What a former Vice Chief thinks of media coverage on Ladakh incident

Note: On this blog, I have so far refrained from posting articles by others simply because this is a blog that reflects my personal opinion. But today, I am going to make an exception because a highly respected soldier, former Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Vijay Oberoi’s piece on the recent incident at Mahe-Nyoma in Ladakh needs a little wider circulation. I received this article through email. I am posting it in full including his opening note in a hope that all of us media practitioners will heed a bit of his advice. Read on.

Dear All,

I had sent the following article to a news paper on 15 May 2012, but it has
not been published. I have now sent it to another news paper, but since our
media does not like criticism of any type, it is unlikely that even this
paper will publish it.

Be that as it may, I am texting the article below. You may read it if you
have the time.


Vijay Oberoi

  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

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

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)
  1. May 21, 2012 -

    Dear General Oberoi and Nitin,My compliments for giving such a wonderful overview of the Army' ecosystem w/o falling in the trap of a particular section of media.Nitin, in your own humble way, you have done it again.Kudos Brother. I still remember your simplistic attitude and great reporting from Dras.Lt Col (Retd) Vijay Batra, SM, Ex-PRO, Srinagar