Wednesday, August 13, 2014

You live in this secure nation state because of the selfless soldier, Mr Bhatia

Wisdom and education are not necessarily two sides of the same coin.

If you ever wanted an example of how high education--Western education, that highly valued, albeit inflated, commodity in India--does not bring wisdom, one just have to read architect Gautam Bhatia's downright disparaging and insensitive article on the National War Memorial in a leading newspaper early this week, titled: Don’t battle over new war memorial ; settle for old.’

The magnificent War Memorial at Drass
The author is supposedly educated in the United States and has also executed several projects in that country. He should know how the Americans honour the men and women in uniform, both dead and serving. 'Thank You for serving," is a common refrain in public spaces there when common citizens come across soldiers. First Class Passengers and service personnel board planes on priority in the US. Across Europe, nations as diverse as Belgium, the UK and even Turkey are commemorating and remembering the sacrifices made by millions of soldiers who died in World War I. 

More than 70,000 Indian soldiers died fighting that war in distant lands, a memory better preserved in Europe than in our own country. Sample what French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch said about Indian soldiers in 1927 while inaugurating a War Memorial in Paris:"Return to your homes in the distant, sun-bathed East and proclaim how your countrymen drenched with their blood the cold northern land of France and Flanders, how they delivered it by their ardent spirit from the firm grip of a determined enemy; tell all India that we shall watch over their graves with the devotion due to all our dead. We shall cherish above all the memory of their example. They showed us the way; they made the first steps towards the final victory."

But people like Gautam Bhatia will never bother to learn or understand what soldiering means. Despite his Western education, he is no better than the uncouth and uneducated minister from Bihar who had remarked last year, "Soldiers join the army to die." At least we can give benefit of the doubt to the minister but when elites like Mr Bhatia write, 'Aren't soldiers who join the army, aware of the dangers of their tasks? Isn't death the unfortunate but inevitable by  product of war?' all that we can do is to pity his intellect. Or is MrBhatia driven to criticise the war memorial because he is not likely to be part of the project. Because twice in his article he laments the fact that an international consortium/a foreign architect  might undertake this project. Is this the main issue?

Clearly, Mr Bhatia is literate but not educated because if he was, he would have known what the world wise political-military strategist, Chanakya had said centuries ago.


The Soldier

It essential to understand why the soldier (in the broader sense) is pivotal for the well being of a nation-state, Chanakya had told the king of Magadh: "The Mauryan soldier does not himself the Royal treasuries enrich nor does he the Royal granaries fill... The soldier only and merely ensures that... He is thus the very basis and silent, barely visible cornerstone of our fame, culture, physical well-being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity."

The Indian nation state has, however, forgotten Chanakya’s advice. The Indian soldier today stands at the crossroads, confused about his status in the society and unsure about his own role in a nation led by “faux peaceniks” who will compromise national security for short-term gains like a Nobel Peace Prize. The havoc wrought by an indifferent polity and insensitive bureaucracy to India’s armed forces and changing societal norms, has hit the ordinary soldier hard.

The society no longer respects the soldier and his work in protecting the nation. They may pay lip service in times of crisis but that’s it. Bihar politician Bhim Singh’s utterly tasteless remark that “people join armed forces to die,” in the wake of the killing of five Indian soldiers on the line of control, is symptomatic of the bitter reality. Although forced to withdraw his remark, the Bihar politician symbolizes how a large section of Indian society view soldiering. Mr Bhatia, sadly, is also of the same ilk.

An Ultimate Weapon

A local politician, a thanedar, seems to command more clout in society today. This has often led to a loss of self-esteem among ordinary soldiers. A recent movie called Paan Singh Tomar depicted, in some measure, the humiliation that a soldier faces in the civilian environment, both while serving and after retirement from the armed forces.

And yet, from disaster relief in floods, tsunamis and earthquakes, to rescuing an infant prince from a deep tube well, and from quelling rioters in communal strife to being the last resort in internal counter-insurgency operations, the Indian Army is omnipresent. It is, what I have said time and again, India’s Brahmaastra — an ultimate weapon.

The versatility, adaptability, selfless attitude and resourcefulness of the Indian Army have allowed it to be what it is today: nation builders. Viewed in the context of India’s immediate and extended neighborhood, the Indian Army’s stellar role stands out in stark contrast to its counterparts in other countries.

Remember, Indian and Pakistani armies originated from the same source: the British Army. And yet, six decades since they parted ways, there couldn’t be a bigger dissimilarity in the way the two have evolved. As they say, India has an army while the Pakistani Army has a nation.

Despite India’s increasing dependence on the army to pull its chestnuts out of the fire time and again, the Indian Army has scrupulously remained apolitical. It has put down fissiparous and secessionist forces within India with great cost to itself over these 66 years. It has protected India from within and without.

The Indian army also has a unique distinction of helping create a nation (Bangladesh) in the neighborhood and then quietly walking away to let the people take charge. By contrast, the Pakistani Army has never really allowed democracy to flourish in its country. Instead, it has created a military-industrial complex that has spread its tentacles in every aspect of governance. Even today, the Pakistani Army does not let go of any opportunity to undercut democracy; it nurtures and treats jihadi elements as its strategic asset against India and the United States. 

Even in other smaller nations around India — Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, for instance — the armed forces have had to intervene and run the affairs of those countries at some point.

So who or what makes the Indian Army so distinct? Simply put, its leaders and its men and their ethos of “service before self.” From the early days of independence, Indian military leaders — stalwarts like KM Cariappa, Rajendra Singhji, KS Thimayya and later Sam Maneckshaw — led the forces from the front and provided a strong moral center that has remained more or less in tact; some very regrettable instances of moral and monetary corruption notwithstanding.

Since independence, one institution that has remained absolutely free of communalism and divisive tendencies is the Indian Army. When caste and religious differences have beset the country’s politics and society at large, the army has stood firm against these divisive forces. It has thus stood the test of time and has consistently upheld and protected the nation’s constitution with unflinching loyalty, making a major contribution in nation building in the first six decades of India’s existence as an independent, sovereign nation.

Civilian Control

However, as India marks its 68th Independence Day, I am not so sure if this great institution can withstand the buffeting it receives both from within the Ministry of Defense and beyond.

Why has this happened? Mainly because in India, civilian control of the military has become synonymous with bureaucratic control. The political executive, barring a handful, neither has the knowledge nor any interest in military matters, and therefore, it depends completely on inputs from the bureaucrats who continue to mould the political leadership’s thought process according to their own perceptions on governance and administration.

The effort to cut defense services down to size had begun immediately after independence. Before 1947, the status of the commander in chief (C-in-C) in India was second only to that of the Viceroy. As a member of the Viceroy's Executive Council, he was also the de facto defense minister. He was served by his uniformed principal staff officers (PSOs) and the defense secretary who, incidentally, was below the PSOs in the order of precedence. The role of the Defense Department was not to examine proposals, or to sit in judgment over the Army Headquarters, but was restricted to issuing orders in the name of the Government of India.

Sixty-seven years after Independence, it is no secret that the political-military interface is all but absent in India’s institutional set up. The armed forces are completely under the day-to-day as well as policy control of the MoD. The desirable politico-military interface is now reduced to weekly, sometimes fortnightly meetings chaired by the defense minister. According to several former chiefs I have spoken to, these meetings are informal, without any agendas or note taking and have no official status — although in theory, the defense minister is deemed to have given policy directions in these meetings.

Over these six decades, the bureaucracy continued to acquire disproportionate powers vis-à-vis the service chiefs and now it’s a given that the defense secretary and not the service chiefs, is the single-point adviser to the cabinet on military matters. The defense and cabinet secretaries have a consistent interface with the political leadership, as the service chiefs attend the meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) only if invited.

So the defence secretary, a generalist IAS officer and not the military brass, is responsible for national defense as well as conduct of war. Under the current rules, the service chiefs have neither been accorded a status, nor granted any powers in the government edifice. In the process, it is the service chiefs who were marginalized from the decision-making bodies.

Resentment

While very few have been able to explain the real reason behind the antipathy against the military displayed by the civil bureaucracy and the political executive, my experience suggests that non-military personnel resent the armed forces because of their evidently orderly and efficient ethos, the tightly bound camaraderie, and their distinct standing in the society. And this is not unique to India. Renowned sociologist Morris Janowitz had famously said: “The intimate social solidarity of the military profession is both envied and resented by civilians.”

So is there a way out of this logjam? Can the status quo ever be broken?

Historically, it is to the credit of the Indian Armed Forces that they have fulfilled their assigned role as an organ of the state, that they have functioned effectively in every role, despite a general lack of a supportive government environment by way of adequate finances, resources, equipment, personnel policies, or higher political direction.

Yet though the average Indian soldier remains as hardy as before, he is certainly confused with the pace of change occurring all around him. It is here that the leaders — the officers — will have to adapt themselves to the new reality. The age-old system of regimental traditions and values is robust and serves to develop camaraderie and loyalty between the led and the leader even now. But we must reset the ties between the average citizen and the Indian soldier, because without the soldier and without the army (and I mean all the three armed forces here), the Indian State cannot hope to survive.

As Chanakya had said to the king: “While the Magadha citizenry endeavours to make the State prosper and flourish, the Mauryan soldier guarantees that the State continues to exist!”

Can we all, people in uniform, civil services, politics, media and society at large, imbue this spirit and make the soldier — our bulwark against any potential threat — stronger and tell people like Mr Bhatia to go take a hike?


14 comments:

  1. It appears that none in his family have ever worn the uniform to understand the sacrifices made by men in uniform. It is such men who sit in AC rooms and hsve no understanding of the ground realities who write such cheap articles.

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    1. This Mr Bhatia should be made Home Guard for couple of dys and made to stand at Chauraha to realise the value of Uniformed people. And if he is detailed to spend couple of days along the borders of country, he will keep leaking in his pants for life time and collapse due to dehydration.

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  2. Mr Bhatia there are memorials of many politicians who have looted the country first ask for their demolition . Too scared, so easy to go after the soldier who can not harm you .

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  3. It was the ilk of Mr Bhatia whose psyche and thinking kept Bharat under the shadow of slavery for hundred of years. He is an educated man but does not seem to learned. I suggest he should visit British war memorials and cemeteries all over the world to get an answer why Britain has been a great power. He should see how various US Presidents have been receiving the soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.I am ashamed of Mr Bhatia's so called intellectual thinking and psyche. May God Give him prudence to think straight!

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  4. Well articulated. Many including civilians have called me to say Bhatia's piece was resentful, blasphemous and anti-national. You would be able to say why TOI should have published it without a counter view. If you permit we will publish yours in IMR.

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  5. Excellent blog Nitin! But the problem is whether Bhatia and his ilk will ever set eyes on it?
    There needs to be a paradigm shift in the psyche of the politicians and especially the bureaucrats who 'advise' the clueless politicians in how they need to deal with the armed forces.
    But that's easier said than done. And that is the tragedy.
    But what's most laughable is that a secretary in the Agriculture ministry or Minority Affairs can become a Defence secretary who is responsible for national defense as well as conduct of war!! What can be more nonsensical and hilarious? This can only happen in India.

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  6. This is an unfortunate fallout of a Nation engaged in making money, secure in its security. We are three generation soldiers and have been content that the children who gambol on Rajpath swards do so because of the soldier's steadfastness

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  7. Thankfully Nitin, there are others who aren't so blinkered as Mr Bhatia.....I quote from the PMO's website on the Prime Minister's address to the troops at Leh....'In an emotional vein, Shri Narendra Modi said soldiers remain undeterred in spite of the many negatives and struggles that their families face in day-to-day life. The Prime Minister said that this energy and sense of duty inspires him and therefore, he keeps visiting jawans on the border to seek inspiration.'

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  8. I thank the author for his reply to Mr Bhatia n I will circulate this article to as many readers as possible.

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  9. Mr Bhatia, take a walk & in case you have some courage spend a week (not more) in any field location and share some "quality" time with the men. Unfortunate that so called "educated" people, arm chair journos pen crap and get media bytes.Mr Bhatia I pity you!
    Nitin you did a wonderful job of penning the angst and issues that plague the men in uniform today. Well written and articulate.
    Having donned the uniform for over 25 years I proudly proclaim "privileged to have served the nation". As for Mr Bhatia - he forgets "the nation that does not respect its men in uniform; soon ceases to be a nation"

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  10. The nation treats soldiers as mercenaries or indentured labor. They should be thankful for providing them employment. Death and injury are their occupational hazards! They joined the forces by choice!

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  11. If there is wrong thinking intellectual but there are right thinking intellectual too is distinctly visible form the above review article-Thanks to Mr Nitin for his in-depth clear review of the article of senseless written by Mr Bhatia who should not withdraw his article but tender a public apology to the hurt soldiers.

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  12. There are many like him in this nation who think soldiers are a liability on the tax payers and the nation. This has not happened overnight but is the result of years of conditioning by the govt and babus. A nation which is so much in awe of its politicians give no significance to the soldier. Even history of India and that includes even educational books in this country have no mention of the valour of the Indian soldier. If the citizens has no idea what the military does they will definitely never care. Armed forces are also to be blamed as personnel posted in areas like Delhi have let the value of defence service go down by below par behaviour and indulgence in non military like activities which show the armed forces in poor light, Exposure of corruption, misuse of the establishment and ill treatment of own personnel. The citizen cannot alone be blamed if he is not made aware that they need to respect the forces by the govt of India.

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  13. Well written. Hope BJP govt gives Indian army its due

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