You must have heard the news that the Indian Armed Forces are being made more nationalistic and would be shedding the British Colonial Legacy. The note said that it was time to move away from archaic and ineffective practices and align with the national sentiment. A polite rejoinder is not out of place: The result of the survey by Ipsos Global Trust in Professions done in 2019; 71 per cent of urban Indians voted the Armed Forces as the most trustworthy professionals in the country; to drive the point a bit further the Politicians were declared as the most untrustworthy. Now please assess for yourself which profession is in tune with the national sentiment.
Let us move a bit further; the note further states customs and traditions of colonial and pre-colonial era, uniforms and accoutrements, regulations and rules, and names of buildings, establishments, roads, and parks after top British commanders should be renamed. Certainly; there is some truth in it. We need to rename Victoria Memorial at Kolkata, Chetwode Hall in IMA, Dehradun, and many other symbolic names which had been named after British royalty and Generals: It certainly calls for a revision and should be named after our own Generals and statesmen. As it is, there are thousands of organisations and buildings which have been named after the Nehru-Gandhi Family which certainly evokes waves of national sentiments among Indians. Just read aloud Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Housing Corporation, Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, and hundreds of other institutions named after him; makes your chest filled with pride inspires so much of admiration to the dynasty: Am I sounding sarcastic? I meant it. Notwithstanding, I certainly welcome the move to rename parks, roads, and buildings which have been named after the British marauders who ravaged our country. It also calls for Indianizing pomp and shows in Rashtrapati Bhavan. I wonder; if anyone has seen the ceremony involved in Presenting Credential to the President by a foreign ambassador? It reeks, flaunts, and prides on our colonial past. In the same vein; I wonder why our Honourable President represented the country at the Queen’s funeral; more so when she presided over the division of my country where close to two million were killed and nearly 14 million were displaced.
So far so good: however, what is disturbing is that I believe there would be an onslaught on regimentation in the Armed Forces on the premise that the INA had a Pan-India composition hence there is no need to have infantry regiments based on a class such as Jats, Sikhs, Sikh LI, Maratha LI etc. I have dealt with this aspect elaborately in my earlier writings. Please google; ‘National Security Slapdash: At the Mercy of Armchair Strategists.’ Now my primary question is; has the Indian Army let down the country anytime? If at all; it has been let down by post-independence politicians. Nehru in the J&K War of 1947-48 prematurely sought the cease-fire and complained to the UN under the wrong chapter, and to this day we are saddled with the J&K problem: Next, we bungled in Tibet and lost the country to China and we were left without a buffer. In 1962, Nehru and Krishna Menon failed to heed the advice of Lt Gen Thorat and Gen Thimmaiah (Predecessor to Gen Thapar) and misread the Chinese threat and lost the war. Post-1965 war, the then PM Shastri handed over the Hajipir Pass thus surrendering an alternative route to Kashmir Valley. In 1971, we won the war militarily but lost the war politically by handing over 93000 PWs without any strategic takeaways. In Kargil operations, the then PM Vajpayee laid down one of the most preposterous conditions; to capture the heights ingressed by Pakistan without crossing the LOC; resulting in exorbitant casualties to our troops. Then comes MMS, who was hell-bent on vacating Siachen Glacier and called it a Mountain of Peace; thankfully, he could not mobilise a consensus, hence it is with us till today. Later, in the recent past, during the Surgical strike and Balakot strike against Pakistan, the political will of the PM manifested and showed that we are ready to bite the bullet. Again, against the Chinese incursions in May 2020, our strategic mobilisation, and our decision to occupy the Kailash Range took the Chinese by surprise. However, our subsequent vacation of the range and prolonged negotiations cannot be termed as a strategic success. It has been long and dreary enabling the Chinese to lend permanency to its occupation at Depsang & Demchok. The country after a long time has a PM who has the political will; however, his advisers with their inept strategic thinking and severely handicapped with their own limitations are constraining him from exercising his natural flair in decision-making.
Now returning to government efforts to dismantle regimentation in the Indian Army on the pretext, that it has its origin in Britain appears to be short-sighted. Now, let us tackle the basic question: Why does a soldier with a meagre pay fight, and gives his life and limbs? Why, in a battle, he is so emotionally charged up that he forgets his instincts of self-preservation to rush at the enemy unmindful of splinters of artillery shells and shrapnel of mortar bombs; rushes through the minefields that will kill or maim him for life, overcome the noxious phosphorous fumes of smoke bombs, gasp in the din and dust in the battlefield, grind his teeth and rush through the treacherous fire of machine guns whose rate of fire can perforate and cut him to pieces, and lastly when he sees his colleague who was just next to him disappearing without a trace and blown into smithereens by an artillery shell; yes, he experiences all this and still advances to fulfil his mission. Why? Why does he forget his loving wife and the bright eyes of his children exuding hope and happiness? What about his parents; why do they not come into the reckoning when he pursues his mission? Why does he not remember his commitments, his hopes, and his dreams, and save himself by running away? What is the X factor that makes him stick to his task even at the certainty of death?
Those who have never experienced a battle situation like politicians, bureaucrats and common men will say it is due to his patriotism. It sounds very nice and invigorating; however, it is far away from the TRUTH. Patriotism comes much later in the scale. First and foremost, comes his ‘Honour & Pride.’ A soldier would not want to be remembered as a coward who ran away from the battlefield. He wants to be known as a hero among his colleagues and his officers. He wants to be lauded by his Commanding Officer for his courage. He wants to uphold the name and fame of his unit that had seen centuries of history of valour and sacrifice. He understands that he is the last resort of the nation and if he fails the nation fails. He has no option but to win and if the country loses a war, it is the failure of his generation to defend the integrity of the nation. He also understands the value of freedom after our nation had experienced slavery for over two and half centuries.
When he returns to his village alive after the war; he fulfils his basic dream of being the hero of his village. He is garlanded at the village gate and the entire village lines up to feat him. His parents are so proud of him that their chests burst with pride and tears of joy pool in their eyes as they wait to hug him. His children run around him in joy-abandon that the real hero of the village, their father has returned. They run to him and the youngest one is carried by him through the shower of rose petals. His wife, always demure and restrained cannot control her tears and weeps openly and runs towards him. She is so proud of her hero; known for his valour and courage. Even in the case, he is killed in the battle the scene does not change; a flower-bedecked army vehicle with armed escorts brings the cortege home. The welcome is the same; however, the joy is replaced with grief but the pride of the family remains sky high. Remember the words of Lord Krishna to Arjuna; when the latter does not want to kill his kith & kin; “If you choose not to fight, others will think you fled in fear: Isn’t death preferable to dishonour?” Yes; indeed: Hence, a soldier prefers death to dishonour. It is this dream of every soldier and officer we need to keep alive.
It is the sacred duty of the military leadership to cultivate and nurture ‘HONOUR & PRIDE’ among its Officers and soldiers. For heaven’s sake, the government should not play around with it. Any changes should be done gradually and not as has been done in the case of Agniveers. In one stroke the scheme has killed the pride in the profession of arms. In every village, he will be called a temporary soldier and once he returns after four years he will be humiliated as a rejectee.
The infantry regiments which are class-based and region based have great advantages. If a soldier does not perform well in the war, he will face dishonour not only from his colleagues in the unit but also from his whole village and the region from where is hailing. Let us take the example of the ‘Jat Regiment’ whose recruiting base is the proud Jats from Haryana and neighbouring states. In almost every village and in neighbouring villages there would be a couple of them serving in the same battalion. Many, are also relatives of each other and of the rest, a majority would also have family ties and acquaintances. It is an extension of the family ties of their region that manifests in battalions. Now, the onus on a soldier to perform in war is much more. If he fails, his cowardice or poor performance is not only known to his unit but also to his entire clan (biradari). He does not want to get humiliated or cause disrepute to his family. The responsibility of a soldier to live the dream of a hero increases manifold. Let us suppose that it is ‘All India Class’ with a mixed battalion. His liability to perform is limited to his unit and even if he is thrown out due to poor performance his misdeeds remain confined and he may also not let his family know about it. The moral weight to perform at the cost of one’s life is comparatively less. Presently, all units are performing brilliantly due to regimentation as the family and regional bonds strongly manifest in each battalion. If there is an onslaught on the regimentation in the army it will considerably reduce its combat power.
The reason given for doing away with the regimentation as given by the NSA is probably based on incorrect analysis, citing the analogy of INA. The narrative is that the INA was of All India composition and performed splendidly in war and incurred 40,000 casualties of the 60,000 who mobilised for war. To put the record state the INA that was formed under Maj Mohan Singh and Rash Behari Bose became defunct. It was the charisma, magnetism and leadership quality of Netaji Subhas Bose that revived the INA. He organised into two divisions. Please note that though all were patriotic the force that galvanised the motley group into a fighting force was Netaji Bose. If we scan the entire Indian landscape of those times there was no leader like Netaji Bose. The 20th century of our country belonged to him. Does the NSA expect leaders of his calibre to be born again and again to cite his sterling and isolated example and push for the reorganisation of the entire armed forces? How many Subhas Chandra Bose we would need to command a force of 1.3 million? As I have written before the Indian Army, today also has a Pan-India Composition. The vacancies in the Army are distributed based on the ‘Male Recruitable Population of States that ensures the pan-India composition of the Indian Army. It also does not mean that if we have a platoon of 36 soldiers, it should comprise one each from 28 states and eight union territories to show that a mini-India is fighting the war. What is the aim of the government? Why does it have to meddle with one of the most effective instruments of the nation that has stood the test of time and conflicts? From one side there is an onslaught by the judiciary who really do not understand the basics of the Armed Forces and National Strategy and pass impromptu orders which are battering the combat power of the Armed Forces. Please google my article; Surgical Strikes by Judiciary on the Armed Forces. From another side, philistine advisers are trying their best to destroy its combat effectiveness under the façade of nationalism. Trying to nationalise the armed forces is like ‘Reading Ramayana to Valmiki.’
Lt Gen PG Kamath is a highly distinguished general who has held some of the most coveted appointments in the Indian Army. He is a notable commentator on Defence & National Security issues
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)