Onus on armed forces to bridge gap with public

Maj Gen (Retd) KM Balsara
Sunday, 2 July 2017

Since things like military charm the public, there are always those who will ape the military, be charmed with bravado and drumbeat their nationalism. There will always be many supporters of the military, but not of the variety that we are discussing…..

From time to time, articles on display of respect by the Americans towards their armed forces appears in various social media accompanied by lamenting of how such displays are lacking in India. Most of the writers are either ex-servicemen or related to servicemen/ex-servicemen. Prime Minister Modi has also spoken about it. While such displays would be welcome in India, the whole issue needs some analysis. This comes about as one recently witnessed the death anniversary of one of modern India’s military titans Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, without much ado on the social media.

There is a vast difference between the armed forces and the general public, of America and India. Comparing the two is somewhat unfair. But, it will have to be done to analyse the phenomenon. The hangover of the past is one main aspect. American armed forces have grown out of indigenous immigrants and settlers. They have had time and opportunity to evolve into what they have become. The Indian armed forces have a colonial past. Though for the warrior that past was glorious, for a nationalist, it will always be tinged somewhat. It will be another few decades before that past is blurred. Modern Indian military is yet evolving and with so many impediments.

American armed forces were never used within the country, except for the brutal civil war, years ago. Contrary to that, Indian armed forces have been countering fissiparous tendencies within the country right from independence. This makes the Indian armed forces less likeable to some people. Stories (mostly false and some inadvertent but correct) of excesses by armed forces only add more fuel to fires.

Both armed forces are volunteer based, but while the American forces are mainly short tenure based with an up or out system of promotion, leaving some full-time careerists, the Indian forces are long term (with a decade or more of service to even short service officers and most soldiers). This makes the American forces less of a career choice than a desire to serve the nation (with many post benefits), albeit for a short time period. The Indian armed forces is a career choice for almost all its volunteers. Of course, the correct posturing is ‘the Indian Armed Forces is not a job but a way of life!’, but in actuality, it is a career.

American armed forces have a large turnover into the civilian population. Almost every second house has a flag fluttering outside and many have done their bit for their nation, or their near relatives have. Many politicians and administration officials have forces experience. Indian armed forces have comparatively less percentage of their own or their near ones in the general population. Thus, the understanding of the services way of life, and the respect for the same is of lesser intensity.

Another major difference between the two forces is ‘the place(s) of employment’. American armed forces are expeditionary by composition and training and are generally employed abroad. Their hostility, lethality and destructive nature are not visible to their general public. They are the front line across the oceans and in different continents. Indian armed forces are more ‘brown water’. Most of our wars have been in neighbouring countries. Expeditions to Sri Lanka or Maldives; or United Nations deployments cannot take away the fact that Indian armed forces are by composition and training sub-continental.

Lastly, in India, human life is cheap; whilst in America, it is not so. So, when an American soldier is put in harm’s way, the guarantee of his success and safe return is much more than when a jawan faces danger. This has changed a little since the Kargil conflict. But, public and military response to an Indian military martyr is still lacking; and especially lacking is the will and means to seek retribution and retaliate.

All the above notwithstanding, the armed forces draw its strength from the general public. So, the need to analyse the general public in a little more detail is essential.

The young Indian, which constitutes a large portion of the population, seems to be concerned about only one thing: making oneself financially strong and having a stable future. It is a noble concern but leaves little room for sentiments like respect, display of sober emotions and empathy. A normal Indian is religious, affiliated to either caste or creed or some group, self-righteous, demanding, self-centred and critical. There are no ‘holy cows’ in India (except maybe the actual animals) the media is scathing and in search for making a killing for a living. An Indian wants all to do their own jobs and leave him/her alone to pursue one’s goals and desires. There is no time for prayer…… so, where can there be time for emotions like respect? A harsh judgment, but on soul searching, will find resonance in many people.

So, a normal Indian couldn’t care less!!! Not only about armed forces but any other institution which does not affect their lives directly.

But, since things like military also charm the public (drums, guns, muscles, bravado, blood and gore), there are always those in the public who will ape the military, be charmed with bravado and drumbeat their nationalism. There will always be many supporters of the military in the Indian public but not of the variety that we are discussing…..

Where the Indian military is in evidence in daily lives, respect will follow. Where harsh nature and disaster is combated employing the military, appreciation will naturally flow. Where hearts and minds are being assiduously won, there will be some grudging warm response. But again, not that respect of the variety that we are discussing…..

Has Indian military done any deed which changes the course of its nation? It has time and again… but the last one was the creation of Bangladesh! And, almost forgotten. While it has endured in internal conflicts and guarded the frontiers, is that enough to inspire public to start cheering them on all occasions? It is just not there in our culture. Where one has to get government decree and court clearance to show respect to the National Anthem being played before the commencement of movies, it is difficult to motivate the crowd for the instinctive response of respect.

Indian military will have to constantly strive if it wants to earn the respect of its citizens in the manner desired. Respect has to be constantly earned, you cannot get it by just donning the colours.
In the future, Indian military will have to gear itself into being more accessible to the public and willing to come under public scrutiny. It has to do this while maintaining its discipline and dignity and its martial demeanour. Any act of moral turpitude must have zero tolerance and justice not only should be swift but also seen. If you want to be respected than you have to hold yourself up to morals and behaviour above the rest. You cannot get away by saying that you draw your cadre from the same available pool in India. You have to train better and change mindsets of any deviant behaviours. And win the hearts and minds of the Indians not only where you are operationally deployed but everywhere in the country and abroad.

Till then, let’s stop aping the West, especially America. Just because it happens there, it is not necessary to happen here. The Indian way of respect is also unique… and it is very much in existence.

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