AT AN Idea Exchange with The Indian Express in Pune in April this year, Army Chief-designate Lt Gen Bipin Rawat had said the Army “wants to maintain peace and tranquillity” on the border, and that China being aggressive was “a perception”. He had also stressed on the need for the Army to be more open with information, especially to the media.
Asked about the trust deficit between India and China and incidents of transgressions, Rawat, who was at the time General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Command, headquartered in Pune, and yet to be named vice-chief of Army staff, said, “There may be disputes on the border which are not for armies to settle. There are parts which are claimed by both sides. The perceptions are varying. Yet, at the level of armies, we want to maintain peace and tranquillity. We don’t want to initiate a war just because there are differences. So this Track-II diplomacy is also needed in the form of military exercises. China being aggressive is a perception.”
He suggested that “transgressions” happened from both sides, due to differences over the border. “When they come into our territory, those overtures get portrayed in the media. When we go into their territory, there is no media. On our side, we have become open to the media and so these things are reported,” Rawat said.
Talking about media-military relations, the subject of his doctoral research, the Lt General said, “The media has a charter of being a watchdog and bringing out the truth. We have many issues covered under the garb of secrecy and security. I am of the opinion that media interaction is necessary… At a senior level, I feel that some kind of interaction should take place with the media at regular intervals. At the lower level, when an incident takes place, the commanding officer at that level should be made available to the media to explain what has happened. There are only two reasons why information cannot be given out — one is security and the other is that often we ourselves are not sure what exactly is the situation and need time to process it.”
For his research on military-media strategic studies, Rawat was awarded Doctorate of Philosophy by Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, in 2011.
Speaking about allegations of excesses by the Army under AFSPA, Rawat said the Act “had been toned down in real practice”. “We need to understand why AFSPA is in place in areas which have insurgency or terrorism issues. Police have powers to arrest and search, we don’t. When the Army is deployed in such areas, we are given these powers which police have under the CrPC. Now, under such scenarios, we also need safeguards. But AFSPA in its original format has been toned down in real practice.
There are Supreme Court judgments in place, there are Chief of Army Staff’s commandments which are binding on us. We have also made some rules of engagement. For example, under AFSPA, the Army has powers to break locks and search buildings, but we don’t do it. Also, our rules of engagement say no first firing. Even UN regulations say that maximum force can be used for self-defence. But the Indian Army still chooses to use minimum force, being sensitive towards human rights.”
The Army Chief-designate said he was open to women playing more role in the forces, but they had to be ready to serve in the same conditions as their male counterparts. “This is a wrong perception that we do not have women in combat roles. Women are in the Engineers and the Signals (Corps), performing the same tasks as their male counterparts. What we are looking at is whether we can get women into the main combat role, which is Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry.
The operating conditions in these arms are very difficult. Now, whether women are ready to operate in these conditions or not is a call that women themselves will have to make. I am a strong believer of one thing — equal opportunity means equal responsibility. I have served in the United Nations and I had an African contingent with me where the infantry battalion had 30 per cent women. When I went around at night, I found that each sentry post had one man and one woman standing side by side. They have adapted to these situations.”