Apropos your Editorial in Indian Express dated 04 Oct 08.
Sensationalism and trivialization of issues is unfortunately that comes to mind. My mind goes back to my sojourn in Sri Lanka during the IPKF operations when one of the national dailies had published a story, which was exactly the opposite of the ground situation. The story had mentioned about the slogans against IPKF by the local populace in Trincomalee after a bomb blast, whereas the fact was that the locals were extremely grateful to the Indian Army. The reporter in question was one Ms Rita Sebastian. How many times hath this been repeated and how many times the Army has stoically kept quiet doing its duty with dignity, refusing to respond even when the media has been painting it with all kinds of colours.
During the Kargil war, another item shown in the video clip was how the army authorities were troubling the old decorated soldiers in Lucknow by asking them to vacate as they were allegedly running a business from within the residential premises. The recording showed the foundation stone but did not show the door three feet away which showed the signboard of the business center being run there.
My point is the selective bias in reporting and editing that journalist’s show, which they pass off as freedom of the press. Also, there is always the nagging feeling that the media tries to influence opinion, both of the Govt and of the general public, by selective reporting and editing that more often than not, totally alters the meaning of what any public figure has said, the context and the nature of the statements are thus distorted by your “unbiased” press.
In the present article also, the point of view has been influenced by the bias and the levels of sensationalism that are being aired by the title and the three bold print sentences that convey the crux of your approach which already borders on the cynical. You have highlighted firstly that the refusal of the Three Service Chiefs to notify the pay commission is shocking and a dangerous precedent; secondly, at one stroke you have made a judgmental statement that the whole nation has turned against the armed forces due to this one act, and that the discipline, loyalty, honour and salt of the earth nature of the very soldiers has become extinct; thirdly, you have assumed that the present central government dispensation is a weak one and a future stronger Raksha Mantri will then strike back. It seems you are either making a suggestion for the bureaucracy to launch a riposte or, maybe, you are just putting on paper a veiled threat or message from the bureaucracy.
I shall try to respond to your editorial in the sequence that your esteemed self has written in. Before I commence, it is rather sad to comment that you have been an anti-defence paper, which has sided with the civilian establishment and never been sympathetic to the issues of justice and fairplay. You have not tried to get at the genesis of the problem created by the successive governments at the behest of the bureaucracy that has created such divide. It is true that such an ungrateful nation and polity do not deserve the kind of Armed Forces that we have. Yes, you should be apologetic about the article that you have written, yet you state that you have been so deeply involved about the welfare of the Forces. The memorial that you say your readers have created is a laudable effort, but again how much of a contribution has been there from The Indian Express could be anybody’s guess. You honour the dead but put a knife at the back of the soldiers who are laying down their lives daily. Your paper would have got enough mileage and publicity with those efforts. Have you ever dedicated more than two lines about the soldiers who die and what happens to their families, have you ever pontificated on the travails, societal, economic, psychological, family difficulties, and other issues that are a part of the everyday life of a soldier? Unfortunately, your coverage is only when there are events that make news and you can get circulation. The truth hardly matters. Please do not disgrace a soldier by saying that yours is a soldier’s paper.
Mr Sekhar Sir, that brings us to the issue of defying civil authority. Yes, any right thinking soldier or citizen would agree that the action of the Service Chiefs has been commendable. This is where you have gravely erred in your perception. What made the services finally say no to the excesses of so-called bureaucratic superiority? The genesis goes a long way in the history of our post independent country. Successive governments have chosen to go along with systematic degradation of the Armed Forces IZZAT and status. This pay commission, after all the delays and discussions, was the last nail in the coffin. You expect these soldiers to die unflinchingly for their country, but yet you want to pay more to the bureaucracy that has been the bane of corruption and stagnation. They go home after retirement with fat pension cheques and ill-gotten gains whereas a soldier has hardly any future, far way as he is, from the materialistic realities of civilian society that ultimately causes so much of disillusionment.
Why should anyone lay down his life for the country when the government does not want to compensate him in equality with the civilian counterparts? It seems civilian lives are more important than military lives, for they are paid to fight and die eventually. Why is it that if one civil servant dies that the PM of the country announces full pay to his family till he would have eventually retired, but nothing for a soldier? A policeman dying is a national and political saga but a soldier is not worth even a few lines in the papers. How many citizens, politicians, and bureaucrats have ever cared to receive the body bags that arrive from the various zones of the country, probably because they are not the vote bank that everyone gloats over. Every death civilian or military is a huge loss, that is what everyone has to understand, and the soldiers deserve an equal honour if not more.
Our motto is service of the nation comes first and foremost, the welfare of the men we command comes next and our own welfare comes last. I presume you would accept that the men in uniform are doing their duty by the country; at the borders, in counterinsurgency areas, aid to civil authorities and countless other times when they are called in aid of civil authority; I hope there are no misgivings on that.
What the service chiefs are doing today is for the men they command because they are answerable to them, they will be failing in their duty if they cannot look after their IZZAT and their welfare. Why do you blame the ex-servicemen for raising their voice or only one particular TV channel. I wish you watched the programme on NDTV too. You would also have seen Mr Rajnath Singh, BJP President saying that the demands of the soldiers were justified. Mr Veerappan Moily, Hon’ble Union Cabinet Minister also agreed that the demands were justified.
So, the moot question which you seem to be seriously avoiding is why was the situation allowed to worsen so much, is it the fault of the Services Chiefs that they ultimately had to resort to so called defiance. And you equate them with defiant trade union heads; please don’t degrade yourself to such slanderous language. Your comments are preposterous that raise the hackles of the soldiers.
You blame the Hon’ble Defence Minister for not being able to get the Services their due, but you seem to remain silent on the holy bureaucracy, which is at the core of this divide. Why has the Pay Commission never had any representation from the Services would be one question that you would not like to talk about. Your article is degrading to the Armed forces and to the nation, as you seem to be more interested in issues that do not exist. I could call your comments seditionist, but I shall refrain from doing so. You seem to be the stand out proponent of Bureaucracy.
Lastly, as a soldier I would like to point out that if ever there is a civilian riposte, there could be another set of Generals at the helm to launch a counter attack, which could have an impact greater than the Wall Street crisis; after all, we are trained for war and counter-attack is what we are masters at. Leave the Services alone, Mr Sekhar, we do not need your sermons nor your sympathies, we will fight for our rights but never let down the nation, we will continue to lay down our lives for the nation, howsoever ungrateful some people may be.