Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Unholy Reactions on Dantewada

The Massacre - Care first, Criticise later

It is sickening that retired army officers including some very senior retired officers (Lt Generals) are indulging in shooting out angry letters finding fault with every department of the government. Thankfully, such letters are not published in the press. The recent episode at Dantewada has shocked every Indian. The CRPF jawans who lost their lives in this massacre were just as precious as our own sons, brothers or our very own jawans. As part of the nation we have an obligation to stand behind those bereaved families in their hour of grief. Indeed, there is just no difference in the basic stock – an ITBP, CRPF or BSF jawan is just as precious a life as that of an army jawan. If he is not properly trained and equipped, he mustn’t be blamed for it – much less at this hour. In moments like this, how I wish we had words of sympathy and encouragement and not admonishment, contempt and derision that came aplenty from the ‘Elder Brother’ (ie military veterans). Such a stance generates mistrust and adversely affects civil-military relationship – a vital need for national security.

Now that the mourning period is over and emotions settled over the Dantewada tragedy, we may offer suggestions to minimize recurrence of such tragedies. Two major reasons responsible for this massacre: lack of training and poor leadership. Since training, administration and morale are leadership functions, the Leadership factor assumes highest significance. The role assigned to our paramilitary forces is characteristically distinct from that of the local police especially when their deployment involves fighting terrorists/anti-national elements. However, it is strange that IPS officers who have neither undergone formal training nor any experience of fighting occupy positions at decision making level, ie DIG and above in all paramilitary forces. The operational level command is left to others who are left to fend for themselves. For most of these IPS bosses forests are only for picnic, safari or timber. Most of them cannot tell a rifle from a gun or a carbine from a sub-machine gun (MP 5) and have perhaps never known about indirect fire, mortars, grenades or rocket launchers. Camping and movement in a hostile terrain involve understanding of military tactics – something too alien to the IPS babus. How can useful directions and policies emanate from such ignorance for units required to fight Maoist guerrillas? When there exists such a void of tactical knowledge in the top leadership, there cannot be a proper visualization of meaningful training. Lateral absorption of senior IPS officers in BSF, CRPF, ITBP or CISF serves only one purpose – it is an extension of welfare measures to these officers to enable them to earn uninterrupted promotions through risk-free corridors. This is tantamount to dishing out welfare cookies to a few officers at the cost of vital national interests. There is no logic why such officers are at the helm of organizations whose action units they have never led. If it must be the IPS officers to command these forces, they must start their career and rise through these units so that they carry their experience and knowledge to fill the void at the top leadership. Better still, let army officers provide leadership to the paramilitary forces from unit level to DG level.

The Government Resolve

We today have a Home Minister with a proven record and reputation for being the ablest minister in the Cabinet. He has also displayed a tough and an unflinching resolve to fight and refused to be brow-beaten by his critics and distracters. Ever since his arrival at the MHA, there has been a perceptible improvement in our internal security environment. Our intelligence outfit appears to be better poised. Even the high profile NSA is under pressure to comprehend security threats like professionals. One, unable to endure the pressure, had to go. But there is hail of derogatory mail against the Minister – most of it coming from military veterans. Is it fair to put PC Chidambaram in the same category as Mulayam Singh, A Raja or Lalu Prasad Yadav and their likes? The growing menace of Maoist terror will soon dwarf all other forms of terrorism that the country has faced thus far. We will witness that sooner than later. Besides the Indian Army, the PM and PC Chidambaram are the only politicians – in the government or opposition – who seem to have a realistic idea about the magnitude of the looming threat. Such politicians deserve our support and this rare breed in the Indian polity should be cared for and nurtured by people.

Role of the Armed Forces!

Another strange notion among us is “……..these kinds of operations are not a military task………. Our primary job is to train and be prepared for external threat, ie war…” In the modern age of international terrorism and our internal security scenario, are we really expecting a classical war between India and Pakistan; or India and China? Perhaps not in the foreseeable future. Proxy wars pay more dividends, cost less and, therefore, can be sustained for longer periods with minimum risks. Of course, we cannot dismiss the idea of conventional warfare altogether. But keep training as hard for Br H battles as you wish, you will get to fight the menace of terrorism more routinely and no Government can divide and allocate threats to national security in water-tight compartments keeping the Armed Forces exclusively for offensive/defensive tasks at the border. Armed Forces are the last resort and if and when things go wrong and beyond control of the civil administration including police and paramilitary forces – anything, anywhere, anytime – the government of the day will have to fall back to the nation’s Armed Forces. In fact, why should the government be even required to seek military intervention? Safeguarding the country against all kinds of threats – external or internal – is the fundamental responsibility of its Armed Forces. There can erupt emergencies where reluctance on part of the Army to step in on its own might harm vital national interests beyond repair. Lest our politicians and babus get worried, I am not suggesting any coup! However, in the event of a national calamity – a catastrophic situation, a national tragedy that might create a sudden vacuum of national leadership or incontrollable chaos, why should the Armed Forces not come forward to temporarily fill the vacuum to keep the country from plunging into anarchy?

Where’s the ‘Gentleman’ gone from ‘Officers’?

Have we become too touchy? We seem to have lost our capacity to digest disagreement and criticism. Slightest criticism is enough to provoke us into angry outbursts, often abusive, sarcastic and devoid of substance. People today find us fighting everyone: politicians, bureaucracy, para-military forces, newspaper editors, TV channels and so on and……on. What is the logical deduction of all this? If we are at daggers drawn with everyone in this country, whom will we expect to stand by us? Magnanimity and chivalry have been traditionally our forte – an enviable characteristic that set us apart a ‘Gentlemen’ from the rest in the society. (That assertion does not entitle us to despise all civilians though!) Time was when people respected us for these sterling behavioural qualities. Tolerance and restraint are great assets in public behaviour and can be put to effective use in subtle ways to establish an image so substantially that our population would love to protect and adore it rather than we clamouring for self-recognition incongruously at wrong times and wrong places. The more we indulge in stone-pelting at everyone who passes a remark at us, the more we fall to the level of street urchins reacting to a tick-off in a slum.

A little more soul searching, please! Are we so infallible that nobody can find a fault with us? Aren’t cases of corruption, insubordination, suicides and fratricides on the rise in our Armed Forces? Haven’t Army units suffered casualties and failures in operations due to poor leadership? And yet, cheers! - for everyone in the country still trusts us and bets on the Army because we are the nation’s ultimate power – the mightiest Might of the Nation; its last resort or the final option! In times of national crisis, there is nothing for the country to look beyond the Army. Yet, there is no Army in the world that has not tasted defeat. Defeat shows us the route to success. Therefore, let’s not suffer from conceit and be magnanimous, capacious to endure more. Let’s communicate more persuasively rather than embarking on wordy duels that only serve to tarnish our own image in the intelligentsia who, otherwise, love and adore us.

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