Karnataka polls: Narendra Modi took unwarranted liberty by using army to score points against Congress

If the BJP's most important attack on the Congress in Karnataka is to malign it for so-called disrespect shown to General Thimayya and Field Marshal Cariappa over sixty years ago, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Surely, political attacks can be over issues that are more relevant, rather than something which has no validity in the present context.

The fact is that disrespect for the armed forces was not the top thing on Jawaharlal Nehru’s mind in those early years. He was a pacifist and a romantic and his one argument with General Thimayya was to deny him permission to go into Kashmir and ‘finish the job’. Again, it was at the fag end of 1959 when General Thimayya showed his displeasure at Nehru and Krishna Menon for not waking up to the threat from China. The General offered to resign and it was Nehru who convinced him to stay on.

Nehru had a head-in-the-clouds approach to many political situations and it was this naïveté and unrealistic love for the dove of peace that caused India hassles for decades. However, his attitude to the armed forces was not one of blatant disrespect. Suffice it to say that the uniform was held by political entities and the public in high esteem, in a more tangible way than the present day. The forces were seen as a cut above.

Further, if the Nehru dynasty had been hostile to its generals, Rajiv Gandhi would not have promoted General Cariappa to Field Marshal in 1986.

 Karnataka polls: Narendra Modi took unwarranted liberty by using army to score points against Congress

File images of Narendra Modi and Jawaharlal Nehru. AP/AFP

No third Field Marshal has been so made by the BJP, though, in fairness, the Vajpayee government did make Arjan Singh a five-star marshal of the Air Force. Indira Gandhi gave the first five stars to Sam Maneckshaw.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi took an unwarranted liberty by using the army to score political points, even as he got his dates all wrong. It was fine for him to get into a slanging match with Rahul Gandhi, but he should have left the armed forces out of it. The history of the armed forces is one wherein blood has been shed in the defence of the country, and it is tawdry to bring the uniform into this political slugfest. It is not integral to the election manifesto.

If Nirmala Sitharaman disagrees on policy with General Bipin Rawat over any issue, does it mean that the BJP government is opposed to the forces? The ongoing controversy over OROP  is a case in point. If the Congress now uses that to hit back, when will these barbs stop? The armed forces of the present day should ask political leaders to restrain themselves while hectoring during poll campaigns.

Even the acerbic Krishna Menon was afraid of the armed forces' psyche. Luminaries of Indian politics did not know what made it tick. If there was an occasional conflict, it was largely to impose the civilian will on the military and keep it in check. The bureaucracy was used as an effective shield to forestall any such eventuality. Across the border, Pakistan had already settled for martial law and its generals had taken over the corridors of power. In this context, the Congress was wary of the possibility of someone on the Indian side acting in the same way, in what would have been a one-day operation at the most.

But perhaps the British training was so deeply ingrained in these King’s Commissioned officers that thinking of a military coup was not even on the cards.

Perhaps the closest that the Nehru era came to surrendering space was when Lt General Bijji Kaul toyed with the idea of taking over after Nehru. That is ironical since it would have made Nehru a semi-willing colluder. So much for being hostile to the armed forces.

In any case, even if there was hostility between the then political class and the armed forces, how is that connected to an election in Karnataka? What is the rationale behind working up public sentiment over issues which are not in the slightest bit relevant?

Updated Date: May 06, 2018 08:34:05 IST