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    Mitron, this is the Army chief speaking


    Mitron, this is the Army chief speaking

    Sanghamitra Baruah

    Sarhadon par bahut tanaav hai kya? Kuch pata to karo chunaav hai kya (Is there tension along the border? Just find out if there is an election around the corner)?

    Poet Rahat Indori's question could perhaps be best answered by the appointment of our new Army chief General Bipin Rawat.

    For, Rawat looks battle-ready with his threats of “will-do-again” surgical strikes. His is exactly the kind of pop-nationalism (and warmongering) with which the government wants to divert public attention ahead of the crucial Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states. What better way to deflect public anger, but indoctrination of nationalistic jingoism!

    The newly appointed Army chief is crying proxy war (by Pakistan) and asking the soldiers to be ready for future wars that will “be short and intense” (and the armed forces will have to be prepared to move quickly).

    The government's “cherry-picking” (as termed by the Congress) of Rawat over two senior officers, Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General P M Hariz, has already drawn much criticism. Rawat, according to defence ministry sources, was found to be the best suited among the lieutenant generals in the current in which counter-terrorism and proxy war are key issues.

    What went against Lieutenant General Bakshi was his very “limited operational experience in counter-insurgency in J&K and elsewhere”. Bakshi, who heads the Kolkata-headquartered Eastern Command, is from the Armoured Corps. The Armoured Corps and Infantry are both fighting arms. General Shankar Roy Chowdhury was the last Armoured Corps officer to be Army Chief (1994-97). Lieutenant General Hariz, who is from the Mechanised Infantry, heads the Pune-headquartered Southern Command.

    General Bipin Chandra Joshi, who served as Army chief between 1993 and 1994, was also from the armoured corps, and took charge when insurgency was at its peak in and Kashmir.

    Keeping past records aside, Rawat's repeated warnings against Pakistan laced with typical war rhetoric is in sync with what we have been hearing from the Modi government in recent months as it continues to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan. While -Pakistan relations have hit a new low after the Modi government came to power in 2014, India-China relations have also become increasingly tense.

    Even though the prospect of a full-fledged India-Pakistan war is highly unlikely, the BJP government has consistently shown more than required willingness to give a “befitting reply to Pakistan”.

    It's evident what kind of benefits a desperate BJP is looking to reap from surgical attacks against Pakistan. That the government was under “tremendous pressure” to act after the Pathankot and Uri attacks in view of the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh and other states is not just an opposition allegation but something that many within the party admit, even if off the record.

    Party insiders maintain that examples of Operation Parakram by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government following the 2001 Parliament attack and the war were enough to prod the Modi government to act against Pakistan.

    Even BJP general secretary Ram Madhav went public with a “whole jaw for a tooth” remark after the terror attack in Uri.

    And this is where the new Army chief fits perfectly into the government's scheme of things. Add to that the famous “frustration” within the Army about its “diminishing importance due to lack of war”, stoked from time to time by the BJP.

    In 2015, defence minister Manohar Parrikar had gone on record saying that the Army's importance has diminished because the country hasn't gone to battle in the past 40-50 years. He, however, had clarified that his remarks should not be taken as endorsement for war.

    While the new Army chief said he is fully aware of the role and task that has been assigned to the army by the government, he seems to be unaware of the rot within the system.

    When addressing the issue of women in frontline combat roles (on January 13), Rawat chose to show the women soldiers their place by listing out the practical challenges (like no toilets and sleeping under one tent) and leaving it entirely to them to take a call. Not even once did he talk of how the army also needs to address the issue of sexual assault of women by security forces in conflict areas, including J&K and the Northeast. How can women soldiers feel safe among colleagues when many of them have been often accused of violating women's rights with impunity?

    Secondly, on 69th Army Day (January 15), after a second video of a jawan alleging discrimination by officers surfaced on social media, Rawat warned of action against those using the route to air their grievances instead of going through the regular channels.

    Even though he talked (January 13) of a “suggestion and grievance” system to be put in place through which soldiers could reach him directly, issuing diktats to supress dissent sounded more like a government PRO doing the talk than a fellow soldier empathising with his aggrieved colleagues.

    That brings us to the much-politicised One Rank One Pension (OROP). Rawat on January 3 appealed the army veterans to call off their protest over OROP scheme, saying that the government is trying its best to provide full assistance to them.

    “As far as the OROP is concerned, our army chief veterans and ex-servicemen would have felt that the kind of assistance that they were expecting was not given. But I would like to say that our demand has been fulfilled to a certain extent,” he was quoted as saying by the ANI.

    Rawat's CV may boast of considerable experience on the Line of Control, but his two-week-long stint makes him appear nothing more than a mouthpiece of a government which has been using war rhetoric ahead of electoral battles.

    The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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