Date: 28 Aug 2009


The Indian EXPRESS THE OP-ED PAGE 20 Aug 09. http://epaper.indianexpress.com/IE/IEH/2009/08/20/INDEX.SHTML Politics by other means Kargi had been reduced to a political matter. Finally, we seem ready to give the armed forces their due ====================================================== Posted online: Thursday , Aug 20, 2009 at 0224 hrs The tenth anniversary celebration of India’s victory in the Kargil war at Drass was a soul-stirring spectacle. With the magnificent Tiger Hill and other mountaintops in the background, it was an emotional but very dignified event. In the evening, candles were reverently lit as homage to the martyrs, and the battleground on the mountaintops was lit up with mashals, which were probably visible to the Pakistan Army across the LoC. We remembered the sacrifices of our soldiers, the ferocity of the war, and the gallantry of the ‘bravest of the brave’. Everyone felt immense national pride and fulfillment. I had yet another satisfaction that day — by laying a wreath to honour the Kargil martyrs at the India Gate Memorial, and lauding the armed forces for their sacrifice, valour and victory, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had de-politicised the war. The Kargil war was imposed on the nation when we had an interim NDA government. General elections were due in a few days. Despite the full support of the nation, the armed forces were affected by political crossfire of a kind that had never been experienced in the past. Political parties managed to drag the armed forces into needless and unsavoury controversies, which impacted our morale, apolitical image and stature. One day, when I was out of station, the defensc minister ordered a military team to brief the ruling party in Parliament. The Opposition parties and the media created a justifiable furore when they learnt about it. On another occasion, the ruling party put up posters of the three military chiefs at a political rally in Haryana. The Opposition parties were not far behind. They held the government responsible for political, intelligence and surveillance negligence, but also went out of their way to provide political support to a brigadier who had been sidestepped (later dismissed from service) for ineffective command and control; something that had never happened during the course of any war before. When hostilities are on, commanders and staff officers who cannot deliver are often removed from their assignment. There are numerous such instances in our military history. In this instance, it was the army leadership and not the government that was involved in the decision. As the final outcome of the conflict started becoming clearer and the elections drew closer, Kargil became a political football. Everything to do with the Kargil conflict became an issue for election campaigns. There was an attempt either to put the armed forces on a pedestal or to pull them down from it. We had a hard time keeping politics at bay: those blatantly cashing in on the Kargil victory and those attempting to neutralise this effect by castigating the ruling alliance. Several political leaders, with photo-journalists in tow, motivated more by political factors than by a genuine concern for the wounded soldiers, made a beeline to the military hospitals, to be photographed by their bedside while handing over gifts to them. Some organisations with well-recognised political agendas distributed copies of the Gita and Ramayana to the injured soldiers. When the Army PRO tried to stop visitors from taking media-persons into the hospitals, both groups got visibly upset. The military leadership was accused of being politically partisan. No war in the past had influenced domestic electoral dynamics in the way the Kargil crisis did. The political establishment’s inability to reach a national consensus at the time of war tended to affect the chain of military command and troop morale. In desperation, I had to send across a strong message through the media “Leave us alone: we are apolitical.” (IE, August 23, 1999) I brought all these happenings to Prime Minister Vajpayee’s notice. He graciously acknowledged the wrongdoings of his party workers, but his advice to me was: “Do not be extra sensitive”! I also met Dr Manmohan Singh, then the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He was very courteous and appreciated the adverse consequences of the armed forces getting caught in political crossfire. He advised me to request the prime minister to call an all-party meeting on this matter. I did so. But like so many other issues in the government that are discussed and action promised, this matter remained unattended. Unfortunately, the attempts to make political capital out of sensitive issues pertaining to the armed forces did not stop even after the war or the elections. For some time, very few leaders from the opposition were seen at the military investiture ceremonies in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Many senior serving and retired officers wondered why it should be so. We wondered how the political parties had conducted themselves after the India-China war in 1962. In this case, despite being placed in an adverse situation initially, the armed forces had successfully achieved the political mission given to them. Even the Kargil victory day got politicised. The NDA government celebrated it with great fervour initially. But after the election euphoria subsided, the government set the trend of quiet functions to ‘avoid harming Indo-Pakistan relations’. The opposition, in any case, seldom spoke of the ‘Kargil victory’ or its celebration. During the course of any war, or soon after that, the armed forces are glorified, greatly respected and even treated with awe. In our country, very soon after the war, they feel forgotten and neglected by the political leadership. That does not happen in developed countries and their societies. The point which I wish to emphasise is that the armed forces represent the most significant and ultimate instrumentality for sustaining the Indian polity. They are a manifestation of the collective political will of the Indian state. A soldier fights for the nation regardless of which party or group of parties is in power. Now that the Kargil war stands de-politicised, my message to all young MPs across the political spectrum is to visit Siachen, Kargil and Drass and appreciate what their armed forces are capable of. And to Rashid Alvi, who continues to harbour the old mindset, I wish to recall what Lt Manoj Pandey, Param Vir Chakra winner in Kargil, wrote in his very last letter, “I don’t know what will happen at the next moment, but I can assure you and all countrymen that certainly we will push back the intruders at whatever cost”. ---------------------------------------------------- -General V P Malik Former Chief of Army Staff, ------------------------------------------------------ The writer is former Chief of Army Staff and president, ORF Institute of Security Studies 000000000