The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honor, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.
— Field Marshall Sir Philip Chetwode
Major Gaurav Arya
Chetwode’s immortal words are perhaps the most important thoughts that you are encouraged to imbibe on joining the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Officers Training Academy (OTA) or National Defence Academy (NDA). Importantly, a disproportionately large number of officers live and die by this code. In 2016, the Indian Army lost 86 brave hearts in action. Out of these, 10 were officers. The aim is not to put a rank to a martyr, but to bring home the point that officers comprise less than 3 per cent of the Indian Army. Yet, the rate of casualty is 11.5 per cent. If this is not irrefutable evidence of officers taking the first bullet, nothing is.
The Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat has spoken. As far as the Indian Army is concerned, the matter rests. Now, let’s do a detailed dissection of the social media’s reaction to the jawan’s videos over the last week. For the past few days, videos of BSF, CRPF and Army jawans have occupied a lion’s share of Indian cyberspace. The nation has been divided into two.
To those who say that the jawans are absolutely right and they are oppressed, I have only one thing to say. You are wrong. To those who say that the jawans are lying through their teeth and everything is hunky dory, I have only one thing to say. You too are wrong.
The truth is somewhere in between, and the truth is inconvenient. First, allow me to put things in the correct legal perspective. Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) are not para-military forces. They are Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), also known as Central Police Organisations. Structurally and administratively, they have nothing to do with the Indian Army. In certain conditions and environments, they may function under command of the Indian Army.
The Indian Army is an Armed Force of the Union. The other Armed Forces of the union are the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. They functionally operate under the Defence Ministry.
CAPFs are under the operational control of the Union Home Ministry. The ethos, training, function, administration, structure, capabilities, range of deliverables and equipment of the Armed Forces and the CAPFs are different and separate. This is not to say that the CAPF’s work is any less dangerous or worthy of praise. They are perhaps as important as the Armed Forces. But they are not the Armed Forces of the Union of India.
Now, let’s discuss the first video, which went viral, in which the BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav had complained about the abysmal quality of food, and often the lack of it. I have operated with the BSF on the Punjab border (Asal Uttar and ahead) and lived on their Border Out Posts (BOPs). This was in 1995. In 1998, I spent time with a BSF battalion in Mendhar (Jammu & Kashmir). I found the quality of their rations to be better than ours. Maybe it was a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. I don’t know. But there were no complaints about food from my troops.
I am not saying that the BSF jawan was lying. I am clearly stating that the food served to him was an aberration, not the norm.
To my mind, the food problem highlighted by the jawan in his video was a local issue and the problem was not the food but the leadership of the BSF battalion in question. If the food was bad due to negligence, officers must answer. And if the food was bad because condiments and fresh items did not arrive due to snow and landslides, officers must answer because in such a scenario they should have kept their troops informed.
Sometimes, even in the Army, the food is bad. But in the Army the officers take minute care of such things and are overtly involved. When your officer is sitting next to you and eating the same food in an operational area, and as a jawan you know that your officer is doing his best to look after you, you will never complain. It’s really that simple.
Was the BSF jawan lying about
corruption and officers selling food? Maybe not. Corruption is not new. It has happened before and if that is the case, I will not be surprised. But if the jawan could show burnt rotis and dal without garnishing, he could also have shown a copy of the complaints he had filed regarding food, which his superiors did not pay heed to. That would have made his argument more balanced.
Soldiers must get the best food that the country can afford. But sometimes, it is simply not possible in forward areas. Snow blocks roads and causes avalanches. Helicopters cannot land. Food is delayed. My jawans and I ate boiled rice with green chilies, salt and pickle for days at Shipki La on the Chinese border. It was 15,000 feet above sea level, it was minus 25 degrees and a wall of snow and ice had fallen on the tinned ration shed. There was no fresh food as the supply lines were choked. It happens. You shrug off such inconveniences and make the best of what you have.
A CRPF soldier went on social media saying that the CRPF does exactly the same job as the Indian Army and hence, should be given the same facilities. That CRPF soldier spoke a blatant falsehood. He told a lie and since most Indians don’t know the details of how the forces are structured, they swallowed this lie hook, line and sinker.
Yes, CRPF soldiers have been martyred in the line of duty. They do a job that is terribly difficult. But here is the blunt truth – they don’t do what the Indian Army does. And the Indian Army doesn’t do what the CRPF does.
Now let me tell you something that most of you don’t know. Let’s discuss why the CAPFs are in such a terrible shape. The BSF is the largest border guarding force in the world. It guards a part of the LoC and borders of Rajasthan, Assam, Punjab, Gujarat, West Bengal and the North East. The CRPF does the most amazingly
complex, and sometimes haphazard duties that any force in the world does. It is deployed everywhere. And it is deployed without a unified structure. A battalion consisting of about 1,000 men, divided into companies, is rarely posted together. A Commandant, equivalent to a Colonel of the Indian Army, leads a battalion. One company could be in Andhra Pradesh and another in Srinagar for internal security duties. The third company could be in Manipur and the fourth in Rajasthan, providing security to a local election. This Commandant is like a compass that does not point North.
Also, when CRPF is deployed, it is under state police. Imagine a Commandant with 25 years of experience being asked to report to the SP of District who has 5-7 years of experience. Such orders shatter morale.
The BSF is a border guarding force. The CRPF is an internal security force. And the Director General of the force is not someone who has grown from
within the force and knows its ebbs and flows, its ethos and its role. Their Director General (DG) is always an IPS officer posted from some state cadre, who before this posting perhaps has not even seen a border. He, in all
probability, has had no exposure in internal security. There are some exceptions, though, of IPS officers having spent considerable time in the CAPSs, but that is not the norm.
The Director General comes in because there is a vacancy. An expert in police work with possibly not a single day’s experience in internal security or border management suddenly heads a force that is neck deep in fighting Maoists or resisting Pakistan sponsored infiltration along the LoC. For him, there is no feeling of esprit de corps, no feeling of brotherhood that is so common amongst men who have seen combat together. Above all, there is no knowledge or exposure. The force suffers because their head ends up looking at his tenure in a CAPF, as rental accommodation. To his own mind, he is not the “owner” of the house. The “house” in question is always the state cadre. Loyalty will obviously lie where a person sees his roots to be.
Unless the CAPFs have their own cadre from which a young officer, through a rigorous and transparent
system can aspire to rise and become Director General of the force, the dal will always be watery and the rotis will forever be burnt. I am not being
needlessly flippant here. The issue is not the maltreatment of jawans or the food. The issue is leadership. In this lies the core of the problem that the BSF and CRPF jawan shared.
A uniformed force must run on systems and processes. And these systems and processes must be enforced. This is not done vigorously in CAPFs. There is a lot of discretion that is allowed to the Commandant. That is why in CAPFs, the units virtually run on ‘local orders’ of the Unit Commandant. For all practical purposes, the CO of a CAPF unit is the centre of gravity of his command. The Commandant of a BSF or CRPF unit is the lord and master. What he says is law. Well, mostly anyway.
In the Indian Army, ‘local orders’ are extremely limited. Everything is defined in the Army Order, Army Instructions, Defence Services Regulations, Special Army Orders and Special Army Instructions.The Indian Army has a love affair with documentation. And if a rule is laid out in any Order or Regulation, even a General does not have the
authority to violate it. That is why you could visit a Kumaon unit and then stay with the Gurkhas, and you will feel certain sameness. Traditions may be different but the outlook remains the same throughout.
The video of the Indian Army jawan condemning the buddy or “sahayak”
system has selective merit. The buddy is an integral part of the officer, in war and peace. He carries the officer’s radio set and maps. He fights alongside him in war.
There are bad apples in every basket, and the Indian Army is no different. But there is no other organisation in the country that embodies honour, courage, sacrifice and service to the Motherland like the Army does. If some officers have misused their buddies, they must be held to account and punished.
It is blatantly wrong for anyone wearing a uniform to use social media to air grievances. It demoralises the force and it is an attack on the foundation of discipline. Every force has an in-built grievance redressal system. The system rarely fails, but in the rare event that it does, and one feels morally compelled to escalate to the political leadership (though I strongly disagree with this course), a letter or an email to the PM is perhaps the better way, than a very
public washing of your force’s dirty linen. Individuals can be wrong, but the force itself is inviolate.
A local problem of one BSF unit, largely unverified, has become a matter of international ridicule. The mainstream media and the social media are equally to blame. Without an iota of background information, sides were taken and an open media trial
conducted. Within hours, heavy words like “compromising the security of the nation” were bandied about.
Any officer of any uniformed force must be held accountable to the highest standards of integrity. The slightest breach deserves harsh punishment. It is criminal to abuse authority and ill treat troops. On this there can be no debate.
The day is not far when a uniformed personnel will inadvertently shoot a video, without malice and in all innocence, of a patrol or an ambush, a raid or a convoy. And then people will die. The enemy never sleeps.
Acceptance of politics and social media in any uniformed force is akin to pressing the self-destruct button. Discipline will be the first casualty. And without discipline, a force is nothing.
(The writer is a veteran,author and