Dear Mr Patel,
This is in response to your piece published in TOI under a presumptuously named column ‘AakaarVani’. I’m writing this to correct you on some factual and a lot of perceptual errors that seem to be behind almost every sentence in the piece. I’m writing in the hope that you may correct these, unless of course these aren’t inadvertent but deliberate spin that you want to give to bolster the argument you make in the title of the piece.
Army Not Above Scrutiny
Let me start by pointing out the irony in the title itself, since having written it yourself, you obviously didn’t spot it. That an article criticising the Army and saying a lot of things about the faujis is titled “Nothing can be said about our faujis, they're above criticism”. If irony was alive in India, it may have died another death – though even now it must have turned a little in its grave at this.
As regards the assertion itself, I don’t see the basis of the sweeping statement that the Army is above criticism. By whom? By the media? Haven’t you heard of the ‘Ketchup Colonel’ or rather read criticism of his actions which was widely covered by the media. As are any instances of wrongdoings or corruption, rare though they are, whenever they do come up – like this report about a recent case. By the judiciary? Courts regularly pass adverse remarks and judgements affecting the armed forces, as in this case. By the government? The fact that they have ordered a probe to investigate lapses, if any, in the Uri attack is a clear indication that not just criticism, the Army isn’t immune to adverse action either.
Revering the Soldiers
Although I’m sure that wasn’t the thought behind your assertion, but let me point out the reason why there is a sliver of truth in it. Yes, by and large the Army is above criticism, and that is because by its performance and conduct it seldom leaves itself open to it. Whether fighting terrorists in Kashmir, rescuing victims of natural disaster in Uttarakhand, or displaying its might and pomp during the Republic Day parade, it performs its job diligently, effectively and without fear or favour.
In a country where we are usually resigned to indifference, inefficiency, nepotism and corruption, such conduct probably sets it apart and hence by and large above criticism.
Except, of course, the occasional black sheep, including some of the cases I’ve already cited above.
To answer your question, probably that’s the reason why “in India this respect has changed to reverence.” As regards the “cult of Army worship that we have built so successfully”, there hasn’t been a single instance of a newspaper or TV channel being attacked or journalist shot (a la Charlie Hebdo) for adverse reporting on the Army – above mentioned or otherwise. Unless of course, you yourself feel that your own or anyone else’s adverse opinion about the Army is above criticism and feel anyone expressing a view countering it is a ‘worshipper’.
Rationale Behind OROP
You have raised two other points, both of which indicate either an incomplete understanding of the issues, or a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation. First is about pensions. You say, “Why should retired soldiers insist on getting what retired teachers and clerks and postmen do not?” I would request you to read a little more on what OROP is all about. It’s actually about retired soldiers insisting on being brought UP to what retired teachers, clerks, postmen – and bureaucrats – are getting, and NOT about getting MORE than them.
Soldiers serve up to 35-45 years of age (because of the organisational requirement of keeping the army young) while all others serve up to 60, and as a result miss out on the corresponding number of increments and promotions, since their pensions were much lower than others. This has been rectified to a great extent in OROP, and they have been brought at par to the extent where they are at less of a disadvantage – still not getting more.
Parity with Bureaucrats
The second is about “some minor rule which equates an Army officer with a bureaucrat of similar rank. But why must soldiers insist on this parity?” Again, complete lack of information, or deliberate obfuscation. The order you refer to has, in fact, downgraded army officers vis-a-vis bureaucrats from the previously existing equation, and hence it is the bureaucrats who are insisting on revising the parity, not the army officers, who have urged the MoD for restoration of the status quo.
One can understand your angst against the army by reading the very first paragraph of your piece – “Every day, on my way to work, I go past the headquarters of the Madras Sappers in Bengaluru. A tank in desert camouflage is at the gate, its cannon overlooking the pretty Ulsoor Lake. I'd like to row on it but civilians are forbidden.” So, since the army regulations prohibit you from enjoying this, you decide to write a bunch of lies and half-truths to vent your frustration.
I would love to challenge your views on the bit you have written about the battle honours and pre vs post-independence army. But I’ll save that for another day, as I think this is more than you can digest in one go.
A fauji who, unlike you, is NOT above criticism.
(The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian Army and currently a research fellow at the Ministry of Defence, writing the official history of India’s participation in World War I. He can be reached at @ragarwal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)