A recent incident of indiscipline in a unit of the army was dutifully reported by the media, but a few newspapers and TV news channels that indulge in yellow journalism, continue to sensationalise it. This is despite the army having unequivocally stated that the incident is being investigated thoroughly. Implicit in various media releases by the army is that there is no move whatsoever to push the incident under the carpet and that exemplary disciplinary action would be taken against all those found guilty. This being so, speculative innuendos and sensational stances must stop.
My intention is not to say that the news of the incident should not have been reported, or that the media should only report favourable news about the army. However, one starts losing faith in our supposedly independent media when sensationalism takes over and phrases like ‘unique case’ or ‘army getting indisciplined’ are bandied about.
This is not the first time such an incident has occurred. Without going too far back, there was a case in 1978 and another in 1979, both in Ladakh. In 1986 and 1987, two such incidents occurred in the eastern sector. During Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, there were two incidents, one each in 1987 and 1989. Mutinous actions of a number of units following Operation Blue Star in 1984 are well known. There have been similar incidents in the navy and air force too. All these were handled by the hierarchy of the armed forces with balance, maturity and panache and no editor-in-chief of those days interfered or offered advice, as is being done by a few upstarts today! Neither was there any dilution in the professional capabilities of our forces!
All artillery units fire their artillery guns a number of times every year, but the annual practice firing camp has a special sanctity. During this camp, all artillery guns of the unit fire at the field firing ranges and all personnel of the unit are fully involved. When all the guns of the unit fire simultaneously, the noise, dust, smoke and explosions they produce can only be described as spectacular.
During these camps, there is a surge in adrenalin levels of all ranks, as well as tension, as everyone wants to do well. On the day the entire regiment fires, many guests are invited to witness this spectacular event. Once the firing is wound up, there is visible decrease in tension and everyone gets in to a celebratory frame of mind, having successfully achieved what they had set out to do.
It is unfortunate that after the culmination of this specific event, the unfortunate incident of indiscipline occurred. It was an isolated incident, where tempers were allowed to rise unnecessarily. There was no pre-mediation or planning, let alone a conspiracy on anyone’s part. It was simply an accident and hence there is no reason to sensationalise it or make it larger than life. From the very beginning, no attempt was made by the army to hush up the incident. One therefore cannot understand why a section of the media is bent upon making it sinister and trying to link it with other recent events.
In a 1.3 million strong army, where individuals interact with each other on a 24X7 basis, the odd aberration does occur. Despite discipline being ingrained in them from the very first day they don a uniform, and despite the excellent officer-man relationship that is nurtured on a continuous basis, tempers sometimes run high. All ranks do understand that it is this close relationship that sustains them even in the most difficult situations, but anger subsumes this temporarily. Despite the many ups and downs in the working environment of the army, officer-man relationship has endured. These are the facets that have contributed to making the Indian Army professionally highly competent and behaviourally the best in the business. This needs to be commended not criticized. I would urge those elements of the media that are going unnecessarily overboard in bashing the entire army to desist, for if such coverage continues, it will do great harm to the army and the nation.
The army has time-tested and well laid out procedures for dealing with all types of indiscipline. The media neither has the expertise nor the knowledge of doing so. Even those segments of the media that may have been goaded to unnecessarily raise the issue to absurd heights on account of their vested interests will do well to confine their reports to news and desist from voicing irrelevant views and comments. The country continues to have faith in the prowess and honesty of purpose of their army. It is best for amateurs of the media, however much they may think of themselves as the greatest media honchos, to let the army take remedial actions in their own professional manner. They will, in due course, share their conclusions with everyone.
Let me end this piece by adding that the motto of the Regiment of Artillery of your army is “Izzat o Iqbal”, to which they adhere to scrupulously. This particular unit – 226 Field Regiment, will also bounce back, provided unnecessary hounding of the unit and its personnel comes to an end immediately.
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd) is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff
Views expressed are personal