Did the incumbent Air Chief deserve the ordeal of a public dishonour?
Caveat. I am neither from armed forces nor a politician. Yet, being a professional in education and the government in the past, and now in the bar, my work took me all across; for more than four and half decades. Hence, as a concerned and conscientious Indian citizen, I write this piece out of agony and anguish, rather than anger.
Is India a banana republic? The answer is an emphatic 'no'. Yet, why does a political stalwart, who and whose political party had the pleasure and privilege of ruling India for 55 years, publicly target and viciously denigrate the incumbent Indian Air Force Chief? Why this humiliation? Especially, on a day, when Chinese foreign minister Wang and a military delegation from Beijing are in town? How happy will the Chinese be? Will, they not celebrate? Elated to see helplessness of the dishonoured serving Air Chief of India, who just cannot reply to the politician owing to service conduct rules and who, under no stretch of the imagination, could be considered as either personal or professional friend of the Chinese PLA and its wings?
Just peruse the words of the honourable Indian politician: - "Today, to say it is fine [the Supreme Court judgement]….I think that IAF chief is not fine….he is not fine, he is lying. He is suppressing the truth." The question here is what provoked the politician to react the way he reacted? What are the (reported) words of Air Chief? Well, this is what the Chief said- "I am not going to comment on judgement but the Supreme Court has given a very fine judgement. It has also said that this plane is badly needed." What and where do the "lies" and "suppressing the truth" reside or hide in the words of Air Chief?
How fanciful and verbose our politician can be? The entire dialogue took place in public. Chief was replying to media wherein visiting Russian Air Force General too was present. Then what should have been the 'truthful' and 'ideal', and not 'lies' of the Air Chief? "Castigate" Supreme Court in public? Criticise? Wail? Whine? Complain? Crib? Cry, before the foreigner? As some of our countrymen are so used to do, since 1947? The historical propensity of some Indians has been to truthfully help foreigners in invading India to harm their own brethren since time immemorial.
Chief was categorical: "I am not going to comment on the judgement." He emphatically re-iterated that "this plane is badly needed". What else could he say? That this plane is not needed at all? That we are fine? That India is already a superpower which is capable of taking on anyone, any day, anytime, anywhere, any place?
Look at the irony. If Air Chief says "no comment", he will be branded as dumb (a dumbo). If he says "Supreme Court has given a fine judgement", he becomes a damn liar. If he says judgement is "not good", the world would condemn: "sue him for contempt of court". And finally, if he says something else, there would be an advisory: "please don't get into terrain which isn't yours" and some others would say "he has crossed all limits", "Talks too much".
Thus, there still exists a structural fault line in the psyche of some members of the ruling class of India. Defence, barring few exceptions, has never been the forte of most who held fort thereof. Thus, from 1947 to 1962 India allowed her defence to drift. As if things could go on as long as it remained "status quo ante bellum" mode. A policy of benign indifference, coupled with the creation of a band and brand of "courtier soldiers" in the precincts of Lutyen's Durbar of new nawabs of India. Why? Because India is a land of Buddha and Gandhi, the ultimate apostle of ahimsa (non-violence). Understandably, it did not take long for the hallucination of non-violence to be shattered, when Communist China of Mao battered India in 1962. Result? The vanquished 'courtier soldiers' could not hide either their face or their performance despite last-ditch attempted protective custody of/by high and mighty.
It was a scenario equally humiliating for Indian ruling class too. But who dare touch them? Despite the applicability of the famous lines of Alfred Vagts pertaining to Indian rulers — "Again and again, military men have seen themselves hurled into war by the ambitions, passions and blunders of civilian governments, almost wholly uninformed as to the limits of their military potential and almost recklessly indifferent to the military requirements of the war they let loose".
What poignant, pointed, precise paragraph? Does it resemble the failure and arrogance of successive ruling class of India? Indeed. Contemporary history from 1947 to present times shows that Indians can insult their service chiefs in public, but on several occasions meekly submit before foreigners on a diplomatic table. China is a classic example even today. Wang is in India to talk: "people to people contact" being the main focus. Most Indians don't know Chinese language, history, culture, psyche, (except perhaps Hiuen Tsang and Fa Yien), but would go gaga over Beijing. China, on the other hand, sabotaging India day in and day out through trade; across Indian territory (penetrating through Jammu & Kashmir), and through terror (by conniving with and supporting Pakistan). All for hegemony.
The latest report shows CPEC is basically for military operations and deployment. Since China couldn't persuade and cajole India to join BRI, it's now on an all-out assault to enter deep inside India knowing very well India's love for foreigners and foreign goods. A trait which is diametrically opposite to Chinese who consider each and every foreigner to be barbarian even today. And India too falls under the same category of Chinese psyche and thought.
But who cares? India is also land of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ramayana has seen the king's family politics leading to the forced eviction of the eldest son of emperor Dasaratha, Lord Rama, to wander around the jungles of the countryside for 14 years and fight a war to rescue his kidnapped wife by a foreign ruler. Mahabharata, on another hand, was a bitter fight to finish civil war between first cousins for the kingdom.
The above 'situations' have been placed to make a point. That, instead of abusing and accusing a service chief, politicians of India would do better to fight their political battle with the rival politician and keep the professionals of the country out of their 'battle royale' on the eve of impending general elections in India. Please prepare to fight a war, not a civil war through the public humiliation of incumbent air chief. Why give the upper hand to a foreign adversary?
(Abhijit Bhattacharyya is an alumnus of National Defence College and the author of China in India. The views expressed are strictly personal)