It is a sad sign of the times that the polarisation of society on political and religious lines is now impacting the military too, or at least the Army. Else the GOC-in-Chief of Northern Command would not have been so unabashed about joining issue with a host of his predecessors who had come down heavily on the over-politicisation of the “surgical strikes” of September 2016 by the NDA leadership.

What was said on the subject by Opposition leaders could be contemptuously ignored, but it would be a national disgrace to overlook the observations of Lt Gen DS Hooda, under whose operational direction that cross-border foray had been conducted. At a seminar in Chandigarh he had declared, “Success has its burdens, and my worry is if you hype a successful operation so much planning a similar operation next time could lead to thoughts on what will happen if it does not meet the same standards of success. It would have been better had we done it quietly… in this case there was too much political banter on both sides.”

Joining Hooda in expressing concern over the seeking of political gain from a military success were retired Lieutenants-General NS Brar and JS Cheema who wondered if the strikes would force the adversary to change its tactics. Gen Ved Malik, who led the Army to victory at Kargil, stated that “the trend of politicians questioning the Army at public forums is the biggest threat to military operations and needs to be guarded against.”

Perhaps the fact that the defence minister was abroad came in the way of a governmental response to the criticism. Still, it was “telling” (if not worrisome) that the reaction came from the present chief of Northern Command (the buzz is he could be in the running to pick up a fourth star). As Director- General of Military Operations at the time Lt. Gen Ranbir Singh had sold the surgical strikes to the nation, so he opted to counter the criticism and asserted that the strikes has “conveyed a very strategic message…”. Fair enough, but did he have to do so when visiting a Sainik School, and like the present Chief choose an academic venue to present the Army case? It is inevitable that conclusions would be drawn that the Army is abandoning its apolitical tradition.

It may be stretching a point, but the Army’s cherished character has also been threatened by the alleged involvement of one of its men in the killing of a police officer by cow vigilantes in Bulandshahr. For while the force cannot be deemed responsible for personal aberrations, it speaks poorly of the quality of training and leadership that one of its men should ignore his national duty and join religious and political hooligans ~ and then seek shelter in an Army installation? Are bad examples trickling down? It would be cowardly to duck that question.