Amarinder Singh is part of the “mob” Pratap Bhanu Mehta wants the army to be wary of (‘The march to spectacle’, IE, May 29). That he has been heard by the army and the government is not surprising. Singh wanted a special medal for Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi, the army chief has obliged him. There is also no irony in Defence Minister Arun Jaitley seconding Singh in advocating a free hand to the army, said to be fighting a war in Kashmir. It is also not shocking that a chief minister, who swears by the Constitution and belongs to a “secular” party, places the army above the people when he says, “the Indian army should have an upper hand to be able to negotiate peace on terms that are favourable to the country”.
He forgets that it is for the elected government, not the army, to negotiate peace. This is the message we must read: Making the army supreme, unanswerable to parliament and the judiciary. The government recently moved the Supreme Court asking it to quash its order to investigate excesses committed by the armed forces in Manipur. This is not just about Kashmir — it is about a new India where the army would deal with people independently. We should have seen it coming when the army chief addressed the nation directly through AIR and Doordarshan on Army Day this year. This, a journalist friend felt, should be marked as a turning point for India. A new narrative is emerging in which the army is not only an institution known for its professionalism, but feared by the people, as a guardian is by potentially delinquent children.
Major Gogoi, in this new narrative, is a creative genius. He provides India with a spectacle of the humiliation of Kashmiris. The image of Dar was symbolic: Both hands of Kashmir tied by a brutal power. No bullets fired, no blood shed, but we have not seen a more brutal picture of the humiliation of a human being in recent times. It was an act of double violence, on the man and his fellow villagers, turned into subjugated spectators.
That it did not shock us when Gogoi addressed the nation through the media after being decorated is a disturbing sign. Before him, and the current army chief, we do not remember any army officer addressing a press conference, not even after the Pakistan Army’s surrender in 1971, not after Operation Blue Star or the Kargil conflict. In all these, the army was the main actor. But it refrained from being seen as the director. It was always seen as following the civil authority. The present government is invoking nationalism to legitimise itself. It is trying to show it is the first government which backs the army. The latter is obliging by making the government’s nationalist agenda its own. Recently, the army vice chief and an air marshal participated in a government programme where offerings were made to the image of Bharat Mata, holding a saffron flag. They saluted and stood at attention when Vande Mataram was sung.
The army has been seen as a non-partisan force. In violent situations, people always sought it. But now, by allowing itself to align with a particular ideological version of nationalism, it is losing that neutrality. It suits the BJP to turn the army into a nationalist army. It is not for nothing that the image of dying soldiers is slammed onto students, artists or workers fighting for their rights.
Amarinder Singh is creating an atmosphere which legitimises a militarist, nationalist India, where the rights of the people are suspended perpetually as there would not be a time when the state is in absolute peace with all sections of its population. It is not only about Kashmir. Kashmir is only a cover.