The Soldier, the State and the Media


In my three decades of reporting on the Indian military, I have never felt more uneasy about the military-media interface as I have in the past three months.
Not because the media has been accused of being sensationalist or because many unsavoury truths about internal rivalry and groupism in the military brass has created bad blood in the top hierarchy.
My unease stems from the damage that events of the past few months have inflicted on the average Indian soldier.
While all dramtis personae are equally culpable in the current controversy, we in the media certainly have a greater responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.
For at least a quarter century now, we have been lamenting the steadily diminishing status of the ordinary Indian soldier in the society.;  that soldering is no longer respected as a nobel profession in our rural areas; that the jawan struggles to get his due from the civil administration increasingly contemptuous and apathetic towards him;  that he continues to get poorly paid and unfairly treated by a society solely driven by materialism.
Now, following a spate of reports based on half-truths and outright lies, motivated by God alone knows what, we may have done the ultimate disservice to the Indian soldier: planted the seed of suspicion about his loyalty in the minds of ordinary Indians.
While I will defend the right of every media person to report what he or she thinks is right, I am afraid none of us has thought through the consequences of the effect it will have on the psyche of the Indian soldier and more importantly the way ordinary Indians will view the Indian Army.
In the mad race to boost our circulation and viewer ratings, we may have, in one go, started the process of demolishing one last institution that has stood rock solid in defence of idea that is India.
For the first time in my now reasonably longish career in journalism, I feel like hiding from my friends in the military.  
I feel we have not paused to think of the long-term damage we have wrought upon the profession of soldiering.  
I say this because from disaster relief in floods, tsunami, and earthquakes to rescuing infant Prince from a deep tube well and from quelling rioters in communal strife to being the last resort in internal counter-insurgency operations, the Indian Army has been omnipresent. 
It is, what I call, India’s Brahmaastra (the ultimate weapon). 
The versatility, adaptability, selfless attitude and resourcefulness of the Indian Army has allowed it to be what it is today: Nation Builders.

And viewed in the context of India’s immediate and extended neighbourhood, its stellar role stands out in stark contrast to its counterparts in other countries.

Remember, Indian and Pakistani Armies originated from the same source, the British Army and yet, six decades since they parted ways, there couldn’t be a bigger dissimilarity in the way the two have evolved. 
As they say, India has an Army while the Pakistani Army has a nation!

More importantly, despite India’s increasing dependence on the Army to pull its chestnuts out of fire time and again, the Indian Army has scrupulously remained apolitical. 
The contribution of the Indian Army in nurturing and strengthening democracy—with all its faults—can never be underestimated. 
It has put down fissiparous and secessionist forces within India with great cost to itself over these 60 years. It has protected India from within and without.

The Indian army also has a unique distinction of helping create a nation (Bangladesh) in the neighbourhood and then quietly walking away to let the people take charge.

 By contrast, the Pakistani Army has never really allowed democracy to flourish in its country. Instead, it has created a military-industrial complex that has spread its tentacles in every aspect of governance. Even today, the Pakistani army does not let go of any opportunity to undercut democracy; it nurtures and treats jihadi elements as its strategic asset against India and the United States.  
Even in other smaller nations around India—Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, for instance—the armed forces have had to intervene and run the affairs of those countries at some point. 
The Army has also withstood systematic assault on its status from politicians and bureaucrats who are forever looking for ways to downgrade the military’s status. While the principle of civilian supremacy over the armed forces is well entrenched and understood in India, what is incomprehensible is the constant chipping away at the military’s standing. 

The nation as a whole and indeed the people at large have the highest regard and affinity for the men in uniform for the yeoman service they render in every conceivable situation, but most mandarins in the Ministry of Defence and some of the politicians do not have the same opinion and are repeatedly trying to run down the military without realising the immense damage they cause to the only available bulwark we have against any attempt to Balkanise India. Now unfortunately, even we in the media seem to have joined these these ill-informed and devious bunch of opportunists.

As former Chief of army Staff, Gen. S. Padmanabhan says in his book, A General Speaks:  Even after Independence, India’s political leaders found it convenient to keep the Army, Navy and the Air Force out of the ‘policy’ making bodies. The service HQs were left at the level that the British left them—that of being ‘attached offices,’ of the Ministry of Defence. Even at the level of Defence Minister and Service Chiefs, exchanges on major matters of Defence policy were few and far between…” 

Another former Army Chief, Gen. Shankar Roy Choudhury has observed: “It is… essential in the national interest that the armed forces are upgraded and updated on an ongoing basis, something which governments have been traditionally loath to acknowledge and undertake, the Indian government perhaps more so than others in this respect.

”Historically, it is to the credit of the Indian Army that it has fulfilled its role as an organ of the state…It has functioned effectively in every type of role, in spite of the general lack of a supportive government environment by way of adequate finances, resources, equipment, personnel policies, or higher political direction.” 

A nation’s military provides what is called a ‘hard-edged’ backup to its international standing. A strong military and especially a powerful, well-trained, fully-equipped army act as a deterrent against adversaries. It is therefore essential that the nation’s decision-makers consciously back the Army and provide it with the support that it needs to meet diverse challenges that exist and are likely to come up in the coming decade.

So far, the Indian Army has fulfilled its role in nation building admirably well. All of us, ordinary citizens, media persons, politicians, bureaucrats, must continue to back the nation’s strongest asset and further strengthen it, if we desire to see India as a global player in the decades to come.
Centuries ago, Kautilya, the wily old strategist told king Chandragupta why the soldier is important for the survival of the Kingdom. If India has to survive as a nation-state, this advice (reproduced from a piece written by Air Marshal SG Inamdar for the USI Journal) is worth repeating in its entirety here.
As the learned Air Marshal says:” It is amazing how clearly those ancients saw the likely faultlines in governance, the intricacies of management of the military by the state functionaries, the nature of the military and the citizenry and the close interplay between them all. It is truly amazing how those observations continue to be so completely relevant today, even after 2000 years.”
Here’s what Kautilya told the king of Magadh:
“The Mauryan soldier does not himself the Royal treasuries enrich nor does he the Royal granaries fill. He does not himself carry out trade and commerce nor produce scholars, thinkers, littérateurs, artistes, artisans, sculptors, architects, craftsmen, doctors and administrators. He does not himself build roads and ramparts nor dig wells and reservoirs. He does not himself write poetry and plays, paint or sculpt, nor delve in metaphysics, arts and sciences. He does not do any of this directly as he is neither gifted, trained nor mandated to do so.
The soldier only and merely ensures that:
The tax, tribute and revenue collectors travel far and wide unharmed and return safely;
The farmer tills, grows, harvests, stores and markets his produce unafraid of pillage & plunder;
The trader, merchant and moneylender function and travel across the length and breadth of the realm unmolested;
The savant, sculptor, painter, maestro and master create works of art, literature, philosophy, astronomy and astrology in peace & quietitude;
The architect designs and builds his Vaastus without tension;
The tutor (‘acharya’), the mentor (‘guru’) and the priest (‘purohit’) teach and preach in tranquility;
The sages (‘rishis, munis, and tapaswees’) meditate and undertake penance in wordless silence;
The doctor (‘vaidyaraja’) tends to the ill and the infirm well, adds to the pharmacopoeia, discovers new herbs and invents new medical formulations undisturbed;
The mason, the bricklayer, the artisan, the weaver, the tailor, the jeweller, the potter, the carpenter, the cobbler, the cowherd (‘gopaala’) and the smith work unhindered;
The mother, wife and governess go about their chores and bring up children in harmony and tranquility;
The aged and the disabled are well taken care of, tended to and are able to fade away gracefully and with dignity; cattle graze freely without being lifted or harmed by miscreants.
He is thus the VERY BASIS and silent, barely visible CORNERSTONE of our fame, culture, physical well being and prosperity; in short, of the entire nation building activity. He DOES NOT perform any of these chores himself directly: he ENABLES the rest of us to perform these without let, hindrance or worry (‘nirbhheek and nishchinta’).
Our military sinews, on the other hand, lend credibility to our pronouncements of adherence to good Dharma, our goodwill, amiability and peaceful intentions towards all our neighbour nations (‘sarve bhavantu sukhinaha, sarve santu niramayaha…’) as also those far away and beyond. These also serve as a powerful deterrent against military misadventure by any one of them against us.
If Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort, O King, it is so because she is secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks to the mighty Mauryan Army constantly patrolling and standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action (‘animish netre’), day and night (‘ratrau-divase’), in weather fair and foul, dawn-to-dusk-to-dawn (‘ashtau prahare’), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, loss of life and limb, separation from the family, all through the year, year after year (‘warsha nu warshe’).
While the Magadha citizenry endeavours to make the State prosper and flourish, the Mauryan soldier guarantees that the State continues to EXIST! He is the silent ’sine qua non’ of our very being!”
Can we all—people in uniform, civil services, politics, media and society at large– imbue this spirit?
  1. April 6, 2012 -

    great and sane thoughts in these trying times…..well written sir

  2. April 6, 2012 -

    superb in one word.

  3. April 6, 2012 -

    It is one sane piece on the subject read in the last three months. The rot in journalistic ethos at the top echelons is more disturbing. You don't need to fight cases in PCI to kill the nation's last institution standing – the damage is done.Your story needs wider circulation and be carried in the MSM. Sure you can swing that so that the common people don't lose faith in the military.

  4. April 6, 2012 -

    A thought-provoking piece indeed! Because you need courage to call a spade a spade – clearly understanding the fallacies of present-day media and asking for sanity to prevail at the most basic level, is what this piece is all about. It is high-time our media & its atrocious anchors realized the sanctity of some institutions…

  5. April 6, 2012 -

    Superb thoughts. Hope Karan Thapars, Shekhar Guptas, the Mishievous Babus and others of their ilk read and comprehend.Nation building is driven through synergy in thought and actions of 'visionary leader' and 'intellectual strategist'. Chandragupta Maurya and Kautilya together made such a team. Where is that team now? Can anyone from the current political class claim to be donning the mantle of Chandragupta? Or for that matter, anyone from bureaucratic class compare Kautilya? These, the politico-bureaucratic class have all tended to become 'mercenaries' who treat India as a 'bottomless gold mine' to be plundered, and even competitively scrape at the pillars which prevent the mine from caving in. They are not 'philosophers' nor 'visionaries' nor 'leaders' nor 'intellectuals' nor 'strategists' though frequently they do attempt to don either of these mantles, not to act the role but simply to hide behind the most convenient one to seek 'respectability' and evade accountability. They are a bunch of 'gold diggers' and their 'paid employees – mercenaries' perpetually seeking 'return on investment' in form of power and pelf. The media, which frequently displayed a propensity to challenge the status quo and periodically made feeble attempts to pull the nation out of the morass and hold the institutions of leadership & governance accountable, have finally exposed its soft underbelly too – that it, either out of ineptitude, gullibility, unprofessional competitiveness or sheer lure of commercial viability through govt doles, is more than ready to sell its soul and its core purpose.The military is not a 'pillar of democracy'. It is an 'instrument of democratic state'. The 'pillars of democracy' seem to be working on most convoluted assumption that while the 'pillars' chip at their own steel and mortar, it is the onus of the military to uphold and promote democratic values, national integration and national interests. A surely disgusting state of affairs which calls for major awakening and overhaul.

  6. April 7, 2012 -

    Every Patriotic Indian subscribes to your view.more power to your pen my friend!

  7. April 7, 2012 -

    Thanks very much Jagmohan

  8. April 7, 2012 -

    Ajay,Thanks very much. I wrote what I thought was right. Many people may not agree though.

  9. April 7, 2012 -

    Thanks Kamal. You have already circulated it and put up on your website.I will not be true to myself, if I can't be critical of myself and my profession

  10. April 7, 2012 -

    Raja,Thanks for the support. I have always gone with my heart even if some times it means going against the established convention

  11. April 7, 2012 -

    Hi Ajay,To be honest your angry and passionate arguments and missives to some of my esteemed colleagues in the profession inspired me to look within and come up with this. Unfortunately, as Adm Vishnu Bhagwat said in the reply to my piece: “Kautilya’s Senapati met the Mauryan King morning and evening ….now all those who are running us down sup with him and fill his ears…”

  12. April 7, 2012 -

    Thanks very much

  13. April 8, 2012 -

    As always – superbly written Sir !

  14. April 8, 2012 -

    Mr Nitin, an excellent article which definitely needs more circulation. When will people realise that India is ours to build and protect…..and that whichever job one is entrusted with, at the end of the day we are all on the same team! kautilya….oh how we need you today! regards.

  15. April 8, 2012 -

    Dear Nitin…well written…I think this time Indian Express has gone just too far…I have completely lost respect for Shekhar Gupta and his cronies who are responsible for the mischief…the IE coverage only goes to show that these people belong to the category of journalists who will sensationalise at any cost…what a shame to have senior editors of our national media doing such damage to the country…there are many others as well…wolves in sheeps' clothing…you know the people I am alluding to…Anyway, continue the good work…we need patriotism everywhere…not just in the Armed Forces…Best… Biswajit..

  16. April 8, 2012 -

    Dear Biswajit,Thanks very much. I wrote it more in anguish than anger. I am increasingly disillussioned by some of my professional collegues and their attitude. I know who you are talking about. Keep doing your job. Despite these opportunists, the majority fully supports our military.Thanks for your support.Take careNitin

  17. April 8, 2012 -

    Dear Zahl and Zubin,Thanks very much.

  18. April 8, 2012 -

    This is very well written. Unfortunately, (I think) the situation will get worse, before it gets better for the Armed Forces. As for Shekar Gupta and IE – They have undermined their credibility and judgment for ever

  19. April 9, 2012 -

    Brilliantly put forth! And your pain comes through stark and clear. Thanks.Best regards.Ashutosh

  20. April 9, 2012 -

    Thanks Ashutosh

  21. April 9, 2012 -

    Well, no space to go down any further, I guess. It has to be only up here after

  22. April 18, 2012 -

    This is such an important message! Can I please share it on my blog? Need your permission!

  23. May 4, 2012 -

    Dear Nitin,An excellent piece. And there are still lower depths for the Army, nay, the Armed Forces to plumb; they have the most powerful enemies in the land. I shudder to think what will happen in the years ahead.

  24. October 6, 2013 -

    Dear Nitin,Your quote from Kautilya is incomplete. Trust an Army Veteran to add on the IMPORTANT parts……….Regards Brig (Retd) Ajit Nair”To this man, O Rajadhiraja, you owe a debt for that very guarantee which is the vital key-stone of our nationhood arch. Please, therefore, see to it, suo motu, that you are constantly alive and sensitive to the soldier’s legitimate dues in every form and respect, be those his needs or his wants, including his place in the social order. Do thereafter (‘tadanantara’) ensure that he receives these in time or preferably ahead of time, in full measure, for he is NOT likely to ask for them himself. This is so because before getting so completely wrapped up in his onerous, harsh and exalted charge, the soldier has assumed with good reason that the State, in return for his extraordinary burden and services, has freed him from all responsibility towards his own present and future welfare as also that of his family back home in the hinterland. He is thus very clear in his mind when deployed at a distant border outpost, fighting lumpen groups within Magadha or when campaigning in far away lands that he need only look out in FRONT for the enemy of the State and concentrate only on his MILITARY ONUS and aim (‘shatrunjaya’), completely free of all temporal worries. This assumption is a holy sacrament and an unwritten covenant that exists between him and the State. And rightly so! If ever things come to a sordid pass, O King, when, on a given day, the Mauryan soldier has to LOOK BACK over his shoulder (‘Simhawalokana’) prompted by even a single nagging worry about his and his family’s material, physical and social well being, it should cause you and your Council the greatest concern and distress! I beseech you to take instant note and act with uncommon dispatch to address the soldier’s anxiety. It could be on account of harsh living conditions, inequitable material compensation or asymmetric Court or societal dispensations affecting either his self respect or his family’s material welfare, or both. If any in your household, in your Council or among your courtiers is/ are responsible for allowing matters to come to such a pass, punish him/ them exemplarily without loss of time and send him/ them to serve for four cycles of seasons (‘Chaturrutuchakre’) alongside the soldiers, on the border outposts. If they perish, those would be their just desserts. If they survive, they will return wiser and wizened, more responsive to and with greater empathy for the soldier’s cause. If you first learn of your soldiers’ problems and needs from your own trusted informers (‘gupt doota’) and NOT from the Commander-in-Chief (‘Senapati’) himself, relieve him of his charge and retain him not for another day. No matter how good a horseman (‘Ashwarohi’), a swordsman (‘Khadgaveera’), a wrestler (‘Malla’), an archer (Dhanurdhara) or a tactician (‘Rana neetigya’) he is, dismiss him (‘ardha chandra prayoga’) for failing to keep his ear close to the military ground. Dismiss him also for not having the gumption and courage to be the first to tell you of the soldiers’ anxiety and needs before the others do. The Senapati owes a downward loyalty and sensitivity to his troops in much the same way and measure as he owes these upwards to you, for this is a unique and age-old essential feature of sound military leadership and an article of faith between the troops and the General! It is my bounden duty to caution you, My Lord, that the day when the Mauryan soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will neither have arrived suddenly, overnight nor in vain. It will also bode ill for Magadha. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be Rajadhiraja ! It will also mark the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!!”