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The nadir of governance and the destruction of institutions

Last updated on: October 22, 2013 14:55 IST

The Indian Army seems to be the new target of attack. The news leaks, of origin unknown, have been attempting to target individuals inconvenient to the government. In the bargain, mutual trust between individuals and institutions has been severely strained, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.

The Jammu and Kashmir assembly has summoned former army chief V K Singh over his allegations that the army gave money to politicians in the state. This comes close on the heels of the recent attempts at driving a wedge between the Intelligence Bureau and Central Bureau of Investigation over an operation to pre-empt a terrorist attack in Gujarat.

The Indian Army seems to be the new target of attack. The news leaks, with origin unknown, have been attempting to target individuals inconvenient to the government. In the bargain, mutual trust between individuals and institutions has been severely strained. In this cauldron, the hyperactive judiciary and idealistic and naive NGOs have jumped in to add fuel to fire. It seems almost like the nadir of governance.

Mutual trust is the basic foundation of functioning of the armed forces. The author wishes to give an example of how things worked in the 1980s under the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. In January 1979, the Assam agitation imposed a blockade by preventing the oil from the Assam fields from reaching refineries at Bongaigon and Barauni. As the winter of 1980 approached, the apprehension was that if oil flow is not resumed soon, the pipeline will get blocked with wax (which was high in Assam crude) and will have to be relaid as cleaning would be more expensive than simply laying a new pipeline.

Faced with this dilemma, the army secretly trained at a Gujarat oil installation was flown in on November 1, 1980. The well-planned operation went smoothly and the back of the Assam agitation was broken. The author was officiating as a staff officer in Calcutta (now Kolkata) to co-ordinate it. The operation was code named Indra Vajra (full details published in the Sunday magazine dated December 7, 1980).

The interesting part of the story is that nearly a year after the event, the author was summoned by his superior and was asked where the government sanction for the operation of this magnitude was? The issue had surfaced as the auditors had raised this question! To this the answer was that the sanction came from the army headquarters on telephone and was duly noted on file.

Instead of any censure that one expected, my superior officer said that he was really glad that the army was still functioning as it ought to. If an army has to function efficiently, mutual trust between officers and men is a necessary precondition. It needs reiteration that the orders to launch operations are invariably given verbally.

Armed forces are different from the bureaucracy in this respect where in later case written orders on files are the norm. One hopes that we do not destroy this institution and ‘outsource’ security to ‘contractors’ as a superpower has done with disastrous results.

It is indeed disingenuous to feign outrage at army’s ‘interference’ in the sphere of civil government in border areas. Today the army is running ‘goodwill’ schools all over J&K to provide quality education to children. In the long term, this measure, more than anything else, will bring to peace to Kashmir. All these activities are carried out with the full knowledge of the central government. Since all this requires money, it is the army that has been providing it though ‘secret’ funds.

The media and some rouge elements within the govt have done a great disservice by bringing it into open. The individual MLA/minister who is recipient of these funds has now become the target of separatists and militants of foreign origin. If this disclosure puts the life of a pro-India politician in jeopardy, is the media outlet not responsible for it? This disclosure also raises another pertinent question as to what action is being taken against the person who leaked an obviously top secret document. 

Violence that India faces and the challenges in Kashmir have their roots in social conditions, economic issues, internal politics, external interference or psychological factors like alienation. Violence is a symptom and the cause of the disease lies elsewhere. Use of force or counter violence is thus merely one of the instruments to bring about the desired results.

The battle in Kashmir has to be fought on five fronts simultaneously, namely economic, political, psychological, social and military. The use of force is thus only one of the fronts and to attain success it has to be in consonance with the other four. The armed forces are merely an instrument of the central government, in fact the only instrument to fight this war on five fronts.

To tie the hands of armed forces in internal political feuds or bureaucratic turf wars is a recipe for disaster.

In the Mahabharat, as the evil Kamsa failed in checking the rise of Krishna, he became paranoid and began to see Krishna’s image in water, earth, air, food, stones and trees! Is that fear of political opponent that is at the bottom of it all or else some rouge elements are out to sabotage national security? It is difficult to make a guess. Nearer in modern times, as Maratha generals Dhanaji Jadhav and Santaji Ghorpade harassed and hounded the Mughal army, it was said that when the Mughal horses refused to drink water, the Mughal soldiers used to attribute it to seeing Dhanaji-Santaji image in the water!

If one is to apply the criterion of hounding the armed forces for actions in other spheres in areas of counter-insurgency, we might as well say goodbye to north-east. In the north-east, the presence and involvement of armed forces in inter-group rivalry (militant and over ground) is several magnitudes greater than in Kashmir.

While this entire media circus is going on, a ‘minor’ matter of an under-trial terrorist escaping from a court in Mumbai has been completely forgotten. The alleged terrorist apparently fled in a taxi from a Mumbai court.  

It is indeed a time that the President and supreme commander of the armed forces intervenes and restores sanity. Luckily for the country, a very seasoned and vastly experienced Pranab Mukherjee occupies that office. It is time that he gives his sage advice to the government of the day and arrest the slide into chaos if the armed forces are to become dysfunctional. The President has the ability to quietly caution the government and remind it of its constitutional obligations of defending the nation.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale is former Chhatrapati Shivaji Fellow of United Services Institute on counter-insurgency and author of Quest for Peace: Studies in Counter-insurgency.

Colonel (retd) Anil Athale