Defence and security is a serious business since the issues involved deal with lives of human beings and can, as such, not be trifled with. The nation takes to defence and security with utmost seriousness; the slightest hint of weakness generates hysteria with a cascading effect. Defence reporting provides no room for speculation, innuendo, sensationalism; claims and counter claims; statements, counter statements and almost immediate retractions, as is very common in other fields like politics. It is for this reason that defence analysts are expected to be circumspect in their writings and choice of words. Against this backdrop, a recent trend by some senior defence analysts to sensationalise matters concerning defence and security comes across as a deviation from established norms.
Ajay Shukla, a seasoned and well respected defence analyst has in his article “Wake up, Generals’ carried by the noted weekly Business Standard on October, 30, 2012 raised some issues regarding senior leadership in the Indian Army. One has no problem so far as the debate is concerned; the subject does merit expression of ideas and has been articulated upon for some time now. What is galling is the examples that the author has chosen to put across his point.
In a direct attack on the chief of army staff, he has questioned his personal life style. The author refers to Army House, the official residence of the Indian chief of army staff as “his (the chiefs) tony residence on New Delhi’s leafy Rajaji Marg.” The Army house is not the property of General Bikram Singh any more than it was the property of all chiefs before him who have resided over there; it is simply a government house allotted to him as an official residence. It was as “tony” for his predecessors as it is for him, there being no reports of his having broken down the structure to build something ‘tonier” that what was there earlier; so why single him out?
The second issue that the respected author has raised is the staff of the chief of army staff. He has contended that the chief has garnered in cooks and waiters from units in the field to augment the resources of Army House at the cost of the soldiers serving in remote operational areas, “visits to many army posts and picquets would find combat soldiers cooking and washing instead of training and patrolling simply because their cook or dhobi is languishing in Delhi,” Ajay Shukla says with utmost confidence. This, I feel, amounts to taking things beyond realms of the fertile imagination that the author is known for.
Let us, for a moment, say that the chief felt the need of additional manpower; we will, for the sake of argument, put the figure at an astounding one dozen cooks and waiters in addition to the staff already available; the point is – why on earth would he insist on manpower coming only from field units? Surely it can be taken from the units and formations serving in peace stations or directly from the Army Service Corps responsible for their recruitment and training. One can only hope that my good friend Ajay Shukla has written all this after ‘visiting’ some remote picquets and personally witnessed fighting soldiers making food and performing other administrative chores.
In the remainder portion of the article the author has selectively picked on a few generals who are under the cloud for charges of corruption, by writing about these cases in concert with his diatribe against the serving army chief he has equated the latter with such persons who are in the dock for alleged misdemeanours even though the chief has no such charge pending against him? This, I feel, goes against journalistic norms of fair play.
One would like to add that there are no reports of ostentatious lifestyles emanating from Army House. In fact, the army chief, on assuming command, did not even call for a ceremonial guard from his own regiment as has been the norm over the last few changeovers. The ceremonial guard of honour was presented by the ceremonial unit of the Madras regiment presently located in New Delhi for this purpose. During occasions like birthdays and anniversaries the chief is known to have requested his well wishers to convey their good wishes with no more than a telephone call. One wonders as to how many times Ajay Shukla has been to the residence of the chief and witnessed the ostentation that he has written about in such graphic detail.
Targeting the chief of army staff on mundane issues without presenting evidence to support claims is not standard procedure for a senior retired officer let alone a well known defence analyst like Ajay Shukla; against this backdrop the method and the innuendo of the article suggests some vested interest. The interest of the author in the ongoing Track II talks with Islamabad is well known, there may be a possibility of motivation to write thus emanating from this development. Another hint of the motivation is contained in the last Paragraph of the piece; “General Bikram Singh has taken his media managers’ ill-considered advice that controversies are best dealt with by avoiding the press,” says Ajay Shukla. The article could have been written as a petulant reaction to the closed attitude that the army has, of late, adopted with regard to the media. It would serve the Army well to realise that this perception is fast gaining ground and that the small hints doing the rounds presently may escalate to a crescendo in the future. Modern India is very averse to the imperialistic lack of transparency that marked the functioning of the British Army.
Having said so, one can only hope for positive, timely and transparent and professional Army-media interactivity where criticism is done in a civilised manner without resort to chicanery and information is fed to the environment without fear or favour. We must leave this mudslinging to the politicians.