Tej Bahadur Yadav dismissed: Why we should be very careful before running a media trial of BSF
The point isn't whether Tej Bahadur Yadav highlighted important issues. He may have had. The point is how he raised it.
Nearly all of us have seen the recent viral video of a CRPF jawan being heckled, abused and provoked by a mob of youth in Kashmir. The clip sparked massive outrage. Despite being under duress, the jawan kept his calm and showed admirable restraint.
A detailed News18 report gives us the CRPF personnel's back story. He had apparently travelled continuously for four months on election duty before facing the violence on 9 April. The night before his deployment at a booth for Srinagar bypoll, he had little sleep.
The report says that on polling day — that saw an abysmal percentage of voting — 8 jawans including him were surrounded by a crowd of 500-600 at a booth in Dharambug, Chadoora of Budgam district. Quoting CRPF, the News18 report says, "The mob attacked the polling booth and broke the EVM. Within minutes, the presiding officer fled the spot." The jawans were forced to march to the nearest booth. It is then that they were chased, abused and beaten up by the mob, a part of which was captured by the video clip. The jawan told News18 that the "section officer had given them specific instructions to not to retaliate, and certainly not open fire, as it could lead to heavy casualty."
Later, talking to Times Now, he said: "We were leaving after election duty… They (the mob) were torturing us. They shouted Pakistan zindabad and harassed us. We kept in mind our training — we have been taught to show restraint and we stayed calm. We tolerated their attack and we just left from the spot."
Travel wary, sleepless, under duress and faced with naked hostility, it would have been understandable if the CRPF jawan had lost his cool. The fact that he didn't, owes in no small measure to the code of conduct that security forces live by. The jawan was given a specific instruction, and he followed it. This is the very basis of military discipline that governs armed forces. If there is a breach in this fundamental code of conduct, it may result in the collapse of the entire institutional edifice.
For instance, if the jawan had taken it upon himself to deliver instant justice in breach of his order, the violence could not only have spiralled out of control, it would have damaged CRPF's internal command structure and set a dangerous precedent. These considerations must guide discussions on individual rights in armed forces as media debate rages on about BSF's move to dismiss constable Tej Bahadur Yadav from service on four grounds of indiscipline.
The BSF had conducted an internal inquiry after Yadav had a series of four videos in January this year, ostensibly highlighting the poor quality of food served in camp.
The point here isn't whether Yadav highlighted important issues. He may have had. The point is how he raised it. He bypassed BSF's internal grievance redressal mechanism and went public with his complaints on social media.
In an affidavit filed before the Delhi High Court in February, BSF deputy inspector general said: "Concerned jawan (Tej Bahadur Yadav) or any other jawan of the said battalion never approached the grievance redressal system regarding the poor quality of food".
This was held against him during the inquiry which found him guilty of making "false allegations" on social media regarding the quality of food. The "false allegations" was an act "prejudicial to good order and discipline" of the force, held a Summary Security Force Court (SSFC) where Yadav was tried. It also found him guilty of not adhering to formal grievance redressal mechanism, contravening BSF standard operating procedure in carrying two mobile phones while on operational duty, and posting photographs in uniform on social media in contravention of instructions.
There have been allegations that Yadav is a repeat offender. Saikat Dutta writes in Scroll that "within months of joining service in 1996, Yadav was absent without leave, an act that earned him 14 days of rigorous imprisonment. He was taken into custody again in 2003, 2007 and 2010. His longest stint in prison was 89 days starting in March 2010, for using 'insubordinate language' against a superior officer. He also had to forgo promotions as a result of the offence."
Anomalies in his service record are incidental. What is more relevant here is that the former BSF jawan broke the chain of command in a highly structured force and paved the way for a spate of viral videos to be posted in public domain. Not just BSF, the malaise affected the CRPF and Indian Army as well. The videos created such an outrage that it threatened to destroy, to borrow from Dutta, "the statutory relationship between the soldier and the state".
The media controversy fuelled massive discontent in armed forces and COAS Bipin Rawat had to issue a desperate appeal to the rank and file to submit complaints in a "grievance redressal box" instead of putting it in social media.
Yadav may escalate his appeal to a higher appellate authority within three months and if unsatisfied, may approach the civilian court. The former BSF jawan, who has likened himself to Bhagat Singh, has already indicated that he will do so. In fact, media reports say that he has already left for Delhi to file a case in Delhi HC and noted lawyers such as Prashant Bhushan and Congress's Manish Tewari have offered him their services.
This is worrying. Regardless of the issue highlighted by Yadav, he had clearly breached several service rules and has undermined the rigorous command and control hierarchy.
Lt Gen H S Panag, former GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command writes in his piece for Newslaundry: "On the issue of airing grievances or exposés on social media or through anonymous complaints, as per Armed Forces rules and regulations and the Army Act duly approved by the parliament, it is forbidden and is a punishable offence. It is mostly resorted to by disgruntled soldiers to get even with the organisation. All such cases must be investigated both for the complaint/grievance per se and to assess whether the existing redressal system was utilised or not.
Remedial and disciplinary action against those that failed the system to redress the grievance/complaint must be initiated if the complaint was genuine. However, if the soldier did not utilise the redressal system, he must be punished. This is no shooting of the messenger, but the very basis of military discipline."
In its zeal for introducing social justice in armed forces, the media has forgotten the context. Clamouring for egalitarianism over discipline in armed forces is a dangerous idea. It has potential to rip apart the entire structure in ways we cannot even imagine.
A 2012 report in Australian Navy, for instance, suggested that focus on rights in military impeded commanders in enforcing discipline. The report by retired Australian judge Roger Gyles found "a failure in the command structure on the navy supply ship might reflect a more general breakdown in respect for rank and command, accompanied by a reluctance among commanders to exercise their command."
Elsewhere, two members of the US Marine Corps were recently punished for posting derogatory comments on social media, Washington Post reported on 7 April. The marines — one a noncommissioned officer and the other a junior enlisted Marine — were found guilty of making "demeaning comments about one of their enlisted leaders". Their punishment included demotion and loss pay, making it the first such incident of censure in US marines for online misconduct. The newspaper quoted unit commander as saying "This kind of behaviour flies in the face of our service’s core values and this organisation refuses to condone it."
The Congress has taken an adversarial position on this issue. Spokesperson Manish Tewari told ANI,"It is extremely unfortunate that a government which claims to be committed to transparency actually behaves in such a high-handed manner with somebody who is trying to expose in order to transform the system."
Tewari is wrong on several counts. The punishment was meted out by a BSF court after the due procedure. It wasn't an action taken by the government. More importantly, it is dangerous to make armed forces pawns in political games of one-upmanship. Congress has enjoyed power long enough to know the consequences of not doing so.
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