leveraging of insurgent groups in the North-East and Maoists is no longer subtle but brazen – as in the 1960s and 1970s .The border regions of India are full of cross-border operatives.
It requires only a few potential mischief makers to create subversion. They can then use propaganda to implant prejudices among the innocent and unsuspecting.
Invariably, the inimical powers and agencies have a segment of the media of the very target country working at their behest. It was rather intriguing that a segment of the press, instead of evincing patriotic concern on the unfortunate incident involving ‘their own’ Indian army, found it opportune to flog extraneous and false insinuations and propaganda. As a faithful communist propaganda machine, one newspaper known for its pro-China predilections attributed the incident to ‘class-tensions’.
In one television debate, the effort to circumscribe the proceedings within the parameters of mischievously posited themes – the system of sevadars in the army, the feudal nature of the forces, the class disparity between officers and men, and the unpopularity of the army as a profession amongst the youth – was clearly discernible.
With great effort one panelist sought to dispel the amnesia about the Kargil conflict wherein the same young officers, who were being labelled as ‘feudal’ and high-handed, led the most tenacious assaults, unparalleled in the history of mountain warfare, fully conscious of the certain death that stared at them in the Kargil conflict. The list of casualties bears impeachable testimony. It is also a testimony to the character building and training of officers in the Indian army.
Young officers are the firmament of camaraderie in the Army. With regard to pay disparity it emerged in the debate that the difference in pay between officers and men had narrowed down from1:15 to 1:3 or 1:4 at entry levels over the years since independence. Consequent to the sixth pay commission, a jawan, on joining the army, is straightaway propelled into the lower middle class, if not the middle class itself.
Also, the hackneyed notion about youth not wanting to join the armed forces is totally misplaced. The response is not poor at all. On an average one lakh candidates appear for each NDA course. In terms of applicant-to-post ratio, 431 candidates applied for each NDA vacancy whereas the corresponding number for combined civil services was only 319.
Forces inimical to the country always sense opportunities to drive a wedge within the ranks of the security forces. One such force is the Maoists, who enjoy the patronage of not only China but also some Church organisations in the West. Imperceptible and indirect infiltration of such elements in this ignominious artillery unit cannot be ruled out. The Maoist leadership unabashedly stated its plans of infiltrating the security forces some time ago. As in the case of the Ladakh artillery unit, units without fixed composition are more vulnerable to such infiltration. On the other hand, in units with fixed composition, ethnic pride and values serve as a robust bulwark against subversion.
This sleazy and notorious ‘class clash’ discourse with regard to the Indian army needs to be nipped in the bud. To ensure that it does not, even remotely, become contagious, all those who were in criminal defiance of the chain of command and those who abandoned command responsibilities in the crisis should be ruthlessly punished and then dismissed from service. The unit should be consigned to the dustbin of history. The army, after all, is the final guarantor of the territorial and psychological integrity of the country.
RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing, or R&AW. Author of two books: ‘Asian Strategic and Military Perspective’ and ‘Military Factor in Pakistan’, he is also a columnist for Canary Trap.