Controversy over Chiefs of Armed Forces


(Criticism of our Army or Air or Naval chief has become a common feature these days.  But, how far these critics are justified in targeting the people who are guarding nation borders? Should the Courts entertain PILs challenging the actions of our security forces?  Fine, freedom of expression in democracy too needs restrictions, if not ‘Laxman Rekha’.  Otherwise, chaotic situations may prevail forcing the people to revolt and take to streets, besides taking law into their hands, which is dangerous.  Author, a high-profile army officer, Brig (retd) GB Reddi, who fought all three wars that India engaged in, choose to appeal to those who are indulging in suh acts to ‘restrain’ as it is need of the hour to all and sundry. – Editor)

 (Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

 Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, and Chief of Air Staff are mired in controversies for expressing their views on various service matters.

Controversies involving Generals is nothing new on how to wage and end wars in mankind’s history.

For America’s generals, more than 17 years of combat have served as a lesson in the limits of overwhelming force to end wars. “Victory is sort [of] an elusive concept in that part of the world,” said Lieutenant General Sean McFarland, who led troops over five tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. In the absence of a clear outcome, winning for much of the US military’s top brass has come to be synonymous with staying put. These days, senior US officers talk about “infinite war”.

During his address in CSIS in the recent past, General Dunford covered a wide range of views pertaining to the trends in the security environment to include the fight against violent extremism and terrorism to include overall strategy that cover areas such as governance, intelligence, finance, messaging, and foreign fighters and so on – mostly outside military matters.  And, there is no hyper media ventilation in America.

In reality, there is a major source of tension between US President Donald Trump and his Generals regarding pulling out of troops out of Syria “very soon”. Trump has fired General H.R. McMaster, who was national security adviser, for opposing his views. General Mattis, Defense Secretary, is also on the firing line to go as per media speculations.

In 2010, the commander of multinational forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, was dismissed by Barack Obama after critical comments about senior administration officials.

Furthermore, during and after World War II, US Army General’s Douglas MacArthur and Patton, most flamboyant and daring soldiers, were involved in politico-military controversies. They had a knack for ruffling the feathers of superiors.  MacArthur holds the unique record of defying three US presidents. MacArthur was considered a “media whore”. MacArthur was fired. Patton died in December 1945 under mysterious circumstances.

Surely, the lesson learnt by US Armed Forces equally apply to various crisis situations in India since 1955, that is, the outbreak of Naga Insurgency – infinite wars.

Ironically, General Bipin Rawat, with a laudable military pedigree,  is under political and media scanner on issues to include:  praising Major Gogoi who had tied a Kashmiri to an Army jeep and used him as a human shield from stone throwers; stated “People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us. If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die;  easier if the protesters fired weapons instead of pelting stones;  adversaries must be afraid of you and at the same time your people must be afraid of you; and,  PDP-BJP coalition government in the state and the central government have tasked the army to deal with the situation and given a free hand to do what they want.

Air Chief Marshall Dhanoa, Vice Chief of Air Staff and Deputy Chief of Air Staff are also under the political and media scanner for their views on Rafale fighters justifying the deal.

On Major Gogoi’s incident, the National Conference and the PDP slammed the decision and called the incident a “gross violation of human rights. Sandeep Dikshit, in an interview to ANI, called the General ‘sadak ka gunda’ (roadside thug)”. Partha Chatterjee compared General Bipin Rawat with General Dyer of the infamous Jallianwala Bagh incident.

The Wire said that the army is supposed to command the respect of the people, the word “fear” that the General used is “inappropriate and ill-advised”. Hindustan Times opined that General Rawat has ended “talking like a politician” in an attempt to maintain the morale of his troops and uphold their prestige.

Ipso facto, the General justified his statements by highlighting “This is a proxy war and proxy war is a dirty war. It is played in a dirty way. The rules of engagements are there when the adversary comes face-to-face and fights with you. That is where innovation comes in. You fight a dirty war with innovations.”

Furthermore, all the senior Air Force officers have justified the Rafale deal what with their trio appearing before the Bench of the Supreme Court.

As per inherited conventional wisdom, which is archaic, Service Chiefs are supposed to only give frank advice on what they believe is the best military strategy – while avoiding any public statements on policy. Hence the view that it is essential for service members to remain neutral in politics and follow the legitimate orders of whoever is above them.

Let me highlight that the nature of warfare has changed quite dramatically and the conventional wisdom is no more relevant in information-dominant warfare. Ipso facto, warfare has transformed from Generation 1 to Generation 4 (massed armies, massed fire power, maneuver and super insurgency).  Most importantly, the threats to national security include: hybrid warfare, irregular warfare, asymmetric warfare, or political warfare (and in this brief, gray zone challenges) are “attempts to achieve one’s security objectives without resort to direct and sizable use of force.”

Let me highlight that Indian Armed Forces (to include Security Forces) are increasingly facing challenges from “proxy wars” aided, abetted and actively sponsored by state and non-state actors seeking to disintegrate and dismember modern India.

What does it involve? It involves high levels intellectual fecundities to counter gray zone tactics quickly, respond boldly, and think ahead to the adversary’s “next move” and corresponding aggressor strategies. At the same time, it requires responses across the full range of tools, within and beyond the government, for relying on the classical and conventional military tools is too slow and often creates unnecessary crisis or friction points.

In sum, the nature of “proxy war” (as it is commonly understood by pseudo intellectuals and media) has transformed from “Brawn War” status to “Brain War” status. So, General Officers cannot remain dumb and mute spectators to toe the line of “Dumb-asses and Blindmen of Hindustan”.

Let us all honestly introspect over the proliferation internal security threats over the past six decades. They are primarily due to   legendary political blundering and bungling – woeful lack of understanding of national security complexity.

None of the Political High Commands have ever specifically articulated “Higher Directions of War to include Grand Strategy” and defined ‘end objectives to be achieved by specific time frames”, and the ways and means of achieving them.  There is a total void. That is why the invocation of “political dumb-asses and Blindmen” particularly by those whilst in opposition like Sandeep Dikshit among others.

If so, “is the controversy over the senior officers unleashed by the political dumb-asses and Blindmen and their crony media houses and panelists justified in today’s dramatic transformations in the nature of warfare?”

One cannot help but highlighting the statement of George Washington to a group of military officers in 1783: “If freedom of speech is taken away, “then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” In retrospect, it is exactly what is happening in media discourse today in India.

Wake up media houses particularly partisan ones! Hypocrisy of media houses does not augur well for their self image. On one side, “free press” is their war-cry and human rights. Joining them also all and sundry that includes: judiciary, media, academics, NGOs and civic society activists. On the other side, they condemn the senior officers for airing their views to maintain the morale of troops.

How can they also deny applying the same yardstick to the armed forces personnel to express their views and experiences based on the flawed perception of “Traditions’, different character of the military community, need for discipline and inherited colonial “Acts”.

Most importantly, all alike must accept slender is the thread between higher directions of wars (Grand Strategy) and policies and military strategy, operational art and tactics in today’s security threat environment.

Ipso facto, new technologies are creating new threat concerns particularly social media networks. The increasingly complex and elusive media landscape has thrown fresh challenges to national security. Advanced communications technologies have fundamentally altered the ways in which information and meanings are delivered, organized and received particularly in collusion between state, non state actors and militant groups.

Good governance requires political dumb-asses/Blindmen hiding behind Z-plus security cover and living in “Fortresses” and also the judiciary to scrupulously refrain from dragging “Generals, Admirals and Air Chief Marshals” into political controversies and pass value judgments on legitimate Armed Forces concerns operating in the most vicious and vexatious security environment with no “defined end objectives” in eternity just as the Army must be scrupulous not to intervene in political and even judicial matters.

Let me make no bones to highlight that media and also all others may take a cue from the lesson of Vietnam War.  The media’s enormous negative coverage of the Tet Offensive marked the turning point in the Vietnam War and, as such, became the basis for heated debate as to whether the military or the media lost the war.  In retrospect, US media was squarely responsible for the loss of face in Vietnam.

Is it happening in the live coverage of confrontation between stone-throwing mobs and troops in Kashmir? Why are the opposition political blind-asses keeping mum and allowing the denigration of troops round the clock.

Media has been indulging in ‘negative coverage’ about the security forces, which adversely lowers troop’s morale. Is modern India losing the “proxy war’ in Kashmir due to its media hyper activism in sensationalizing and denigrating the security forces.

Viewed in the emerging context and complexity of security environment, there is an inescapable need to carry out a de novo review Articles 19 and Article 33 of the Constitution which places restrictions of fundamental rights – to restrict or abrogate the Fundamental Rights of certain categories of government servants so as to ensure the proper discharge of their duties and maintenance of discipline amongst them.

Also, Army Acts 20 and 21 that ban political and non-military activities besides and communications to the press, lectures, etc. without the prior sanction of the Central Government.

The question which emerges is whether the Fundamental Rights of the members of the armed forces, other than the three listed under Article 19, can also be abrogated even if they do not have any impact on discipline or the performance of duty.

The Supreme Court in the last five decades, keeping in view the international covenants to which India is a party, has commented on the right to protection of life and personal liberty has received the widest possible interpretation.  The Delhi High Court held in a recent case observed: “A soldier or officer’s honor and dignity is as much a part of his right to life; it is to be respected just as much, if not more, for the reason that it is offered unhesitatingly and fully in defending the borders of the nation. Unlike ‘hired guns’ they stand guard so that the rest exercise our liberties. Denying them the right to a safe workplace with standard equipment constitutes violation of their right to life and dignity.”

To sum up, it is never too late to review, modify and refine regulations and directives placing limits on service members’ right to free speech.