Just like honour, morale is a word that has been bandied about a lot in the recent past. Specially in context of the age row that has been dominating the front pages and prime time slots for an unbearably long time. It even prompted a leading national daily to commission a survey to gauge whether the morale of the armed forces has actually been impacted by the shenanigans of the very people charged with preserving it. While the size and scope of the sample surveyed makes it far from representative – less than .01 % of army personnel, located in a few big cities / towns – the findings are not surprising. And would not have differed substantially in a larger sample. That the morale is, more or less, intact.
As some of the sources quoted in the article reporting the survey rightly brought out, morale is more to do with everyday bread and butter issues – roti kapda aur makaan – than with the real or imaginary slighting of the Army Chief by the government. The soldier’s life is impacted more by his immediate environment than by the happenings in the capital. He may have an opinion on the rights and wrongs of the issue, but he is not wont to lose much sleep over what the Chief’s actual date of birth is, or that the court refused to accede to his plea.
Despite knowing this quite well, motivated parties spared no effort in linking the age issue to one that would affect the morale of the armed forces at large. There was a convoluted logic put forth by some spokespersons on television debates that the government must not allow the Chief to approach the Supreme Court (by accepting his stated date of birth), because if he lost (as, they must have been well aware that he would), the morale of the armed forces would be shattered. At least that myth has been dispelled.
In an environment of short attention spans, public opinions are sought to be swayed by spin doctors tampering with the seams by ascribing actions to or linking outcomes to larger issues rather than the actual narrow self serving purposes. A little like the time when Salman Khan, facing trial for illegal game hunting, went to town claiming he was being prosecute being from the minority community. So morale of the armed forces was merely a convenient prop to support the age contention.
Sometimes such ploys work so well that the real issue actually gets successfully lost or confused in the hype. Like in the case of the troop movement in mid January. Even if subscribing to the majority opinion and official stance that it was a routine troop movement, and that the newspaper concerned indulged in sensationalism by portraying it as a failed attempt at emulating our western neighbour’s brand of politico-military synergy, to say that such a report has cast aspersions on the apolitical character of the armed forces at large would be another case of spin doctoring. Even if some ill advised general does decide to move troops in a quixotic attempt to flex his muscles and browbeat the government, it does not cast any aspersions on the patriotism or democratic spirit of the officers and troops participating in what they believe is a routine exercise. Troops are required to have implicit faith in the hierarchy, and believe that their actions are legitimate. They cannot be expected to question rationale of orders if the Army is to function they manner in which it is intended to.
Honour, morale, patriotism – these are some of the threads that make the fabric of an organization like the Army. Falsely invoking them and misusing them to further personal agendas can cause irreparable damage to that fabric. So, whether it is senior officers and the government imparting their brand of spin, or the media looking for masala – they all need to be a little more prudent and responsible while rolling off these terms in casual sound bites.