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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 12 New Delhi March 9, 2019

Defence and Personality Cult

Monday 11 March 2019, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

In the wake of the possibility of another Indo-Pak war breaking out shortly and the rise in jingoistic outbursts in the electronic media in particular, it is instructive to note what N.C. had written in his ‘New Delhi Skyline’ in this journal following the 1965 Indo-Pak war. We are thus reproducing the New Delhi Skyline by N.C. written on November 16, 1965 that appeared in Mainstream (November 20, 1965).

The many facets of the Shastri Raj provide a fascinating study in light and dark. If Sri S.K. Patil has returned from Washington with more pronounced bias for the Prime Minister’s meeting with Mr Johnson, Sri T.T. Krish-namachari has just concluded a fruitful round of aid talks in Moscow. And both seem to have the blessings of Sri Shastri himself.

The sudden collapse of the resistance to PL-480, so conspicuous in the Congress Parlia-mentary Party, is believed to have been due to the grim realisation that without imports from outside, and that too in large quantities, the food crisis cannot be staved off. The crucial significance of the coming year for every Congress leader is the overriding compulsion of the next General Elections, and none of them would like to face the electorate under the shadow of near-famine conditions, particularly when there would no longer be any Nehru to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

It is mainly on the strength of this pragmatism that Sri S.K. Patil could win the day and disarm opposition to PL-480 as impractical: more than that, he was able to convince the Prime Minister that without an openly friendly reference to the PL-480 deals, the US authorities might not relent from their present practice of month-to-month quota.

In terms of political careers, this new approach to PL-480 has badly tarnished the image of the Food Minister himself. His help-lessness in implementing the oft-repeated assurances to catch the big food hoarders had already weakened his standing in the public eye. Now, his sudden volte face on PL-480 has further reduced his stature; for, even a large section of his partymen would ascribe it to his fear of being made a scapegoat in the coming hard days of food shortage. The humiliating way Sri Subramanian had to eat his words in Parliament about Sri Patil not having the brief to negotiate a long-range PL-480 deal in Washington has no doubt lowered him in the esteem of his party ranks, not to speak of the Opposition.

Meanwhile, the question of Sri Shastri’s going to Washington in the near future is getting in-extricably interlinked with what the govern-ment would decide on the political future of Kashmir. Despite his assertion in Parliament that the government would not budge from its basic stand on Kashmir, Sri Shastri has left the door open by implying that he might discuss details connected with the case. It is clear that Sri Shastri will soon have to finalise his blue-print on Kashmir in consultation with his colleagues.

While the foreign policy aspect of the Kashmir question will soon have to be re-defined, there has come up a sizable demand—not confined to the Swatantra or Left Communist circles—that there should be rethinking on the internal structure of the Jammu and Kashmir State. It is understood that one of the proposals under the active consideration of the government has been put up by Dr Karan Singh, the present Governor of the State. According to this proposal, Jammu should be merged with Himachal Pradesh to form a new State of Vishal Himachal; Ladakh should be a Centrally-administered area; and the Kashmir Valley should form a strictly Kashmiri-speaking State.

Working on this, some of those who are inclined to accept Sri Jayaprakash Narayan’s guidance, feel that a liberal dose of autonomy to the projected State in the Kashmir Valley might help to win over the moderate section of the Plebiscite Front leadership. In their opinion, this may be the only means by which a certain amount of politcal stability—badly shattered in the recent crisis—could be regained in the trouble-tossed Valley.

While such issues regarding the Kashmir set-up are being discussed in New Delhi, there is as yet a conspicuous absence of urgency in the official quarters regarding the proposed Tashkent Summit. It is pointed out here although Sri Shastri was prompt in accepting Mr Kosygin’s offer of mediation, the prospect of such a move was considered remote at that time. The issue has once again become a live one with Mr Bhutto’s announcement of Pak acceptance of the Soviet mediation: it is learnt in this connection that Rawalpindi’s readiness to go to Tashkent was conveyed to Moscow more than a week before Mr Bhutto’s public announcement.

Sri Shastri’s announcement that he would not go to Tashkent to discuss Kashmir but would do so if the entire Indo-Pak relations are taken up is interpreted by careful observers as a hint that he would not be averse to discussing some aspects of the Kashmir issue as part of an Indo-Pak package deal. Whatever be the outcome of the Pak Foreign Minister’s trip, New Delhi is confident—particularly after the experience of Sri Krishnamachari’s mission—that Moscow would not hesitate to honour its commitment of large-scale defence aid to this country. Hence the handsome tribute paid to Indo-Soviet amity by the Prime Minister in Parliament.

The report about the present Chief of the Army Staff getting an extension of service by one year—put out by a very responsible news agency—and its prompt official contradiction the very next day has touched off a fairly wide-spread discussion in the Capital as to the correct approach to the entire question of the role of the leadership of the armed forces in the recent conflict with Pakistan. In the height of the excitement of the war, it was but natural that the armed forces as a whole—the jawans as well as the Generals— were praised in abundant measure, and quite rightly too: in fact, the popular admiration was so great that even the Left Communist leader, Sri Namboodiripad, expressed his “exhilaration” at the feat not only of the jawans but of the Generals as well as the political leadership directing them all.

The feeling however is gaining ground in New Delhi today that after eight weeks of the Cease Fire, there should be a balanced assessment of the exploits of the armed forces, particularly of its leadership, during the three weeks of full-scale war. For, it is recognised as a sign of the robust health of a democracy that it can take a self-critical view of its own record, whether in the matter of diplomacy or of defence. While the armed confrontation with Pakistan could not be avoided and the full-scale Pak attack in the Chhamb sector of the frontier had to be warded off by our armed forces going into action, there were at the time genuine doubts even in responsible quarters about the desirability of making a counter-attack towards Lahore and the subsequent developments—not only political but military as well—have only strengthened those doubts about the wisdom of such a strategy insisted upon by the Army command. Taking an overall picture, the impression is very strong in New Delhi that while our armed forces have been able to wipe off the shame of 1962, it would be a jingoistic exaggeration to claim that our Army leadership has put up a brilliant performance completely outshining the adversary: the capture of Lahore was not our military objective but that of Sialkot most certainly was; and Pak forces have not yet been dislodged from the Chhamb sector. Knowledgeable circles, not necessarily unfriendly foreign critics, believe that purely from the point of view of military strategy there was plenty of room for improvement.

It is therefore natural that the mood in the Capital is that instead of making a hero out of the Chief of the Army Staff, what is necessary is a sober, sternly objective review of the performance of the entire command during the operations, assessing both the achievements of the collective leadership and the contribution of individual personalities placed in command. The recent award of Presidential honours to the military leaders is correctly regarded here as a token of the nation’s appreciation of the valour and sacrifice of the armed forces as a whole rather than as tributes to the merits of the individual officers so awarded: for, if anybody can be singled out for the unstinted gratitude of all sections of the nation it is the undaunted jawan and the intrepid IAF pilot.

A noticeable feature of recent weeks has been a certain amount of personality build-up of the Chief of the Army Staff. While some in New Delhi think that this is perhaps inevitable—though not wholesome —in the prevailing mood in the country, others have the feeling that General Chaudhuri himself should have scotched it. For instance, the almost infantile reference to him as one of the six leading tank warriors in the world, ludicrously doled out in the press, has never been contradicted by him, a point which could not possibly have escaped the notice of foreign observers.

The decision on the part of the government to let two Service Chiefs meet the world press on the morrow of the Cease Fire to make a review of the entire war did strike many here as extraordinary; obviously such a job is normally the prerogative of the Defence Minister himself. Those who attended that news conference could not but carry back the impression that in marked contrast to the restraint and modesty displayed by the Chief of the Air Staff, General Chaudhuri seemed to be conscious of the kudos he should collect.

It is but natural for New Delhi observers to be extra-sensitive on this score of personality build-up by the Army leadership. For, they have not yet forgotten the rather uncomfortable experience of 1962 when General B.M. Kaul’s craving for self-advertisement—hypnotising a senior foreign correspondent into ranking him in the top ten who would succeed Nehru—ended up in the ignominious anti-climax with his historic flight from Bomdila. Perhaps the sobriety gained from that experience has prevented the spread of the fairy tale that some of the unsophisticated admirers of the Chief of the Army Staff have innocently been selling that he should be made a Field Marshal. No doubt, such fulsome tributes must be embarrassing to the General himself.

A point which New Delhi has learnt under Nehru is that the boosting of the leaders of the armed forces does not necessarily strengthen our defence. Even today the defence equipment this country has been getting from friendly powers is on the strength of her political leadership and the policies they adhere to, and not because of the standing of the military leaders. If India has got the MIG and the submarine, it was not because of the standing of the chiefs of her armed forces but because of the prestige that her political stand could command abroad. Alternatively, one has only to recall that Pakistan could be lured into the Western military-alliance network thanks mainly to the machinations of its Army Chief who now rules that country. It is not without reason that Sri Krishna Menon’s very timely warning against the danger of militarism has been echoed in the most unexpected quarters, by no means friendly to Sri Menon himself.

It is important to bear this in mind, because the country is not yet out of the woods, and a false sense of security bred by the glamour of the Top Brass may lead to complacency in the matter of defence.

What New Delhi circles seem to prefer today is not the build-up of any militry figure but greater assertion of the political leadership over defence and of collective functioning of the leadership of the armed forces. If the lessons of the three weeks of war against Pakistan are to be properly learnt, it is that the fearless dedication of the jawan must not be allowed to be used as the capital for investment in any Personality Cult.

(Mainstream, November 20, 1965)

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