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Kashmir human shield row: Bipin Rawat should maintain military discretion and focus on building morale

One of the traditions of the Indian armed forces has been not only maintaining its distance from the civilian population but living a parallel existence. That is why there were (and are) cantonments. There was a certain mystique to that lifestyle, a separate line reflected even in the physical topography of the military area.

By opening its doors to the public or, if you like, coming down to the level of the rest, that mystique has been lost and familiarity has and continues to breed contempt.

Except for 1962 when Lieutenant General Biji Kaul planned to take over the nation from Jawharlal Nehru and hoped his arrangement with Chinese premier Chou En Lai would support that move Indian Generals have maintained a low profile. They were not political…or, at least apolitical. Kaul took a petulant stab at gamesmanship when he tried to railroad General Manekshaw with a self-indulgent court of inquiry for conduct unbecoming at the staff college in Wellington, Nilgiris but not much else was aired in public.

 Kashmir human shield row: Bipin Rawat should maintain military discretion and focus on building morale

File image of Army chief General Bipin Rawat. PTI

Perhaps the only other time that the incumbent chiefs displayed inter-service rivalry was in 1971 when credit for the victory over Pakistan was being sliced up but even then it was mostly in-house and discreet.

The chiefs never gave interviews to the media. Three and two star Generals were not even allowed to make statements without clearance. Today, the lure of that microphone and the irresistible urge to appear in million homes has lifted that self-imposed ban, a ban that generated respect, awe and the courtesy of distance. Subsequent chiefs and three star generals in the past forty years have had different agendas with a posse of aspirants jockeying for post-retirement plum assignments in the public and private sector and spending much of their time sliding up to captains of industry and politicians rather than concentrating on being the top field commanders.

As media encroached into the military psyche and soldiers and officers began to seek the armour of public confessions and indictments against their own the pedestal the uniform had been placed on began to shake and turn rickety.

General Bipin Rawat is just the recipient of that legacy. His far too frequent dire statements of intent have about them a lack of grandeur and sound tinny. Take the latest little grandstand. “People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honour. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there."

Four star Generals do not speak like this. This is the language you might use to ginger up your men when you are about to go into battle, not a TV sound bite. Someone must inform the General that such intemperate remarks are not populist and do not show you as a statesmanlike military strategist. You are almost going against the civilian administration and displaying frustration against the current situation. It is the same tenor used by Tej Bahadur to complain about the quality of the food, Naik Bhagat about the corruption and the ease with which soldiers and officers quickly give interviews on television about each other has now become dangerous. Not so long ago, even Major Gogoi would have been brought up on charges for going on a television show after the Kashmir incident and inquiry against him. Who gave him permission?

Ironically, General Rawat himself went on record as saying: Soldiers should refrain from coming out on social media to complain about their grievances. Rawat warned would-be whistleblowers “A few colleagues are using social media to draw the media’s attention to their problems. It affects the morale of the jawans and thereby the army… You can be held guilty of a crime.”

Isn’t the General leading the way and doing pretty much the same by expressing his thoughts in public? Is he saying he wants to declare war and hit back or else his men will be confronted by an absence of morale. At that lofty level there has to be a point to what you say. What he is saying is: I hate this tying of my hands and I want be cut loose and declare war in Kashmir…or else I cannot guarantee my boys will be prepared to carry on.

Grumbling about the role he has been ordered to play. Seems it is time for more circumspection and a return, literally and figuratively to the barracks.

Thing is, through history, Generals don’t talk about morale being lost, they just make sure it isn’t. That’s why you get the flag and the star plate.

Maintain that military discretion, it is the vital weave in the fabric.

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Updated Date: May 30, 2017 10:49:08 IST

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