Related image

Congress party statements that the military is above criticism are disappointing. Congress has now joined right-wing breast-beating over the sanctity of the military. It is not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense to say that the military is above challenge.

Let’s be clear: no state institution and no political personality is above criticism in a democracy, not even the Constitution and President of the republic. Once we put the Indian military on a pedestal we become Pakistan – and look at where that unhappy country is.

Actually, the Pakistan parallel is somewhat unfair. There are courageous Pakistani writers who over the years have questioned their military. It would be difficult to find any Indian commentator who is as brave, even though the military here is subordinate to civil authority. Ayesha Siddiqa, the Pakistani analyst, for instance, has written a searing, detailed expose of the Pakistani military in her book, Military Inc. No one in India would have the courage to delve that closely into Indian military affairs.

Having said this, the Indian military is more open and tolerant of criticism than our politicians, media and civil society. I can attest to this personally. In 1998, after i had opposed India’s nuclear tests, the only institution in India, apart from some sections of the media and a handful of colleges and universities, that invited me to share my views was the Indian military.

The Indian military is by no means perfect. It has its strengths and weaknesses, its blind spots and obstinacies. For instance, the Indian army is yet to forthrightly accept its mistakes in the 1962 war with China. It has instead allowed Jawaharlal Nehru and Krishna Menon to take the blame. Its stand on the Siachen glacier makes no strategic sense. It has bullied the political leadership into accepting a futile forward position on the glacier when there is no convincing case.

Anyone familiar with the Indian military knows that for all its strengths, it is marked by professional incompetence, bitter rivalries at the top (as we have seen in one leadership succession after another), a feudal culture of officers and batmen (the army has one of the worst tail-to-teeth ratios of any military), and, yes, corruption. We pretend that it is a saintly organisation consisting of selfless heroes, but the military itself knows that this is not the case. It is a part of the wider political and social culture of India and not terribly exceptional.

The Indian military does not need hero worshipping and foolish mythmaking. It does a difficult job, which is to deploy force to protect us from internal disorder and external threat. At the limit, it must be prepared to take a bullet for the nation and to take another’s life – neither of which is easy. To do its job properly, it knows it must not only get its share of credit but also take its share of criticism.

Those who have questioned the Indian army and Major Nitin Gogoi over the jeep incident in Kashmir are perfectly entitled to do so. Indeed, we all are obliged to think deeply and responsibly about whether his actions are justified in terms of military codes, the claims of natural justice and political wisdom. It is a fair bet that Gogoi himself continues to mull over his decision.

The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, was right to launch an inquiry into the incident, and he was wrong to give Gogoi an award before the findings of the inquiry are known. Both decisions are properly open to debate, and no one should be stifled in the discussions over Gogoi and Rawat’s actions. To his credit, Rawat has reacted to the debate with greater dignity and good sense than our politicians.

No one, the current government has reminded us, is above the law, not even the media. So also, no institution is above criticism.