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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On September 26, 2021

    By Karan Thapar

    I don’t want to exaggerate but there are a few disturbing developments in the army that are matters of concern. If they turn out to be straws in the wind that blow away no one would be more relieved than me. But what if they gather and accumulate? In that event our best defence is to voice our apprehensions.


    Two of these developments happened this month. The third occurred in December. Let me raise them in that order.


    First, former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash and former northern army commander Lt. Gen. H. S. Panag tweeted a video of the aarti being played at a ceremonial parade at the Artillery Regimental Centre, whilst soldiers clapped along behind a box with Om painted on it. Now I know religion has a well-established role in the army but only based on the equality of all religions. Singling out one faith would breach that custom and practice. In the case of the artillery, a regiment that recruits from all faiths, this would amount to partiality and discrimination.


    That’s the precise point former navy chief Admiral Ramdas made in a letter to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the Army Chief and the Air Force and Navy Chiefs. “This will only serve to focus on communal differences amongst personnel of the Armed Forces”, he wrote. I’m told the matter was also raised by several former army chiefs at a dinner at the Battle Honour’s Mess during the recent Chief’s Conference.


    The second development happened days after. It was a tweet on the 17th of September from the Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, also known as 15th Corps. It extended “heartiest birthday greetings” to the Prime Minister. It also said: “True leadership is not about a Title or Designation. It’s all about Impact, Influence and Inspiration”. Though rapidly deleted, the tweet was, nonetheless, widely circulated.


    Do these developments suggest hindu and BJP influence is growing in the army? Or were these foolish mistakes made by overzealous officers? I don’t know. But the army needs to find out. I’m reliably told the Army Chief has agreed to do so.


    The third development is more troubling. It was brought to my attention by Gen. Panag, who wrote about it in The Print. On the 4th of December the CDS, Gen. Rawat, chose to visit a college run by the Gorakhnath Math, in the company of Yogi Adityanath, rather than attend Navy Day in Delhi, where he ought to have been. This is what Gen. Panag wrote: “Gen. Rawat’s …. presence at an institution run by a religious/political organization and paying obeisance at a religious place in (the) company of the Mahant, who is also a controversial political leader, does not augur well for the military and the nation.”


    Let me summarize Gen. Panag’s concerns. First, “well-established traditions, particularly with respect to tri-service integration, are being given short shrift.” Second, “it is a violation of rules, regulations and (the) law of armed forces.”. Third, “it compromises the secular and apolitical status of the armed forces.”


    I asked Gen. Panag if he received any response from Gen. Rawat. His answer was no. This is despite the fact, as an instructor at the Military Academy, he taught the young Rawat. This also means the charges levelled by Gen. Panag remain unanswered – the alleged violation of rules and regulations and the consequent compromising of the armed forces’ secular and apolitical status and the failure to attend Navy Day, which the CDS is expected to.


    Now, how worrying is all of this? That, of course, is the key issue. To be honest, we don’t have evidence of a deep-set malaise. But, equally, a few things have gone wrong. I’d like to believe these are errors that can be easily and swiftly corrected. But only if they are. Otherwise, what’s overlooked could start a trend, become a habit and who knows where that might end. As an army son, I don’t want to think that far.

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