This is in response to an article in Times of India dated 06 November 2016 by Aakar Patel titled ‘Nothing can be said about our faujis, they are above criticism’.
One wonders how Mr Patel has come to the conclusion that faujis in our democratic nation are above criticism. Without a doubt Indian faujis get more than their share of criticism which is basically a one way traffic. As a fauji he has no right, as per his terms of employment, to go public with his opinions. Most of the criticism is for jobs that he should never be doing in the first place since they are not related to his primary task of fighting an external enemy to protect the nation. Unfortunately when his civilian counterparts fail in their assigned duties, it falls on the fauji by default to set things right. To their credit they have done so admirably over the last 69 years since India became independent and have never let the nation down.
Mr Patel has concluded that Indian armed forces were always mercenary in character from times immemorial and remained so till a day before India became independent. On 15 Aug 1947 the mercenary forces that were part of the British rulers of India became independent India’s Armed Forces and therefore by implication the forces continue to be mercenary in character. I am sure when this thought dawned on him, he must have felt like jumping out of the proverbial tub to shout ‘Eureka Eureka’ and take to the streets of Bangalore in his enthusiasm – dress code for decency notwithstanding. It is not difficult to understand why Mr Patel is trying to label the Indian Armed forces as mercenaries. Mr Patel is a front runner at maligning Indian armed forces when it comes to their role in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). He and his ilk present only one side of the story deliberately and avoid seeing things from a soldier’s perspective. It is well known that there are two sides to a coin and it is important to flip the coin to see what is on the other side – unless one is a crook whose coin has same markings on both sides. Cynical people like him deliberately forget that armed forces are not operating in Jammu & Kashmir of their own accord; they are there at the behest of the government since politically and administratively the authorities have failed to resolve the situation in J&K for decades.
One can be sure that Mr Patel is a literate man so he will know that a mercenary is defined as ‘someone who makes money at the cost of ethics’. A mercenary soldier is ‘a professional soldier who offers his services to fight on behalf of any army or group in return for money and riches.’ This implies that a mercenary has neither a cause nor a country that he fights for. He simply fights of his free will on behalf of anyone who can afford to pay for his services. A mercenary has no ethics to defend or follow. Surely a soldier in the British Indian Army could not fall in that category. Firstly he could not pick and chose whom he wanted to fight or lay down a price for his services. Next he could only fight as part of the British India Army based on orders of the government of the day. His whole professional life was governed by strict code of ethics and rules that he placed above his own life. This soldier was in the employment of the government of the day and not a free lance soldier. The fact that he had to fight local Indians opposed to British rule at times cannot be disputed, but then that is a soldier’s dilemma from ages where at times his oath of allegiance to the nation and its army puts him in such unwanted situations. But surely that does not make him a mercenary. It just makes him a disciplined soldier who honours his oath and profession at all costs. So what independent India inherited on 15 August 1947 was a disciplined army comprising of professional soldiers who made the transition from British Indian Army to Indian Army.
In today’s world while hardcore mercenary armies may have gone out of fashion a new breed of mercenaries armies has emerged who run governments directly or indirectly. Today’s mercenaries not only look to make money but also want power. Our neighbour in the West is a prime example of the same. Do you realise Mr Patel that their Army was also from the same origins as ours? Can you understand and appreciate the differences that exist between the two armies today? To Indian armed forces credit, their high ethical standards have been eulogised across the world when they have operated as part of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNPKF). Surely UN does not hire mercenaries for its peace keeping missions. The list of welfare and humanitarian tasks carried out by Indian Armed Forces in service of Indian nation is probably longer than all that Mr Patel may have written in his life so far.
Mr Patel believes that since the advent of current BJP led government at the centre there has been a visible move to make army worship as a cult and replace respect of the uniform to reverence of the uniform. This in turn he argues puts the armed forces above criticism. The genesis for such warped thinking stems from two important developments that have taken place in the recent past. First is the ‘upping of ante’ by BJP led government in terms of cross border military retaliation against Pakistan. Second is the unnecessary debate that seems to be taking place on politicisation of the achievements of the armed forces. Suddenly the words ‘army’ and ‘soldier’ seem to be on everyone’s lips. The media seems to be going amuck to present gory details of how surgical strikes were carried out by the army with anchors portraying as generals in their studios. Is it any wonder then that the common man on the street is smitten by the ‘army bug’? What Mr Patel sees as transition to reverence is nothing but short term admiration and pride in what the forces have done under some decisive political leadership. Surely a common citizen has the right to exult or bask for a few days if his nation achieves something out of the ordinary; particularly when for decades he knows that his nation was at the receiving end from Pakistan – both militarily and diplomatically. Rest assured, national memory is short in such matters and sooner than later all this will be forgotten. The man in uniform has never asked for any reverence – all he wants is to be left alone so that he can go about his job efficiently without a need for public post-mortem of his actions at each step.
Mr Patel asks why is that the government spends only Rs. 33,000 crores on national health while it buys 36 combat aircrafts for Rs 59,000 crores. This in spite of the fact that the last time combat planes were used in war was over 40 years ago. Surely Mr Patel you cannot be so naive so as not to understand this simple arithmetic or expect that war planes must be used on a regular basis. Most individuals buy a life or home insurance cover that as an investment in purely monetary terms is highly unattractive. It is equally true that most investors hope that they do not have to use this security cover during their lifespan, yet they prepare for the worst so that they can sleep peacefully at night. A strong military is akin to an insurance cover for the nation as a whole where the investment in purely monetary terms is never going to be attractive. But the need for the same is never in doubt to those who want to see their nation prosper and move ahead. For our country one would like to add another reason too. India was ruled by invaders from central Asia, Mughals and British for over 1100 years till our independence in August 1947. It was primarily because as a nation we were never united and strong to resist foreign invaders. We have an opportunity today to consolidate and make our country a strong and prosperous nation that can never fall prey to the evil designs of any outsider in future. For this to be a reality, apart from material resources, what will be required is pride and belief in ones nation – something that has always been missing in our country for centuries due to local vested interests and lack of strong central leadership. One may term it patriotism or nationalism or whatever else one wishes to call it, but its need is not debateable. While one may not wear his patriotism on his sleeve, it is equally important not to dump it in the nearest dustbin.
Mr Patel’s dislike for Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister, and BJP is well known. He has written tons of words on the 2002 Gujarat riots, but there too he has always been biased and unfair. While minorities and events in Ahmedabad have taken centre stage in his writings, he has hardly ever written anything about the Godhra train massacre or those who committed that act. Why does he forget that if Godhra had not happened, there would have been no riots in 2002? Either event was bad for the nation but surely one cannot condone one and fight for justice on the other. As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, Mr Patel has not relented in his fixation to fix Mr Modi despite all judicial processes having cleared Mr Modi of any direct involvement or responsibility in the riots. It is time Mr Patel showed some respect for the nation and its judicial system and moved forward to a more constructive role.
Mr Patel questions why a soldier should be any different than say a clerk in a government office or a safai karamchari or a postman or a teacher since in the final analysis everyone is working for the nation. In principle he is absolutely right and we all contribute towards the nation in our own way. Suffice it to say that it is only in the armed forces that one signs a blank cheque committing one’s life in favour of the nation from the day one wears the uniform. Does that make a soldier’s career different? Most would believe it does unless one is of Aakar Patel variety. Just for record, can Mr Patel tell the nation why he gets an obscenely high remuneration for words that he pens while many other writers get a pittance – after all they too pen words for people to read? The day he has an answer for this, maybe he will understand why all professionals are not always the same. In any case a fauji has never asked for the moon, all he wants is a fair deal and if that comes with a bit of respect – that will be an icing on the cake for him.
It may be prudent to point out to Mr Patel that being a mercenary is not limited to soldiers alone. As per definition, anyone who makes money at the cost of ethics is a mercenary. If a writer starts writing pieces that are false in content, wrong in spirit and aimed at raising controversies where there are none, then he is certainly murdering ethics. To top it all if he is being paid a bomb for the same, then he certainly classifies as being a ‘mercenary writer’.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.