Use army only for national security, not for private events

Use army only for national security, not for private events

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in his book, The Argumentative Indian has hypothesised that the traditions of discussion and debate in India are a corner stone for a vibrant democracy.

The flipside of it is the dominance of the so-called experts over the special knowledge often witnessed on the fast moving controversial debates featuring with high velocity on TV news channels! The deployment of the Indian Army in the personal function of godman Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in the recently concluded ‘World Culture Festival’ – organised by his NGO “the Art of Living” (AOL) – is a case in point.

In the run up to the event, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar made a statement that the Indian Army “knows how to manage crowds.” He inferred that it was his right to get the army deployed for the construction of bridges and that the World Culture Festival is comparable to the Commonwealth Games/ Olympics. An emeritus founder of Infosys, in a TV debate on the ‘irregularity of employing the Indian Army’ stated that the Indian Army must remain under civilian control and follow orders unquestioningly.

Amazingly in the same debate, a prominent columnist/socialist propounded that India lacks engineers capable of constructing bridges over River Yamuna. The Indian Army alone is capable and can be relied upon to perform such tasks!

Should these statements be taken as mere utterances and left as other forgotten TV debates? Surely not, it is time to look at their implications and the developments that are taking place in the country.

Political parties and government agencies across the board – the Delhi Development Authority, the Central and Delhi governments etc bent backwards to accommodate the godman in pursuing his personal agenda with utter disregard to the norms of army’s deployment, environmental degradation and inconvenience to the common man on the street. As reported, it is the AAP government that requested the Centre for the army’s assistance to construct bridges across the Yamuna to which the latter readily agreed.

Seemingly, nobody was willing to have the godman on their wrong side and have a dent in their vote banks. It could open the flood gates for the deployment of the army for personal agendas of godmen. Today it is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, tomorrow it could be Baba Ramdev, Ram Rahim etc. The speeches delivered by various dignitaries point towards Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s ambition for the Nobel Peace prize candidature!
The term Indian Armed Forces is often loosely used, including paramilitary forces, which is erroneous. In true sense, the Indian Armed Forces constitute the Army, the Na-vy and the Air Force.

They have their tasks clearly defined. Their primary task is to ensure the territorial sovereignty and security from external aggression and internal disorder. The secondary task is to assist the ci-vil administration in natural calamities and restoration of law and order when police, paramilitary forces and others have failed.

Their deployment is based on the principle of ‘last in and first out’. Of late this principle has been applied in reverse order. The deployment of the Indian Army to support the function of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is an off-shoot of this absurdity. It is prudent for the godman to know that the army is neither designed nor suited to carry out crowd management. It is, primarily, the task of the police.

Critical war equipment

The bridging equipment held by the Indian Army is critical war equipment. There are deficiencies to the tune of 40% and a fair percentage of the equipment is obsolescent. There are many other critical items deficient/obsolete with the Armed Forces, which are urgently needed to give them the requisite teeth. Employing critical equipment for personal events is shameful and merits criticism.

It is pertinent to mention that whenever the Armed Forces are deployed in aid to civil authorities, the agency making the requisition has to pay for the expenditure incurred. It includes the depreciation cost of the equipment, transportation charges and the troops involved based on their pre-defined cost to the exchequer. In this case who will pay the Ministry of Defence? Will it be the Delhi government or the Art of Living?

India has already celebrated its 69th year of independence. The Indian Armed Forces have proved beyond doubt their apolitical stature. Casting any aspersion on their apolitical nature by raising the issue that they must remain under the civilian control is fallacious. It tantamounts to questioning their nationalism. Over-deployment of the Indian Army/the Armed Forces on such frivolous tasks is fraught with serious pitfalls and must be curbed.

Debates and discussions are not only essential for democracy, they are also the lungs of any healthy and vibrant organisation. It is a common fallacy that the Indian Armed Forces blindly follow orders without any debate or discussion. Safeguarding territorial integrity of the nation by waging war, the ultimate weapon of defence, is an extremely serious business.

It will be the biggest disservice to the nation if the army were to blindly follow orders without having been given the chance to present their view point. Let the nation not forget the lessons of the 1962 debacle when the Army was made to follow the ill considered “Forward Policy”.

On the contrary, in 1971, the then prime minister did listen to the Army Chief Sam Manekshaw. The resultant victory needs no elaboration. Those who recommend that the army should follow orders unquestioningly must from the past. History is a great teacher. Let us not ignore the lessons of recorded historical events; else we may have to pay dearly.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based strategy and security analyst)

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