The morning of April 4, 2012 will long be remembered for the unseemly depth to which a well-known national newspaper could sink to.
Routine training moves of two army units in January were played up to raise the spectre of military muscle-flexing. The full-page coverage reported that a unit of mechanised infantry from Hisar and a battalion of paratroopers from Agra had advanced towards the capital without official intimation, thereby causing a scare in the government circles.
The report was not only malicious in intent; it attempted to drive a wedge between the government and the army.
Most army units and formations are located far away from the international border. When hostilities become imminent, they have to move to their designated concentration areas with full war equipment in a very tight time frame.
Training for such movements is called mobilisation drill. Every unit has Standing Operating Procedures that specify every vehicle’s load table for simultaneous action by all troops.
Adeptness in orderly mobilisation is considered to indicate the state of operational readiness of a unit. Therefore, all units regularly practice and hone their mobilisation drills by moving out of their location, driving 50-100 km and camping out for the night.
It is one of the most basic training activities, generally carried out once in three months. During their annual inspections, all units are tested for their proficiency in mobilisation by senior commanders.
Detailed instructions exist as regards keeping the higher headquarters informed of mobilisation drills. However, for a battalion level force of 400-500 men, permission from the concerned formation headquarters is good enough.
Thus, it was a matter of pure coincidence that two units from two unrelated formations decided to practice their mobilisation drills on the night of January 16.
Ludicrousness of the said report can be gauged from the following illogicalities.
Malicious media hurts
Indian soldiers are highly sentimental by nature. Their dedication to duty, loyalty to the nation and willingness for the supreme sacrifice are driven less by material considerations and more by an overwhelming urge to earn love and respect of their countrymen. A grateful nation’s recognition of their contribution to national security acts as the strongest motivator.
Soldiers felt terribly let down when a leading media house invited a vicious and remorseless enemy like General Pervez Musharraf and groveled before him. It marked the lowest depths to which journalists could stoop. Instead of castigating him for Kargil war, non-release of numerous Indian prisoners of war rotting in Pakistani jails and barbaric treatment meted out to Lt Saurabh Kalia and his patrol, he was treated as a peace loving guest. Can there be a worse act of insensitivity to the families of those who sacrificed their lives for the country!
At no stage is it being advocated that the Indian military should not be subjected to scrutiny. However, criticism should be balanced and objective. It should not be malafide in intent with the sole purpose of denigrating the services.
The apolitical Army
The Indian military has an unblemished record of non-interference in political affairs of the country. Throughout India’s history of thousands of years, there has been only one occasion when the military staged a coup, when the Commander-in-Chief, Pushyamitra, assassinated Bidharta, the last Mauryan Emperor in 185 BC.
During the period of the British rule, ethos of an apolitical military was further ingrained in the psyche of the military officers. Edward Shils, in his authoritative treatise 'The Military in the Political Development of the New States' singled out India for 'stable subordination of the military to the civil power'.
It may come as a surprise to many that discussions on political matters are taboo in the officers’ messes. Officers are politically aware but are not politically inclined. All army officers are convinced that military rule is the worst thing that can happen to a country as no nation in the world has ever prospered under military rule.
Despite its continued marginalisation in the decision making process and regular down-gradation of the status of military leadership, there has not been a single instance of Indian military overstepping the limits of its assigned role. With its impeccable past track record of 65 years, nothing more can be done to convince an alarmist media of its total commitment to civil rule.
VK Singh deserves respect
Military sustains itself on the credibility that its leadership enjoys amongst the rank and file. Deliberate vilification of the image of the military leadership can upset the vital trust-loyalty equation. Therefore, any deliberate damage caused to the standing of the commanders can dent their ability to command commitment. It can prove extremely dear to the country in the long run.
Media has faulted the Chief for insignificant and trivial matters. No one has acknowledged the strength of his character to decline an offer of 14 crore rupees. In a country where people’s representatives sell their votes for 2 crore rupees and where media carries planted stories for a few lacs, or a free ride in the Prime Minister’s aircraft, or the promise of a Padma award, or a nomination to Rajya Sabha, General VK Singh stands out as a rare exception– he deserves a grateful nation’s salute.
Also by Major General Mrinal Suman:
Army Chief has every right to go to court
Scams & the Army: Silence is not golden
Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.
'Coup' rumours: Media's irresponsible reporting dents Army's image