By K.N. Pandta
Indian Army remained faithfully glued to ‘out of bound” regulatory imposed on it by the civilian government of the Republic of India. It meant an arbitrary attempt of isolating Indian armed forces from social and psychological proximity to a defiant nation that was down but not out. This doctrine originated in the administrative manual of the British Indian rulers in post-1857-Mutiny era. Successors to colonial rule ensured that the regulatory did not lose its teeth after the transfer of power. They would not trust top brass of Indian armed forces believing that abandonment of Sandhurst culture was loathsome to it. Contemporary historians will do well to recall the outrageous purge in the Indian Army in early 1950s.
Retention of some British commanders of the Indian Army as well as Lord Mountbatten as India’s first Governor General, and by implication Supreme Commander, after 15 August 1947 (something which Jinnah flatly refused to do) proved Stalin’s mocking remark about Nehru made to Dr. Radhakrishnan, free India’s first ambassador to Moscow.
Rulers of early decades of independent India professing cast iron adherence to the colonial ‘no go area’ concept saw to it that Indian army secured no social space in the formative period of India egalitarian society. This was the reason behind the ignoble purge. Compare it with the Long March ideology of Chairman Mao aimed at integrating Peoples Liberation Army into the synthesization process of the Chinese nation.
In our country the class of new rulers welcomed the new-found spirit of nationalism and patriotism among large sections of all ranks of Indian armed forces manifested in three wars with Pakistan. But notwithstanding that, the process of socialization of Indian Army as the bastion of defence and security was meticulously discouraged.
For Nehru, the debacle of Indian troops in Sino-Indian war was not as much shocking as the spectacle of the invading Chinese troops carrying with them the aura of a socialized defense colossus.
Why the Indian civil society chose to bind itself in close fraternity with the armed forces only when we were engaged in wars with Pakistan? And why did not that culture blossom and flower into national tradition so as to become something like ingrained moral code of civilian-military construct?
Projection of our army as the ‘holy cow’ may have served the purpose of the ruling class but from the point of view of Indian nation, we are now face to face with the consequences of this disastrous and craven policy.
That there is a divide between the nucleus of defence establishment and the reckless politico-bureaucratic combine of the country is visible and well-expressed. It has found articulation in the recent nuance of the Army Chief who has been in the news for last two months or more.
By approaching the judiciary for the redress of his personal grievance, the Army Chief has, for the first time in the history of post independence India, sent a message to the nation not to put social institutions out of bound for the men in olive green. “There is not the reason why/ there is but to do and die” is no more the gospel truth for our soldiers. This is the first hammer stroke on the iron mask, which our army has been forced to wear all these years. General Singh’s tiptoeing on the fringes of “out of bound” precincts is the first dent into that mask whose fragility remains exposed.
Capricious attitude of arms procurement process has demoralized this great and most disciplined institution among all institutions that we have in this country. Bofors episode happened at a time when the Army was still brazenly stifled by the ‘out of bound’ edict of the colonial era. It was the beginning of politicization and contamination of the only truly secular institution in the country.
The nation as a whole failed to gear up to the far-reaching significance of late V.P Singh’s rebellion against those out to commit a crime against the nation. Had not the Army been made socially imbecile, it would have welcomed the breakthrough liable to save it the mortification of shameful scams that have surfaced more recently in which some in olive green are implicated.
Who is responsible for contaminating the otherwise untainted Indian Army and letting the cancer of corruption spread out in a limb or two of its body? Whose machination has led to the polarization of this last bastion of hope and security for India? These are the questions which General V.K. Singh has posed to the Indian nation and for which he has become the pariah for the wily bureaucracy at the Defence Ministry and the villainous political class whose incompetence as occupants of driver’s seat in the defence establishment beggars no description.
Let the Indian nation have no more doubts that our political class is incapable of providing our army the right tools it needs to defend the country. Service Chiefs of all the three services who have preceded General V.K. Singh, one and all, have in their turn, alerted the civilian government of what our defence requirement is and where we are deficient? But General V.K. Singh did not want to hang his boots without harkening the nation of what his perception of our defence preparedness needs to be. Unlike other Chiefs who preceded him, he is not the man who would carry the torture of his conscience to his retiring room. He has sounded the siren and those to whose ears hear it have to wake up.
The hype of instituting an enquiry into the leakage of the Chief’s letter to the Prime Minister is a barefaced attempt of wrapping under cover the stinking filth lying on the doorsteps of politico-bureaucratic combine. Who among them does not recognize the invisible hand graphitizing their elegy on the wall?
The nation will owe its gratitude to General Singh for his pioneering attempt of breaking a six decade-old iron curtain thrown around the Indian Army to segregate it from the social milieu. The Army has been made a toy for the defence ministry, bureaucrats, politicians and middle men to play with. The day should not be far off when army’s socialization will not remain strictly confined to eyewash gestures like casual and perfunctory humanitarian assistance to people in remote mountains and cut off locales. The Army has not to be used as an instrument of publicity for those who are devoid of conviction; the army has to remain the face of Indian nation in letter and in spirit. It is partner in nation’s hopes and despairs. If at all it has to be the source of flow of a large chunk of national wealth, the end destination of that flow has to be the starving Indians and not the vultures whose eye can span climes and whose wings can take them to the lands of the Alps.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).