This is not to address any one in particular, but these are my general observations on all open letters.
I have been reading all the comments in the News, Social Media and our Groups and at times been totally, aghast.
I call such ‘Social Media Open Letters’ plain nonsense aimed only for grand standing in front of their social circles that stand every Fauji on a pedestal, even if he was out or was a known cribber and shirker of work & responsibility in his times hence, ‘From The Ashoka Chakra Battalion’ is showmanship aimed to bolster his arguments that he feels may not stand rationality. Its like a cheap Bollywood poster to woo an audience, for a better metaphor.
In fact such a use of a Battalion Honour for such frivolous personal reason is an insult to the Battalion and the men who earned the honour for the Battalion.
If well intended, why can’t he express the angst of his open letter, to the Defence Minister in an open fora like News Paper or in the many feedback methods on websites, PM Apps etc or Twitter handles, Facebook Page etc of the PMO, Defence Ministry, Indian Army where the veracity of his arguments can be tested and he accounted for good or bad?
Let us see to whom has this open letter been addressed to? The COAS? The CDS? Def Min? PM? Supreme Court? All options are open! But do we see any addresses? No?
So is it addressed only to idlers playing WhatsApp-WhatsApp or Social-Media-Games!?
This is what I call utter nonsense and grandstanding.
This ‘opinion mongering’ is now a rampant disease brought on by Media & Social Media that’s given all a platform and the performers a stage.
I saw a very stuffy, stiff, pompous General who hasn’t out grown his Regimental Side Cap and Scarf through the age between his commissioning, retirement and his apparently complicated status today on TV, espousing what the CO in the Handwara Case should have or should not have done!
I want to know from this Gentleman’s Course-Mates and his Buddies, how did he perform in testing situations, about where all did he serve and how did he deal with such situations when he was that age and if at all he volunteered to be in those situations in which Rashtriya-Rifles finds itself time & again, where men are not just pulled out of Battalions / Regiments as the best, but also sent out as the worst.
I would also like to ask such mentally stunted edifices our Army gracefully puts out to pasture, what did he do to enhance the Army’s over all standards at least among the generations he served with and commanded at various levels?
After all we don’t employ the domestic household plumber, industrially nor in let’s say in the next ship being built for NASA or even, city sanitation plants!
So how can one size fit all in the Army, except on Social Media, where other Army professionals do not contest and choose to remain silent to avoid adverse publicity to the Service they cherish, while ‘likes’ & ‘Wow’ comments leave an old Fashioned Foggy’s remaining adrenaline moving, in otherwise quivering limbs?
This is, self-aggrandisement at its poorest, that too by using a situational episode about which the truth has yet to come out.
It is a ‘no-brainer’ that, two situations are never the same.
Also, many experienced at higher levels of command will agree that at every level of hierarchy we need different kinds of leadership.
Apart from the basics traits, the specific leadership parameters required of a leader at different levels are vastly divergent.
Even policy implementation leadership, at levels directly in command of situations and those far removed from direct command, at the delegation and resources allocation levels, are different and divergent; which are even further different, from the forecasting, planning and policy creation levels.
Thus we have different kinds of leadership requirements for different tasks at different levels.
Imagine the chaos that would occur if the COAS alone dealt with all Arms & Services at their implementation levels, directly!
Within each level too, say at the battalion level, a Company Commander & a Commanding Officer have to be many kinds of a leader at different times and God forbid at the same time eg autocratic at a place and point of time while being democratic at another place at the same time!
Totally divorced from all forms of leadership, is the one that’s forced onto a leader in impromptu situations, where the leader has to react to an initiative of the opposition.
This is Situational Leadership and it is very different from all forms of studied leadership styles in it’s requirements of spontaneity of assessment, decision making and implication. It’s a gamble & un-retrievable after the dice is cast.
Seizing the initiative to upset the opposition’s leadership style is a very major & extremely potent weapon in any arsenal if thought through finely.
Many otherwise very good & able leaders, may or may not have competencies for such a style and this is not what Armies can bank on or espouse as doctrine to be taught in their trainings.
Yet they are all leaders, but for God’s sake each of different types at variety of levels, for regular and extraordinary tasks, hence very different from each other, if seen minutely!
A Battalion Commander’s mind-set can foul up Brigade or a Divisional or an Army’s action as much as the vice-versa, is true.
This is true of every successful organisation public, private, political, philanthropist etc, and the Army is simply, no exception.
It has to have these differences built into its organisational structures, vision and systems for synchronised effective functioning at all levels.
We must believe that the Indian Army has this very well instituted, simply because it’s been proven more than once for over 200 years as an allied or as purely, the Indian Army.
Obviously, there are many glitches too, as there are the volume of ongoing operations. I guess one of the, if not the highest in the World, for 70 years!
At a very different level from ground zero, it could be seen as a massive leadership failure, like presiding over, deliberate martyrdom of willing soldiers for 70 years and counting, just because we failed to address the geopolitical, social, economic issue!?
Correcting various statistics of casualty ratios is possible, but only when the initiative is seized to allow implementation of planned operations, in planned ways and that can happen only at a very different level of leadership, not ‘in the situation‘ kind of leadership.
Hence it’s not the situational leaders, deaths that have to be lamented but the reason for this situation to have manifested and remained so for so long!
That inaction has to be questioned and the lack of clarity of orders need to be questioned if at all there exists such a utopia where the enemy can never seize the initiative.
Meanwhile, we have to thank God for giving us leaders who volunteer to buy our ‘near utopia planners’, time and who the entire Nation hopes don’t twiddle their thumbs & thoughts too much, worrying about the last dot and the dash on paper or how to sneak their philosophies beyond the bureaucracy with their own careers intact!
It is akin to the writing a Bollywood masala thriller, where the original plot was long lost to mixed wisdoms of the financers and aesthetics of divergent actors who make every and any action movie their very own ‘make or break career story‘.
Neither the utopian Shri Ram, Shri Mahaveerā, Lord Christ, nor The One & Only Allah have the benefit of avoiding unknown situations but they all had to live through them, while Shri Krishnā & Guru Nanak Dev fought & lived through to preach, methods to convert ackward situations to their favour. However none were able to avoid them. All dubbed these pesky unwanted but ‘in the face impromptu situations‘ as karmā or an equivalent.
To desire and ensure that each soldier is as capable and has all competencies ingrained to deal with any and all situations every time, in an constantly changing Army, is an awesome utopian dream & task that every Army of the World grapples with continuously to achieve.
Our Army too has been assessing, organising, training and revamping in the past, today and it will continue, beyond us too.
Meanwhile, Armies can only hope, to remain ahead of unprecedented situations, that are political, administrative, social and economic in nature by having and holding the hands of varied types of leaders at each rung of hierarchy that a decision will metamorphose through.
While all types of leaders and staff continuously huddle over to create a single homogeneous overall elixir of a solution or heterogeneous sectorial panache and provide sense & clarity to operating rank & file, they also have to constantly fight themselves and ward off continuous obsolescence of their own ideas, which hopefully they are honest about.
Such preparatory time is precious and not easily available to all Armies, definitely not to the Indian Army that is, at least presently, saddled with a reactionary strategy unfortunately, very cleverly forced on us not just on the borders but now in the hinterlands too in various political, religious, ethnic, economic, demographic, psychological, biological & chemical forms of skirmish warfare, all rolled into one, aimed to stall and trip India’s progress while Central leadership ties up its lose ends in other departments, like urgent reforms for seamless functioning by Central & State Police Services, Intelligence Agencies as well as Administrative & Political set ups too, for a beginning.
Reactionary actions, are almost always situational, they never have the liberty of initiatives or any proactive planned engagements at all and in these, the leader on the ground has to decide the ‘leadership hat style‘ he will wear on a particular day or to the situations that have developed.
This has been true since the very advent of soldiery and has definitely been so since it became a tool of state craft for maintenance of a nation’s integrity & will.
Situational leaders are and will remain the backbone & survival kit of complacent higher leadership until the strategic leadership devices solutions that will permit them to pass clear orders that COs will neither interfere in ongoing impromptu Subunit operations personally, nor will they be held accountable for impromptu situation going bad.
No CO worth his salt will ever let his lower commanders down.
He is the Chief Executive Officer accountable for every limb and life of not only the 1000 odd men under command and ready to lay down their lives at his command, but is also a leader to their families. Not to forget the population & property in the area under his command that are in his watch and finally, his own life limb which come last always and every time.
Let’s thank God we have such leaders volunteering to walk into harm’s way, for the sakes of the strategists & philosophers working for 70 years to avoid impromptu situations developing and taking the battles where solutions to internal security cum proxy warfare are actually located.
Hence, let’s not be myopic. Let’s critique but with positive solutions not silly, emotional critical commentary on what we don’t know a thing about.
What was the information on which the Battalion reacted?
What were the inputs?
What were the situation, terrain, demographics etc?
Was the officer mentally imbalanced to the point of being rash?
Is all that the Social Media is mentioning anything new now, that the CO wouldn’t have already known in his 20 odd years of service?
If he was sane enough, what prompted him to get into the affray personally?
Were our men taken hostage, with the civilians?
How experienced was the Coy Cdr?
Did he falter so the CO had to step in to help correct the situation?
What exactly happened?
… This can go on and on.
Yet, the fact of my favourite cleché is played out with every fallen man in battle, own or enemy–
“A Dead soldier is so, because he did not see and assess the enemy better in the moment of reckoning, period.”
That in any case is the bottom line and is true over multiple transactional domains.
The problem is we like to judge!
It gives our lazy brains an adrenaline shot, that Media & Social Media have addicted us to.
We feel, all that we couldn’t do then, we can live & experience now, while our own wise wives who know is better, don’t even raise an eyebrow saying-
“Chai Pee Lo. Garam hai. Khud, Thand Rakho. Duniya ka kuch nahi hona. Apna BP dekhlena“.
Social Media is a surely blessing for prostate and a curse of negativity, for the brain.
Remember the powers that be, in the heavens and at home are watching silently and keenly, for the rationality or our thoughts and the peace of our souls!
Col Dilip Sharma (Retired)
This writeup is unedited.
Please pardon the typo errors and the repetitive parts.