BY RSN SINGH
The integration of Hyderabad into the Indian Union in 1948, the salvaging of Kashmir from the rapacious Pakistani tribals and the consequent 14 months long (Oct 1947 to Dec 1948) war, redeeming the people of Telangana from the Communist violence and dictatorship in 1948, preventing Nagaland and latter major chunks of Northeast from secession, integration of Goa in 1960, reclaiming Punjab from ISI backed terrorists in 1980s — are some defining moments in the evolution of territorial integrity of post-colonial India. The credit, if not entirely, overwhelmingly must go to the Indian Army.
A fledgling Independent India, owing to the differences in colonial experiences, and in the backdrop of geopolitical reality, Pakistan, was psychologically and politically extremely fragile. Many European observers including Churchill doubted the very survivability of this country. The Indian Army did not let it happen.
Post-independent India, 64 years hence remains united – thanks to the Army. All the fissiparous forces have however not disappeared, some have reinvented in more sophisticated and vicious forms and some new ones have sprung up.
The new reality is however that there is incessant and determined bid by some dubious activists and media houses to fray the very integrity of India assiduously built and preserved by the Indian Army. These anti-India forces reckon, if the Army is constantly demonized, it will ultimately be demolished, thus paving the way for disintegration of India.
Army and public goodwill
In all these years, despite frequent and extended internal deployment for ensuring the territorial integrity of India, the Army enjoyed tremendous public goodwill or love of the majority of people. Insinuations about rape, arson, looting by the press were exception. There was never a clamour for removal of the Army, in fact, the Army was seen as the saviour.
A UNI bureau chief, a close acquaintance of mine, had told me in the late 80s, that all bureau chiefs were under strict instructions that they must refrain from any reporting on the armed forces, which has a negative impact on its image. Post the war in Kashmir in 1948, and particularly after 1962, there was massive deployment in Laddakh region. The symbiotic relationship of the Laddakhis on the security, economic and social planes continues to be extraordinary.
There has never been an insinuation of rape, loot etc. by the Laddakhis against the army personnel. It may be reiterated that Laddakh is part of the same state as Kashmir.
Army and patriotism
Armed forces was considered synonymous with patriotism and nationalism. Nehru took personal and abiding interests in the creation of National Cadet Corps (NCC) so as to improve the moral and character qualities of Indian Youth and for their personality development. Parents took pride in dressing up their children in uniform replicas of the armed forces. One of the most enduring photograph is of Nehru with young Rajiv and Sanjay in dressed up as sailors on board an Indian naval vessel. The armed forces were reckoned as institutions of character building.
The Indian Army in its internal deployment is performing the same patriotic duty in terrorism and insurgency impacted, i.e. preserving the territorial integrity of India. It has been doing this at an increasingly forbidding cost. So far 572 officers and more than 8750 troops have died since army was committed in counter-insurgency operations.
Since 1990s, 80,000 AK series rifles, 63,000 hand grenades, 1300 GPMGs, 2,000 rocket launchers, and 37,000 kg of military explosive have been captured from militants in Kashmir only. An estimated 2000-2500 Pakistan sponsored jihadis are active in Kashmir and some 700-800 are waiting in the launch-pads in POK. The large number of casualties of army personnel and the enormous quantity of weapons etc recovered from the insurgents indicates the vicious nature of the threat. It is actually a war. It is only the Indian Army, which has ungrudgingly accepted the heavy constraints so that it can be politically labeled as terrorism and insurgency. Heavy caliber weapons have never been used nor airpower. Pakistan armed forces on the other hand have been using most of its available arsenal against its insurgents and so is the NATO in Afghanistan.
The viciousness of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, if not more is no less than in Afghanistan. Following the pullout of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, many militants, in fact most of the HUJI cadres were inducted into Kashmir.
The officers and men of the Indian Army took on these hard core jihadis and war veterans who claimed to have brought a superpower to it knees. Their next logical target was the US. If the Indian Army had not caused such heavy attrition on jihadis, so many 9/11s would have happened. The Indian Army could not have taken on this challenge with such imposing constraints without character and conviction. The same character and conviction was in display during the Kargil War. The same TV channels which drummed ‘dil mange more’ are endemically holding debate on the very desirability of the AFSPA. In their construct, rape, AFSPA and the Army are synonymous.
The unremitting vilification campaign against the Army and coordinated and concerted bid by apologists of terrorist groups in Kashmir and Northeast for removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is intriguing.
What has changed?
Kashmir constitutes only 18 percent of the geographical area of the J&K state, but decides on the discourse of the entire state as a federal entity of the Indian nation. Abuse of the army and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has now been developed into a fine art as a part of this discourse. The architect of this discourse is the ISI, and the separatists and the jihadis are the tools. As this discourse gained sophistication, and financial muscle, many mainstream journalists and activists were roped in. Many of them enjoyed the hospitality of the ‘Fai Foundation’.
Similarly, there is a sizeable constituency of activists, professionals and journalists, rabidly pro-China, espousing the cause of Northeast insurgents and Maoists. This constituency has always been in existence since independence, but their voices were muted. Nationalism then was largely a non-negotiable attribute. With increasing inflow of cash and proliferation of media platforms, these voices have become more strident and are being amplified for ulterior considerations including monetary.
One TV channel hosts a regular programme wherein actors and actresses visit border and insurgency impacted areas including Kashmir and partake in all the activities of army personnel. It is indeed an imaginative mélange of glamour, soldiering and patriotism to ratchet TRP. The army personnel are portrayed as paragon of human virtues. On the other hand, the same channel has hosted debate on the AFSPA at least half a dozen times. The setting of the debate, though speciously non-partisan is heavily loaded against the Army. There are many unsavory characters with no connections or background to Kashmir or northeast labeling the army personnel as rapists and trigger-happy monsters.
The timing of these debates is highly suspicious. The last debate on the said TV channel on AFSPA synchronized in the backdrop of Prashant Bhushan’s remarks on plebiscite, the flagging of 4500 km rally from Kashmir to Manipur against the AFSPA, Omar Abdullah’s statement on AFSPA, Imran Khan’s aggressive rhetoric on Kashmir in Pakistan, and US-Pakistan standoff over the latter’s support to terrorists in Afghanistan.
Intriguingly, this was at a time when this summer in Kashmir has been most tranquil!
The army does not gloat over counter-insurgency deployment; in fact it demurs for more pressing professional reasons.
Most army personnel do not relish being posted to Kashmir or the Northeast. Distance, terrain and terror are forbidding factors, yet the Army does its job of keeping the country together and protecting the innocent majority from the cruelty, violence and depredations of the terrorists and the insurgents. They are there because the level of violence went beyond other instruments of security. The critical imperative is the cooperation of the state and its people to the army in preserving the integrity of the country. This cooperation has to be predicated on faith in the army as an institution and respect for character qualities in army personnel.
The selective and motivated clamour from some anti-India quarters for removal of AFSPA is designed to breach the trust and cooperation between the large majority of the people and the Indian Army. Debates, which impinge on the integrity of a country, are not encouraged anywhere in the world even in so called liberal western democracies.
Former senior officers of the Army should not allow TV channels to pit them against the most bizarre, unsavory and anti-national characters. It is like Dawood Ibrahim being pitted in a debate against the former Director General of Police Julio Francis Ribeiro on crime and patriotism. The state, therefore, must restrain the media from picking up such preposterous themes. Till then the army officers need to decline invitations to such debates.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a guest blogger for Canary Trap)