Internet and social media have become the most popular means of communication amongst the veteran and service community. Unfortunately, a new trend has now started amongst the veterans whereby each and every action of the Service Chief’s is questioned and the blame for every grievance with the environment is squarely laid at their door. They have become the eternal fall guys, mostly for unwarranted reasons.
Let me quote two recent examples. One, a photograph of the Naval Chief was circulated with an obnoxious caption, “This is demeaning. The CNS escorts Bharkha D while his ADC following carries her hand bag…occasion not known…” It went viral, forcing the Naval Attaché to CNS to clarify that he was carrying a pad and the Flag Lt (ADC) was carrying a notepad with an envelope. What a shame!
Then the construction of a Kruppman bridge over the Yamuna River for a cultural event invited many critical comments: ‘the army is being misused,’ ‘scarce military equipment is being used for a non-official function,’ and so on. It is forgotten that the military does not exist in a vacuum. It is an instrument of the state and owes its creation to it. It is for the state to employ its resources, as deemed fit. Is military equipment not an asset of the country? It is for the government to decide whether such support should be provided to a cultural event or not. It is not the military’s prerogative to determine its justification.
Incidentally, Kruppman equipment is not scarce. It is being manufactured in India–floats at Ordnance Parachute Factory Kanpur and superstructure at Ordnance Factory Ambernath. Moreover, launching and de-launching of equipment bridges is regularly practised by the Engineers. As a matter of fact, they have to struggle to get water obstacles for bridging training and go as far as the Rajasthan canal for the facilities. The government can certainly be criticised in case it forces the soldiers to do degrading duties. But launching of a bridge is certainly not demeaning. Every Kumbh Mela sees such bridges being launched. Aid to the civil authority to prevent stampede is as vital, perhaps more, as the after-tragedy rescue assistance. Earlier, the criticism of the Chiefs was muted, discreet and implied. Now, it has become harsher, caustic and unseemly and has crossed all limits of propriety. Hence, it is time to ponder and reflect and five points are put forward for consideration.
One, the Chiefs are not inept. They possess some exceptional traits of character and demonstrated professional competence to rise to such high positions. A shallow person (or a fraud as we call in the services) can hoodwink the system for one or two promotions at the most. To be the head of a service means detailed scrutiny at numerous levels and it is not possible to fool the system for so long. Equally importantly, it must be accepted that they are human beings and hence not infallible.
Two, the Chiefs head their respective Service and shoulder the onerous responsibility of ensuring security of the nation. That is their primary duty. It is an enormous challenge for them to get necessary resources and equipment for the services. As the national budget is finite, they have to wage a continuous battle with the environment for a bigger allocation for the defence. Other issues (like pay scales and pensions) are important but not as critical as ensuring operational preparedness of the armed forces. Hence, their performance ought to be viewed in totality. It is unfair to judge them on the basis of a few issues of pay and allowances that are of concern to us.
Three, the Chiefs are bound by the norms of service. They cannot share with the environment the enormity of their struggle to get the soldiers their due and the success achieved by them. One does not know how much we owe to the Chiefs for the grant of OROP, notwithstanding our dissatisfaction with its provisions.
Four, resignation by any Chief will not provide any solution to the problems of the forces. Five, India is a democracy where the real power rests with the political leadership and, rightly or wrongly, it is exercised through the bureaucracy. The Chiefs are not as absolute in their powers as many of us presume. For every important decision, the ministry has to be approached. Rapport has to be established with the political leadership and the bureaucracy; personal equations with give-and-take approach always prove more beneficial in such an environment. An adversarial and threatening deportment achieves nothing.
Finally, a bit of heart-searching is always desirable before condemning others. It was sad to see a senior veteran warning the Chiefs that the troops would obey their orders only if ‘the orders are legitimate and legal and not to please your bosses or others’. Ominous words indeed: it implies that it will be for the troops to decide whether the orders given by the Chiefs are legitimate and legal before obeying them.
As veterans, we must never forget that the Service Chiefs are an institution by themselves and this institution must be protected at all costs. By resorting to abuse of our Chief’s, we the veterans, most unwittingly, are lowering their status — not only in the eyes of the serving soldiers but also the general public. How can the country hold the services in high esteem if we keep deriding our own Chiefs?
Major General Mrinal Suman retired from the Indian Army in 2003. He is India’s foremost expert in defense procurement procedures and offsets and currently heads the Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Service of Confederation of Indian Industry.