Post the clearly political and fiscal move of ‘demonetisation’, the extreme inconvenience felt by the citizenry was sought to be placated by “our brave soldiers stand bravely on the borders, shame on you that you can’t even stand for some time….you demoralise our brave soldiers”. Later, probing and uncomfortable questions on Pulwama-Balakot, AFSPA, Kashmir, Surgical Strikes right up to the recent Galwan incident which certainly had militaristic underpinnings, were blocked and deflected by manufactured-incredulity that suggested ‘demoralising the military’, which axiomatically implied ‘anti-national’ attributes onto any questioner.
The solid ‘defense’ afforded by the military is now no longer restrained to the cartographical borders, but also in the political realm, though unintentionally. The soldier rightfully remains sacrosanct in the national consciousness and imagination, and therefore any related or even unrelated executive decision (e.g. ‘demonetisation’) which can be creatively contextualised to the soldier’s ‘morale’, is pure political gold. Whereas, the institution of the Military remains steadfastly ‘voiceless’ about its own opinions, as mandated by its traditional, constitutional, and moral ethos that has increasingly found unsolicited ‘voices’ (all political), for the historically apolitical institution.
Earlier in a hard-hitting observation, Supreme Court rejected the view that remarks made by judges of the lower courts had ‘demoralised’ the Armed Forces - “Officers and personnel of the Indian Army, Paramilitary Forces and the State Police are made of sterner stuff than is sought to be projected, and they can hardly be demoralised by observations said to have been made by anybody. It is unfortunate that a bogey of demoralization of the Indian Army, Paramilitary Forces and the State Police is being raised”.
Somewhere in the political spin-doctoring this instinctive ploy of convenient deflection started getting increasingly deployed, as politicians of all hues started scurrying under ‘demoralising the military’ to justify their own roles as the decision-making dispensation, or as the accusation-making opposition parties.
The Armed Forces remain oblivious to the ostensible ‘support’ on its behalf. The round ultimately goes to whomsoever posits a more emotional and stirring hullabaloo of ‘demoralising the military’.
The Indian Armed Forces are not a monolithic, majoritarian or politically-tilted cabal – on the contrary, the military celebrates the diversity of all possible denominations in a unique fashion as a combat ‘unit’. it is insistently apolitical and wired inextricably to the ‘constitutional idea of India’, and not towards any partisan ideology.
To suggest otherwise and appropriate the imagery of the ‘Soldier’ to bolster portents of political muscularity is sheer misuse of its disciplined ‘voice lessness’. This does not mean that the barracks are ignorant or unopinionated on national urgencies – the combatants are allowed to express the substantive and relevant part in a mandated form, forum and style, but the same is wholly subservient to the ‘orders’, that are ultimately issued.
Tenures in the most remote, challenging and unrest-filled circumstances, naturally affords a unmatched sense of ‘ground-realities’ and perspectives, but the communication of the essence is left to the top-brass who are expected to sensitise the politico-bureaucrat domain of the circumstantial and institutional concerns, without any political attributions or preferences.
But expressing any individual opinion on behalf of the institution (even by its extended arm of Veterans) is not bereft of political nudges, hence an anathema to its inner health and culture that needs to be spared the societal wounds of polarisation, bigotry or politicisation.
It is without doubt the closest to perfection in terms of efficacy, propriety and conduct, and the most foremost reason for the same is the belief in constant corrections and improvements, and not living in denial, as willy-nilly postured by politicos to cover-up their own actions and inactions.
1971 Indo-Pak was arguably the Armed Forces ‘finest hour’, yet it did not spare the conduct of a few who were found compromising the exacting standards of the institution – the ends never justify the means in the Armed Forces, as the means are inviolable.
Military acknowledges its missteps if any and is unforgiving on its personnel that need no misplaced protection of ‘demoralising the military’ - it is for this reason that in the long run, it remains the most trusted, revered and reassuringly humane institution of all.
Lessons of the inevitable-that-follow by positing the Military beyond questioning are across the Line-of-Control, as Rawalpindi (Pakistani Military Headquarters) holds the essential-reins of Islamabad (Political Capital) that readily allows the Pakistani Military to saunter into commercial projects, running cinemas, as also defining the ‘red lines’ of all internal and external governmental policies. For that farcical democracy it is said, ‘Indian State has an Army, In Pakistan the Army has a State’!
Questions of national security are everybody’s concern and it is only natural that the same are raised and addressed by the civilian government, as is the norm in participative democracy. While operational details that truly compromise the ‘security’ of the nation need not be shared, however the powers-that-be cannot be selective in sharing what supports a political narrative and attribute ‘demoralising the military’, when cornered.
The Military is composed of extremely professional personnel who personify physical, mental and emotional strength that comes with the institutional turf, rigour and training – so to suggest the ‘demoralising of the military’ is actually demeaning the fine institution. There are enough known shortcomings in wares and weaponry, diminishment of precedence vis-à-vis other governance arms, work life conditions, institutional misuses and retiral concerns of Veterans that warrant soul-searching and introspection for those, who truly seek to remedy ‘demoralising the military’ – but that seems to be out of course.
There is the unforgivable concern of propping some Veterans, and worse, even serving top-brass, to speak out publicly in lending credence to overtly political stances, that is misuse at its worst. The sword-arm of the nation has held its own, not because of what any political parties have ever done for it, but despite it. The condescending, puerile and seemingly-protectionist bogey of ‘demoralising the military’ is self-serving and wholly political. Let those who do or don’t do, what is expected of them to answer for themselves.
The Armed Forces believe in ‘service before self’ and they do so frequently by ‘paying the ultimate price’, for such a noble institution, such a patronising tone is unrequired and political exploitation.
Commissioned in and subsequently commanded 17th Rajput, the author fought in the 1965 & 1971 wars and various counter-insurgency operations in J&K and North East. He was the Military, Naval & Air Attaché for the East & South Africa Region. Later he was the Military Secretary to Presidents, KR Narayanan & APJ Abdul Kalam. He was the ‘Colonel of the Regiment’ of the Rajput Regiment, President’s Bodyguards, and the Army Physical Training Corps. He retired as the Director General of Military Training. He is currently a columnist for leading publications. This article was first published in 'The Citizen' and has been reproduced with due permission from the author in the larger interest of the military fraternity. Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of MVI.