Saturday, 22 April 2017

To the army: Any gentlemen left please?

The company commander implicated in the human shield case has come up with an innovative defence. He claims to have used the human shield tactics to make his way out of a tight spot, along with a group of paramilitary men and voting officials. This has been taken as an instance of innovative quick thinking on his part that has saved lives, in that had he shot his way out of trouble instead, some stone pelters might have died. That would have put the army in a bigger spot than its current one of embarrassment at best. So instead of censure for violating the letter of the humanitarian law, he should be commended if not awarded for his bold, if unorthodox, action.
Media reported some in the brass as willing to overlook his crime, even as the army quickly went into crisis management mode by ordering a court of inquiry. That would tide over the interim till the noise subsides or till the primetime minders of India’s national body clock find another - inevitably Muslim related - diversion. While mid May has been bandied about as the time given for the inquiry to come up with its verdict, the case would likely be shrouded in legal confidentiality – ‘since its subjudice we cannot speak of it’ – till it is buried in the files and dust. The major in question would be a minor celebrity for his quick thinking and more importantly ability to get away from liberal hounds baying for his blood.
Would such an outcome be good for the army?
The army clearly needs officers and men who think on their feet. They must not only be able to think but bold enough to act on their instincts. Thinking out-of-the-box is not enough. Tactical results require boldness and effort. The army prefers to select and nurture such leaders. Therefore, if one such junior leader has gone beyond the pail momentarily and with demonstrated effect in saving lives not only of his men but also of the groups nailing them down, he cannot outrightly be pilloried.
As for the brass that has reportedly backed the major, they have a duty to protect junior leaders who have acted in good faith in line with their exhortation. The senior level leadership requires the juniors to exert in way of an aim set for the hierarchy. They require this be done with gusto, with the least spilling of own blood and in the acceptable mode of counter insurgency, with as little imposition on the people as possible. Given this leadership culture, it is not impossible to envisage that the leaders so inspired could condone – if at a stretch - what happened in Budgam.    
Now, if this was all there was to it, there would be little to worry over.  The junior leader would be publicly knocked on the knuckles but privately feted and the army and Kashmir would brace for the next bout of public anger.
The story has since been complicated by the narrative of the human shield in question. Apparently, he was a weaver set to vote; picked up and tied to the vehicle, after a dose of beating for good measure. He claims to have been paraded around the neighbouring villages for a few hours thereafter, as an exhibit to deter emulators. It is in this journey that the video was made that brought his plight to public knowledge. There after there have been photos from various angles of him and his chariot, the army jeep. These appear to have been done in a more staged manner by army men themselves, partaking of the event, perhaps in a bit of fun.  
The court of inquiry would require covering the murky side of the story too. Assume it does, it could come up with the conclusion that the idea was a good one but in enacting it, it went too far. Had the poor sod not been beaten; had threatening placards not been put on him; had been let off once the danger zone had been traversed; it would have been difficult to be too harsh on the major. Had the major let off the weaver and would-be-voter with a hot cup of tea, a handshake and an explanation if not an apology, it could yet have been argued that the major was perhaps over-zealous but not quite a villain. His nimble extrication from a tricky situation could have figured as a case study at the counter insurgency school in Khrew, even if it violated the sensibilities of the purist.
Why was the ending of this story different? Why did the major lack chivalry? Why did he blow his part? Why did he seize ignominy for himself and the army, where he could well have ended up an example of junior leadership?
This owes to the difference between the army and its image. The hypothetical ending just provided to the story stems from an image of the army, one that takes it at its word: as an army mindful of human rights; of the soldier’s dharma; of the kshatriya code; of the examples of the Gurus; inspired by Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj; in the footsteps of Shaitan Singh, Albert Ekka and Abdul Hamid; imbued with the spirit of the Bhagwad Gita; its officer code reverberant with the Chetwode dictum; and its officers, the last of India’s gentlemen. The more treacly this sounds, the more the gap. 
It is easy to see that the major did not just get carried away with his brainwave – excusable in the heat of things. The long drawn out agony of his victim suggests his act was vindictive and vicious. It was he and his outfit enacting what they wished to do to the wider public collectively but have not been able to in full.
This has both a positive and an underside. The positive is that there appears to be some restraint against which they seem to be pushing, one that does not allow them to go after the people in the manner they could after this individual. This left the hapless individual to bear the brunt. The negative is that they were able to push past the restraint, and have managed some accolades in doing so.
The army must see how it can retrieve the restraint, embellish it and put it back in its rightful, controlling place. Simultaneously, it needs to exorcise what corrodes this restraint. The restraint referred to is self-control, self-regulation, self-discipline and an inner light that enables orders to be correctly given, correctly interpreted and rightly obeyed. This is the meaning of thinking on ones feet, doing the right thing and doing it right. The higher expectation of the army man is that he is supposed to get it right, the odds be damned.
That the major messed up is a warning that the army is in difficult straits. One way to be sure of the way the wind blows is to see how the court of inquiry turns out. Getting it right is one way to begin to fix things. The major difficulty is in the context being framed by what is happening not only in Kashmir itself, but in the rest of India. The army can at best be unambitious: try to stay afloat and not allow its image to float away.