What they don’t get

The Indian Army is in the midst of a proxy, state-sponsored war in Jammu and Kashmir. Academics who criticise statements by the army chief and unconventional operations by the force are way off target

Written by Arjun Subramaniam | Updated: June 15, 2017 6:25 am
indian army, bipin rawat, major gogoi, kashmir stone pelters The Indian Army is largely trained, equipped and organised to secure the state from external aggression.(Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Two academics in quick succession have pounced on statements made by the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, and criticised some unconventional operations conducted by the Indian Army in Kashmir. Their analysis through historical and philosophical perspectives from the comfortable confines of their writing tables reveals a lack of understanding of the dilemmas and challenges that the chief of the world’s third largest army faces.

Partha Chatterjee, a historian and social scientist, writing in The Wire (http:// thewire.in/142901/general-dyer-indian-army-kashmir/), pinned the responsibility for what Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi did on the army chief and likened it to General Dyer’s infamous exploits at Jallianwala Bagh. Soon after, Alok Rai, a former English professor at Delhi University, seemed tickled pink with what he calls “colourfully phrased remarks” against the army chief and argued in this paper (‘Blame the Hat’, IE, June 14) that the general was itching for a fight with stone-pelters and he was out of line in commending Major Gogoi.

How wrong and ill-informed these gentleman are! More importantly, they are way off-target when it comes to understanding the Indian Army and how it is coping with the challenges of the proxy war in J&K.

Had Major Gogoi responded to a call from the civil administration, to extricate Election Commission personnel from their besieged election booth, by driving down in an armoured car with his machine guns blazing Rambo-style, I would have hung my head in shame and endorsed Partha Chatterjee’s diatribe. However, this was a young Assamese major who understood the intricacies and complexities of hybrid warfare in semi-urban terrain. This was an officer who would have probably grown up in a state (Assam) that was itself in the grip of ethnic strife.

Unlike General Dyer, who ordered his soldiers to shoot straight into a crowd, there was no general around to direct the actions of Major Gogoi, who used his native intelligence and situational awareness to diffuse a potentially explosive situation. And he could not have done it unless he felt empowered to do so. How would he have felt empowered? This is where clear instructions from the top are essential if junior leadership can take decisions — right or wrong is a matter of how an operational situation turns out. Rewarding and recognising such initiatives is the job of senior leadership, and the sooner it is done, the better for the morale of the force.

Chatterjee’s structural argument likening recent events in Kashmir to the colonial Indian Army’s conduct under General Dyer at Jallianwalla is ridiculous, facetious and completely out of context. General Dyer was the military commander of a region with only one mandate, which was to protect and preserve the writ of the Crown over a colony under all circumstances. His reflections on the dilemma he went through before ordering fire on the unarmed crowd must be taken with a pinch of salt.

Rai dramatically stereotypes the army as a killing machine. Yes! Modern armies are trained to fight; to kill and win wars. But they are also empowered by the Constitution to ensure peace, save lives and bring succour to areas ravaged by natural disasters. No chief in his right mind would, as Rai says, be “straining for a fight”. I wonder how many times Rai has acted as a pall-bearer when the last rites of officers and soldiers, who have lost their lives in Kashmir, are performed across India. While law-abiding citizens have no reason to fear their own army, those who engage in arson, stone-throwing, supporting terrorism and aiding a state-sponsored “proxy” war must be fearful of an army that they know will come after them. After all, it is not for nothing that armies are considered the “last bastion” of a democratic state.

General Rawat wears a hat of thorns, not a “villainous” hat, as suggested by Rai. The Indian Army is largely trained, equipped and organised to secure the state from external aggression. In recent decades, it has been forced to adapt rapidly to the changing nature of warfare that has many avatars — Sub-conventional Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Operations, Fourth Generation Warfare, Proxy War, Hybrid Warfare, and a plethora of other derivatives of what is really the nebulous lower-end of the spectrum of conflict.

Rai trivialises the complexities of contemporary warfare and moralises through the lens of a film. He should know that armies, even in democracies, are tools of statecraft that are judiciously used to further political objectives in both inter- and intra-state relations and conform to existing Clausewitzian templates of realpolitik. I would strongly recommend to the learned historian and English professor to read what accomplished scholars like Rupert Smith,
Lt General Rustom Nanavatty, David Galula, John Nagl and David Kilcullen have written about contemporary warfare.

Finally, I wonder whether Chatterjee and Rai have visited Kashmir in recent years. Notwithstanding the proxy war and the confabulations of secessionists, have they seen the amount of good work the Indian Army has done whenever civilian governance mechanisms have failed? Have they seen the schools, clinics, playgrounds, the recruitment of men and commissioning of officers from the Valley into the services, and much more?

By no yardstick am I suggesting that all is hunky dory about the strategies adopted to cope with the latest phase of insurgency, terrorism and proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. However, it is important to assure citizens at large that the Indian Army is constantly brainstorming strategies at its operational headquarters and war colleges and is committed to seeing peace return to the troubled vale. Issues such as restricting collateral damage, citizen-friendly operations and “Winning hearts and minds” are at the forefront of such discussions.

Both Chatterjee and Rai trivialise the dilemmas faced by the army chief. They have attempted to portray the Indian Army as an insensitive and trigger-happy force, and mock a revered institution.

The writer is a serving air vice marshal and a faculty member at the National Defence College.

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  1. Raj Sharma
    Jun 16, 2017 at 11:46 am
    The comments referred to in the piece and ascribed seperately to the two 'academics' are pretty stale by now, though these were unworthy of any reference even ab initio. Such people recruited for teaching in academic ins utions during the leftists' era merely on qualifications of their political affiliations have less than genuine claims to be mentioned as academics. Otherwise, we have a galaxy of academics in all fields of knowledge, worthy of all praise for their informed interventions. So, by taking them as representative sample of their b is doing injustice to the talent of many others. Like the 'yellow journalists', there are many yellow academics. Seems the two gentlemen occupy important niche in the latter hierarchy and have exposed their ignorance more than their scholarship. Thanks for this expose'.
    1. Gerald Fernandes
      Jun 16, 2017 at 10:41 am
      The Indian Army is perhaps one of India's only world class ins ution. It is the largest volunteer Army in the world ,operating in all types of terrain and climate. The present Army Chief though must learn to talk less. His statements have backfired on the Indian Army giving a handle to its detractors.The Army Chief must never lose sight that the Indian Army represents each and every citizen of our country and must therefore steer clear of being perceived as a propaganda tool of the powers that be.
      1. R
        R K
        Jun 16, 2017 at 11:29 am
        u learn to speak less if u cant speak foer the nationalist forces who r fighting for us...the general is speaking for lifting the morale of his army...which he is duty-bound to do....
      2. P
        Jun 16, 2017 at 9:51 am
        Ritesh and others including Mr. Chatterjee and Rai must visit Kashmir and see the conditions and after that I am sure, all will praise Indian Army. Seems, these people who are blaming Indian Army are pro- stani. I am a Hindu and will say that Indian Army is doing good work.
        1. J
          Jun 16, 2017 at 7:53 am
          What a measured and factual presentation! Hats off to you sir! Forces should never get disheartened by such heard hearted and ignorant comments but carry on their noble task as required by the challenges facing the country as ever. Jai Jawan,Jai Hind! Jamuna krishnaraj D/O Late Sqn.Ldr.H.Ramakrishnan.
          1. J
            Jun 16, 2017 at 5:33 am
            Is the writer attempting to get an out-of- turn promotion to Air Chief Marshal ? The point is that army being part of the cons utional state is bound by the cons ution. There clear rules derived from the laws on how to handle difficult situations. Using a civilian as a human shield is a violation. Even if there was no other option the Major should not have paraded the civilian after getting through the difficult situation. The act could have been condoned but rewarding has made the Army look unprofessional and group of sadak ka goodas
            1. V
              Jun 16, 2017 at 6:44 am
              Joseph, please tell how to deal with difficult situations,💐 You are so intelligent, why not joined Army yet?☺
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