TV Havaldar And The Army

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An army havaldar recently went on TV to declaim, not against his army but against Kanhaiya. He may get off lightly but his action points to how the army is no longer what it used to be. BY SURYA GANGADHARAN

The Indian Army is changing! How else does one explain the behavior of an army havaldar contacting a national Hindi TV channel and going on air (in uniform) to vent his ire against JNU student Kanhaiya, for his “anti-national” diatribe and for his claim that the army was assaulting Kashmiri women.

Army regulations don’t allow their personnel (whether officer or jawan) to talk to the media at the drop of a hat. The havaldar was clearly out of line and is known to have admitted to his commanding officer that he had deliberately not taken permission because he knew it would not have been given.

He’s not disgruntled, and his service record is good. He seems to have been driven purely by the need to correct what he saw were lies about the army’s conduct. Given that, the army may deal with him lightly but there are larger issues here.

The average army jawan is not only better educated, he’s also better connected to his home and elsewhere no matter where he’s posted. Whether on guard duty or on patrol somewhere, he’s as connected to the rest of India (and to his family) as any of us sitting in Delhi. He reads, talks to his colleagues and forms opinions. It helps if there’s an officer around (with presumably a better education) who can break down things for him, explain, set his mind at rest.

It’s not clear if present day officers have the time or inclination. Senior officers say there’s a qualitative difference in present day officer cadets at the National Defence Academy from how they used to be. Cadets today are seen as having been dealt with “lightly”, given “new fangled ideas” about human resources and man management.

These new cadets when they enter the army see it as a job with perks, privileges, lifestyle and so on. They are seen as “less committed” than officers of an earlier generation. Interaction with the men is less, and this is not just about attitude, it’s also about the shrinking of the officer corps. The number of officer in infantry units (to take an example) has shrunk from 22 to around 15-16 today even as work has expanded.

There’s less time available for “grooming young officers” and since promotions have also got quicker with officers reaching the rank of colonel in 17 years, the commanding officer of a unit may lack “sufficient grooming”.

So officers are busy, are more removed from the men, the emotional connect is less and therefore the chance of something getting out of hand is more. The havaldar and the TV channel is a case in point. More serious are incidents like those in Nyoma, Ladakh four years ago, when officers and jawans came to blows.

What is happening in the army today is symptomatic of Indian society as a whole, where everything happens in full public view. The officer or jawan is drawn from the same milieu. What makes him different is the army discipline and training, the sense of oneness, direct communication from his superior all with the aim of realizing a certain goal. If that breaks down, any army is finished.

What is happening in the army today is symptomatic of Indian society as a whole, where everything happens in full public view

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