Silence of the Lambs

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A soldier of India's Assam Rifles stands guard...
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It is unfortunate that of late the armed forces have begun to be perceived as fair game by a section of the media, which seems to take vicarious pleasure in taking pot shots at them without even bothering to do their due diligence. Perhaps the shenanigans of some senior officers in the recent past is responsible for this attitude, whereby they feel that they can trash the services including their chiefs with impunity, with little or no organizational repartee. The editorial ‘Soldierly Silence’ in Indian Express is the latest example.

The content of the editorial range from flippant (“Where’s India’s Navy Chief? …. Surely Admiral Verma is letting his service down by keeping them out of it) to ridiculous (“…. insensitive statement to make of another force, still bereaved and grieving”). Gist of the opinions expressed is that service chiefs are making points to the political class in full public glare through the media. It has gone on to draw parallels with the Sixth Pay Commission issue. The piece seems to gloss over facts, relies heavily on appearances and assumptions, and, to my mind, is wrong in its basic premise expressed in the title – that the soldiers must remain silent sentinels, to be seen only in grave emergencies, and not to be heard at all.

Firstly the Army Chief’s statement in question. As reported in Indian Express itself, the Chief spoke of the “internal deficiencies in training and other things” which were being analysed. He also spoke of the performance of the Army being better in the context of the training being carried out with the units and subunits as an entity being the reason behind it. Compare this with the statement of the Home Minister, quoted in the same article – “Our role from day one is to only assist the state governments …. we will provide paramilitary forces to the state governments to regain territory lost to the Maoists so that the state governments can restore the democratic process…”. It’s interesting that the newspaper feels the Army Chief is trying to “evade blame”, while the Home Minister’s remarks do not evoke similar reaction.

About the veracity of the Chief’s statement – another newspaper, which took the trouble of sending reporters to the site rather than relying on sound bites in the corridors of South Block and preachy pieces from air conditioned offices, filed this report from ‘Ground Zero’. As per this report, “CRPF jawans at the camp report that they had not been imparted any jungle warfare training …. were new to the area and had received only normal CRPF training..” So it is not understood whether Express wanted the Chief to lie about the standards of training in keeping with the ‘sensitivities of the bereaved force’, or to evade the questions altogether. Remember, the remarks of the chief were in response to a direct question asked, and not a statement issued in a press conference.

The projection of CRPF as a force “still bereaved and grieving” is hopefully a ridiculous figment of the newspaper’s imagination. A professional force cannot be likened to a mourning widow, too caught up in grief to be able to take immediate corrective actions through dispassionate analysis of the shortcomings leading to the martyring of its men. By that analogy, an army should be numbed by grief into complete inaction after the losses in the first few days of any war. Such a suggestion therefore is a far greater insensitivity and an insult to the professional credentials of a force than the remarks about shortfalls in training, which could be due to exigencies of service.

A reputed newspaper must be more sagacious about expressing its opinions. Why must it assume that in a matter of such great national importance, the Army and other forces need to indulge in one-upmanship? Why does it display lack of confidence in the Army Chief to act out of anything but best national interest? Or question the authority of one in whom the nation reposes its trust to guard it against external and internal threats, to talk about issues concerning such threats. Irrespective of the extent of the involvement of Army in countering Naxalism at this particular stage, it cannot but continue to remain an active participant in the decision making process as the ultimate tool of the state on which the onus to react would fall if all else fails.

The editorial, in the end, also brings up the issue of the Sixth Pay Commission, drawing parallels. Indian Express, it may be remembered, was vociferously critical when a stand was taken by the three service chiefs about implementing the recommendations after the anomalies were addressed. A widely circulated editorial castigated the chiefs for “defying the cabinet’s authority”, a creative obfuscation blurring the lines between the prerogatives of the cabinet with the diktats of the bureaucrats. The Chief’s stance was in keeping with the age old Chetwodeian Credo of placing one’s command before any considerations of personal interests, and was ultimately vindicated.  In what was probably a completely unrelated turn of events, the editor was shortly thereafter awarded the Padma Bhushan. The relevance of linking that episode with the current context is not understood, unless the newspaper wishes the armed forces to maintain ‘silence of the lambs’ whether it is on matters of national interest or of injustice to the ranks.

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4 thoughts on “Silence of the Lambs

  1. Have you read the following article (Safety at the Cost of poor jawans?’)by Vir Sanghvi which appreared in the Indian Express of 11 April 2010?Find it at:

    In his column he has made the following statement:
    “Neither the air force nor the navy have had to do very much since 1971”

    Here is how I would like to respond to this otherwise well known scribe who seems to have lost his sense of rationality and equipoise expected of a veteran journalist.

    Dear Vir Sanghvi,
    Thank you for your very enlightened views in your article ‘Safety at the Cost of poor jawans?’ (Indian Express 11 April 2010).As an officer of the Armed Forces(almost 20 years younger to you) I was not only amused at your ignorance of the subject but indeed indignant at some of your irresponsible statements such as “Neither the air force nor the navy have had to do very much since 1971”.While your case for better recognition and respect to the paramilitary is well made, it need not have been at the cost of the Armed Forces. I wish to respond to your ridiculous statement in detail but before I do that let me start by asserting the following:
    (a)I fully respect your right to express your views as an independent journalist and a citizen (?) of this country.
    (b) I perfectly understand your limitations on the subject, given that you are an ‘elite’ journalist, with little touch with ground realities; much of your time goes in food shows, visiting chic glamorous places and socialising with celebrities and the nouveau rich. The fact that you spend more time in producing ‘sponsored’ TV shows – on lifestyle and entertainment – aimed at an elite upper class audience, goes to prove that you have little time for quality print journalism.
    Having said that let me say that your mischievous comments on the Armed Forces are not justified at all. You could have made your case for the paramilitary without drawing an analogy with the Armed Forces who continue to remain steady on their charter as per the constitution and demands of national security. While it is no one’s case that everything is perfect about the Services, neither are we claiming to be angels on earth, but please for God’s sake give us the credit that we deserve.Are you aware of the following contributions of the Navy/Air Force after the 1971 War?
    (a) The Kargil conflict when the IAF made the initial sacrifices and later changed the tide of the campaign by innovative application of air power. The Navy maintained an offensive posture, threatening to cut off the adversary’s sea supply lines, leading to the capitulation of the political will of the enemy.
    (a) Operation Pawan (SriLanka) where both forces made notable sacrifices and contributions.
    (b) Op Brasstacks – prolong offensive posture akin to the more recent Op Parakram, entailing casualties.
    (c) Numerous humanitarian missions in the after math of natural calamities, including the one after the devastating Asian Tsunami of 2004, Gujarat earthquake, Bihar floods,Israel-Lebanon war and deluges in Maharashtra?
    (d) Routine participation in search and rescue missions over the high seas and over the treacherous mountains.
    (e) Regular deployment in UN peacekeeping missions, potentially hazardous in nature.
    (f) Supporting the Army in CI Ops by contributing Special Forces.
    (g) Stellar contributions to nation’s foreign policy through constructive overseas engagements.
    (h) Anti piracy operations to safegaurd our sea trade.
    (j) Indigenous warship building like no other developing country.
    (k) Salvage operations across the country by naval divers.
    While the above specifics may or may not convince you at my point, let me also say that almost every soldier, sailor and airman who goes on active duty faces numerous hardships, inherent to his job. But in your scheme of things we seem to have done nothing after 1971. I wonder when was the last you went to the sea in the monsoons (I am not referring to that luxury yacht you had your last holiday on), perhaps you can try that on a missile boat tossing on the waves or perhaps in a submarine in the deeps. When was the last time you flew in a military aircraft (I am not at all talking about your wine sipping business class travel).Perhaps you can take a flight on-board an old Antonov -32 in company of jawans and others who move to-fro their duty stations in field areas. Or perhaps fly in a MiG 21,a Sea Harrier or a Chetak single engine helicopter to check as to what we have been doing post 1971?How do you find the idea of spending days and months at sea, living out of cramped spaces, managing with rationed water and undertaking rigorous tricks of duty?If that does not sound glamourous enough may be we can pack you off to the Himalyan glacier or the forests of the North East to give some company to our IAF service personnel posted there?
    I am sure you’ll neither have the time nor the inclination to do any of the above, since you would be more keen on the next fix-up with someone rich and famous – someone who shares nothing but his nationality with India’s hungry millions, someone who is more important to you than anyone else because unlike the real issues, he or she will get you the big bucks through prime TV slots – to support yourself and the paraphernalia that you have created around you– so that you continue to write bullshit about us with the same freedom which we ironically protect 24X7 for ungrateful fellow countrymen like you.
    Yours sincerely,
    Yogesh Athawale

  2. Dear Mr. Sanghvi, I know that you are a journalist of a free country hence can make any statement as you like, weather it has any substance or not, as because that is your bread & butter. Or else how else do you make your presenc felt to people concerned! You can target a dedicated section of our society (Armed forces) as because you know very well that they cannot or do not have the liberty to retaliate as per rules. It would suffice to say that the Armed forces have produced many persons of your profession but I wonder if there is a single case of vice versa. Mr. Sangvi let me suggest you one thing and that is instead of maligning the armed forces, who have retrived many a situation for this country when all others have failed, why dont you campaign to abolish the armed forces who have done nothing since 1971 as per you. Or are you scared that in doing so you may loose your independence to write freely or do not have any fodder to fill up your columns written by biased journalists !!!!

  3. A brilliant reposte by Athavale. The “Vir” part of his name obviously refers to courage shown by hiding behind the “Freedom of Expression” part of the Constitution. It is a pity that such journalists are associated with the word “respected”. I wonder if these responses were published in the newspaper (IE), which was once known for it’s courage and not sucking up to the establishment.

  4. @Col Limaye – sir, newspapers are not very kindly disposed towards publishing rebuttals to their opinionated views. Especially if they happen to be true. Except probably for an odd token mild criticism.

    That is why today Blogs are becoming increasingly relevant as a parallel channel for expression of views by people other than those who have access to the official machinery of a newspaper or a news channel.

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