General Bipin Rawat's indictment of officers for playing golf in Jammu and Kashmir was unwarranted

There is another round of anguish in army circles. After the army chief General Bipin Rawat banned golf in Srinagar last week because it seemed inappropriate in a conflict zone for officers to be playing golf, there is a sense of dismay. It is believed the chief was on a visit to the area when he spotted officers on the course even as the bodies of slain military personnel were being brought to Srinagar. Unseemly? Of course, it is. So an incensed General ostensibly said, enough of this nonsense. Ban the bloody game.

It is also just the kind of story to sell to civilians. And the public. No one in uniform will ever accept that officers would continue playing golf if it was a time to salute the fallen. It just does not happen. The military mindset and the espirit de corps would not allow any officer to be so crass. If at all anything like this incident this occurred it was inadvertent, in no way deliberate.

But that said, stopping golf in an area where the military is operationally active makes sense from the point of view of security and just the fact that it doesn’t look right. The reason why the army officers are livid is because they see it as the next ugly milestone on the dissolution of the armed forces' identity. First, the cantonments were open to all. For no good reason, seeing as how keeping the armed forces in barracks so to speak is acceptable in all armies of the world. Military areas are restricted zones.

File image of Army chief Bipin Rawat. PTI

File image of Army chief Bipin Rawat. PTI

Then the link to this ‘improper conduct’ makes the Srinagar decision even more suspect because that grandstanding wasn’t necessary. Why not just pass the order banning golf without the indictment?

It gives the impression of callous, uncaring, thoughtless officers messing about with woods and putters while their men are dying. Come on, that is a load of nonsense. But a peg was needed to justify the move and this was easy to market peg.

And the message that these officers are sharing has sinister connotations. It says: ‘The Army, as per a report published in The Indian Express in 2015, operates around 100 luxury golf courses and sports clubs on approximately 8,000 acres of the government property. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament had in 2011 said that golf could not be taken into consideration as a 'military activity.'

No one asked why not?

Just the links in the US Club Mumbai would be worth Bill Gates' fortune in real estate terms. There are nearly a hundred others all over the country.

The BBC ran a story in 2011 where it said: The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General described the army's management of its huge land holdings as dismal. It found that at least 32 sq km (12 square miles) of rent-free land had been handed to a privately-run company, Army Zone Golf, which operates 97 luxury golf courses.

By the same token, as civvy street suddenly realises how much prime real estate and property lies in the control of the armed forces, it is like the authorities have found Alibaba’s cave and a mountain of treasure. When Service chiefs begin to view things from the point of view of the civilians it does get a little murky. By this measure, tennis, squash, bridge and rummy should also be stopped in Srinagar because soldiers do not play them. All the polo fields should be turned into farmland.

Uhhmm., what about rifle ranges, miles of open land just to fire bullets and shells at paper targets. Maybe they can fire practice on cyber targets and playstations? Where does it end?

The next step in this poorly disguised land grab exercise are the clubs in the cantonments where service officers are members. That and the regimental and battalion messes are active in some of the most expensive central urban enclaves. The clubs where officers only meet in the evenings and Sundays, usually with families to play Bingo, and ease up would be worth their weight in gold if reworked into guest houses for politicians and bureaucrats.

The latest message while genially insulting the General does make one valid point: General, there are a million other more productive/innovative ways of showing solidarity.

For a start, get them better equipment, get them better rations, build more accommodation for the jawans...the list is endless.

This fear of dismantling the military apparatus is now very real, and the sore point is that if four-star officers in the lead begin to accept this diktat and support it, that is pretty much letting the side down. Surely, there are larger problems in the nation than going after the uniform.

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Updated Date: Jul 13, 2018 18:04:05 IST

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