With a number of security personnel, including one from the army, raising grievances through social media, Army chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday asked his men to directly communicate to him through the ‘suggestion-cum-grievance’ boxes that will be set up across the formations.
His remarks came a day after an army jawan posted a video on social media criticising the use of soldiers as ‘sahayaks’ (helpers) of the officers.
However, Gen Rawat made it clear that ‘sahayak’ or ‘buddy’ system is very important part of the army but he is in talks with the government to look at the possibility of doing away with it in peace stations.
He said that army personnel, rather than indirectly communicating their grievances, should use the ‘excellent’ grievances redressal system existing in the force.
Gen Rawat described social media as a ‘two-sided’ weapon which can be used favourably but can also be detrimental.
"I would like to announce that I have issued orders that in every army headquarters, we will have a chief of army staff suggestion-cum-grievance box placed at various places. We will follow suit with similar COAS redressal-cum-suggestion boxes being placed at command headquarters and then subsequently to lower formation," he said addressing his annual press conference in New Delhi.
Assuring full confidentiality, the Army chief said anyone, irrespective of ranks or service, can use this mechanism to put whatever they wish to write into these letter boxes so that grievances can reach him directly.
Gen Rawat said the soldiers should write to him with names but he will ensure that the names of the personnel are deleted before any action is taken.
"We would like that people come directly to us rather than resorting to the social media or other means. Let the troops have the confidence in senior leadership of the army that their grievances, genuine of otherwise, will be addressed in right earnest. If dissatisfied, they can use other means," he said.
In the video on Thursday, Lance Naik Yagya Pratap Singh, posted in 42 Infantry Brigade in Dehradun, said that after he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the defence minister, President and the Supreme Court in June last year, his brigade received a communication from PMO asking for a probe into his problems.
Singh said that instead of investigating the issue, his superiors began harassing him and also initiated an enquiry, which could potentially result in his court-martial.
The video came in the backdrop of two similar clips trending on social media.
'Can't rule out surgical strikes if peace not reciprocated'
Gen Rawat made it clear that more surgical strikes cannot be ruled out as India has the ‘right to retaliate’ if Pakistan does not react positively to offers of peace.
Gen Rawat also said India needs to ‘wait and watch’ the Pakistani response in Jammu and Kashmir.
He accepted that challenges of proxy war, insurgency and terrorism will keep India embroiled for ‘years to come’.
The army chief said the director generals of military operations of both sides have spoken to each other and want peace and tranquillity along the Line of Control (LoC).
The two officers spoke on November 23 and since then there has been relative peace along the LoC, he said.
Asked if surgical strikes conducted along the LoC, and operations conducted in Myanmar, would now be part of the doctrine, the army chief said, “We have told the adversary to accept peace and in case that offer is not reciprocated this method of operations (surgical strikes) shall continue”.
He also said the aim is to ensure peace and tranquility and it (surgical strike) shall not be needed if there is peace.
“Our offer to the adversary is if you reciprocate offer of peace in the same manner, the need to conduct a surgical strike will not arise,” he said.
He also said proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir was started to target India’s secular fabric under which ‘people’ moved out from the state.
The army chief said to ensure the secular credentials of the country are not affected, one must make sure the state reverses to what it was before 1989 with ‘everybody there’ living in harmony.
He was referring to the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits when the militancy started in the state. The central government has already made it clear that it wants to ensure that the displaced Kashmiri Pandits are rehabilitated in the state.
The army chief said the proxy war, terrorism and insurgency target the secular fabric of our country.
‘We are a secular country and we need to ensure that’ it remains so.
Gen Rawat said one could see what happened when the proxy war was started in the valley in 1989.
“The secular credentials of our country were targeted and people were moved out from that state. So when we are looking at harmonious relationship and making sure that these credentials are not affected, we have to make sure that Jammu and Kashmir reverses to what it was pre-1989 with every body there living in harmony,” he said.
On combat role for women
Asserting that equal opportunitybrings equal responsibility, Gen Rawat said it’s up to women to decide if they are willing to join men in frontline combat role without separate and additional facilities.
He mentioned that when out on tanks, the men sleep under the tank during the night with no separate facility.
Noting that women are present in combat arms of the army except on the frontlines, Gen Rawat reminded that there are no toilet facilities when they go out on patrol.
“You have to see society as whole. I have said that if we induct women into combat role, they will have to share equal responsibility like their male counterparts because equal opportunity must come with equal responsibility. Which means that they will have to perform exactly the same task,” he said.
Giving the example of soldiers in tanks, he said there is a unit of three personnel in each of them and when they go out, or are in a combat, they just sleep under the tank.
“The three-men crew has a stove. They cook and sleep under that tank. That is how they do,” he said, adding there is no toilet facility or separate accommodation given to them.
“So, if all three in the tank, if it is one woman or two women and a male, if they are all willing to sleep under the tank and if the women folk are willing to accept it....,” he said citing another example.
He said patrol can be for 20-25 days and the longest one to the border was in Arunachal Pradesh for 35 days.
“Now at night, when you halt, all that happens is a blue sheet is pulled out and everybody sleeps under it together.
“There is no toilet. Everybody gets his bottle, he goes out, God knows where, and he returns after some time. If women are willing to move out in that environment, the women folk themselves need to take a call. Once the women are willing to take this kind of call, we will address this issue,” he said.
He said rather than thrusting it down, one has to look at the society and think.
While women are inducted into the Corps of Engineers and Signals, they have been left out of the Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry.
‘Will look into Lt Gen Bakshi’s grievances if informed’
Gen Rawat said if Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Parveen Bakshi, who he superseded, brings any grievances to him, he will look into it.
Lt Gen Bakshi had alleged that a ‘malicious campaign’ to stop him from becoming army chief was carried out while addressing the soldiers of eastern command on New Year's Eve.
“If there is anything that needs to be investigated, as I said, if it is brought to my notice, we will look into it,” he said, adding he came to know of Lt Gen Bakshi’s allegations through the media.
He said since his name was announced as the new chief, both of them -- he and Lt Gen Bakshi-- had reached out to each other.
Gen Rawat said the only thing Lt Gen Bakshi told him was that he accepts the government’s decision and will support him and the army.
The army chief also said Lt Gen Bakshi, who will rejoin early next week despite being on a longer leave, has ‘kindly’ said he will be attending the Combined Commanders Conference which will be held later this month.
Later while talking about a Brigadier who was removed from command in Uri following the terror attack, Gen Rawat said, "Being removed from command is more disgraceful than being superseded. Supersession can still be accepted.”
IMAGE: Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat gestures during the Army's annual press conference in New Delhi on Friday. Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo