A senior Congress politician, Veerappa Moily, seeking to counter the comments of the air force chief on the Rafale aircraft, termed him a ‘liar’. This was because the Air Chief’s comments were at variance with those of his party. P Chidambaram of the Congress subsequently requested the army and air force chiefs to stay away from the Rafale controversy, as their words were impacting the Congress stand.
Earlier another Congress leader, Sandeep Dixit, had called the army chief a ‘sadak ka gunda’. He used this term when the army chief stated that India is prepared for a two-and-a-half front war. He was supported by other opposition political parties.
In February when the chief spoke about the rise of the AIUDF in Assam, he was accused of making ‘political and shocking’ comments. His comments on the Kashmir situation and his views on the army handling stone throwers as also his defence of Major Gogoi had drawn criticism from political parties.
In January last year, while addressing a public event in Mumbai, angry that the navy had blocked his proposal for a floating jetty, Minister Nitin Gadkari stated, ‘Navy is needed at the borders from where terrorists sneak in. Why does it (Navy) want to stay in South Mumbai?’ Sitting in the audience was the naval senior commander based in Mumbai. Had he walked out of the address in full public glare, it would have been Gadkari who would have been insulted.
In every case, senior service officers have maintained silence on adverse comments from politicians, letting them ride. After all, this ethos exists in the military, missing in politics. Other political parties seek apologies from party representatives who passed adverse comments. Passing comments is one thing, making the issue political by seeking apologies is another. Neither earns respect at the national level.
Senior service officers regularly face the media and when questioned on decisions which impact the armed forces answer true to their character, fearlessly, truthfully and frankly. They do not comment on which party has performed better for the armed forces, nor on political decisions. Their comments may not be in tune with ongoing political battles or views of politicians, who remain unwilling to accept other viewpoints, but it does not concern them. The fact that senior serving officers’ statements are more respected than those of politicians who would lie at every opportunity solely to garner a few votes forces them to respond in an uncivilized manner.
They should be aware that senior military officers are more mature than they who are perpetually accusing one another of scams in defence deals. Thus, while the nation questions the honesty of politicians, they in turn target those who speak the truth.
Members of the armed forces, listening to continuous chatter of scams in defence deals would ponder if they have right leaders at the national level. If almost every defence deal is a scam, then soldiers would wonder if political parties are playing with national security to pocket a ‘few dollars more’ or have genuine interests of the nation in mind. This mindset can never be cleared by courts or other politicians but only by their senior service officers, who would project a true picture of the equipment, allying fears.
Those who command large forces, whose members place their lives at risk daily because of political failures as also are responsible for national security have a right to share their views and concerns in a democracy. In these conditions service chiefs are not expected to be mute spectators. They must share their views, which should be politically accepted.
Criticising them, insulting them and accusing them of making political statements indicates the narrow mindedness of our politicians and is evidently a politicisation of the armed forces. It is because of the maturity of senior officers that they neither respond nor counter words of political leaders.
The nation presently faces hurdles in its internal security situation mainly because political parties seek only power, without any concern for resolving disputes. There is no government which has not claimed to have a solution for Kashmir but when it comes to implementing it, they have no answer. The result is thousands of lives of security personnel have been lost while the situation remains as it has always existed.
Politicians and political parties have let the nation down in procurement of weapons, where scams have ruled. They have let the armed forces down by reducing budgets, delaying or slowing procurement processes, preventing the military from being suitably equipped. They have degraded the military by lowering its status and denying them their rightful dues.
On the other hand, the armed forces have never let the nation down, whether it be restoring the situation in Kashmir or the North East, being the first to respond to natural disasters or coming to aid the government for public welfare, when other agencies have failed. It has brought victory to nation in every war as also launched surgical strikes which have made the nation proud.
Imagine if service chiefs were to respond to political decisions which have impacted the military, whether it be opening up cantonments; failure of the UPA in procuring military hardware all through their tenure or their failures in resolving Kashmir or the NE despite an improvement in the ground situation, political parties would be embarrassed. If they were to make these comments in their interviews on multiple media channels, political parties would be defending themselves.
Politicians should know that there are always two sides to every coin. If they desire respect and silence from service chiefs on their misdemeanours and failures, then they must respect them and their views.
The days of silent army chiefs, shying away from the media are over. Once service chiefs decide to broadcast political failures on issues of national security, political parties would have no answer. It is only respect which begets respect. Hence, politicians who live in glass houses should not throw stones at senior military officers.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)