One of the more alarming outcomes of the so called “surgical strike” on Pakistani positions in Jammu & Kashmir is the attempt to drag the Indian Army into politics.
For this both the ruling and the opposition parties are to blame, as well as some retired army officers.
The politicians’ motives are electoral, in view of the coming Uttar Pradesh elections.
The greater blame rests with the ruling party, where the Union Defence Minister who, instead of shielding the army from controversy, has been most assiduous in using it for his party’s publicity.
One of the sad facts of democracy are the base things done and said in election time, however, the army is too important an institution to be used for electioneering.
The basic facts were laid out on the very first day by the DGMO, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh.
The army conducted strikes on targets along the Line of Control to preempt so-called non-state actors from launching attacks on India.
This was a one-off action, but in acknowledging it, the government has signalled a posture of “surgical deterrence” which will hopefully deter future cross- LoC attacks.
The Indian Army is a volunteer force which maintains an apolitical posture and emphasises professionalism.
It has played a significant role in building the nation by its secular and non-sectarian approach.
Recall, that before the arrival of the British, Indian armies were constantly battling each other on a regional or sectarian basis.
For their own reasons, the British wanted a force which would not get involved in internal uprisings, and so, they carefully recruited and maintained the force in cantonments, separated from society and paid them through a central treasury.
After independence, too, the government saw the value of this and encouraged the army to remain apolitical, separated from the society both psychologically and physically.
But for the small mutiny of the Sikh soldiers in the wake of Operation Bluestar in 1984, this has worked well.
The problem today is of political movements that are trying to stoke ultra-nationalism, and in the process seeking to conflate the status of the army as ultra-patriotic deshbhakts.
This goes against the grain of the army and its outlook. The average person who joins the army, as a jawan or officer, does not do it out of ultra-patriotism, or to “serve the nation”, but because it is a job that comes with social respect, a reasonable income and a life-time pension.
It raises the status of the family of the soldier or officer and is a means of upward social mobility.
However, there is one critical difference; the military job requires you to put your life on the line, on occasion.
Fortunately, independent India has not been involved in any major war, so the risk of death has remained low.
In any case, the soldier confronts the possibility of death as part and parcel of his professional commitment, not bravery and deshbhakti.
All commanders take calculated risks and do not play with the lives of their men, there is no such thing as secular fidayeen.
The Special Forces do undertake highrisk missions, not just because they are brave, but that they are highly trained and have a sense of professionalism inculcated through their rigourous training and their special weapons and tactics.
Their trade-craft and strong esprit de-corps makes them comfortable in conducting operations which would appear near-suicidal to others.
Here there is also need to look into this use of “shaheed” for a soldier who dies in battle.
This is a religious category used by countries like Pakistan as well. What we need is a distinct category, something like that of France where soldiers who died in war have the designation “Mort pour la France” (Died for France).
This is a legal category that provides for special benefits for the families of those so designated.
All of us want a brave army, but bravery is never enough. The fearsomely brave Rajputs would order their women to commit jauhar (self-immolation) and go into battle knowing there was nothing to live for thereafter.
But the Rajputs lost many wars. What the modern Indian republic needs is a military that wins every time.
So it must be well equipped, not just with weapons systems, but highly trained, educated and motivated personnel.
They should be well paid and professionally satisfied, but also distracted from the many storms that always buffet the country- the beef controversy, the water wars of Karnataka, the reservation riots in Haryana, the Maratha agitation, the Maoists and even the Kashmiri agitation.
Their orientation must be relentlessly on their need to defeat external enemies.
This commentary originally appeared in Mail Today.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).