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Major General Rajendra Prakash, VSM

Indian Army (Retd


22 August, 2010

Editor,
‘Defence Watch’,
Dehradun ( UK).

RAISING BOGIES

Sir,

A prominent news-magazine in its latest issue carries an eight page ‘essay’,


headed “Talkative Generals” with the byline of a veteran lawyer-cum-journalist, known for
expressing strong individualistic opinions (“Frontline”, 13 August, 2010, pp 82- 89, article by AG
Noorani). Provocative headers like, “It speaks for the strength of our democratic system that it
survived those generals, who did much harm” and “But it should not condone the trespasses of
such men anymore”, leave an ordinary reader, quivering with fear and apprehension of an
imminent ‘coup d’ etat’ by the ‘talkative’ Indian Military. According to this well-known jurist/writer,
our Armed Forces ever have had the propensity to go extra-constitutional and there is a dire need
to come down heavily on this tendency, before things get out of hand. Considering that Indian
Armed Forces carry an established reputation of being most apolitical, disciplined and
constitution respecting , the startling conclusions presented by this ‘essay’ need to be debated.
Every Indian in our talkative democracy is entitled to air her/his opinion, but other Indians also
have the reciprocal right to confute, what they consider propaganda, with an “agenda”.

May I seek the hospitality of your columns to assert my right as a citizen/soldier to


speak out against this deliberate reflection upon the honour of the Indian Armed Forces. I do this
with the firm and widely shared conviction that the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force are the pillars
of our Republic and our Constitution, which they sustain with their undivided loyalty, fidelity,
staunchness, élan and a spirit of self-sacrifice.

The screed starts off with a gleeful reference to recent dismissal of General
McChrystal of the US Army, as proving the “sound tradition of democratic governance” which
“flows from the fundamental principle of civilian supremacy, over the military”. NOT so - what it
proves is that an individual holding a high responsibility (a General officer with 34 years service)
who lacks the
discretion, self-discipline and basic good manners to restrain himself (or his staff) from implicit
public abuse of his Commander-in-Chief, is not fit to continue with those responsibilities. Had
McChrystal acted similarly towards his next military superior, the end-result would have been
similar, on basis of military discipline, and not as a “fundamental principle of civilian supremacy”!
Mind you whatever the Americans did, they did it with grace, with their Defence Minister
( Secretary of Defence), eulogizing McChrystal’s services at a special ceremonial send off ,
without a word about latter’s recent contretemps; American democracy is perceptive enough to
cherish and sustain the ‘ultimate resort’ of their nation. We on the other hand lack any sensitivity
to the “Morale” factor for sustenance of the “fighting spirit” of our Armed Forces - hear the speech
from the Red Fort this 15 August, with not a word about those who safe-guard their Nation in the
far flung reaches of our vast country, cheerfully doing their duty, without a thought for personal
costs involved - physical, mental and emotional. Would this speech from the ramparts of ‘Lal
Qila’ have even been possible, were it not for the fact that Indian Army, Navy and Air Force
continue to exist, and remain effective.

Eight pages of “Talkative Generals” are an impassioned but inchoate and


dismaying litany of perceived ‘wrongs’ said to have been committed by an assorted collation of
Indian Army Chiefs and a few others (thankfully starting from 1966 only, thus sparing Field
Marshal Carriappa and General Thimmaya, for us). This straightaway raises frivolous questions
like, “why do our far-seeing and wise politicians appoint those as Chiefs, who seem to keep
disappointing assorted shrewd observers like the author of this article ?” Or, “why should we have
‘dicey’ Army Chiefs at all, when a committee would do as well (on the popular model of 39 x
‘Groups of Ministers’, now running the country), surrounded as we are today, by ‘benign’
neighbours, with their ‘minor, peace-loving’ armies/navies and air forces ?”.

The narration covers too many assertions to be commented upon point by point,
nor is a systematic ‘deconstruction’ of the narrative feasible here, to see what the author is really
getting at, apart from excoriating General “Muchhu” Chaudhuri and esteemed “Sam Bahadur”, for
holding conversations with British and American diplomats, 44 years ago; much water has flown
down the Ganges since then and the World, India and the Indian Army are not what they were, so
long ago ! It should suffice here to comment on a few broader issues touched upon, in the article.

Mid-article, the author generously concedes that the Chief of the Army Staff
(COAS) is “not bereft of rights. He has not only a right but a duty to speak up publicly, depending
on the circumstances, besides, of course, his right to voice his fears and objections to the
Government in private. He is perfectly entitled to take the people into his confidence, if he is
asked to achieve the impossible”. Then the article goes on to cite approvingly, assorted quotes
from what Generals Padamnabhan, VP Malik and one of the J&K Corps Commanders said about
the ever-present unease in the Kashmir Valley. He then ‘clears’ the present Chief of any ‘wrong
doing’ in his public pronouncements on 30 June and 11 July (that the Army has done its bit, and
now it is for the politicians to play their part and not again waste the conducive situation created
by Army’s efforts). So what is the problem ? The problem is that what General VK Singh said
now, may be alright, but what is not alright is that way back in 1966, Generals Chaudhry and
Maneckshaw talked to and revealed some ‘secrets’ to British and American diplomats, and so
Indian Army must be planning a coup even today, and so all Generals should ‘shut up’ now, and
keep shut !!! (May be, CsOAS should be provided ‘minders’, who can give a political ‘ok’, before
the Chiefs open their mouth any time !). Peeves and prejudices, not grounded in today’s realities,
seem to have created a paranoia - Army is going to take over - save our souls ! But friends,
Indian Armed Forces are far too sane and patriotic
(a politically incorrect word for some), for there to be any such thought around (or capability
even). Besides, we are bright enough to see the ‘shining’ example provided by our near
neighbour of what military rule really produces, and by God, what a mess they have made of their
beloved country !

First of all, for the author’s ‘bete noirs’, Generals Chaudhuri and Maneckshaw. The
sole source for the tirade against these former CsOAS seems to be based on a collation of de-
classified British and American diplomatic papers, by a distinguished, senior Pakistani civil
servant, Roedad Khan. His compilations give an authentic inside look into post -Partition events
on the sub-continent right up to 1969. You get most interesting insights into how others saw the
momentous happenings in India and Pakistan; insights which may well differ from our own
perceptions or from objective reality. If YB Chavan decides to discuss the possibilities of a military
coup with General JN Chaudhuri, should the COAS tell his political boss, the Defence Minister to
shut-up ? Obviously there must have been some political angle to it - politicians wanting to ‘use’
the Army for a constitutional coup, with backing of the Rashtrapati, Dr Radhakrishnan !(Indra
Gandhi tried to rope-in the Army for her Emergency, but was strongly spurned by a fellow
Kashmiri Pandit and a soldier of high moral fibre, General KM Raina). The views the COAS gave
to the Britisher were very proper, very correct and soldierly - categorically, possibility of a military
take-over neither existed nor was it good for the Army - period ! As to why the COAS talked to a
foreigner - well it is neither here nor there; Army Chief was a big person those days, British were
the rulers not long ago and KCIOs were brought-up to be very much at home with ‘gora’s !

As for ‘Sam Bahadur’, he was a self-assured and flamboyant personality with


much gravitas, who interacted even with haughty Indira Gandhi on his own terms, albeit correctly.
As Commandant, Staff College he had been made to undergo the indignity of a court of inquiry,
for his alleged bias towards the Britishers. No wonder that he felt besieged and vulnerable at that
stage, when his becoming the next COAS was still moot. The fact that he talked ‘shop’ with the
American counsel in Calcutta was because possibly he felt that he was too ‘big’ to be shackled by
rules for every-bodies - by their very nature, outstanding military commanders consider
themselves above such mundane things. In any case, ‘Sam Bahadur’ was too canny a soldier to
give away, what he did not want to; he told the American that he had 3 lac troops in Eastern
Command - so what ? Militarily, it signifies nothing, except that it impresses a civilian (I reckon, he
deliberately inflated the figure !).

Now for some other bogies raised in ‘Talkative Generals’.

Siachen. Did General JJ Singh, as the COAS ‘sabotage’ Indo-Pak talks on


Siachen imbroglio, by insisting on ‘no go’ unless Pakistani’s recognized and unbreachably
confirmed the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). Well, the incumbent COAS would be guilty of
betrayal of Indian Army and the men he commands, if he did any less - a strategically
advantageous terrain, won by sacrifice of many, many lives, much human toil and misery for
decades and expenditure of unlimited National wealth, would be occupied in a jiffy by Pakistanis,
once we left it unverified and unguarded. No way, Sir ! With all the pious political and
environmental platitudes uttered from time to time, the AGPL position will remain unchanged, till
our friends across, see reason. (In any case, if the Establishment is so unhappy with ‘JJ’ over
Siachen as alleged in the article, why did they bestow the sinecure of Arunachal on him ?). And
no more ‘give-aways’ please - 1949 cease-fire in J&K, Haji Pir in 1965, 95,000 x PsOW in 1972 !

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Except in war, or when guarding the
international border, Indian Army has no constitutional authority to use force or fire-arms against
anyone, whosoever. Like any other Indian citizen, the only legal right a soldier has, is the right of
‘private defence’ (of life or property), which must be proved post-facto, in a court of law, and this
takes many years of court hearings. The only other possibility of such use of force by the Armed
Forces is when called out in ‘aid to civil authority’, where a magistrate must be present at each
spot, and she/he must allow the use of force in writing on a particular form, and only after
completing these procedures can troops be ordered to use minimum force. Well, today’s
terrorist/insurgent/militant/ Naxalite does not allow you the luxury of a magistrate’s presence,
ready with a pen and form - you are shot dead or blown-up in a second, unless you are quicker
and forestall him. Any military commander, COAS downwards, ordering his troops to operate
(ambushes, cordons & searches or any counter-insurgency operation) against folks of this ilk,
would be giving an UNLAWFUL command,
--4--
not liable to be obeyed. If obeyed, and the operation is successful, it would land all commanders
down the chain and whole corps, divisions, brigades, battalions, companies, platoons and
infantry sections before the courts of law, on charges of murder, assault, injury and destruction of
property, obviously leaving no time or resources for any more military activities, for years. So, to
ensure that the Army is able to perform its basic function of external defence and internal security
of the Nation, some pragmatic persons in 1950’s invented AFSPA for Naga Hills, and now it is
applied on a ‘fire-fighting basis’ elsewhere also, NOT by the Indian Army but by the Government
of India, when things get out of latter’s hand ! So before letting your heart bleed to death,
understand one thing clearly - in a democracy, only the elected Government is mandated to
govern - if it fails and cannot find political solutions, and needs to exert State power to enforce its
writ, then Army may be called-in; but regretfully, NO AFSPA, NO ARMY. Ordering a soldier, who
is also a citizen, to commit murder and mayhem is NOT a lawful command - apply AFPSA and it
becomes a military operation, done in a military manner, with restraint and responsibility.
Aberrations will occur amongst humans, will be punished severely and promptly, but these
aberrations are not the policy. As simple as that ! So all those concerned with human rights need
to be clear on this - abolish AFSPA, humanize it or whatever, but before that resolve politically or
governance-wise, the problems which engender imposition of AFSPA (ie, convince the insurgents
to stop insurgency, militants to stop militancy, terrorists to stop terror and Naxalites to stop
mayhem). No one can order a soldier to obey an unlawful command, ie, to inflict violence without
legitimate legal sanction. Thus, debates based on crass ignorance of ground realities are harmful
for the community- it is like banning a book or a movie without having read/seen them. Soldiers
are quite clear on where they stand on AFPSA, but are you ?

This interesting ‘essay’ has many other gems. It is embellished with some photos
whose relevance to the context is hard to comprehend - Shri Manmohan Singh meeting BSF and
CRPF personnel, General PP Kumaramangalam with his predecessor, ‘Sam Bahadur’ (of course
looking very smart) and General NC Vij with his successor - but none of them appear to be
‘talking’ ! Then it goes on, “the penchant for idolizing the Army”, unfortunately “accentuated since
Kargil, has not helped in the discussion, nor helped that splendid institution that has served the
nation nobly, the Army” (was Kargil an aberration by that ‘noble’ institution, or by Parvez
Musharaf ? And how many grand-children had you, fighting in Kargil, Mr Author ?). Next, “BJP is
out to break all the rules in its mad craze for power” ( one thought, BJP is a legitimately elected
political party - but then some Indian voters are indeed crazy !). Further, “large sections of public
view the armed forces with awe that suspends judgment” (how silly is our public, but then the
Army was “noble” up to one page back!). Some extensive quotes follow from an obscure British
legal tome on “Constitutional and Administrative Law”, even though we adopted a written
constitution for ourselves, way back in 1950, while the Brits don’t have any ! Also, in 1947, Lord
Ismay saddled us with a temporary but weird ‘higher defence’ system (which we are too dumb to
discard even after 63 years), while the British had one of their own, and have further evolved
something altogether different from our system - so where is the relevance of such elaborate
citations ?

It would be a pity not to quote another ‘gem’ from the article - while “insurgent is a
human, insurgency is a movement, motivated by an idea” so, “it is one thing to use the gun
against a violent insurgent” it is “another to use against those who peacefully propagate an idea
in meetings and processions”. Bravo - no sooner said then we have the living proof in Srinagar,
Sopore, Pampore ‘et al’ in August, 2010, of what this hair-splitting and vicious ideology means -
how many stones thrown in these “peaceful” meetings and processions ? How many policemen
maimed and injured “peacefully” ? Who has evolved and is organizing these “peaceful”,
ideological gatherings, (pathrao).

The aim and objective of any intelligence organization worth its name, is to
spread alarm and despondency amongst the Armed Forces of the target country, so that their
morale, élan, self-esteem and effectiveness are subverted in peacetime, thereby reducing their
war-making potential. With our great penchant for self-goals, the task of much-maligned ISI
becomes that much easier, because we manage to do it ourselves ! For instance, the
Establishment, having failed to ensure ethical Defence procurements over the years, has black-
listed each and every artillery gun manufacturer in the world today. With no new guns coming in
these last 30 years, will we make-up for shortfalls in battle-winning artillery support for our troops,
by loading the guns with “audit objections” and ‘minutes of the meetings”, and firing them at the
enemy ? A gun-busting saboteur could not do it better ! Similarly, conjectural and speculative
literature of such nature, cannot contribute to the morale, self-esteem and efficiency of our Armed
Forces ! No doubt, our Armed Forces are no more (and no less) sacrosanct than any other State
institution, nor any less accountable to the citizens, but they certainly need to be upheld in our
own self-interest.

Quoting anyone out of proper context is unethical, especially in the field of


journalism. This essay is full of random quotes from various operational commanders (some of
whose faces, the author obviously did not like), juxtaposed willy nilly to buffer its arguments. But
what leaves the reader wondering, is the timing and necessity of this journalistic foray, and its
arcane logic that our democracy “should not condone the trespasses of such men anymore” !
Who do you want to arraign ?
General JN Chaudhuri and Field Marshal SHFJ Maneckshaw are dead and in heaven, God rest
their noble souls. The ‘essay’ gives clearance to what General VK Singh, the present Army Chief
has said. So who is to be hanged, drawn and quartered ? For what misdemeanor and on what
exact charge ? Having raised these issues, the author needs to provide clear-cut answers.

Yours faithfully,

Rajendra Prakash