This article in the Tribune dated appended above by Gen. V.P. Malik, former Chief of the Army Staff, has been written with the best of intentions. But I do fear that it may well be misunderstood. In point of fact, in my view, it ought to act as a catalyst and draw our attention to many acts of omission and commission, both of politicians and the bureaucracy that have brought the situation to the present impasse. For reasons best understood by them, they have hurt the sentiments of the veterans of the armed forces and perpetuated injustice towards them. Before the publication of this article, there have been many articles, seminars and discussions about the 1965 war. They seem to have kept pace with the publicity attracted in the national media by the OROP agitation. But the aforementioned article does merit serious reflection and introspection by the concerned parties.
First, that the Indian political class took such a long time to discover the need for acknowledging the 1965 war. This was “not due to lack of strategic culture”, but it was more because of a miscalculation on their part. This class was under the impression that it would, with the help of more than enthusiastic bureaucracy, underplay the demands of the veterans at the Jantar Mantar. They wanted to celebrate the ‘victory’ 1965, but underplay the role of the veterans, many of whom had brought it about. It was only when it became aware that there would be an unsavoury public backlash against this attitude that they tried to change the course. They did work out a paradigm to cope with the problem, but in the mean time some precious time was lost.
Second, while I do not have, as of now, any proof that the babudom has played a major part in all this, I am aware of what is being openly stated in the social media. It is believed that the young babu in the PMO – who had also briefed the former service chiefs, – was one of the architects of the unstable OROP scheme, which came to be summarily rejected by the agitating veterans, the other being the financial advisor in the MoD.
Third, “Strategic Culture (SC)” as a term is too serious a matter to be associated with minor regional conflicts like those in which the Indian Army participated from 1947 to 1965. The use of force to achieve political objectives in the face of a threat to national integrity, as in Bangladesh war or during Kargil operations can be considered to be the first baby steps taken by India to lay the foundations of strategic culture. This needs to be pursued by the Indian nation state. The surgical strike operation carried out on India-Myanmar border is also the beginning of a SC at tactical as well as doctrinal level by India, though it has yet to stand the test of time and in a context acceptable to the international community. In essence, what I am indicating is that the term SC has to have a normative mooring backed by a defined national security objective within the ambit of national interests. Also, SC develops within the confines of a sovereign independent state. India has achieved that status only in 1947. That is why I have described them as”baby steps”. I have postulated this in the Manekshaw Paper No 53, which has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) not long back.
Fourth, all of us veterans are aware as to how the 1965 war unfolded and how it has now become a part of history. We must remind ourselves what Gen. Sinha stated at the seminar organised at the Manekshaw Centre, where some of the former service chiefs were also present including the raksha mantri and the three serving service chiefs on 1 September 2015. I agree with him that 1947 was an event, 1962 was a disaster, 1965 was an assertion and 1971 was a game changer. I am constrained to note here that the attendance at the function marked a major polarisation amongst the former service chiefs, many of whom did not attend the function at Manekshaw Centre and subsequently another function held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Hopefully, this will not persist over a period of time lest it should strike at the basis of strategic culture. I will also warn in no uncertain terms that the handling of the OROP has been sloppy politically, and alleged manipulation spearheaded by the bureaucracy has gone viral in the social media.
Fifth, the government having shown total insensitivity to the appeals made formally in writing by fourteen former service chiefs on the issue of OROP to the President and the Prime Minister, has by default eroded the credibility of the fraternity of ex services chiefs as a group and also as individuals. As far as I know, and I would like to be corrected on this account, no acknowledgement has been received nor any assurance given to the group of former service chiefs either by the President or the Prime Minister. This can be interpreted that even an appeal from the former service chiefs is incapable of influencing the mind fix of the nexus of civil servants and the political elites. In such a situation, how do the former chiefs express their concern for the welfare of the officers and men that they once commanded?
Sixth, the facts and the circumstances under which the apex grade made applicable to the civil servants and subsequently awarded to the selected armed forces officers are well known. However, some of the veterans in all ranks strongly feel otherwise. An impression has been gathered that a select group of senior officers including the service chiefs felt satisfied with the apex grade for themselves. And this left many others in the three services in the lurch. Hence, one can speculate about the unfortunate possibility of such a polarisation amongst ranks in the Services. This feeling must not be allowed to percolate into the serving fraternity.
The fallout of the twin polarisation may have the potential to politicise the men in the armed forces and the veterans. Nowhere in the post Second World War history of the “Man on the Horse Back”, term used by Finer, have so many been so humiliated after having given so much to the nation nor have so much of a sociological damage done to the psyche of the services fraternity. Sometimes, the harsh reality and truth must be faced and recorded. Let us not forget history of the Bonus Marchers when the US veterans of the First World War camped in Washington DC in 1932 and subsequently when President Roosevelt wanted to make a financial cut in respect of the Army and the utterance of General MacArthur, the then US Chief Of the Army Staff, recorded in his memoirs which I quote “…and in the next war when a young American soldier dying with an enemy bayonet in his guts spits out the last curse on the person who has been responsible for his death, I do not want that name to be MacArthur but Roosevelt”. MacArthur further writes, “…this was the second time in my life that I felt sick in my stomach as I nearly staggered out of the meeting”. The President called back and said “Douglas you and your Army can have the money”. The lesson is implicit and explicit too.
This note of mine does not diminish my love, respect and friendship that I maintain at a personal level towards the fraternity of the service chiefs both retired and serving. In building a nation state and raising it to the level of a major power, we must inculcate the culture of direct communication, which will allow the process of “agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable”. I have an uneasy feeling that the Prime Minister has been misled and the President too has been ill advised. This has led to their total lack of communication directly with the aggrieved veterans.
To end, it will be useful for the sake of politicians and the bureaucrats to visit Plato (Dialogue “only the dead have seen the end of all wars”) and Hobbs (Leviathan “man in the state of nature”). Should the politicians fail to remember Plato or the bureaucrats forget Hobbs that “man (in this case the bureaucrat) in the state of nature is eternally aggressive, destructive and hegemonic in nature unless made to be bound by the contractual obligations enshrined in the Constitution for good behaviour/ intention enforced by the politician, this nation state of ours may continue to remain underdeveloped despite enjoying economic prosperity.