Chicanery in defence reporting: A dangerous trend
by Jaibans Singh on 23 Nov 2012 2 Comments

Defence and security is a serious business since the issues involved deal with human lives and can, as such, not be trifled with. A nation takes to defence and security with utmost seriousness; the slightest hint of weakness generates hysteria with a cascading effect. Defence reporting provides no room for speculation, innuendo, sensationalism; claims and counter claims; statements, counter statements and almost immediate retractions, as is very common in other fields like politics. It is for this reason that defence analysts are expected to be circumspect in their writings and choice of words. Against this backdrop, a recent trend by some senior defence analysts to sensationalise matters concerning defence and security comes across as a deviation from established norms.


Ajay Shukla, a seasoned and well respected defence analyst, has in an article “Wake up, Generals” (Business Standard, Oct 30, 2012) raised some issues regarding the senior leadership of the Indian Army. One has no problem so far as debate is concerned; the subject merits expression of ideas and has been articulated upon for some time now. What is galling, however, is the examples that the author has chosen to put his point across.


In a direct attack on army chief, he has questioned his personal life style, referring to Army House, the official residence of the chief of army staff as “his (the chiefs) tony residence on New Delhi’s leafy Rajaji Marg.” Army House is not the personal property of General Bikram Singh any more than it was the property of the chiefs before him; it is simply a government house allotted to him for the duration of his tenure. It was as “tony” for his predecessors as it is for him, there being no reports of his having broken down the structure to build something ‘tonier” that what was there earlier; so why single him out for this taunt?


The second issue that the author has raised is the staff of the chief of army staff. He contends that the chief has garnered in cooks and waiters from units in the field to augment Army House resources at the cost of soldiers serving in remote operational areas: “visits to many army posts and picquets would find combat soldiers cooking and washing instead of training and patrolling simply because their cook or dhobi is languishing in Delhi.” Here Ajay Shukla, his supreme confidence notwithstanding, is taking things beyond the realms of even his renowned fertile imagination. 


Let us for a moment say that the chief felt the need of additional manpower; we will, for the sake of argument, put the figure at an astounding one dozen cooks and waiters, in addition to the staff already available. The point is – why on earth would he insist on manpower coming only from field units? Surely it can be taken from units and formations serving in peace stations or directly from the Army Service Corps responsible for their recruitment and training. One can only hope that good friend Shukla has written all this after visiting ‘some remote picquets’ and personally witnessing fighting soldiers making food and performing other administrative chores.


In the rest of the article, the author has selectively picked on a few generals who are under a cloud on charges of corruption. By writing about these cases in concert with his diatribe against the serving army chief, he has equated the latter with persons who are in the dock for alleged misdemeanours, even though the chief has no such charge pending against him. This, in the writer’s opinion, goes against journalistic norms of fair play.


There are no reports of ostentatious lifestyles emanating from Army House. In fact, the army chief, on assuming command, did not even call for a ceremonial guard from his own regiment as has been the norm over the last few changeovers. The ceremonial guard of honour was presented by the ceremonial unit of the Madras Regiment presently located in New Delhi for this purpose. During occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, the chief is known to have requested his well wishers to convey their good wishes with no more than a telephone call. One wonders therefore what could be the basis of the claims of ostentation at the army chief’s residence that have been written about in such graphic detail.


The impression one gets is of a motivated attack at the instance of some vested interests. The author’s interest in the ongoing Track II talks with Islamabad is well known and could be a motivating factor. Another hint of motive is contained in the last paragraph of the impugned piece” “General Bikram Singh has taken his media managers’ ill-considered advice that controversies are best dealt with by avoiding the press”.


The article thus seems a petulant reaction to the closed attitude that the army has of late adopted with regard to the media. It would serve the Army well to realise that this perception is fast gaining ground and that the small hints doing the rounds presently may escalate to a crescendo in the future. Modern India is very averse to the imperialistic lack of transparency that marked the functioning of the British Army.


Having said so, one can only hope for positive, timely, transparent and professional Army-media interactivity where criticism is done in a civilised manner without resort to chicanery, and information is fed in an environment without fear or favour. We can leave mudslinging to the politicians.


The author is editor,
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