Our Nation and specifically our army is in desperate need of warriors especially in its higher ranks rather than suave, slick, tactful and charming gentlemen. Even though officer cadets are referred to as Gentlemen Cadets, during the pre-commissioning training, later on in life one particular aspect of being a gentleman is proving to be detrimental to the health of the Army. This is the aspect of moderation.
The mindset of a warrior is simple and straightforward. It in no way means that the picture of a warrior is a dull-headed, robotic moron. Every conqueror or famous general was a supremely intelligent individual whose cognitive processes were far more advanced than those of his contemporaries. What is intended to say is that a Warrior wastes no time indulging in the niceties of tact or moderation.
His answers to most questions are generally in monosyllables, short, crisp and to-the-point. How much of this is in variance to the great number of televised generals who speak in meandering discourses stuck between desperately trying to adhere to some semblance of truth and being politically correct?
It is this moderation that has weaned away truth from the public and also stifled the National responses to military oriented crises. Manekshaw’s interactions with Indira Gandhi were never based on moderation. It gave the right picture to the government without mincing back harsh realities and enabled India to win the war.
The situation today is far more distant from that era. Most officers in the hierarchical chain of the Army actively practice and ardently preach moderation. Those who are blunt and to-the-point find easy recourse to career stagnation early on in their service lives. Most senior officers in the Army actively believe in the Japanese Shinto custom of Kegare.
If you are the harbinger of bad news, you become a Kegare, worth putting down. This gives prevalence to the practice of moderation. For example, if a patrol reports that the Chinese have intruded six kilometres across the LAC, it becomes 5-6 in the first reporting, then a few kilometres & ends up as a marginal intrusion by the time it reaches the apex. Such a tendency to under-report facts or sugar-coat setbacks destroys the need for urgency from above. Often moderations up the chain result in portraying completely different pictures far removed from actual truth.
By the time officers become Generals and inhabit the corridors of power, the act of moderation becomes a norm and a requirement. It is not surprising that Media statements from the Army (approved by Generals far removed from the ground), heavily affected by moderation are only partial truths or in some cases quite divergent.
The Army owes loyalty to the Constitution rather than a political party. It is for this reason alone that the President of India is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. In discharging its task the Army has a responsibility to give the correct information to the Indian people. When the political dispensation dithers, it is the Army’s constitutional obligation to inform the right picture to the masses and fulfil its duty as a part of checks and balances that strengthen democracy.
The Defence Minister’s responsibility by constitutional intent as ‘responsible for defence of India’, points towards the need to provide material and financial support to the Armed Forces for organising the defence of India rather than ‘Lead’ the Forces; as he is a political representative rather than a domain expert. If the Armed Forces are subservient to the Political representative, then it is bound to be misused for political purposes, a fact that is contrary to the constitutional direction that the Armed Forces should be apolitical. Such an arrangement proved to be disastrous during the debacle of 1962.
The present breed of Gentlemen Generals completely subservient to the political dispensation is detrimental to the health of the Army and safety of our Nation. That there is growing disenchantment with the military leadership is no secret. Social media handles and print media is replete with voices questioning the competence and loyalty of the Senior Officers.
In a world where information is supreme, the effective exploitation of this domain by the Armed Forces has been found to be appalling. The poor and disjointed quality of information being put out to the public can directly be credited to the Army’s highest authority, as all releases are approved by them prior to dissemination.
During the Balakot Strikes and the riposte by Pakistan, the Army abdicated its role of providing information to the Ministry of External affairs. By being present but not entertaining questions, the representatives of the Armed forces were seen to be siding with inaccurate information being given out by the political dispensation; thereby eroding their credibility. Even during the present ongoing tensions with the Chinese, the Army seems to have again abandoned its responsibility of providing timely, credible information.
The resultant information-void has been populated by rumours and fake news viral on social media handles. The statement given by the Army after much delay left many questions unanswered. Their credibility was further eroded once media outlets (who possessed accurate information but withheld it awaiting official statements by the Army), published news which were contrary to government statements.
It can now safely be said that the Armed Forces have completely demolished their credibility as providers of truthful information. Their abdication from the responsibility to engage the media seems to indicate that they are now functioning under ‘Fear of Failure’ rather than ‘Hope for Success’. What has been the most disconcerting is that the Chief of Defence Staff could address the nation to announce showering of petals on Corona Warriors, but not one representative of the Armed Forces was courageous to inform the public of what happened in Galwan.
Professional Armies do not lie. Neither are they reluctant to frankly answer questions posed to them about operations unless they are likely to jeopardise operational secrets. Propaganda and Psychological Influence Operations are done by covert agencies, not by withholding information or giving false statements. India is a democracy and cannot equate herself with the likes of China. Our gallant soldiers sacrificed their lives fighting unarmed against the Chinese.
They were the true warriors and they gave their lives in the best traditions of the Army. A lot of lies and half-truths have been propagated about what has happened and is happening in Ladakh. The lives of Col S Babu and his men cannot have been in vain. We need to avenge their killings and secure our sovereignty. There is no dearth of warriors in the lower levels.
Despite facing extreme weather, unbearable physical hardships, crippling deficiencies and bureaucratic apathy, our officers and men have always delivered on their mission. Nothing is impossible and no foe too powerful to fight and defeat. What is lacking are warriors at the higher echelons who have the courage to speak the truth, be loyal to their men, standby their convictions and fulfil their constitutional responsibility of protecting the Nation. Our Nation Needs Warriors not Gentlemen!
(The author has served in the Indian Army, was deployed for two tenures in Ladakh region and commanded a battalion on the Line-of-Control in Kargil. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')