Why Indian Army needs its veterans more than its brats
It's easy to criticise when there is no reaction.
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Post the Major Gogoi incident, there has been no respite to Army bashing, either by politicians, human right activists or political commentators. Everyone who is someone, has his views.
Those who have commented adversely claim to be nationalists, defending democratic rights and the power to criticise all organs of the government. The thought is right, as no organ, including the Army, is above criticism, but to criticise, one needs to have detailed knowledge of the organisation, not just possess a paper and a pen.
Sadly, in the case of the Army, those who do so have never witnessed the firing of a rifle in a range, let alone faced a bullet rushing past. The majority have never felt a stone whizzing close to them or injuring their close friends, nor insults from masses, while they go about quietly doing their role of nation-building and nation securing. This is what the Army faces daily in Kashmir. Some criticism against it is responded to, most ignored, as it is considered unworthy of response.
Two recent articles over the weekend merit special mention. The first was in The Times of India by Kanti Bajpai and the second in the Hindustan Times by Karan Thapar, both respected journalists, whose views have always been well accepted nationally.
The emphasis of both articles was the same, though the writing style of the two authors vary. They have discussed that in a democracy, the Army being an organ of the government, cannot be above criticism. One has examined the issue critically, the other feels he can insult and degrade a community, with impunity.
A fact remains that the Army has always been open to criticism, whether it be losses in operations, faulty decisions, corruption charges or poor planning. Criticising must have reasons and logic. There are times when undue criticism is exploited by enemies or anti-national elements on social media to further flame passions in the Valley.
Hence, those who do so need to understand what could be the impact on the nation, not solely the Army. Thus, there must be maturity in criticism, not seeking a few minutes of media glare or filling a few columns in a newspaper.
The present Army Chief has never hit back at his critics or even those who insulted him, following the mature methodology of answering questions openly, frankly and with immense clarity. He has smiled and let insults pass. He has never hidden the truth from the nation and justified his decisions, though many are subsequently twisted by critics to project their own views.
However, every criticism from arm chair experts needs to be answered in the open domain, for the national public to visualise both sides and make their own decisions. This can only be done by those who are aware of how the Army functions and the risks it takes daily.
It cannot be done by those in uniform, as they are barred from interacting with the press, hence requires those who understand it well. None better than its veterans, who largely project the military view, opening criticism to debate.
Major Leetul Gogoi was praised and pilloried in equal measure for his act of tying a Kashmiri man to a jeep as a human shield against stone-pelting.
When the offices of a TV channel were recently raided for financial irregularities, every Indian who followed the chain of movement of funds was aware that the charges could be justified, however, the only ones defending them were their brethren wielding pens.
Most TV channels even refused to discuss the incident. Journalists conducted seminars and wrote numerous columns criticising the government and defending the channel. Who is right or wrong is not the answer, the fact is that “birds of a feather” support one another. The reason authors gave for their criticism of the government and supporting the channel was simply, “the public must know the truth”.
In a similar logic, the Army has no department or channel which rebuts all nonsense and illogical comments or statements made against it, by those whose only knowledge on matters military, is obtained by reading or watching TV channels, even if they have been Army brats. Insults to the organisation or its chief are always an affront and hence would need to be clarified and questioned.
Within the serving community, the Army Chief is the only one who regularly interacts with the press and supports the stand of his subordinates. The rest of the force generally maintains a quiet profile, solely commenting on local operational issues, if essential. This is to keep the Army away from media glare and the so-called cries of politicisation and enable it to function, without fear or criticism.
To support his endeavours is the strong veteran community, which has worn the uniform, understands the plight of those battling anti-national forces and feels that the nation needs to know the realities. In this case too, opinions may vary. Some may support critics, while others would oppose it.
After all, those who criticise do so solely because they possess the power of the pen, but have no knowledge of ground realities. The responding is again, as in the case of the TV channel incident, to project the other or true side of the story, so that, the reading public “knows the truth” and can make its own assumptions.
The reality is that on social media support for the military is immense across the nation, which hurts those few journalists, thus compelling them to seek additional readership by adding insults including unparliamentary words like “shut up”.
This is because their views are ignored by the nation, in favour of the soldier. My request to the author, a so-called Army brat, is that the Army needs its veterans, more than it needs its pseudo Army brats.
There are Army brats within the glamour world, who proudly project this tag. They openly support the organisation which provided them opportunities and engrained confidence to enable them to reach the pinnacles of success.
There are others who feel that this tag would give them the right to insult those who counter their views. Such a right is only taken for granted when a newspaper provides a weekly column and whatever is written is printed, after all the author carries a reputation.
In the ultimate analysis, the Army is and would always be open to criticism. However, every issue raised by critics would need to be supported or countered, thus enabling the public to draw their own conclusions. Hence veterans should never “shut up” and the Army needs its veterans, possibly not its Army brats.