THE MYTH OF POLITI­CISED ARMY

India Today - - UPFRONT - BHARAT KAR­NAD Bharat Kar­nad is a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search, New Delhi

The for­mer army chief Gen­eral Vi­jay Ku­mar Singh’s re­ac­tion to the cal­cu­lated leak­ing to the press of an in­ter­nal army re­port in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of the se­cre­tive Tech­ni­cal Sup­port Di­vi­sion ( TSD) dur­ing his ten­ure has cre­ated need­less con­fu­sion about the mil­i­tary los­ing its apo­lit­i­cal sheen. This is patent non­sense prop­a­gated by those who know lit­tle about the work­ings of the armed forces, get eas­ily alarmed, or have po­lit­i­cal oxes to gore. In coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions any­where in the world, along­side the hard job of close- quar­ter­ing and elim­i­nat­ing armed mal­con­tents and fer­ret­ing out their cells, the fight­ing forces also run pro­grammes to marginalise the in­sur­gents, “win the hearts and minds” of the lo­cal peo­ple caught in the cross­fire who, if not paci­fied and weaned away from the anti- na­tional cause, would end­lessly fuel it. The vast re­gion in which Mao’s fish- like guer­ril­las swim has to be emp­tied of wa­ter by all means.

Such “hearts and minds” cam­paigns to pro­mote what Singh has called “sta­bil­ity” and another ex- army chief Shankar Roy­chowd­hury called “sadb­ha­vana”, are “aid to civil” schemes and par for the course. The Army has al­ways en­gaged in schemes in J& K and the North- east overtly to en­cour­age youth to take to sports, for in­stance, and, covertly, to keep tabs on lo­cal politi­cians. There’s noth­ing re­motely un­to­ward, il­le­gal, or un­der­handed about th­ese mea­sures de­signed to firm up the re­turn of or­der and al­low elected gov­ern­ments and civil ad­min­is­tra­tion to be­gin func­tion­ing and main­stream pol­i­tics to take root. In­deed, based on his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence, an army not en­abled to pros­e­cute such ac­tions will en­sure the coun­try fails in its coun­terin­sur­gency ef­fort.

But com­bine a po­lit­i­cally fraught mi­lieu in the coun­try and a mil­i­tary- wise ig­no­rant In­dian me­dia re­cep­tive to any sin­is­ter spin given even in­nocu­ous events by mo­ti­vated po­lit­i­cal play­ers, and voila!, a storm in a teacup started by news­pa­per sto­ries in­ter­pret­ing nor­mal army for­ma­tion move­ments as at­tempts at coup d’etat and covert pro­grammes to keep the rebels on the back­foot in bor­der states as at­tempts to desta­bilise elected regimes. Such rev­e­la­tions are, of course, po­lit­i­cally em­bar­rass­ing to the likes of Ghu­lam Has­san Mir, Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah and other Kash­miri politi­cians touched by TSD pro­grammes. It up­sets their del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act be­tween not ap­pear­ing as In­dia’s toad­ies and not car­ing to be as­so­ci­ated with the se­ces­sion­ist groups. How­ever, the view em­a­nat­ing from the Man­mo­han Singh Gov­ern­ment that Gen­eral Singh’s dis­clo­sure spells trou­ble is a bit rich, con­sid­er­ing the re­port was, in the first place, leaked by some­one within it with the ex­press ap­proval of those at the high­est lev­els of the Congress party, in the hope of de­rail­ing Gen­eral Singh’s po­lit­i­cal plans.

Dark sto­ries swirling around of po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions of army­men are not new. In the late fifties, they were the stockin- trade of De­fence Min­is­ter V. K. Kr­ishna Menon. Fol­low­ing on Prime Min­is­ter Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s apprehension that Gen­eral Ayub Khan’s im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law in Pak­istan in 1958 might give his In­dian coun­ter­part ideas, the de­vi­ously para­noid Kr­ishna Menon floated ru­mours of the up­right Gen­eral K. S. Thi­mayya pulling a sim­i­lar stunt here. In the 1970s, the Cen­tral Re­serve Po­lice Force ( CRPF) was hugely aug­mented be­cause, it was said, Indira Gandhi de­sired an armed force un­der her con­trol as a foil to the Army, which was laugh­able, con­sid­er­ing the non- ex­is­tent fight­ing qual­i­ties of CRPF.

But there is more to this brouhaha than TSD as an army chief’s pri­vate “dirty tricks” depart­ment. As a con­cept, TSD fits into the orig­i­nal Ro­man no­tion of the “prae­to­rian guard” re­spon­si­ble for the safety of the com­mand­ing gen­eral. Then again, a loyal co­hors prae­to­ria is, in ef­fect, con­sti­tuted by ev­ery new armed ser­vice chief when he in­stalls his favourites as prin­ci­pal staff of­fi­cers at the head­quar­ters in New Delhi to ad­vise and pro­tect him against the machi­na­tions of Min­istry of De­fence ( MoD) bu­reau­crats ea­ger to snatch de­ci­sion turf and sis­ter ser­vices to grab mil­i­tary roles and a larger share of the de­fence bud­get.

It is pos­si­ble TSD was pre­dated by sev­eral covert op­er­a­tions units that were amal­ga­mated un­der the V. K. Singh dis­pen­sa­tion, with elec­tronic eaves­drop­ping on politi­cians in in­sur­gency- af­fected ar­eas be­ing one of its le­git­i­mate mis­sions. It is the fear of what the Army may have thus learned about their car­ry­ings- on which, per­haps, has led the Sri­na­gar regime to get steamed up.

If TSD was aware of the be­hind- thescenes stuff in Kash­mir, the MoD as the higher au­thor­ity that the Army re­ports to was in the know too— rea­son why Home Min­is­ter Sushilku­mar Shinde is nois­ily de­mand­ing a CBI in­quiry, not A. K. Antony. The Gov­ern­ment’s ruse of leak­ing the re­port ap­pears to have back­fired: It can­not any­more use TSD

de­rived in­for­ma­tion about the Na­tional Con­fer­ence gov­ern­ment to keep Messrs Fa­rooq and Omar Ab­dul­lah & Com­pany in line. TSD was ex­pe­di­ently dis­banded but, one can be sure, other sim­i­lar units will pick up the slack.

It’s the fear of what the Army may have learned about their car­ry­ings- on which has per­haps led the Sri­na­gar regime to get steamed up.

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