Army scoop rumor : Balance and restraint by the media is need of the hour


Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

A recent incident of indiscipline in a unit of the army was dutifully reported by the media, but a few newspapers and TV news channels that indulge in yellow journalism, continue to sensationalise it. This is despite the army having unequivocally stated that the incident is being investigated thoroughly. Implicit in various media releases by the army is that there is no move whatsoever to push the incident under the carpet and that exemplary disciplinary action would be taken against all those found guilty. This being so, speculative innuendos and sensational stances must stop.

My intention is not to say that the news of the incident should not have been reported, or that the media should only report favourable news about the army. However, one starts losing faith in our supposedly independent media when sensationalism takes over and phrases like ‘unique case’ or ‘army getting indisciplined’ are bandied about.

This is not the first time such an incident has occurred. Without going too far back, there was a case in 1978 and another in 1979, both in Ladakh. In 1986 and 1987, two such incidents occurred in the eastern sector. During Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, there were two incidents, one each in 1987 and 1989. Mutinous actions of a number of units following Operation Blue Star in 1984 are well known. There have been similar incidents in the navy and air force too. All these were handled by the hierarchy of the armed forces with balance, maturity and panache and no editor-in-chief of those days interfered or offered advice, as is being done by a few upstarts today! Neither was there any dilution in the professional capabilities of our forces!

All artillery units fire their artillery guns a number of times every year, but the annual practice firing camp has a special sanctity. During this camp, all artillery guns of the unit fire at the field firing ranges and all personnel of the unit are fully involved. When all the guns of the unit fire simultaneously, the noise, dust, smoke and explosions they produce can only be described as spectacular.

During these camps, there is a surge in adrenalin levels of all ranks, as well as tension, as everyone wants to do well. On the day the entire regiment fires, many guests are invited to witness this spectacular event. Once the firing is wound up, there is visible decrease in tension and everyone gets in to a celebratory frame of mind, having successfully achieved what they had set out to do.

It is unfortunate that after the culmination of this specific event, the unfortunate incident of indiscipline occurred. It was an isolated incident, where tempers were allowed to rise unnecessarily. There was no pre-mediation or planning, let alone a conspiracy on anyone’s part. It was simply an accident and hence there is no reason to sensationalise it or make it larger than life. From the very beginning, no attempt was made by the army to hush up the incident. One therefore cannot understand why a section of the media is bent upon making it sinister and trying to link it with other recent events.

In a 1.3 million strong army, where individuals interact with each other on a 24X7 basis, the odd aberration does occur. Despite discipline being ingrained in them from the very first day they don a uniform, and despite the excellent officer-man relationship that is nurtured on a continuous basis, tempers sometimes run high. All ranks do understand that it is this close relationship that sustains them even in the most difficult situations, but anger subsumes this temporarily. Despite the many ups and downs in the working environment of the army, officer-man relationship has endured. These are the facets that have contributed to making the Indian Army professionally highly competent and behaviourally the best in the business. This needs to be commended not criticized. I would urge those elements of the media that are going unnecessarily overboard in bashing the entire army to desist, for if such coverage continues, it will do great harm to the army and the nation.

The army has time-tested and well laid out procedures for dealing with all types of indiscipline. The media neither has the expertise nor the knowledge of doing so. Even those segments of the media that may have been goaded to unnecessarily raise the issue to absurd heights on account of their vested interests will do well to confine their reports to news and desist from voicing irrelevant views and comments. The country continues to have faith in the prowess and honesty of purpose of their army. It is best for amateurs of the media, however much they may think of themselves as the greatest media honchos, to let the army take remedial actions in their own professional manner. They will, in due course, share their conclusions with everyone.

Let me end this piece by adding that the motto of the Regiment of Artillery of your army is “Izzat o Iqbal”, to which they adhere to scrupulously. This particular unit – 226 Field Regiment, will also bounce back, provided unnecessary hounding of the unit and its personnel comes to an end immediately.

The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff.

Army Coup Humor – Arms Lobby Planted The Story In Indian Express !!!

 

It was directed from behind the scenes by vested interests represented by the political class and an arms lobby that are feeling restricted under an honest general

It is a sad commentary on the media when a leading newspaper carries a full front- page report, signed by its editor- in- chief, to push through a complete lie. The newspaper committed an act of treason with dangerous ramifications in claiming that the Army had moved its troops into Delhi with the aim of effecting a coup. Of course glib innuendoes were used instead of direct words, but readers were left in complete shock as a mainline newspaper not yet accepted as a rag sheet sought to inform them of a possible coup that had failed.

The story was farcical and one wondered how journalists of some caliber had lent their name to what could only be described as a mischievous act intended to strike alarm bells across the country, and polarize opinion against the Army and its Chief General VK Singh. What is worse is that the editor stuck to his story the next day, instead of withdrawing and abjectly apologizing. Unfortunately there is little ethics left in the media and no institutions within that could have taken the newspaper and the journalists to task, and ordered not just an apology but some level of punitive action to ensure accountability. The watch- dog has started to bite the people it is supposed to watch out for, and when that happens steps have to be taken to bring in the accountability that once was in- built into the profession.

The question that needs to be answered is why did the newspaper write what it did? At whose behest, with what intention? The bylines were of seasoned journalists who know the ropes and clearly gave their names to a concocted and totally false story with a purpose. What was that purpose? To understand this it is essential to look at the kind of reaction that was generated, and the only reason it did not spread was because of the genuine outcry from the more sensible sections of society.

The intention was to use the little remaining credibility of journalism to cash in on the general ignorance about the Indian Army amongst the civilians, and convince them, or at least set in serious doubts, about the intentions of the Indian Army under the stewardship of General VK Singh. The argument woven into the story was: an independent General is dangerous for the nation while a Chief ( Lt General Bikram Singh) appointed by the political establishment will remain under control which is absolutely necessary if India is to be saved from a coup.

Absurd and ridiculous! And clearly an indication of how intolerant and insecure the political establishment has become. Everyone knows that the story was directed from behind the scenes by vested interests represented by sections of the political class, a deeply interested bureaucracy, and of course arms lobbies that are feeling restricted under an honest general. Several names are known, but then good journalism does not allow stories to be written without proof and sufficient documentation so remain in the realm of ‘gossip’even while being closer to the truth than the fabrication that appeared in the said newspaper.

A line of succession in the Indian Army has been determined by the government in the process to control what and where the Army goes. The argument being floated is that the government wants a pliable Chief who can give teeth to its political requirements, such as withdrawal of troops from the Siachen glacier and withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This has not happened even under pliant Army Chiefs like Generals JJ Singh and Deepak Kapoor, and even the Chief- designate Lt General Bikram Singh might find it difficult to take a decision without becoming totally unpopular amongst the men he aspires to lead. Besides it is well known that these decisions have to be political, and once taken, the Army will have no choice in India but to follow the political will. The current shenanigans hitting at the defence service will in no way give a weak government the political spine to act on issues that are essentially a matter of governance, and clearly the reasons lie elsewhere.

The Indian Army Chief can at best control defence and defence procurements.

And it is well known that despite any other shortcomings General Singh has a reputation for honesty and integrity. In an increasingly compromised world where the corrupt political and business class feels more comfortable with persons they can control and manipulate through commissions and bribes, an officer unwilling to become part of the ” system” is seen as an obstacle, or even a threat. In the Defence establishment, General Singh and Defence Minister AK Antony are sitting over a burgeoning budget, and that makes them vital to the interests of the strong and influential arms lobby that has penetrated the corridors of power. At the same time Antony is averse to open corruption, and refuses to sign on the dotted line at the slightest whiff of controversy. This makes him a liability in the political/ business establishment of today, and clearly there are many who would like to see him go. Along with a general who has been taking an independent line too, and is not vulnerable to bribes and commissions unlike some in the past.

The result is that one of the last remaining institutions is being beaten down by the system. The UPA government has certainly not covered itself in glory when it comes to maintaining institutions, with senior ministers being fielded to attack any and every institution that comes in the governments way and tries to hold it accountable. The Chief Election Commissioner was attacked at different levels during the Assembly polls; the Chief Auditor General has been castigated severely for his free and independent audits that have exposed the corruption in different government departments; the judiciary has been attacked for independent judgments curtailing the powers of the political class on occasion; Parliament has been misinformed and often manipulated with the cash- for- vote scam still biting into memory; the media is purchased or threatened or both into taking positions supporting the political class with proprietors often being made to sack editors with increasing frequency… In short, the institutions that hold up a democracy, and ensure its health and vibrancy are being whittled away as powerful cabals work to set up a pliant system, without checks and balances, so that their avarice need respect no limits.

What can one say about a political/ bureaucratic system that spends days and months in attacking an individual like the Army Chief, and not even seconds in curtailing the corruption that is eating rapidly into the foundations of Indian democracy? FRANKLY SPEAKING SEEMA MUSTAFA