BY RSN SINGH
The recent upheaval in an artillery unit (226 field regiment) in Nyoma in Ladakh sector is not merely a rupture of officer-men binding. In the past, the underlying impetus to such upheaval was religious or ethnic ferment amongst the troops, but in the instant case “class clash” is being insinuated by certain quarters, specially the media. The character that the upheaval acquired after the initial spark has typically ultra-leftist footprints. Reportedly, when the Divisional Commander visited the unit to take stock of the situation the next day he found that no personnel was wearing his rank on shoulders or arms. When questioned, they with temerity said that they had repudiated all rank structure and they were all ‘jawans’.
The disturbing question is that as in the case of para-military forces have the Maoists started infiltrating and subverting the Indian Army? The over-ground Maoists, particularly those in the media, have in the recent times been drumming invidious, absolutely factious and outrageous propaganda that the Indian State, ‘as part of its war of attrition on the poor has pitted poor jawans in police and para-military forces against poor-Maoists’. In this propaganda the ‘officers’ are labeled as agents of the State. In a seminar organized by a thinktank associated with ‘profession of arms’, the editor of an English Weekly unabashedly and with impunity, unleashed this propaganda war in the presence of uniformed personnel.
The incident therefore should be of pernicious concern for its egregious portents and ramifications. It undermines the very foundations of the Indian Army. All armies, in fact all Nation-States draw their strength from accountability at various levels predicated on hierarchy. In the Army it is called ‘chain of command’ whose sanctity if attacked leads to anarchy.
There are any number of versions of the said incident, each adducing more serious motive and breach than the other. Nevertheless, it definitely emerges that after the immediate trigger, which involved criminal transgression on the modesty of an officer’s wife, the spontaneity factor had soon given way to planned, meditated and organized rebellion and violence. At least two newspapers reported that violence had spilled on the streets of Nyoma village and the troops had degenerated into a bloodthirsty mob, raising slogans on megaphone all through the night. Above all, the matter of gravest concern is the dissolution of all intervening levels in the organizational and leadership hierarchy between officers and men i.e. JCOs and NCOs. As in the case of Kargil conflict the role and efficacy of JCOs beggars drastic review. Whether this violence is mutiny or near-mutiny is not the question. The critical issue is that the most vital ‘officer- men’ link, which welds a unit, snapped. It is never sudden or episodic but is result of constant fraying.
This rupture in ‘Officer-Men relationship’ such as in 1857 and 1984 is rare phenomenon. More recently it also happened in Bangladesh, wherein the Bangladesh Rifles, the para-military force responsible for security of Indo-Bangladesh border, mutinied against their officers, essentially drawn from the Bangladesh Army. In each of these upheavals, it was not the case that officers were responsible, or all the subordinates were consumed by the unmitigated passion of revenge against the officers, but such was the threat and compulsion of the instigators that they had no option but to associate themselves. Both in 1857 and 1984, the rebellion was against the ruling dispensation and the officers were targeted primarily because they were seen as stymie which is the sacred duty of officers no matter how overwhelming the opposition and how heavy the price.
The Element of Subversion
Such upheavals in the Army are seldom without sustained subversion of men. The 1857 upheaval, call it ‘mutiny’ or ‘war of independence’, was preceded by the bizarre ‘chappati movement’, wherein unleavened bread spread like wild-fire throughout the subcontinent. Since the ‘chappatis’ did not bear or carry any message, the objective of this movement elicited a wide range of eerie and inauspicious interpretations. The native troops in the cantonments were greatly disquieted by these interpretations, which did evoke suspicion about the British and the British Officers. The 1857 upheaval as is well known had religious underpinnings. So was the case in 1984. It is also established that the ethnic and religious subversion began to be implanted by the ISI through some self-styled leaders of the Sikh community settled abroad. Similarly, the recent mutiny in Bangladesh Rifles was engineered by the ISI in collusion with Islamic fundamentalists, who were disconcerted with the ascendance of Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. The objective of powers, which were behind this mutiny was regime change by assassinating Sheikh Hasina.
The China Factor
The involvement of inimical powers, organizations and agencies is more often than not implicit in such incidents. The place of the incident, Nyoma, has the recently constructed strategic airfield. Subversion of a few personnel of the unit through internal agents by agencies inimical to India cannot be ruled out. It is also possible that some personnel of this unit which has an All India Composition may have been indoctrinated in violent ideologies even before joining. This phenomenon can hardly been denied in the police forces of previously communist ruled states as also Maoist infested states. Even the bureaucracy does not remain unaffected. The Army too draws its men from the same stock. Mao too had infiltrated communists in the nationalist forces who caused considerable subversion.
On the Eastern frontiers, Maoists are making fast inroads into Arunachal Pradesh. This is corroborated by the MHA reports based on arrests and interrogations of some Maoist recruits in Assam-Arunachal border. It is also confirmed that the anti-dam protests in the Dibang Valley has a Maoist bias and is serving a fertile recruitment ground. Some of the Maoist cadres apprehended by the security forces were armed with AK-47s. There are already reports about the emerging linkages between Maoists – insurgents in the Northeast & Myanmar–ISI–China. The ISI is known to be reaching out to the Maoists through various jihadi organizations based in Bangladesh.
It can therefore be inferred that the China, directly or through its proxies, would be aggressively engaged in subverting and compromising Indian defence set-up in the Ladakh sector wherein its vital road through the occupied Aksai Chin passes.
Indian plans to raise a Strike Corps for the Mountains, construction of new airfields in vicinity of the Indo-Tibet border, and Indian maritime posturing in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea has surely unnerved China.
China therefore is employing every method to keep India, particularly in the border regions, disturbed and unsettled. Its leveraging of insurgent groups in the North-East and Maoists is no longer subtle but brazen as in the 60s and70s .The border regions of India are full of cross-border operatives.
It requires only few potential mischief makers to be subverted, who then use propaganda to implant prejudices in innocent and unsuspecting.
Invariably, the inimical powers and agencies have a segment of the press of the very target country working at their behest. It was rather intriguing that a segment of the press instead of evincing patriotic concern on the unfortunate incident involving ‘their own’ Indian Army found it opportune to flog extraneous and factious insinuations and propaganda. As a faithful communist propaganda machine, one newspaper known for its pro-China predilections attributed the incident to ‘class-tensions’.
In one television debate, the motive to circumscribe the proceedings within the parameters of mischievously posited themes, i.e. system of sevadars in the Army, feudal nature of the Indian Army, class disparity between officers and men, and the unpopularity of Army as a profession amongst the youth, was clearly discernible.
With great labour one panelist sought to dispel the amnesia about the Kargil conflict, wherein the same young officers who were being labeled as ‘feudal’ and high-headed led the most tenacious assaults unparalleled in the history of mountain warfare, fully conscious of the nearly certain death that stared at them in the Kargil conflict. The list of casualties bear impeachable testimony. It is also a testimony to the character building and training of officers in the Indian Army. Young officers are the firmament of camaraderie in the Army.
With regard to pay disparity it emerged in the debate that the difference in pay between officers and men had narrowed down from 1:15 to 1:3 or1:4 at entry levels over the years since Independence. Consequent to the 6th Pay Commission a jawan, on joining the Army, is straight away propelled, if not into the middle class then at least into the lower middle class category. Also the hackneyed notion about youth not wanting to join the armed forces is totally misplaced. The response is not poor at all. On an average one lakh candidates appear for each NDA course. In terms of applicant to post ratio 431 candidates applied for each NDA vacancy whereas the corresponding number for combined civil services was only 319.
Also it is neither a status-quo, nor conservative nor vested truism that the choice is not between servants and sewadars, but it is between battle-worthy helpers and no helpers at all. In the field areas and in war the sewadar is like a buddy. In Siachen glacier I and my sewadar shared the same tent. He also functioned as the radio-operator. Several nights we spent holding the tent pole under unsparing and furious assault of blizzards. In terms of professional physical and mental activity an officer is not expected to demand what he cannot demonstrate with certain degree of superiority. An IPS officer was captured by the media being carried on the shoulders of a constable during the floods in Gujarat. In the Army this would be construed not only a disgraceful conduct but would have invited court-martial as well. On the contrary, if an Army officer had done the opposite he would have been lauded. The whole sewadar debate is unfortunately being portrayed through the prism of class and antiquated colonial ideas about racial or class divide. Today a sizable chunk of officers are sons of JCOs and NCOs. In the profession of arms and the current sociological context in the Indian Army, dignity of labour is acquiring different and laudable connotations, something to be replicated by rest of the country. Even as the sociology in Army is rapidly evolving, the Army as an institution, on its own volition, is cogently addressing the issue in all its dimensions.
Inimical forces are always sensing opportunities to drive wedges within the ranks of the security forces. One such force is the Maoists which enjoy indulgent patronage of not only China but also ultra-leftist and some Church organizations in the West. Imperceptible and indirect infiltration of such elements in this ignominious artillery unit cannot be ruled out. The Maoist leadership unabashedly stated its plans of infiltrating security forces. As in the case of this artillery unit, units without fixed composition are more vulnerable to such infiltration. On the other hand in units with fixed composition, ethnic pride and values serves as a robust bulwark against subversion.
This sleazy and notorious ‘class clash’ discourse with regard to the Indian Army needs to be nipped in the bud and to ensure that it does not even remotely become contagious all those who were in criminal defiance of the chain of command and those who abandoned command responsibilities in crisis should be ruthlessly punished and then dismissed from service. The unit should be consigned to the dustbin of history. The Army after all is the final guarantor of the territorial and psychological integrity of the country.
(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. This post was first published on Firstpost on May 22, 2012)