Blurring the lines of hierarchy?
After the videos of BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav on the poor quality of food served to personnel at Line of Control went viral on social media, reports have emerged of a CRPF constable, who posted a clip on social media seeking “parity” for paramilitary personnel in pay and other benefits with Army men. With the proliferation of smartphones and social media, and at a time in our republic when those in uniform have come to occupy a rarified space in our public consciousness, the statutory relationship between the state and soldier has come under greater scrutiny. Personnel from the armed forces and the paramilitary are regulated under strict service rules that bar the rank and file from going outside the chain of command to air their views in public, especially those critical of their superiors. Long time observers of the armed forces are worried that the BSF jawan’s decision to post his videos online from a sensitive could set a precedent for personnel employed with other wings of the armed forces. Yadav’s videos on social media did resonate with a lot of viewers. Each clip was viewed over a million times and shared on thousands of social media accounts, going all the way up to chain to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who took note of this outrage and sought a report from the Home Secretary. Issues of discipline and image have come into sharp focus. During the recent One-Rank-One-Pension agitation, soldiers were often found on Whatsapp, which provides for peer-to-peer encrypted channels, to share information. This presents a difficult scenario for the government, especially in the context of Whatsapp, where it becomes tough to intercept their messages. Ironically, at a time when the government has sought greater public involvement in the digital ecosystem, the armed forces are grappling with issues of discipline and command. Some within the military fraternity believe that Yadav must be punished for bypassing the established channels of communication to voice his grievance as per service rules so that discipline and morale of other troops do not become a casualty in the long run. Is that the answer? Will the ground rules change for a soldier in the age of smartphones and social media? One does not know the answer to these questions.