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US General Stanley MacChrystalPresident Barack Obama

This#General Stanley McChrystal# This# President Barack Obama

The summary removal by President Barack Obama of General Stanley McChrystal from command of the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for reported derogatory remarks by him and his staff about the President and Vice-President of the US is a lesson in civilian control over the military in a democracy.


The reportage on the basis of which the US President took that fateful decision was published in the Rolling Stone magazine by a journalist who apparently knew that it is standard practice in military establishments to talk fast and loose about political personalities and national events. He fixed an appointment, listened to the talk and reported it. It is of the same genre as a Indian  publication's expose about corruption in political and military personalities. Based on foreknowledge of such tendencies, the publication used a subterfuge and proved to the world that there was corruption in the Defence Minister’s House, in the ruling party headquarters and in several levels of the military establishment.


Since then, worse things have happened like the theft of Indian Navy secrets. The suspect, a relative of the then Chief of Naval Staff, fled the country.

More recently, at the height of the disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir Chief of Army Staff General V.K.Singh thought it fit to contradict in the media Government decision to deploy the Army in the State in tone and content that was highly critical of the political leadership. The Chief should know from his vast experience in counter-insurgency operations in the North East and in Jammu and Kashmir that separatism and terrorism thrive on such public displays of division and disagreement within the government. 

 The fiat issued by the Minister of Defence to the Chief of Army Staff to take appropriate action against his Military Secretary for involvement in what has come to be known as the “Sukhna land scam” is an unprecedented act which is being made out to be unnecessary interference by the civilian authority in military matters.

The obvious needs to be stated and restated again and again that if the Minister had not acted, practically at the nick of time, an officer, charged by his peer within the military establishment of grave misconduct and recommended to be dismissed would have got away with a disproportionately lower “administrative action” than what should normally attract stricter provisions of the Army Act and the Indian Penal Code. The matter is still under judicial review.

Of all the pros and cons of this case one thing is irrefutable: There are persons within the military establishment who are not conforming to the basic tenets for which the Armed Forces personnel are revered, genuinely revered. These are what are known as “Officer Like Qualities (OLQ)” a list of do’s and don’t’s  the adherence to which  puts them on the pedestal that they deserve. Who is out of line? Is it the military for such transgressions that bring it into disrepute or the media for reporting it?

In its internal dimension it indicates that the military establishment is slowly slipping into disarray with ex-Servicemen and their representative organizations increasingly taking on the garb of pressure groups to force the Government into supposedly sound military advice by “thinking” Generals like the campaign of the late 80s and 90s for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Siachen Glacier. Kargil proved how wrong they were. 

The internal struggle for improvement of the 6th Pay Commission recommendations has drawn forth the statement from one of the ex-Servicemen’s organizations apparently with the full approval of serving officers that if the demands are not conceded things could “creep into the 1962 kind of situation”. It is a veiled threat which ex-Servicemen are holding out on behalf of their serving fraternity and tends to gain credibility because, as in the case of the Siachen Glacier troop withdrawal demand, there is no disclaimer from the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee thereby signifying a “likemindedness”.  Books written on the Chinese aggression of 1962 will put this comment about creeping into a 1962 kind of situation in context in all its starkness.

There can be no worse example of the misuse of the media by the military than the admission by a former Chief of Army Staff that he was writing behind the veil of “Military Correspondent” for an English language daily while he was Chief. Or of the attitude of certain persons within the military who leaked the Henderson Brooke report on the debacle at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 to author Neville Maxwell with the intention of denigrating the political leadership

Maxwell himself  admits in his Preface to “India’s China War” that: “I have drawn on  material from unpublished files  and reports of the Government of India and the Indian Army: I was given  access to these by  officials and officers  who believed  that it was time that a full  account was put together, and who trusted me to write it fairly. I cannot, of course, name  them  nor cite the documents  and files from  which I have drawn the material; I can only thank  them,  and hope that they will not be disappointed.”

The Press in India is not averse to “being embedded” with the military in its many counter-insurgency operations or, as in all the Indo-Pak wars, in battles against the enemy. It takes genuine pride and feels honoured at being associated so closely in the defence of national interests. That the Press is a force-multiplier in conflict situations is now an accepted article of faith.

To quizzical comments by an exasperated military establishment as to why must the Press report every transgression by military personnel, the curt reply was that as in the analogy of “Man Bites Dog!” it is not the behavior expected of a person wearing the colours of the Indian Armed Forces.

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