From Lt Col (Retd) Harbhajan Singh Cheema
I have gone through Mr. Inder Malhotra’s article `Malegaon and Militancy. Handle the situation with utmost care`. He has quoted a number of instances where precautionary steps were taken in anticipation of likely reaction of troops. I would wish to clarify a situation where I happened to be a witness as one of the officers in The Sikh Regimental Centre Ramgarh Cantt. . It has been stated by Mr. Malhotra that Brigadier commanding the Sikh Regimental Centre was shot dead by his soldiers. This gives a mistaken impression that the Sikh soldiers shot dead their Non Sikh commander as a result of Operation Blue Star. While it is true that their reaction was an emotional outburst as a result of Operation Blue Star it was not directed against a particular community. What happened is like this. `Subedar Major, the senior most rank amongst troops learnt about some men collecting together and withdrawing weapons from the quarter guard (weaponry). He immediately went to the residence of Brig SC Puri, The Commandant and informed him of the situation. Brig Puri, in his wisdom collected Col (Retd Brig) Jagdev Singh and my self (both Sikh officers) and we proceeded to the location in his staff car. As we approached the men loading ammunition in the vehicles we were shouted at and asked not to go close to them. No commander worth the name stops under such circumstances. We did not do it either. They initially fired in the air in our direction. When we continued to proceed towards them, they fired at our car in which all of us were injured. Brig Puri succumbed to his injuries and others except my self who was discharged after first aid were admitted in the Military Hospital with serious injuries. All except Brig Puri were Sikhs and all suffered bullet injuries`. The point I am trying to make is that their firing at us had nothing to do with communal feelings. There were 18 other non Sikh officers and number of other ranks in the centre and none of them were harmed. Brig Puri was a popular officer; it is unfortunate that he became a victim of circumstances. Any of us could meet his fate.
It is natural for the Defence Forces personnel to have feelings for his community, region or religion and may have preference for a political party during voting in a democratic system, but he remains secular in his out look, is totally apolitical and does not live in narrow confines of regionalism. There are many units based on religious or regional groups. There are healthy competitions amongst them but there has never been a case of communal feelings. Fissiparous forces of communal frenzy are unfortunately generated by political parties’ and religious fundamentalists for their narrow ends which need to be curbed with heavy hands. Let them not medal with the affairs of Armed Forces who remain to be above these narrow and petty confines of religion, region and even language. Let them be left alone so that they continue to serve the nation as hither to fore.
Lt Col (Retd) Harbhajan Singh Cheema
Purohit Involved in Samjhauta Express Blast Too?
Malegaon bomb blast accused Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit was Saturday further remanded in police custody till Nov 18 to facilitate investigations into new leads pointing to his possible involvement in last year’s Samjhauta Express bomb blast in Haryana state.
Special public prosecutor Ajay Misar told the chief judicial magistrate’s court here that Purohit as an army officer was in charge of 60 kg RDX in the Deolali army camp near Nashik during his posting there in 2006 and that some of the explosive material was supplied to Bhagwan Das, an absconding accused in the Samjhauta Express blast.
A witness to the RDX theft in the Deolali camp is present in Nashik, Misar said.
As many as 68 passengers, including some Pakistani nationals, were killed in the blast that took place inside the running train Feb 18, 2007, 90 km north of Delhi in Haryana state, Misar recalled.
Earlier, the army officer was brought from Mumbai for court appearance on expiry of his 10-day police custody remand.
Seeking a three-day extension of Purohit’s demand, Misar told Judge H.K. Ganatra that new leads have emerged from the army officer’s interrogation and narco-analysis test conducted on him in Bangalore.
The leads need to be probed in conjunction with the interrogation of self-proclaimed Sharada Sarvadnya Peeth Shankaracharya Swami Amritanand alias Dayanand Pandey, who was Friday remanded in police custody till Nov 26, the special public prosecutor said.
Purohit’s counsel Avinash Bhide opposed the demand for extended police remand, arguing that it was being sought only because the investigating agency was not been able to get any evidence to prove the army officer’s involvement in the crime during his 10-day custody.
The judge disposed of a complaint of Purohit’s torture filed by his kin after examining x-ray and other medical examination reports obtained from Bangalore Army Hospital, which did not corroborate the charge.
Purohit himself answered in the negative when the court asked him whether he was tortured in the police custody.
Meanwhile, a team of the Haryana police Saturday interrogated Pandey in connection with the Samjhauta Express blast. The interrogation was held in the Mumbai headquarters of Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS).
Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit allegedly procured 60 kg RDX from Jammu and Kashmir in 2006, a part of which is suspected to have been used in the Malegaon blast and also in the Samjhauta Express train explosions, the prosecution told a court in Nashik, giving a new dimension to the ongoing probe by the Anti-Terrorism Squad.
Interestingly, Purohit had interacted with the ATS in the past and in 2005 had even given a talk on operational techniques and strategies to them. The investigators suspect that he is closely linked to a little known right wing group Abhinav Bharat.
The court dismissed an application filed by Purohit's father-in-law, alleging torture in police custody, after the army official denied it to the court. Also, medical records did not show any evidence of physical torture.
In Mumbai, Maharashtra police chief A N Roy voiced his dismay over charges against the ATS by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine that the arrests in the connection with the blast case were politically motivated.
Purohit is also alleged to have conducted an arms and explosives training camp for members of right wing organisation Abhinav Bharat in Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh between October 16 and 21 2006, Misar said.
The court dismissed an application filed by Purohit’s father-in-law alleging torture in police custody after the army official denied it in the court. Medical records also did not show any evidence of physical torture.
Roy’s remarks come in the backdrop of various political leaders, particularly those belonging to the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP alliance, questioning the way the blast investigations are being carried out.
EVEN as the celebrations at our joining the ‘nuclear club’ start to ebb, contrary information from across the Atlantic is getting shriller. The Minstry of External Affairs now accepts that there are differing perceptions on the 123 Agreement between India and the US. When such issues become bones of contention, there is no prize for guessing who will be at the receiving end. Clearly Tarapur has not taught us any lessons.
Throughout this debate, there has at least been unanimity on the need for India to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. In spite of this, one is disappointed that the subject of testing has been treated in such a cavalier fashion.
There has also been deafening silence, from the one community that, at the end of the day, is responsible to the executive to ensure that, should the moment of reckoning ever come, our nuclear weapon systems will deliver on what our nuclear doctrine professes, namely “to credibly deter and should this fail then punitively retaliate”.
The reasons are not far to seek. The armed forces have been left out of the nuclear policymaking, Research and Development and testing loops altogether for reasons best known to successive governments! Not surprisingly, the retired uniformed fraternity has nothing to say, thus depriving the debate of a vital techno-operational viewpoint.
To achieve successful weaponisation quite apart from demonstrating the technology itself, the nuclear devices need to be miniaturised, designs need to be ruggedised, mechanical and electronic arming and safing systems need to be installed to prevent unauthorised or accidental detonations and all these need to be tested for high reliability individually and system wise, both under static and dynamic conditions.
After integration to delivery platforms, the entire weapon system needs to be thoroughly tested through development, field and user trials (except for actual warheads which need their own individual testing) to shake out design/ engineering bugs.
It is important to highlight that institutionalised procedures regarding weapon standards, quality, testing and certification exist and must not be given the go by, just because we are dealing with a nuclear weapon system. Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened.
For reasons of security and different specialisations needed, the process of nuclear weaponisation was divided between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and other laboratories. The military as users were kept out.
In his book, Weapons of Peace, Raj Chengappa relates how a confidential review by former Union Minister of State for Defence Arun Singh on instructions of Prime Minister V.P. Singh found the poor coordination between agencies disconcerting and called it an unacceptable situation.
With such a shaky foundation, sound testing with user participation should have assumed even greater criticality. Dr P.K. Iyengar, a former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who played a key role in Pokhran I, recently told a national daily that nuclear tests are an absolute necessity to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent and such tests are a method by which the requirements of the users, namely the armed forces, are met.
According to the website of the Federation of American Scientists, of the five nuclear weapon states, the US has conducted 1054 nuclear tests, the erstwhile USSR 715, France 210, the UK 45 and China 45. It has also been reported elsewhere that of the tests conducted by the US, around 130 low yield tests were related purely to safety aspects of operationalising nuclear weapons and their designs.
Since these are nations that have developed, tested and operationally deployed nuclear weapons over decades, clearly there is a message in these statistics. Pakistan is not being mentioned because their warheads are proven Chinese designs and their need to test arises not out of design, development and operational compulsions, but purely out of posturing.
S. Ramgotham, in his article “The case for nuclear testing” in Rediff.com says: “But even with all that data from a thousand nuclear tests, American scientists are still unsure about the effects of aging and deterioration on the nuclear parts or the nuclear-explosive package of their warheads. Despite over 50 years of manufacturing and deploying nuclear weapons, despite years of experience and expertise conducting sub-critical tests and computer simulations, American scientists are still unsure about the reliability of their nuclear weapons.
“Indeed, some time ago, weapons experts discovered a design flaw in the W-76 warhead, which the Trident’s D-5 missiles carry, which meant that it perhaps would not have exploded when launched”, he says.
Specifically on the safety aspects, it needs to be emphasised that there is a big gap between testing any weapon, nuclear or otherwise, in laboratory conditions and doing so as an operational tool to be handled in field conditions by the military. The number of safety tests conducted by the US is itself a pointer to the essentiality of testing, preceding operationalising nuclear weapons into military service and keeping them safe and credible for effective operations.
Having recognised the importance of comprehensive testing as a pre-requisite to successful operationalising of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Weapon States have been keen to bind potential nuclear weapon states into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In this context it, is worth recalling what our External Affairs Minister said in the UN General Assembly in 1995: “We are glad that negotiations are in progress, but we also note that nuclear weapon states have agreed to a CTBT only after acquiring the know-how to develop and refine their arsenals without the need for tests… Developing new warheads or refining existing ones after a CTBT is in place, using innovative technologies, would be as contrary to the spirit of the CTBT as the NPT is to the spirit of non-proliferation.”
This statement implicitly recognises that testing is an integral step towards new weapon development or refining existing ones and that sub-critical capability needs knowhow generated by actual test data. It is no coincidence that the Hyde Act 2006, which authorises the Indo-US deal, also forbids the so-called ‘sub critical’ tests, which do not generate sustained nuclear chain reactions.
Since tests involve the entire development cycle of technology demonstration, proof of design concept, integration to delivery platforms, development and user acceptance tests, clearly the 1998 tests should have been the beginning of this entire testing and operationalising process and not the culmination.
Had we been serious about our long-term strategic objectives, we would have continued with further tests towards achieving the ultimate objective of arriving at a weapon system that had the stamp of the user as an operationally usable, safe and reliable system. Only then would the world have considered our nuclear weapons capability as credible enough to deter.
Earlier, in an article, Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, made the point “that the assertion by some senior scientists in 1998 that the country had successfully conducted one thermonuclear weapon test, and therefore need not test again, was strongly repudiated at that time by both national and international nuclear weapon experts”.
Nevertheless, so carried away were our scientists with Pokhran II that painstaking and rational analysis of test results, that is the very object for testing, were short-circuited and they reached the conclusion that further tests were not needed.
Clearly, our strategic nuclear programme was now being driven not by cold technical and operational logic, but hollow posturing. This nuclear and military amateurishness has by no means gone unnoticed within the confines of the elite nuclear club of five and the larger brotherhood of the NSG.
Whatever spin we may want to put on this after the NSG waiver, the bottom line is this. If we test, the waiver is off. So if knowing this we are happy to celebrate the waiver, it only suggests that we do not consider further development tests towards operationalising our nuclear arsenal necessary, a euphoric conclusion that was reached hastily and controversially soon after the 1998 tests and which still remains our nuclear mantra. Our nuclear deterrent will thus remain under- developed, unreliable and unsafe.
None of these knee-jerk reactions befit a nation embarked on safeguarding its national security in the international nuclear environment. A nation that through 60 years has zealously nurtured and guarded its military nuclear potential, through thick and thin. Now that we have convinced ourselves that we have a good deal, we must also accept the inevitable consequence.
That our nuclear doctrine is good in theory, but not credible in practice. Those who know better are quite happy to let us bask in our self-created glory without in any way being deterred. As long as we get drawn into the folds of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, however indirectly, they are quite happy to massage our nuclear-power ego.
While the nuclear powers can thus rest on their laurels for having furthered their non-proliferation agenda, the danger to us is from within. The nation sincerely believes that we have the ability to deliver on our nuclear doctrine. Correspondingly, its strategic foreign policy and security postures will be moulded on this false premise. Should the time ever come to put this capability to test, our nuclear emperor will be found to have no clothes!
A J. Philip has portrayed a perceptive and understanding picture of the life of the jawans at Siachen (“Land of roses”, Spectrum, Nov 9). Having been at Kargil and commanded large mountain formations in high altitude, one is aware of the problems one confronts. These include, among others, acute loneliness, difficulty in breathing, cases of pulmonary odema, snow blindness, no fresh vegetables and greens, delayed mail, and families forced to stay on “separate accommodation” for years.
My wife and children had to suffer such living in Chandigarh twice over and one can imagine the case of jawans today when the joint family system of living together in villages and towns has vanished altogether. Yet, the niggardly attitude of the government to the jawans’ salaries and pension as doled out in the Sixth Pay Commission report seems to be our only fate.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram should read this article, if they have missed it out, so that they can come to grips with reality and do what must be done for the soldiery that they often swear by so frequently.
A quick flying visit by a minister for an hour or so to these regions does not give one the true picture of life at these terribly inhospitable heights. The government should start looking after the soldiers before it is too late.
In his article, “Destination Leh” (Spectrum, Nov 2), A.J. Philip has shared his knowledge of historical events with the readers. The story of General Zoravar Singh is the most inspiring. He was an excellent military strategist and was popularly known as the “Napoleon of India”. I personally feel that his stature was much higher than that of Napoleon as the latter never faced hardships that Gen. Zorawar Singh had to face.
Gen. Zorawar Singh was born on April 13, 1786 and died on December 12, 1841. He belonged to a village near Bhalloon in Nadaun tehsil. He fled from home in his childhood to have a better life. His friend, Dilawar Singh, promised to join him on his next visit to the village. Zorawar Singh joined the army of Maharaja Gulab Singh and rose to the rank of a General. Meanwhile, Dilawar Singh got married and had a son, but he kept his promise to his friend and joined the ruler’s army.
During the assault on Tibet, his army faced freezing cold. The soldiers used gunny bags to cover their feet but that hardly saved them from frostbite. He was about to attack Tibet when an enemy soldier, disguised as a guide, misguided him and as a result many of his soldiers were killed or maimed and he was defeated. But such was his grit and bravery that the victorious army of the enemy constructed a memorial to pay tribute to him.
Nand Singh’s elder son the late Prem Singh had participated in Second World War and the youngest, Brig Lal Chand Jaswal (retd) was in service during 1965 and 1971 wars. The credit of celebrating the birth anniversary of Gen. Zorawar Singh on April 13 every year goes to Brig Lal Chand Jaswal, a fifth generation soldier. His son, too, is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.
The article is exhaustive and informative. But his narrative about Gen. Zorawar Singh Kahluria is factually and historically incorrect. No doubt, Gen Kahluria was courageous and a great military strategist.
After Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, the British Army defeated Sikh Army in two wars and annexed Punjab in British Empire in 1845. At that time, Raja Gulab Singh bought Jammu and Kashmir for a princely sum of Rs 70 lakh and became the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. Khushwant Singh’s History of Sikhs has the details.
Tata Motors, the world's fifth-largest medium and heavy truck-maker and the second-largest heavy bus manufacturer, is now targeting the market for military vehicles in Europe, China, Russia and India to push sagging sales of the Land Rovar.
Tata Motors is already a supplier to the Indian military, providing armoured trucks for over five decades, and has showcased the Tata Light Speciality Vehicle, a reconnaissance vehicle, at the Defence Expo earlier this year.
The latest move is aimed at reviving Land Rover's fortunes, whose sales declined 11.22 per cent to 61,421 units in the July-September period as compared to 69,189 vehicles sold in the corresponding period last year.
Three new vehicles for ailing Jaguar - a coupe, a roadster or both - and a lightweight sports car, are in the works, according to industry sources. A Jaguar sports car could compete with the Mercedes-Benz SLK, Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4.
additional $2 billion over and above the $1.5 billion that the ship has been contracted.
"The negotiations are on. It would be hard to say when they will be concluded," a defence ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He also discounted suggestions that the Russians were arm-twisting India into paying the additional cost, which was initially placed at $1.2 billion.
"The negotiations are being conducted in a spirit of cooperation given our close defence ties. Nothing will be done to jeopardise this," the official maintained.
Indian Defence Minister AK Antony had discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov during his visit here in September for the annual meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental commission for Military Technical Cooperation.
The two ministers had also decided to establish a joint working group at the defence secretary level to resolve the Gorshkov issue as also delays in other defence deals.
After protracted negotiations, India signed a deal with Russia Jan 20, 2004 to buy the 45,000-tonne Gorshkov, along with 12 single-seat MiG-29 fighters and four twin-seat MiG-29 trainers for $1.5 billion.
Of this contracted amount, approximately $974 million was to be spent on upgrading and refitting the ship and $526 million on the MiG-29 jets and six Kamov Ka-31 attack and reconnaissance anti-submarine helicopters.
The delay in refurbishing the carrier has been attributed to two developments at the Russian shipyard where this is being undertaken.
The first was the realisation that the work involved in refurbishment had been grossly underestimated and much more would require to be done before the ship was made seaworthy.
The second was that the shipyard had transferred the bulk of the workforce engaged on the carrier to a new nuclear-powered submarine it has begun constructing.
The ship was to have been delivered in 2008 but is now likely to be handed over to the Indian Navy only in 2013 after 18 months of intensive sea trials.
The dramatic cost escalation has threatened to cast a shadow on long-standing defence ties between India and Russia. India depends on Russia for over 70 per cent of its arms imports.
Meanwhile, the Russian government, on India's request, has loaned $250 million to the Sevmash shipyard to ensure that the Gorshkov refit continues without any interruption.
The Russian government has also asked the yard to ensure that there are adequate personnel to work on the ship.
Sevmash, located in arctic Russia, has now recruited workers and engineers from across the country and at the same time abandoned some other projects, including a floating nuclear plant, to ensure that the work on the much-delayed Gorshkov project does not suffer any more.
The main work on the vessel's hull is already done, and new equipment is being installed while the re-planning of interiors is under way. Indian officials have been posted at the generally wintry yard to monitor the work and to make sure that it is in accordance with the specifications drawn up by the Naval Headquarters in New Delhi.
The news of the arrest of Lt Col Srikant Purohit for masterminding the Malegaon blasts has attracted substantial attention, as this is the first case of its kind—of an army officer being arrested on charges of terrorism and more importantly because of fears that India’s last genuinely secular institution too has lost its secular sheen. But is it really the case? And can we assume that the fringe has become the mainstream? I would certainly say that this is a one-off case and that the secular credentials of the armed forces in general and the army in particular remain solidly intact.
Politics, religion and women are not discussed by officers, after a British tradition of remaining apolitical and keeping religion essentially at bay. And while it might be argued that the officer corps has become more and more representative of the middle class and therefore is likely to be easily influenced by hardline religious propagandists, right-wing sentiments are certainly never aired.
Yes, our soldiers do worship their gods, and mandir, gurudwara and masjid prayers are still very much part of the Sunday menu of most military units. But religion and faith in god have often motivated our armymen to push themselves to their limits and beyond. And those that fall prey to propaganda of the Sangh parivar and its jingoistic outfits are still so few and far between in our uniformed forces that, unless we become a police state where every conversation is recorded and every movement is observed, it will be impossible to know what lurks in the minds of those few who would take this insidious route.
Our army is not like Pakistan’s and our military intelligence—which Purohit belongs to—is certainly not an ISI. To paint, therefore, the entire olive green force with a saffron brush is rather unfair. Furthermore, to allege that such acts by armymen can lead us to assume that our army, of all our institutions, can also be blamed for aiding the communal divide—a blame that politicians must bear instead—is outrageous, to say the least.
In fact, on the contrary, the armed forces have strongly upheld the Indian Constitution and remained strictly outside the political process. There have been instances of politicisation of the senior brass of the armed forces. While it began at the time of Indira Gandhi, the BJP-led NDA government also must share some of the blame. This has led to a culture of sometimes appointing more amenable officers as service chiefs, in place of no-nonsense officers, but religious beliefs have had no role to play in such politicisation.
For the media to serve up headline-hogging story after story—by pointing fingers at the army—is to exhibit its superficial understanding of military matters. Just because it is driven today by sheer consumerism—since higher viewership or readership is often its driving force—the media can’t take it upon itself to denounce an institution like India’s army, which has repeatedly proved its secular credentials. And to create pressure on the military brass to identify more cases such as Purohit’s is to lose sight of the larger issue.
Indeed, the murky doings of Purohit and his mentors have tarnished the army’s secular credentials. But the entire episode could certainly have been handled better had the army’s brass hats responded quickly to the situation and issued a statement clarifying the army’s position on such matters and also asserting that it would take every step necessary to weed out people like Purohit. Instead, it was A.K. Antony who further assured the country that such acts would be checked, thereby implying that there is more to come! This is a job that the public relations officers of the Union ministry of defence should have done, instead of scanning newspapers for photographs of their bosses and putting up favourable news on their table seeking a "shabash".
The military must understand in the 21st century that the power of media is enormous in influencing public opinion, and that it has already lost valuable time over the past few years, as it has hesitated in befriending and understanding the media. Had it done so and stepped down from the ivory towers and responded equally quickly as the episode evolved, it would now not be hiding from television cameras that want a few sound bites that could give a balanced view of a story such as this. This was left to retired officers. But there is always something to be said for somebody in a position of authority defending a case with conviction. This has allowed the media to drive the military to the ground. But if national interest is what is our concern, let us not cast aspersions on the one institution that India can still bank on.
* Malegaon was a backlash waiting to happen dismissed by the Indian military as another one-off freak aberration. One hopes our politicians will realise the country’s interest and security comes before their votebank politics.
* The Malegaon misdeed, along with previous other so-called "one-off aberrations", is symptomatic of the larger malaise afflicting the Indian military—of valuing competence over character and technical proficiency over values, where ends always justify the means. This response of the Indian military is nothing but a manifestation of self-negation overpowering self-realisation.
* As a 2nd Lt I was travelling to Ranchi when a senior member of another community made fun of my worshipping a Shivling and the dancing Shiva. Yes, I kept quiet and I was a secular Indian but had I taken a stand to defend my beliefs then I would NOT have been one. WOW.
If anything has been held sacred about the Indian army so far, it has been the fact of the unalloyed patriotism and secularism of its men. That certitude stood more than a little shaken on November 4, the day a serving officer of the Indian army, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, was caught as the alleged mastermind of the blasts in Malegaon on September 29, 2008. His arrest raised a whole mountain of questions. Is Purohit an aberration or is there more to the phenomenon? Have hardline ideologies begun to taint the thinking of the military as well? Have the politics of religion and identity—asserting itself in insidious and manifest ways—begun corroding what has hitherto been the bulwark of India’s democratic and secular values, the armed forces?
Politicians have never given up trying to manipulate the defence forces, ever since India gained Independence. One need only recall the disaster that was the 1962 war, Jawaharlal Nehru’s interference and the promotion of Lt Gen B.M. Kaul over more competent officers, including Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw.
But never did politics hold as much sway as it did during the Kargil war, when the BJP-led NDA was in power, and nationalist sentiment was at a Himalayan high. The first portent perhaps came on May 6, 1999, at the height of the Kargil war, when the then director-general of military operations, Lt Gen N.C. Vij, was ordered by the Union defence ministry to brief several MPs on the progress made by the Indian army in battle. Vij prepared a detailed presentation and, along with his counterparts in the air force and navy, made his way to an office on Ashoka Road in central Delhi. "To our horror, we discovered that this was the party office of the BJP. Left with no choice, we just briefed the BJP MPs and left hastily," says one of the three officers present at the briefing. "We complained bitterly, but no one in the defence ministry thought much of it."
The briefing was a first in Independent India’s history where senior serving chiefs were asked to brief a political party about ongoing military operations. While the incident has been debated and dissected over the years, marred by claims and counter-claims, the fact is that this was an incident that India’s steadfastly secular and apolitical military could have done without.
The same year saw the 3rd Division of the Indian army working overtime to facilitate the Sindhu yatra, an event that was planned and executed by the Dharma Yatra Sangh, an arm of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The then general officer commanding the division, Major General V.S. Budhwar, had brushed aside the army’s role in the function as routine. Not just that, the then defence minister George Fernandes had even co-opted Kargil sentiment, saying that the war had been fought on the banks (in the Batalik sector) of the Indus.
Years later, the then army chief, General V.P. Malik, would condemn both the events in his book Kargil: From Surprise to Victory, under a chapter suggestively titled ‘Leave Us Alone’. He denied he was in the know when the DGMO was going to BJP headquarters or when the army was being deployed for the Sindhu Yatra. Now, however, he tells Outlook, "I have always said that I took up the matter with the prime minister. It is detailed in my book."
Kargil indeed provided fertile ground for the politics of national fervour to take firm root. Scores of retired military veterans at that time found it natural to identify with the BJP’s language of nationalism, and joined the party. The BJP even created a special defence cell—to man which it roped in generals Lt Gen K.P. Candeth and Lt Gen J.F.R. Jacob—ostensibly to raise issues of strategic and military value.
* In February 2001, Air Marshal Manjit Singh Sekhon, commanding the South Western Air Command, wrote to the then Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, seeking his intervention with the prime minister to get a transfer to the Delhi-based Western Air Command. He promised to "tackle J&K and Pakistan as required by the government", and also "help people of Punjab in many ways". Invoking the blessings of the "Akalpurukh (the Almighty)", he hoped to become the air chief some day.
* In 2003, Tarlochan Singh, the chairman of the minorities commission, wrote a letter to defence minister George Fernandes urging him to appoint Gen J.J. Singh as the first Sikh army chief. Singh never protested or distanced himself from the letter publicly, even after he was appointed as the army chief.
* Earlier in 1998, months prior to the sacking of navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat by the NDA government, an unsavoury fracas had broken out between him and Vice Admiral Harinder Singh. According to reports, Singh described Bhagwat’s wife as a "half-Muslim, card-carrying Communist". While Singh retired, Bhagwat became the first chief to be sacked by the government.
A disillusioned man today, there is no doubt in Bhagwat’s mind that the whole security establishment today is biased. "There is a clear majoritarian record and views in the military as well as the intelligence services," he says. He recalls briefings in the chiefs of staff committee, which were "communal and clearly biased against Muslims" and "assumed stereotypes". Bhagwat also remembers walking out of an army parade on January 15, 1996, when he was chief of the western command, and where Sena chief Bal Thackeray was among the invitees. "I, along with my air force counterpart Air Vice Marshal K.C. Cariappa, walked out in protest," he says." How could such communal politicians come to a military event? The RSS has always had an agenda right from 1947-48 to infiltrate the armed forces as well as the intelligence services and the bureaucracy."
Those arraigned on the right side of the political spectrum dispute his view. Among them is Manvendra Singh, the BJP MP from Barmer, who continues to be a territorial army officer and is therefore qualified to speak on behalf of both sides. "The orders in the army are in black and white, as is life," he says. Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, who retired as the army vice chief under the NDA government, can’t agree more: "Right from induction, it is hammered into the officers and troops that there is no caste or religion in the army and everyone is similar."
Having said that, both however stress that the BJP holds more appeal to the military because it ‘speaks’ their language. "The BJP speaks in a straightforward language which is similar to the language of the military," says Manvendra Singh. "Over the years, the BJP’s ethos has come to epitomise a commitment to an ideology that is equally clear and nationalistic." Adds Oberoi, "The language of those on the right of centre has always had greater appeal for men in uniform in most democracies. I have done a course in the United States and I saw 90 per cent of the officers were Republican." Indeed, the BJP’s views come closest to the military, avers Lt Gen N.S. Malik, convenor of the BJP’s defence cell and the son of a former Jan Sangh leader.
But all this is not to say that the army has become politicised, clarifies Manvendra Singh. "To say so is completely wrong," he asserts. "The military respects us because the NDA government achieved several things for the military that had not been done in 60 years." Adds Brig R.B. Sharma (retd), a member of the BJP’s defence cell: "We stay away from serving officers but pass on our inputs and thoughts to the BJP leadership."
VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore has a slightly stronger viewpoint. "We certainly don’t want the army to be politicised," he tells Outlook. "But the army has been made lame, and in places like Kashmir the Muslims have openly showed their dislike of the army. I am not saying there is any truth in the reports about Lt Col Purohit, but there are reasons for disgruntlement in the army." The defence cell’s joint convenor, Group Capt Vijay Vir, echoes this somewhat: "I always felt that we are submissive and soft as a nation. Given our size and strength, why can’t we assert ourselves in international affairs? By conducting the nuclear tests in 1998, the NDA government proved our mettle."
Ask armymen themselves, and they’ll say they still haven’t lost their spine. The admitted policy, they’ll tell you, is to stay out of all religious disputes. Which is why, when the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board activists took to the streets in Jammu, army headquarters instructed its formation commanders not to get involved in quelling the protests. "It was a religious issue. We have already been alienated by a section of the population in the Kashmir Valley. We don’t want people in Jammu too to be alienated from the army," a senior officer told Outlook on condition of anonymity.
Army headquarters was worried, say sources, that any role in quelling the protests could adversely affect the troops since the leaders of the movement were ex-servicemen. But since they were leading a protest on religious lines, senior officers feared that the army’s role could be given a communal colour, something that was pointed out repeatedly at internal army briefings.
"It was a difficult assignment, so we had to keep out," says the officer. "But the constant involvement of the army in maintaining law and order is unhealthy.We can’t be quelling down protests by Gujjars one day and then tackle protests by Hindus in Jammu. The army has to be above it or we will lose our secular fabric."
Some believe this fabric has already been rent, with people like Purohit having little qualms about wearing their politics on their sleeves. For the moment, though, army chief Deepak Kapoor has gone on record saying that a thorough internal investigation and profiling of officers and men will be done to "weed out such elements". There’s hope yet.
The terror attack in Malegaon has had an unexpected military consequence. A few military officers, at least one still in service, are under scrutiny for involvement. This is a revelation of, and a cause for serious concern about, the extent to which communal animosity has pervaded the nation’s polity. The subsequent discourse has, however, focused only on the politicisation of the army and the defence forces. What does the involvement of these officers in terror attacks—yet to be proved—portend for the armed forces’ stability and apolitical identity?
The links between terrorism, communal animosity and politicisation of the armed forces are tenuous. The forces have largely been free from demands to adapt their actions to political agendas—despite occasional pressure to selectively intensify or scale down operations in insurgency-hit areas when elections approach or negotiations are on. Military commanders have effectively resisted this, and the junior leadership is wholly free of partisan action. This neutrality makes the army a preferred choice of people in riot-hit areas. When the political leadership wants to keep communal riots going, it has often delayed the deployment of the army.
What could have motivated the officers allegedly involved in the Malegaon attack? Surely, it was not patriotism. Was it then an ultra-nationalism of a narrow kind, influenced by the identity politics being practised in the country? And if a religion-based divide got the better of the officers’ professional judgement, is the malady widely prevalent in the army? The answers need to be found in empirical evidence.
The armed forces function through rational action determined by military necessity, not political ideology or communal sentiment. This notwithstanding, arguments about the politicisation of the military have been frequently put forth in all democracies. When Gen David Petraeus testified before the US Congress to justify the troops surge in Iraq, there were accusations that the George W. Bush administration was politicising the military.
In India, the extensive use of the army in internal security duties is thought to expose it to the risk of politicisation. Promotions and postings, too, have not been free of such insinuations. After the Golden Temple operations, there was anger and hurt amongst Sikh troops and officers. Some had mutinied, some deserted and there was at least one senior retired officer who had lived with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the holy shrine. But the armed forces were not politicised by that serious breakdown of discipline. Neither has the use of the army to halt communal riots resulted in its communalisation or politicisation. The conclusion being drawn by some that the Malegaon episode is proof of the armed forces’ politicisation misses the important challenges faced by the Indian state.
The political leadership has largely been unable to envisage a genuinely inclusive democratic process delinked from identity politics. Armed forces personnel are witness to this, as much as anyone else. The effects of virulent identity-based political rhetoric are to a large measure counterbalanced by the model of secular identity preserved in the armed forces. This sustains the faith of armed forces personnel in the ideals of the Indian state. But it cannot wholly immunise every individual against the ill winds in the polity.
Officers who were unable to rise above that communal and vengeful rhetoric allowed themselves to be involved in Malegaon. It will not be surprising if one learns that such retired officers were in fact targeted as potential facilitators by interested groups. The Bhonsala Military School in Nashik, where meetings and the training for terrorist acts allegedly took place, is not under the military.It is one of many civilian institutions propagating a narrow form of nationalism. If some retired officers join such an effort, it’s a case of individual failure of loyalty to the state they swore to defend.
These unfortunate exceptions do not prove politicisation of the army, but their import cannot be minimised. Relentless communalising of politics and politicisation of governance is causing serious damage. It is beginning to affect the values by means of which the citizens adhere to the state. The armed forces, instruments of state power, are clearly at risk of being affected by the growing mismatch between the ideals they adhere to and the practice they witness.
NEW DELHI: Italian Army Chief Lt Gen Fabrizio Castagentti will arrive here on November 17 for a five day visit during which he will seek to enhance military ties with India. “During Italian Army chief's visit, both sides are looking forward to enhance th eir military ties and opening up new opportunities for cooperation in training,” an Army officer said.
Lt Gen Castagentti will interact with senior Defence Ministry and armed forces' officers to discuss issues related to defence, besides looking into prospects of increasing cooperation between the Armies of the two nations.
“With both the countries committed to United Nations objectives and sharing common concern over increasing global terrorism, discussions on global and regional security situation will be held,” the officer added.
During his stay in the country, the Italian Army Chief is scheduled to visit Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facilities along with Indian Army's field formations and training institutions. There has been a regular exchange of visits between political, diplomatic and military leadership of the two countries for building up a strategic partnership.