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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 6:25:43 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 (https://, 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.

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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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First published on: 15-06-2017 at 12:00:29 am
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