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'Unwarranted': Why blame Gen Rawat, he would only echo political masters' voice

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

The untimely death of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat in an air crash along with 12 other colleagues from different forces at Coonnoor in Tamil Nadu is a huge blow to our nation’s armed forces, particularly at a juncture when he was in the process of creating a joint command, as mandated by the government. The General was not travelling in a very advanced chopper of the Indian Air Force, Mi17.
The Indian Air Force has constituted a high-level tri-services inquiry which will look into the entire sequence, and one can hope that a full-fledged report will be out as soon as it is completed. So far few inquiry committee reports have been made public, but since this case is now being extraordinarily discussed, perhaps the government may go public so that there is no space for rumour mongering.
Right from the day of his elevation to the top post in the Indian Army, General Rawat was in the eye of storm by opponents of the government, though as Commander of the Indian forces, his ability was beyond doubt. There have been questions against him but it is also a fact that in the armed forces too there are lobbies.
Uttarakhand is a State where every family has a member in the Indian forces. The tiny Himalayan State not only has two prestigious regiments of the Indian Army from the British period, namely Garhwal Regiment with headquarter in Lansdown, and Kumaon Regiment with headquarter in Ranikhet, but also has substantial presence in the Border Security Force as well as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.
For long, Uttarakhand people felt that though their percentage in the Indian Army is perhaps the highest, none of the natives ever got the opportunity to become the Chief of Army. Bipin Joshi was made the General of the Army, but unfortunately he passed away due to heart failure. General Bipin Rawat’s father Lt General LS Rawat got retired as Deputy Chief of the Army.
Political leadership always calculates on its choice. General Rawat superseded two Generals senior to him but then government says he has more experience in counter insurgency operations and his track record was better. Superseding has not happened for the first time and it is a fact that the government of the day as people’s representative would select people at the top position as per its choice.
General Rawat was outspoken and he spoke like a fauji. He justified the act of Major Gogoi for using a Kashmiri as a human shield saying that you have to deal with the stone pelters strongly. His statements regarding NRC and CAA were condemned by political leaders. He was much more articulate than many of his predecessors.
Of course, many a time he was not politically correct and that is why he was misunderstood. He spoke the language of the government, and I don’t think any officer of the government would take a different stand on such issues, because if they do it they would not be part of the ruling establishment.
One needs to look at an important point that he made -- that the main threat to India actually is from China and not from Pakistan. Our ‘Brahminical seculars’ were more critical of him for his so-called statements without understanding that he is a General who will have to stand with his officers and jawans fighting the battle in difficult conditions.
There is a need to understand that, while the government treated Jammu and Kashmir as an administrative issue though it is a political issue, the army will do what is expected of it. A soldier who is trained in warfare will always be aggressive given the situation he is in. With growing right-wing propaganda, there is enormous mental pressure on the common soldiers. It wants to exclude marginalized sections and minorities from the popular discourse and convert everything into a “we versus them” philosophy.
The result is that common soldiers speak that language and officers too feel pressured. For any officer in uniform in any country, the issue of the nation comes first. The forces are only trained to fight the external warfare or help the civil administration during the times of emergencies, particularly natural calamities, though of late the Army is being used regularly in the civilian administration, whether in Kashmir or in the North-Eastern states, and the result is growing criticism of the armed forces.
Pushing the Army more and more into civilian work makes things tense for soldiers, especially when the border situation is not good, as China continues to put pressure and attempts to encircle India by clandestinely working with Pakistan.
Indeed, the Narendra Modi government has been cleverly using armed forces for its own purpose. It has forced the armed forces to face criticism of human rights organisations for its failure. It is in this overall context that after the retirement as Chief of Staff General Rawat was made Chief of Defence Staff, and tasked to bring synergy in all the three services to make them more complimentary and focus on jointness.
A hard taskmaster, General Rawat interacted with his junior officers very well and was an extremely popular General with ordinary citizens and common soldiers. His Uttarakhand background was helpful in understanding the fauji psyche, and though he led the Gurkha regiment, he was always proud of his identity.
One may say that General Rawat was not General Sam Manekshaw or General KM Cariappa. But who remembers how they were cremated? Indeed, one must concede, General Rawat’s cremation was unprecedented. No doubt, the Modi government tried to make it an event that suits it politically, yet this does not hide how the previous governments failed to acknowledge the brave voices of our Army.
Uttarakhand people have felt though their percentage in the Indian Army is the highest, none of the natives ever got the opportunity to become Army Chief
Terrorists assassinated General AS Vaidya in August 1986 for his alleged role in the raid on the Golden Temple Complex by the Indian Army in June 1984. Yet, we never heard any outpouring around him. The Operation Blue Star was not his ‘personal’ effort but that of the Government of India. Militaries normally do what they are asked to.
Coming to reaction to General Rawal’s death, Pakistan’s handles in social and digital media have been busy with conspiracy theories around General Rawat’s chopper crash. Many of them even compared his death to that of General Ziaul Haq. But they forgot that they are speaking about the death of a General who happened to be the senior-most officer of the Indian Army. Some spoke really insulting language.
In Tamil Nadu people showered flower petals on the ambulances that carried the bodies of General Rawat and his colleagues. But elsewhere responses to his untimely death were mostly as per the political thoughts of those who reacted. It also reflected caste identities. While Rajputs were jumping in valour and trying to put him above other Generals of the past, others were not that enthused. Most TV channels ensured that the event benefitted the ruling party.
While it is good that the government gave General Rawat and others due respect, there is a limit to making everything public. One will rarely understand what happens to a family, which has lost both the parents. The TV channels don’t even want the families to moan their near dear ones in a deeply private way. They are forced to speak about the ‘valour’ of their father.
General Rawat might have crossed his line when he spoke on certain issues, but that happened when media put questions in his mouth, and the military man, known for not being ‘diplomatic’, push the ruling party’s agenda giving it a garb of ‘nationalism’, one reason why he was misunderstood. Questions related to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), for instance, should be asked to the ruling establishment, and not to a military man.
---
*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat. Twitter: @freetohumanity

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