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India: Disturbing Developments in The Military - Civil Relations | Apoorvanand, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Alok Rai and Kanti Bajpai

12 June 2017

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[Articles by Apoorvanand, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Alok Rai and Kanti Bajpai are posted below] - (updated on 17 June 2017)

The Indian Express

New Army For New India

Relationship between government, army and us is being rewritten, disturbingly so

Written by Apoorvanand | Updated: June 1, 2017 1:01 am

There is also no irony in Defence Minister Arun Jaitley seconding Singh in advocating a free hand to the army, said to be fighting a war in Kashmir. (File)

Amarinder Singh is part of the “mob” Pratap Bhanu Mehta wants the army to be wary of (‘The march to spectacle’, IE, May 29). That he has been heard by the army and the government is not surprising. Singh wanted a special medal for Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, the army chief has obliged him. There is also no irony in Defence Minister Arun Jaitley seconding Singh in advocating a free hand to the army, said to be fighting a war in Kashmir. It is also not shocking that a chief minister, who swears by the Constitution and belongs to a “secular” party, places the army above the people when he says, “the Indian army should have an upper hand to be able to negotiate peace on terms that are favourable to the country”.

He forgets that it is for the elected government, not the army, to negotiate peace. This is the message we must read: Making the army supreme, unanswerable to parliament and the judiciary. The government recently moved the Supreme Court asking it to quash its order to investigate excesses committed by the armed forces in Manipur. This is not just about Kashmir — it is about a new India where the army would deal with people independently. We should have seen it coming when the army chief addressed the nation directly through AIR and Doordarshan on Army Day this year. This, a journalist friend felt, should be marked as a turning point for India. A new narrative is emerging in which the army is not only an institution known for its professionalism, but feared by the people, as a guardian is by potentially delinquent children.

Major Gogoi, in this new narrative, is a creative genius. He provides India with a spectacle of the humiliation of Kashmiris. The image of Dar was symbolic: Both hands of Kashmir tied by a brutal power. No bullets fired, no blood shed, but we have not seen a more brutal picture of the humiliation of a human being in recent times. It was an act of double violence, on the man and his fellow villagers, turned into subjugated spectators.

That it did not shock us when Gogoi addressed the nation through the media after being decorated is a disturbing sign. Before him, and the current army chief, we do not remember any army officer addressing a press conference, not even after the Pakistan Army’s surrender in 1971, not after Operation Blue Star or the Kargil conflict. In all these, the army was the main actor. But it refrained from being seen as the director. It was always seen as following the civil authority. The present government is invoking nationalism to legitimise itself. It is trying to show it is the first government which backs the army. The latter is obliging by making the government’s nationalist agenda its own. Recently, the army vice chief and an air marshal participated in a government programme where offerings were made to the image of Bharat Mata, holding a saffron flag. They saluted and stood at attention when Vande Mataram was sung.

The army has been seen as a non-partisan force. In violent situations, people always sought it. But now, by allowing itself to align with a particular ideological version of nationalism, it is losing that neutrality. It suits the BJP to turn the army into a nationalist army. It is not for nothing that the image of dying soldiers is slammed onto students, artists or workers fighting for their rights.

Amarinder Singh is creating an atmosphere which legitimises a militarist, nationalist India, where the rights of the people are suspended perpetually as there would not be a time when the state is in absolute peace with all sections of its population. It is not only about Kashmir. Kashmir is only a cover.

The writer teaches at Delhi University

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The Indian Express

The march to spectacle - Army faces a tough mob in front of it. But it has more to fear from the mob behind it, egging it on

Written by Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Updated: May 29, 2017

The threat emanates from an unlikely source. Whether we like it or not, we live in an age of spectacle, where the dominant political idiom is a seemingly unmediated conversation with the public. (Representational)

The relationship between the Indian Army and Indian democracy might be entering new and unchartered waters. The ethical and constitutional issues in the incident involving Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi using a human shield have been discussed well by two columns (‘Why Major Gogoi is wrong’, by Omar Abdullah, IE, May 24, here and ‘A blemished medal’, by Praveen Swami, IE, May 25 here). But there is a larger institutional transformation underway that does not bode well, either for democracy or the army. A professional army needs three things: Broad social legitimacy where the worth and excellence of the institution is recognised; a clear set of political goals and a legal framework within which it can operate; and the right degree of professional autonomy, where it can exercise judgment based on the highest professional standards. The “human shield” crisis has revealed that all three are under more threat than we recognised.

The threat emanates from an unlikely source. Whether we like it or not, we live in an age of spectacle, where the dominant political idiom is a seemingly unmediated conversation with the public. It used to be that you were nobody if you did not have money or power; now, that is sometimes not necessary, and often, it is not sufficient. Politics has become a frenzied contest over unmediated representation, with an impatience for all institutions and processes. But that has also inflected other institutions. Parts of many institutions, including the judiciary and bureaucracy, have also convinced themselves that merely doing their professional jobs will not get them social legitimacy or visibility. Something else, some splash, was required. In boring terminology, this is called communication. But underlying it is a shift in the norms of social legitimacy. You are nobody if you have not trended. This is disfiguring many institutions.

The army is becoming a double victim of this. There is no doubt about the army’s social legitimacy. It has also had to do our dirty work for us. But there is a growing sense in the army that it was being socially marginalised. In quotidian terms, everything from the OROP, to shifting norms of social acclaim, convinced many in the army that it was being given short shrift. Second, there always have been, and should be, people who ask questions of the army. And a professional army will answer them professionally. If it is institutionally strong, it can remind people that it even court-martials officers for wrongful killing, as it did after the Machil incident.

But those who really question the army are always politically insignificant. Yet, the media has managed to create the impression that the biggest challenge the Indian Army faces is assorted human rights activists out of control. This is patent nonsense. But the society of spectacle has exaggerated the suspicion under which the army operates; it has created imaginary internal enemies for the Indian Army.

The widespread support for Major Gogoi, both inside and outside the army, has little to do with operational considerations or the wisdom of the action. Instead, the issue has become a symbol of standing up for the army. In this sense, the army is being drawn into a vortex where a quiet, dignified and assumed acknowledgment of its professionalism will no longer be enough. It will constantly have to be granted its place in a society of spectacle. Chasing media phantoms disfigured other institutions. There is a danger this rot can afflict the army as well. It may begin to measure its social legitimacy in a different way.

Two other things are drawing the army into this vortex. The first is the giving in to the need for cutting short processes. Just as a practical matter, the controversy was dying down; there was a process on to assess the incident. The tearing hurry in which the commendation to Major Gogoi was issued undermines the credibility of its processes. It created the impression that the army was not thinking professionally. It was thinking more about teaching its supposed media critics a lesson.

But most importantly, war is becoming a spectacle as well. From Uri to the recent cross-border firings to destroy Pakistani bunker posts, the circulation of videos prompts the question: Who are you trying to convince? How effective you are will be judged by whether you achieve your goals of a lasting, secure peace. But this TV war will be a disaster for the army for three reasons. It will make achieving objectives more difficult. It is not that operations or cross-border firing were not done before. But we had the good sense to understand that giving the adversary the option of a quiet way out is also part of sensible strategy. After a routine operation, the adversary may or may not escalate; after a publicised operation, he will have only one option: To escalate.

TV wars give a much distorted picture of war. The Americans landed in the quagmires they did in Iraq because generations of political elites, post-Vietnam, began to internalise the fantasy that war was like a video game. It created a set of false expectations of what the means at the disposal of the army could achieve. Does the army really want the public to be asking in a frenzied way, “Under X government, you fired at bunkers, why are you not firing now?” “If Major Gogoi’s tactic was really so well-judged, and within the law, why does not the army use it more?” It is shocking how much the latter question is being asked. The army’s professional autonomy cannot be maintained if there is an expectation that it will constantly produce war videos.

The spectacle of those operations will distort the political goals we set for the army. It may create operational pressures of the kind it will find it hard to withstand. Finally, the army will always run up against the problem of incompatible constituencies. The entire effort behind the Major Gogoi operation seems to have been premised upon the idea that it is India that needs to be shown that the army can stand up for its own. But surely, it is in the army’s interest to win over Kashmiris, a constituency this one act has alienated even more.

Civil-military relations are not just about the government and the army. They are fundamentally mediated through the public. The form of that mediation has a huge impact on the army. The current form of mediation is placing spectacle at front and centre. The army is facing a tough mob in front of it; but it has even more to fear in the long run from the mob behind it, egging it on.

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The Indian Express

Blame the hat

General Bipin Rawat has been far too eloquent on matters he ought to be quiet about. He did sound silly while elaborating on ways to deal with the Kashmir issue.

Written by Alok Rai

Well, General Rawat’s hat is always aslant. I suggest that no deeper explanation is required for the outrageous things that he has been saying in the matter of the bewildered weaver who found himself transformed into a human shield.

Sandeep Dikshit’s colourfully phrased remark about the army chief’s blustery machismo — “bring ’em on” — has got the political establishment all hot under the collar. But actually this pother is based on a simple misconstruction. It isn’t General Bipin Rawat that is at issue, it is his hat.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man wearing a silly hat — well, you know the rest. So strong is the association between silly hats and silly behaviour that when, in that reliable archive of our national consciousness, the Bombay cinema, the hero proposes to be particularly outrageous, he puts on a silly hat, or tips it forward or sideways — think Dev Anand, think Shammi Kapoor.

Well, General Rawat’s hat is always aslant. I suggest that no deeper explanation is required for the outrageous things that he has been saying in the matter of the bewildered weaver who found himself transformed into a human shield. It is perfectly possible that hatless, or with less rakish headgear, he might sound like the Chief of Army Staff of a country that actually lays claim to the protections of international law and convention — that is, smoothly hypocritical, lying with proper gravity, after the manner of American generals, even as their forces commit the most horrendous war crimes.

It is an index of the coarsening of our popular sensibilities that large numbers of people think that the issue is about the “guilt” of the weaver — was he a stone-pelter? Was he inciting stone-pelters? Was he merely present — and culpably passive — when stones were being pelted? Or about the ingeniousness of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi’s “solution” to the dangerous situation in which he found himself — in village after village after village. Maybe Major Gogoi also flaunts a fancy hat.

It is, by the way, a compliment to our tattered institutions that the army at least goes through the motions of setting up a committee to enquire into the incident — a minimal acknowledgment that something happened that perhaps should not have happened. But the credit that could have been derived from that committee of enquiry has been recklessly squandered by the swashbuckling general, not only by awarding a medal of commendation to Major Gogoi, but also by declaring that he didn’t see the need to wait for the outcome of the committee of enquiry because he knew what was going on there anyway. Please, sir, hypocrisy is a necessary virtue for all institutions.We must keep up the pretence!

Tempted by that villainous hat, General Rawat went so far as to dismiss all attempts to find some non-military solution to the Kashmir situation — issue, not problem. There have been those, particularly from among the ranks of soldiers, who have rightly observed that the army should not be involved in domestic and civilian contexts — as it has been, alas, for the past half-century and more in the Northeast, and too many other places. It does the army no good, and as for the people amongst whom — delicate prepositional choice there: Amongst, against, upon, athwart? — it is deployed, there’s not much point in saying anything. Much has already been said, and said with great eloquence.

The army is a killing machine, it is trained to mete out lethal violence — and one should not be surprised if that is what it does. Just don’t use it against your own people. Unless, perish the thought, they are, after all, not your own people? Was the army deployed to quell the Jat violence in Haryana? Did they use pellet guns in Rohtak?

But General Rawat was not arguing against using the army in Kashmir. On the contrary, he said, the chimera of talks merely got us Kargil. Forget talking, he said, give war a chance. He was fairly straining for a good fight. To be fair, there is a notion of honour — of chivalry, of honourable combat — at play there. Thus, he made the — to some, outrageous — suggestion that he wished that the stone-pelters were better armed. Then he, commanding a modern army, could really show them what he was capable of. Fat chance, as they say — but he did say it.

I was reminded of a scene from Gillo Pontecorvo’s film on the Algerian war, The Battle of Algiers (1963). The Algerian guerrillas are forced to use the guile and deception the weaker side in asymmetric warfare typically has to resort to — stones against tanks. In a climactic scene, the colonel of the counter-insurgency forces confronts the guerrilla leader, now in custody, tortured and broken, and asks him — aren’t you ashamed to use burqa-clad women and children in this fight, what kind of men are you? The guerrilla leader replies: Give us your tanks and your bombers… Now, I’m not quite sure what General Rawat has in mind when he wishes that the stone-pelters were better armed. Automatic weapons, perhaps?

I can see that he has a sort of duelling model in mind — a fair, honourable combat, in which the adversary gets to choose the weapons. Instead of this dirty war — in which men shoot pellets into the eyes of angry boys. But there’s one minor correction, general. In the typical use of the phrase “dirty war”, the “dirt” attaches not to the side that is weak, but the one that is strong. Thus, others — insufficiently nationalist — may say that we are the ones fighting a dirty war in Kashmir. But it’s not the sort of thing that one boasts about.

The writer taught in the department of English, Delhi University.

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The Times of India, June 17, 2017

Dangerous nonsense: Once we put the Indian military above criticism we become Pakistan

by Kanti Bajpai

Congress party statements that the military is above criticism are disappointing. Congress has now joined right-wing breast-beating over the sanctity of the military. It is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense to say that the military is above challenge.

Let’s be clear: no state institution and no political personality is above criticism in a democracy, not even the Constitution and President of the republic. Once we put the Indian military on a pedestal we become Pakistan – and look at where that unhappy country is.

Actually, the Pakistan parallel is somewhat unfair. There are courageous Pakistani writers who over the years have questioned their military. It would be difficult to find any Indian commentator who is as brave, even though the military here is subordinate to civil authority. Ayesha Siddiqa, the Pakistani analyst, for instance, has written a searing, detailed expose of the Pakistani military in her book, Military Inc. No one in India would have the courage to delve that closely into Indian military affairs.

Having said this, the Indian military is more open and tolerant of criticism than our politicians, media and civil society. I can attest to this personally. In 1998, after i had opposed India’s nuclear tests, the only institution in India, apart from some sections of the media and a handful of colleges and universities, that invited me to share my views was the Indian military.

The Indian military is by no means perfect. It has its strengths and weaknesses, its blind spots and obstinacies. For instance, the Indian army is yet to forthrightly accept its mistakes in the 1962 war with China. It has instead allowed Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon to take the blame. Its stand on the Siachen glacier makes no strategic sense. It has bullied the political leadership into accepting a futile forward position on the glacier when there is no convincing case.

Anyone familiar with the Indian military knows that for all its strengths, it is marked by professional incompetence, bitter rivalries at the top (as we have seen in one leadership succession after another), a feudal culture of officers and batmen (the army has one of the worst tail-to-teeth ratios of any military), and, yes, corruption. We pretend that it is a saintly organisation consisting of selfless heroes, but the military itself knows that this is not the case. It is a part of the wider political and social culture of India and not terribly exceptional.

The Indian military does not need hero worshipping and foolish mythmaking. It does a difficult job, which is to deploy force to protect us from internal disorder and external threat. At the limit, it must be prepared to take a bullet for the nation and to take another’s life – neither of which is easy. To do its job properly, it knows it must not only get its share of credit but also take its share of criticism.

Those who have questioned the Indian army and Major Nitin Gogoi over the jeep incident in Kashmir are perfectly entitled to do so. Indeed, we all are obliged to think deeply and responsibly about whether his actions are justified in terms of military codes, the claims of natural justice and political wisdom. It is a fair bet that Gogoi himself continues to mull over his decision.

The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, was right to launch an inquiry into the incident, and he was wrong to give Gogoi an award before the findings of the inquiry are known. Both decisions are properly open to debate, and no one should be stifled in the discussions over Gogoi and Rawat’s actions. To his credit, Rawat has reacted to the debate with greater dignity and good sense than our politicians.

No one, the current government has reminded us, is above the law, not even the media. So also, no institution is above criticism.


The above articles are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use