Sandeep Dikshit’s colourfully phrased remark about the army chief’s blustery machismo — “bring ’em on” — has got the political establishment all hot under the collar. But actually this pother is based on a simple misconstruction. It isn’t General Bipin Rawat that is at issue, it is his hat.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man wearing a silly hat — well, you know the rest. So strong is the association between silly hats and silly behaviour that when, in that reliable archive of our national consciousness, the Bombay cinema, the hero proposes to be particularly outrageous, he puts on a silly hat, or tips it forward or sideways — think Dev Anand, think Shammi Kapoor.
Well, General Rawat’s hat is always aslant. I suggest that no deeper explanation is required for the outrageous things that he has been saying in the matter of the bewildered weaver who found himself transformed into a human shield. It is perfectly possible that hatless, or with less rakish headgear, he might sound like the Chief of Army Staff of a country that actually lays claim to the protections of international law and convention — that is, smoothly hypocritical, lying with proper gravity, after the manner of American generals, even as their forces commit the most horrendous war crimes.
It is an index of the coarsening of our popular sensibilities that large numbers of people think that the issue is about the “guilt” of the weaver — was he a stone-pelter? Was he inciting stone-pelters? Was he merely present — and culpably passive — when stones were being pelted? Or about the ingeniousness of Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi’s “solution” to the dangerous situation in which he found himself — in village after village after village. Maybe Major Gogoi also flaunts a fancy hat.
It is, by the way, a compliment to our tattered institutions that the army at least goes through the motions of setting up a committee to enquire into the incident — a minimal acknowledgment that something happened that perhaps should not have happened. But the credit that could have been derived from that committee of enquiry has been recklessly squandered by the swashbuckling general, not only by awarding a medal of commendation to Major Gogoi, but also by declaring that he didn’t see the need to wait for the outcome of the committee of enquiry because he knew what was going on there anyway. Please, sir, hypocrisy is a necessary virtue for all institutions.We must keep up the pretence!
Tempted by that villainous hat, General Rawat went so far as to dismiss all attempts to find some non-military solution to the Kashmir situation — issue, not problem. There have been those, particularly from among the ranks of soldiers, who have rightly observed that the army should not be involved in domestic and civilian contexts — as it has been, alas, for the past half-century and more in the Northeast, and too many other places. It does the army no good, and as for the people amongst whom — delicate prepositional choice there: Amongst, against, upon, athwart? — it is deployed, there’s not much point in saying anything. Much has already been said, and said with great eloquence.
The army is a killing machine, it is trained to mete out lethal violence — and one should not be surprised if that is what it does. Just don’t use it against your own people. Unless, perish the thought, they are, after all, not your own people? Was the army deployed to quell the Jat violence in Haryana? Did they use pellet guns in Rohtak?
But General Rawat was not arguing against using the army in Kashmir. On the contrary, he said, the chimera of talks merely got us Kargil. Forget talking, he said, give war a chance. He was fairly straining for a good fight. To be fair, there is a notion of honour — of chivalry, of honourable combat — at play there. Thus, he made the — to some, outrageous — suggestion that he wished that the stone-pelters were better armed. Then he, commanding a modern army, could really show them what he was capable of. Fat chance, as they say — but he did say it.
I was reminded of a scene from Gillo Pontecorvo’s film on the Algerian war, The Battle of Algiers (1963). The Algerian guerrillas are forced to use the guile and deception the weaker side in asymmetric warfare typically has to resort to — stones against tanks. In a climactic scene, the colonel of the counter-insurgency forces confronts the guerrilla leader, now in custody, tortured and broken, and asks him — aren’t you ashamed to use burqa-clad women and children in this fight, what kind of men are you? The guerrilla leader replies: Give us your tanks and your bombers… Now, I’m not quite sure what General Rawat has in mind when he wishes that the stone-pelters were better armed. Automatic weapons, perhaps?
I can see that he has a sort of duelling model in mind — a fair, honourable combat, in which the adversary gets to choose the weapons. Instead of this dirty war — in which men shoot pellets into the eyes of angry boys. But there’s one minor correction, general. In the typical use of the phrase “dirty war”, the “dirt” attaches not to the side that is weak, but the one that is strong. Thus, others — insufficiently nationalist — may say that we are the ones fighting a dirty war in Kashmir. But it’s not the sort of thing that one boasts about.