Need for a deeper probe into Indian army’s role in conflict zones

L’affaire V.K. Singh
Need for a deeper probe into army’s role and functioning in conflict zones
The contents of the recorded reply of former chief of army staff General (retired) V K Singh to a breach of privilege notice served on him by the Speaker J&K Legislative Assembly are still unknown but going by his recent remarks in the media, it may as well be on the expected lines of distancing himself from his earlier interview, which stirred a hornet’s nest with his claim that it was part of the army strategy to generate goodwill among people by paying up politicians and other influential persons. Whether it is an outright denial of his previous remark or a sheepish way to cover it up by invoking the ‘crafts’ used by the Indian army to create a stabilizing factor with anything ‘from a bridge to a transformer’, it would be difficult to put a lid on the case without a thorough probe, both for the sake of transparency as also to check the intriguingly ambitious role being played by top army brass, that runs at odds with democratic spirit of the country. The issue at stake is much larger than the truth about one of the most controversial Indian generals, since it brings to fore the undemocratic influence, power and footprints of the army in troubled zones like Jammu and Kashmir, which is setting a wrong precedent in a democratic country. 

Whether or not as V.K. Singh now asserts that the army’s ‘Operation Sadbhavna’ and its historic foster parent ‘military civic action programme’ are the same thing, it is important to question the role of the army outstripping the confines of the military and security questions in the name of generating goodwill and stability. Undeniably in many areas, particularly the border areas, the army’s role in providing the basic components of human security to the people, has become crucial to their lives. But rather than lauding the continuum of a policy that is often based on whims and goodwill of the officers in-charge, there is need to de-legitimise what may be a great impediment to socio-political landscape and democracy and instead encourage and prompt the civil administration to respond to the needs of the people. Meeting the day to day needs of the people is the responsibility of the civil administration and the political set-up, not of the security wings of the state. There are two inherent flaws in this basic policy of keeping civil administration absent and lethargic while increasing the dependence for the day to day needs of the people on the army. One despite the people becoming beneficiaries of many of the army’s goodwill schemes, it does not lead to real empowerment and inclusion because it further pushes them to the margins with absolute erosion of structures and institutions of governance at the grassroots. Besides, it induces systemic corruption that goes on unchecked in the name of benevolence, charity or goodwill. Secondly, it allows greater mobility of the army into social and political arenas which has far reaching dangerous repercussions. 

This is revealed not just by V.K. Singh’s remarks and the leak of report of audit on army’s secret funding exposing the misuse of the secretfunds to pay off ministers and politicians. The earlier row of an army informer in Kashmir making it to the prestigious list of national awards with nobody daring to challenge it even after the controversy erupted and the alleged nexus between a section of the army and the RSS unraveled during the Malegaon and Nanded blast investigations have already demonstrated the potential of these dangerous liaisons, formed by giving army the unquestioned and unbridled role of encroaching into social and political spheres. Despite revelations of the role of section of army officers, both serving and retired, in funding and aiding Hindutva activities as was demonstrated by the curious case of Col Purohit in Malegaon blast, the government made no special efforts ever since to call for an indepth probe into that angle. This reveals that the mess is too deep for a weak leadership to even question. The increasing powers of the army, the hobnobbing with politicians both in and out of service, the unlimited funds available in the name of covert operations and the bid to stonewall probes or calls for accountability in the name of national interest – all these do not augur well for democracy. For once, the country needs to shed the blinkered vision of seeing army as an icon of nationalism; it is made up of people that come from and go back into the same corruption riddled society and therefore, both for cleansing the country as well as the image of this force, a deeper probe into army’s role, the acts of omission and commission of its officers, is the need of the time. So it is to save democratic institutions from eroding into further decline.