India’s Constitution grants the authority to its armed forces to bear weapons of destruction and undertake violence on behalf of the State, as the institution is freighted with unmatched responsibility, sensitivity and unflinching trust.
This onerous privilege of defending the nation has been earned by the institution’s timeless and uncompromising codes, values, ethos, and in retaining prudence in pursuance of such a special position in national consciousness. The institution internalises and upholds that dignity by constantly invoking and beseeching the primacy of izzat (honour), above all.
This heightened sense of izzat frequently takes the soldier to go ‘beyond the call of duty and pay the ultimate price’. It is a very heavy burden of an ‘unlimited liability’ in the becoming of a soldier or an officer, that produces the classical ‘officer and a gentleman/lady’, with the behavioural aspect as the inviolable component of that template.
In the Armed Forces, Individuals Retire But the Rank Doesn’t
Beyond the obvious expectations of physicality, the ‘officer’ is expected to behoove the exacting standards, propriety and morality that are sacrosanct in the profession of arms. The élan and perception of the Indian Armed Forces are attributed in no small measure to this aspect of ‘character’, of a combatant. Levels of discipline and civility of a soldier’s conduct in ‘peace’ times is perceived as a lodestar to the individual’s performance in combat. Behind the overt military bravado, dash and swank is the years of sweat, regimentation and academic rigour that chisels the ordinary to do some truly extraordinary things, routinely.
Deviations or derelictions in such behavioural standards are frowned upon, and it is important to note that many illustrious combat leaders did not go further up, owing to their behavioural concerns –– for example, General George Patton. Implications of incidents that are perceived to be ‘unbecoming of an officer’ can be extremely unforgiving.
Bravery is respected, but brashness isn’t, opinion is respected, but bluster isn’t, and ‘measure’ is respected but disrespect isn’t.
Importantly, in the Armed Forces, individuals retire but the rank does not. The veteran is seen as an extension of the living institution, and is expected to steward the dignity of the ‘uniform’, even after retiring.
It is a reciprocal relationship, and the citizenry affords heartfelt reverence to the veterans for their valour and services to the nation. As former warriors, veterans proudly affix their ranks to their identities (albeit, with a suffix of ‘retd’) and adorn telltale signs of militaristic pride like tilted caps/berets, regimental ties, embossed blazers etc, and are extremely conscious of maintaining the OLQ’s (Officer-Like Qualities)!
Officers personify their behavioural framework of ‘minor SD’s’ and ‘major SD’s’ (read: Standard Drills) that are simply uncompromisable –– for example, shunning political overtones, dressing correctly, or never behaving boorishly.
- The armed forces veteran is seen as an extension of the living institution, and is expected to steward the dignity of the ‘uniform’, even after retiring.
- TV loves the fuming, blood-lusting and occasional cuss words as they add to the ostensible ‘genuineness’ of passion and jingoism that sends the TRP’s skywards.
- The beast of TRP-led instincts naturally draws more dramatic, animated and caricature-like representations, who, in the quest of asserting their ‘nationalistic’ thunder, ill-advisedly renege on their mandated norms of rectitude, balance and decorum.
- The profession of soldiering has survived for eons – not due to reckless liberties, flippancies and guffaws – but due to steely discipline, decency and uprightness that was rarely sacrificed at the altar of TRP’s.
TV News Loves Blood-Lusting & Cuss Words As It ‘Adds To Passion & Jingoism’
Today, for an essentially apolitical and practically ‘voiceless’ institution (save, formal releases) – a new phenomenon of primetime ‘newsroom warriors’ have emerged in the public imagination, as a surrogate and implied ‘voice’ of the institution. Most of such voices are decidedly measured, professionally opinionated and contribute rich militaristic perspective towards debates.
However, the beast of TRP-led instincts naturally draws more dramatic, animated and caricature-like representations, who, in the quest of asserting their ‘nationalistic’ thunder, ill-advisedly renege on their mandated norms of rectitude, balance and decorum.
But the TV loves the fuming, blood-lusting and occasional cuss words as they add to the ostensible ‘genuineness’ of passion and jingoism that sends the TRP’s skywards.
Trapped as willing-decoys in the hands of baying anchors, dignity often takes a back seat, and the nation then unknowingly absorbs, internalises and revels in the ‘new normal’ of an ‘officer’.
Trolls even contextualise, forgive and applaud the ‘raw passion’ of such, for their services to the nation – a far cry from the image of a gallant but genteel Cariappa, Manekshaw, Harbaksh or a Hanut.
James Mattis’s Example: Speaking Truth To Power, But With Dignity
In India, we cannot sift the professional wheat from the chaff of rant, unlike in the United States. The legendary Marine Corps General, James Mattis, may have had a ‘Mad Dog’ swaggering cult attributed to him – but behind that lurked a ‘Warrior Monk’ with a personal library of 7000 volumes and erudition of a wise scholar. Mattis’s subsequent rollercoaster ride as the Secretary of Defense, later quitting, and in writing his memoir – the Oorah of the Marine Corp spartan remained hidden behind the unflappable, nuanced and very dignified demeanour.
Mattis spoke his truth to the powers-that-be, but he constantly did so with the accompanying correctness and spirit of devoir de reserve (The duty of silence).
In India too, many soldier-politicians have graced politics with institutional-restraints like Maj Jaswant Singh or Maj Gen BC Khanduri – but they never milked or dramatised their institutional service to be more ‘nationalistic’ than others. When they spoke, the intelligentsia listened, and the credentials of the institution grew – but soon both fell short of the political winds and sensibilities that emerged in their own party, overtime.
Soldiering Has Survived For Eons Due to Steely Discipline, Decency & Uprightness
Today’s politics and governance certainly needs enhanced militaristic perspective. No party can claim to have done adequate justice to the institution, and therefore, the partisan preferences of the veterans remain personal. This personal choice should however ensure the maintenance of the ‘becoming of an officer’, especially when they prefix their identities with ranks and militaristic attributions onto themselves.
The profession of soldiering has survived for eons – not due to reckless liberties, flippancies and guffaws – but due to steely discipline, decency and uprightness that was rarely sacrificed at the altar of TRP’s.
Veterans cannot become props, crutches or mediums of distractions for politicians. The soldier is sworn into that identity to protect the ‘Constitutional idea of India’ and to the izzat of their regiments, and perhaps above all, their beloved paltans –– and NOT to a political party, anchor or temptations of grandiosity in the evening of their lives.
This dangerous normalising of a ‘new normal veteran’ in very few, which has historically been perceived as ‘unbecoming of an officer’, could then extend beyond the said individual to even the serving soldiers and to the institution – axiomatically. This lowering of guard, standards and a misplaced sense of patriotism could spell doom for the hallowed institution, and ultimately, to the nation.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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