In the popular discourse mere mention of Indian Army evokes two extreme and mutually incompatible responses. The believers see it as the last standing holy cow of the chaos called Indian nation, one that is incorruptible in the face of corruption that has become the new normative and remains fiercely apolitical when everything else is politically inclined, and dirty by extension. Ask the wretched fellows stranded on the wrong side of post-colonial history, and Indian army comes as a brutal occupying force that derives sadistic pleasures, and of course patriotism, from maiming, raping and killing the very people it is supposed to protect.
axes of geo-political realities and not along the premodern structures like caste, creed and religion that produce a million fissures underneath the modern and democratic body politic of the nation. If, contrary to this, they really do, then Indian army deserves a lot of praise for concealing them with exceptional aplomb. It maneuvers its ruthlessness in a continuum that is directly proportional to its operational distance from the national boundaries and, thus, earns a genial and almost affable image exactly where it matters.
Isn’t a sight where one find minorities, particularly Muslims, otherwise almost always persecuted by the law-enforcing agencies rooting for army in the middle of any riots as much a condemnation of a state claiming to be a secular, socialist and democratic republic as it is an honour for the Army? Haven’t we found this to be the case more often than not, be it Uttar Pradesh, Andhra or Gujarat? In fact, many a studies have corroborated the allegations against the local civil and armed police and found them siding with the rioters belonging to the majority community and ensuring heavy losses of life and property over the hapless minorities.
Army, as opposed to them, has almost always found to be impartial law-enforcer. Indian army has merely bolstered its image with its dogged opposition to the government’s attempts of dragging it to contain the ‘Maoist’ insurgency that has spread over many parts of erstwhile peaceful parts of central India. Its treatment of the problem as a civilian conflict which should be dealt by the civilian administration has not only helped its case of not getting dragged into a war with its own people but also has stopped the insurgency from fanning out into a full-blown civil war. This army, unlike many others in the subcontinent, seems to know the rules of engagement with citizens as against the enemy.
Top brass of both the Army and the civilian administration is well aware of the situation. They keep on responding to the enormity of the problem as well. The responses center around warning the ‘erring officials’ and ‘repeated’ adoption of policies named like ‘zero tolerance regarding human rights violations’. They also keep directing their field commanders to ‘exercise maximum restraint’, appeal them to ‘use minimum force’, that too ‘in good faith’. Then the field commanders respond by nabbing a young, unarmed surrendered militant to compensate for their failure to apprehend real ones, drag him inside a medical shop, and come out with the dead body of his. That a heavily pregnant unarmed civilian Rubina was also killed in the ensuing melee is beside the point for Indian army does believe in the idea of ‘collateral damage’ even if it does not acknowledge that. They could have justified even this had Tehelka, a reputed newsmagazine, not brought out definitive photographic evidence of him being unarmed.
This is the contradiction that defines the behavior of army men right from the level of ordinary soldier to top general. They perceive themselves as the Brahmins of Indian society, pure, incorruptible and virtuous unlike the ordinary civilians. Dig a little deeper, however, and this façade collapses like a house of cards. The inside stories from this holy cow institution are not only haunted by a thousand scams, they have had shady characters like Adnan Khashoggi and Chandraswami as their lead protagonists.
This is why the army needs to confront with itself to resolve all these contradictions. The honour of the Indian army lies in the fact that unlike its counterparts in many other countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, it has never ever challenged the constitution that imbues sovereignty in the people and makes them supreme. It had won laurels for the patience it showed in tough operations like Operation Blue Star. It has earned respect for its dogged refusal to get dragged into civilian conflicts like the one raging in Bastar and other parts of central India.