The Army: Introspection is warranted

By Ali Ahmed. Dated: 2/10/2018 6:01:15 PM

Basant Rath, a J&K cadre IPS officer, berating a senior in the IPS of the UP cadre for taking the oath to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, writes that the commitment for uniformed officials must be to the Constitution (The Wire, 5 February). The social media video of the right wing organization ceremony at which attendees took the oath on this - which the senior IPS officer participated in - went viral recently. This invited Rath's wrath.
His advice is valid for all uniformed services, including the army. This is a counter intuitive claim since the army is known for its apolitical and secular character. However, that the army needs reminding of this commonplace is unfortunate. The circulation of the controversial clip on social media in which an army officer, presumably serving in J&K, is shown as motivating his listeners with cultural nationalist trope, suggests that the known characteristics of the army appear to be under assault.
In the clip, the officer claims prior service in J&K and attests to have had a trigger-happy time. Downing rum, he is seen dashing the glass to smithereens against his head, after the fashion of para-commondos who reputedly do so in their messes on occasion. The officer in question sports the para wings on his chest. He is perhaps participating in the annual Republic Day ritual in which the Junior Commissioned Officers are invited to drinks at the Officers' Mess. They reciprocate by inviting the officers over to the JCOs' mess on Independence Day.
The officer is entitled to his views. However, since he is sharing these and speaks in the video in Hindi, he is apparently speaking to persons below officer rank. Since he is in uniform and in an official capacity, he has to exercise caution in airing his views. Assuming that drink has loosened his tongue, it is worth taking him at his spoken word and reviewing his spoken reputation as a Rambo of sorts. The army can do without misguided elements within its ranks in an age of the 'Strategic Corporal' (an age in which media amplified tactical decisions potentially have strategic effects). He certainly must be prevented from misusing the cover of AFSPA and the human terrain in Kashmir for his pathologies. The army needs to be vigilant on this score and officers' circumspect.
There is no guarantee the army would take appropriate action. The 'human shield' episode of last year - endorsed by no less than the army chief with a commendation - indicates a certain permissiveness in the internal social environment within the army. That perhaps emboldened the mentioned officer to go the distance in his motivational talk. It is time for the army to back track from the limb it went on to in the 'human shield' episode. Then it closed ranks behind unacceptable behavior. The price has been in a fraying of its internal fabric. Even if the officer's views are forged at the increasingly respectable fount of cultural nationalism, there is no official legitimacy conferred on such ideological views as yet - particularly since the poem he recites reportedly is of genocidal content. The army is liable to clamp down on social media footprint rather than address its warts.
If he not checked in time, the discourse can only expand and nauseate the conversation and exchanges within the army. Little propels the military (universally) to action more than a threat to its corporate values and culture. It is best advised of the extant threat to these and from within. Internally, an advisory could serve as a deterrent to help the army track back to safety. It would reinforce traditional norms and messaging, while warning off closet purveyors of cultural nationalism lurking in the officer corps.
Externally, a leak of the action taken in disciplining this particular officer is warranted. It would show those interested in the good health of the army that the contaminating possibilities from the spread of majoritarian nationalism in India are contained. The virulence is particularly rabid in the northern cow-dust belt: the catchment areas of majority of its officers and its soldiery. Besides it would reassure the Kashmiris - in whose area the officer boasts of multiple tenures - that the security is in the right hands.
Rambos are never absent from a ticking force. The challenge is to positively articulate their energy, innovation, spirit, strength and enterprise. Even so, not all who project a Rambo personality are strong internally. Some are hiding from or running away from inherent infirmities. They use the cover of outsized moustaches, swagger, braggadocio and bluster to impersonate fighting men. It is unclear which category the officer in question belongs. In either case, there is a requirement of supervision, lest the autonomy of subunit command is taken as license or the populace - the center of gravity in subconventional operations - is imposed on inordinately or subject to gratuitous violence.
This is the case with the terrorists too. Their recent violent grab from police custody of a terrorist at a hospital in Srinagar is a case to point. There are swashbuckling 'heroes' in these ranks, some with sterling fighting and leadership qualities. It is not so with many others evincing a similar persona; who are instead dregs, drop outs and 'losers' in Trumpian terms. Under cover of the unsettled circumstance they have the impunity to indulge their worst instincts. Their handlers have little interest in monitoring and restraining them. The community, in the false belief that the wider interest of liberation requires their forbearance, allows them untold liberties - including unspeakably with womenfolk.
Troubled times bring out not only the best in men - on both sides - but also the worst. Often the community's choice as to how long and to what extent to persist with the challenge to state authority is snatched away. Those profiting from the troubles take charge, relegating original aims and superseding traditional authority structures. This happened in the late nineties in Kashmir. The phenomenon appears to be making a reappearance. Kashmiris would require exerting to reacquire agency, lest they are ground down yet again.
While Pakistan can be expected to shed crocodile tears, and use the troubles to further its agenda, that India is increasingly in the same boat is a new dimension. The Hindutva lobby, poised to use the Kashmir issue - among other Muslim centric issues - to hoist themselves into another stint in power have no love lost for Kashmir or Kashmiris. They need misguided missiles in Kashmir and misguided missiles will sense the opportunity to work their way up the ranks, if on mangled Kashmiri bodies. There are also freebies such as lifelong train rides for heroes and one companion thrown in as incentive. In so far as these are body count based and not dependent on picking up a wound medal alongside, you can be sure creative writing is in evidence in citations.
Acknowledging this does not detract any from the daredevils, such as the citation of the gallant deceased that made our President tear up on Rajpath at Republic Day. In standing through the citation in front of the spouse and bowing in respect, the President conveyed national sentiment. The army knows this sentiment does not and cannot carry over to fakes.



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