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Millennium Post

Will soldiers take the blame

One of the major contributors to the discussions on social media are the veterans or, as some would still like to be called, ex-servicemen. I have many a times found merit in their aggressive, sometimes garrulous, arguments. They seem to get very disturbed with every ‘wrong’ faced by the nation, th  ough their vituperative outpourings may sometime be mistaken to them being personally wronged.

However, I get very surprised when these ‘outspoken men of character’ decide to acquire ostrich-like stance on their own ills and failings. While the veterans have blown the trumpet, with nobody grudging it, on the extra-ordinary role the men and women in uniform played in carrying out the rescue operations in Uttarakhand and elsewhere, which they indeed did remarkably well, why has such silence gripped them on the Pakistani army intruding into our territory and killing five soldiers.

Everybody from the Opposition to anybody with an opinion has berated defence minister AK Antony for not naming the Pakistan army in the first instance. Poor Antony has taken all the firing for the lapse which was essentially a local level command failure and operational lapse. The last we heard on the matter was that Antony has said that nobody stops the local units from ‘responding appropriately’ to intrusions.

While the army headquarters would remain pithy in its comments and expressions on what exactly happened on the line of control, I thought it was time for the veterans to hold a mirror to the force they have served with such pride and dignity. While we talked about every institution failing in India, the armed forces was made to look like standing tall amidst the debris.

But the killing of the five soldiers on the line of control and regular intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) along the line of actual control has certainly led to a loss of confidence and admiration in the abilities of the men in uniform. There is a saying that people get the government they deserve. Does this dictum also get extended to the Indian armed forces? I am sure pusillanimity of Manmohan Singh government cannot be blamed for the skirmishes on the borders which have left us badly bruised.

An incursion of nearly 500 metres into our territory, killing our soldiers and walking back unchallenged certainly doesn’t reflect positively on the abilities of the unit deployed to guard that particular sector. The Indian Army commends itself among the top five armies of the world, and the citizens of the country have never doubted these claims, but what happened in Poonch certainly leaves its image bruised, if not battered.

Given the cloak of secrecy maintained around the functioning of the armed forces, and rightly so, veterans would do a yeoman service to the nation by telling it where did our commanders go wrong. They could also spell out the shortcomings and what remedial measures could be taken. Let them not wait for another post-Kargil Subramanyam-type committee being set-up and its recommendations not being implemented.

There is no harm in naming a person in the uniform for not doing his job. The armed forces ‘ethos of team spirit’ may come in the way of carrying out such criticism as it may get interpreted as ‘squeaking’ about your mate. 

However, to my feeble understanding of the matters such inability to criticise one’s own team is another kind of nepotism. If nepotism in any civil service is bad, so it should be in the armed forces.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee went onto win an election for successfully leading the nation during Operation Vijay to evict Pakistani soldiers from Kargil and nearby sectors. However, the nation never got to know the commanders who were responsible for the great slip which took in the first place allowing the Pakistanis to entrench themselves in our territory.  

In counter to my pronunciations here I may be feted with some reports and findings which blamed some middle-level and junior-level commanders. The indictment of the people at the senior level was very few and that too has remained mired in litigation.

We shame politicians and bureaucrats day in and day out for their misdeeds. Will the failing of these local and higher commanders ever get counted as misdeeds. Despite numerous cases of corruption being reported from within the four walls of the garrison, the nation has refused to believe, and for good reasons, that armed forces has become a moth-eaten organisation.
However, with an annual Budget of Rs two lakh crore, the nation’s defence forces stand accountable to the people of the nation through the parliament. The defence budget has seldom faced restraints even as allocations for social sector schemes like universal education and food security has sputtered year after. If the armed forces fail in their basic duty to defend and secure the borders, they should be questioned.

And the borders can be defended and secured without escalating tension. While Antony should be blamed for the faux pass on the identity of the intruders, questions should be asked what the local commanders were doing. The defence minister should come up with a statement before parliament telling the nation about the slip which led to Pakistani soldiers walking half-a-kilometer inside our territory, kill our soldiers and walk back without being challenged.

However, I do not see such a statement forthcoming in parliament as none will build pressure for it. Taking the armed to task doesn’t have the potential of electoral harvest for any party. The veterans for the reasons best known to them would only nit-pick on matters non-uniform. 

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, 
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