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Friday, January 29, 2010

RECOLLECTIONS OF A COMMUNICATOR,DEFENCE FORCES NEED CAREFUL HANDLING

ONE INDIA

New Delhi, (ANI):There has been a great deal of controversy in the recent past over the 'Sukhna land scam', which has brought into focus the role played by the present Chief of Army Staff, the Chief designate, the Military Secretary to the Army, the Corps Commander in Siliguri and some other senior generals.

What are the basic facts of the land 'scam'? Basically, the land involved in the 'scam' does not belong to the Army. According to reports, the Corps based in Siliguri did issue a 'no objection' certificate for the land adjacent to the Cantonment to be sold ostensibly for the establishment of an educational institution.

The allegations are that some officers 'exercised' pressure on the Corps Headquarters to issue the no objection certificate. A Court of Inquiry was ordered and based on the report action has been taken against an officer and a Court Martial has been ordered against some others.

In defence terminology, a 'court martial' is the trial of a case and it is not correct to conclude that someone being tried is 'guilty'. But the projection in the media has given the impression that some grave wrong has been committed by officers facing the Court Martial. ( PLZ SEE MY YESTERDAY'S POST TOO)

I was Spokesman for the Defence Services in the early eighties, and earlier had served in the Defence Public Relations Organisations from late fifties - during the India-China operations, during the India Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971 and was instrumental in drawing up the guidelines for release of information during peace, operations and counter-insurgency situations.

These rules were last reviewed after the Kargil operations and the eminent journalist B.G. Verghese had contributed in finalizing them. Earlier, I was instrumental in setting up a machinery which was able to handle 'psywar' needs of the army, particularly in insurgency situations.

I had worked for the Defence Public Relations during the period when the Government of India worked hard to restore the morale of the Armed Forces after the Chinese aggression. The prime objective of the exercise then was to project the way in which the nation was rebuilding the defences along the border with China and also to tell the country and the world that the Indian Army remained valiant in the midst of adversity. .

I had taken press parties to sites like Rezang La in Ladakh where Major Shaitan Singh and his men fought almost to the last man in the unit, and in the north-east to places like Walong where the Indian Army resisted the Chinese forces bravely. Among the journalists who visited the area was George Verghese, who then represented the Times of India and Prem Prakash, the present Chairman of the ANI, who then represented VISNEWS.

When the details of the operations were disseminated, the faith of the people in the professionalism of the Indian Armed Forces and the leadership qualities of the officers were restored to a large extent.

The Armed Forces are a close- knit family. They have separate regulations. While an ordinary citizen knows the travails of getting justice, in the military, the response is quick. There is a court martial and in severe cases

Those who handled information for the Armed Forces took a commission in the Armed Forces. Eminent journalists like late D.R. Mankekar, Prem Bhatia and others donned the uniform and were able to work along with the Armed Forces and communicate their problems to the media.

I myself had the privilege of wearing the uniform when I served with the Armed Forces and moved out after wearing the rank of a Brigadier. Among the Defence Ministers with whom I worked as spokesman was the late President R. Venkataraman. He told me to share with him the aspirations of the Armed Forces. While the problems of defence of the country were projected on file, there were many 'routine' matters that did not get done.

I remember telling him about the needs of Armed Forces like family accommodation, schooling, and the services desire that they should be associated in developing new weaponry. In a silent way he brought about many reforms.

Very few remember now that he had visited Ladakh and was responsible for setting up a garrison in Siachen when Pakistan became 'active' in that sector.

One recalls that Defence Ministers like Y. B. Chavan worked hard to rebuild the morale of the Armed Forces after the Chinese aggression. The Government did not 'release' the Henderson Brooks report on the 1962 war, but took remedial action, lest it damage the morale of the Armed Forces.

Mistakes were committed in the field both in the India-Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971. I do remember how the incidents were handled with care to ensure that the morale of the Jawan did not suffer.

Mistakes were committed during the Kargil operations too. The focus after the operations was not to 'expose' the mistakes, but to remedy them. The Subrahmanyam Committee went into details of the operations, and later, the defence set up was reviewed by associating persons like former Intelligence Chief G.C. Saxena.

The then Defence Minister George Fernandes made it a point to implement the report and visit forward areas, both in the east and west regularly to look after the needs of the Armed Forces and streamline the defence research and development organizations under Dr V.K. Atre.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony has a difficult task. I remember a former Defence Secretary telling me that he hoped that no defence contracts were concluded during his tenure so that he was not bothered by 'inquiries' like 'Bofors'. We do read regularly that a large part of the defence budget is allowed to lapse.

In the field of defence, the nation has the primary task to ensure that the Armed Forces morale is not damaged and the faith of the Jawan in their leaders is strengthened. The 'image' of the Armed Forces is important, but equally important is their ability to defend the country.

The media has an equally important role. I remember the conversation that I had in the late eighties with a Pentagon spokesperson who disclosed that after the experience during the Vietnam War, the access to the media, particularly the audio-visual units, was regulated. We do recall what happened where free access was provided to the media during the 26/11 operations in Mumbai, when the terrorists were able to monitor their 'progress'. It is time we observe some restraint.

Otherwise the country, which is surrounded by 'friendly neighbours' itself will be facing a 'Court Martial'. there is a 'summary court martial' where the decision is imminent.