Today, there are two narratives which dominate any discussion about the Army. The first narrative is about corruption in the Army, of how officers are not looking after the needs of our soldiers, and the mistreatment of the sahayak. We might shake our heads and say that this is a campaign by uninformed people, primarily for TRP ratings. However, it can’t be ignored because some respected people in society are also questioning the state of the Army. An eminent academician recently wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to clean the rot in the Army.
There is a second, strong pro-Army narrative. It is seductive because it vociferously slams anything which questions the Army and, therefore, could appeal to some of us. But this narrative is equally harmful because it sometimes comes with political overtones, a position which the Army has deliberately avoided for good reasons. It also drags us into unnecessary controversy of whether we are attempting to camouflage our mistakes. We are the Army of the nation and have never claimed to be above scrutiny.
As officers, past and present, it has now become important to convey the true picture of the Army. Why do I appeal only to the officers? Samuel Huntington, in his famous work The Soldier and the State, wrote, “The enlisted men subordinate to the officer corps are part of the organizational bureaucracy but not of the professional bureaucracy. The enlisted personnel have neither the intellectual skills nor the professional responsibility of the officer corps.” Written in 1957, this statement is today considered very controversial as it appears to downplay the role of soldiers, but there are shades of truth in it. I know I am opening myself to being accused of having a colonial mindset, but I think this needs to be clearly said.
The character and the ethos of the Indian Army is largely dependent on the officer corps. The soldiers have an important task but officers are the leaders, and the ethos they display will determine how the nation views the Army.
There is an insidious campaign about a fracture in officer-soldier relationship. There are whispers about how soldiers are being ignored in the OROP (One Rank, One Pension) and Seventh Pay Commission, and officers are only concerned about their own emoluments. The ‘sahayak’ issue is too well known to warrant any explanation. We all need to come together to fight this extremely dangerous trend. The strength of the Indian Army lies in the relationship between the officers and men. Any talk of a breakdown in this area will only help our enemies. I do not say this to paper over the difficulties but because I firmly believe that there is no real problem in the extremely strong bond that currently exists between officers and men. Videos of a few disgruntled soldiers does not weaken that bond. Let us all collectively convey that in every forum.
We also have to close ranks and present a united picture. Social media groups are abuzz with messages criticising senior leadership and the arms-services divide. This issue needs to be tackled on priority. We have to be able to resolve matters within the organisation without people resorting to appealing to courts and the Armed Forces Tribunal. An organisation like the Army which genuinely cares for its men, should not be seen as pitted against them in court. I believe that a transparent approach addressing concerns and aspirations of all sections of the Army is not difficult to find. I am aware that our Chief is seriously looking at these issues.
Let us all come together — serving and retired. There is little point in looking at the society and saying that the Army will only mirror these standards. We have our own ethos and values. Shashi Tharoor, in India, From Midnight to the Millennium, writes, “the best of India can only be preserved by insulating the army from the pressures of the worst of India”.
We belong to one of the finest institutions in India. Today, when it is under increasing scrutiny, let us all work to uphold its honour and dignity. We owe it to the organisation we serve.
(The author retired as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, which had launched the surgical strikes against terror camps in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Views are personal)