The genesis of the article is derived from the vast flow of anti-army chief comments on social media, mostly from the veterans’ community. This article is not intended to defend any individual or institution but to project realities which are being glossed over. The present army chief assumed his appointment on 31 December 2016.

He was vice chief prior to his promotion, hence would possess knowledge of current issues. Since his assumption the army has been in the limelight for a variety of reasons, mostly not favourable. Recent ones include removal of the OROP agitators by force from Jantar Mantar, the Gogoi incident in J and K, the equivalence commission, attempts at degradation of the force by the bureaucracy and the ministry, clearing garbage in remote areas and construction of Foot Over Bridges (FOBs) in Mumbai.

The veterans’ community is hurt by most of these issues, hence are vociferous. This is also a period of intense social media exploitation by veterans and other so-called security experts. Almost everyone considers himself as an authority on national security and matters related to the armed forces, especially the army.

Being at the helm of affairs, the chief is the individual who faces flak in every form of media. Flak flowed from human right activists and opposition politicians on the Gogoi incident and from veterans on a variety of other issues.

At the drop of a hat, social media is abuzz with calls for him to resign, to refuse government orders and even advice on how to disregard government directions. It is a fact that the serving fraternity is bound by silence while their sole voice remains the veterans, who appear to have taken it upon themselves to address all ills which the system faces. They feel that they form the ‘know all fraternity’ and can correct ills by raising voices and seeking resignations. They are right to the extent that the public needs be informed about forcible attempts by the government to degrade the service, however accusing the hierarchy of not acting may be far-fetched.

There is a difference between criticising the head of the institution against criticising the government, which permits derogatory actions to be undertaken under its watch while maintaining a stoic silence.

The army chief, in his capacity as the head of the largest and most powerful force in the nation, has immense responsibilities. He is involved in a perpetual battle to make up deficiencies in equipment profile, manage a hostile internal environment where the bureaucracy is seeking to degrade military ranks, meet the aspirations of the force as also of its veterans, each category demanding priority and special attention.

This is compounded by the fact that he is not part of the government, despite the usage of the term ‘Integrated HQs’. The service HQs have deliberately been left out of the government machinery, placed under a civilian-run defence ministry, solely to restrict the ability of service chiefs to influence the system, as also being involved in national decision making.

For every decision they need to process cases through the ministry, which has and would always remain a stumbling block as it visualises itself in competition with the very armed forces it has been created to support. Hence issues concerning the force which would also concern the chief, as he is responsible for those he commands, would need to be progressed deliberately, at times involving multiple ministries, none of whom are in a hurry to respond.

Government decision-making is slow, especially if it concerns an organisation which can never protest nor apparently influence political vote banks. Government rules also prevent the armed forces from openly participating on social media, holding press conferences to project their viewpoint or contradict actions of the government. The only individual who does interact with the media on a variety of issues is the chief.

Being a mature responsible officer, who must have faith in the political leadership despite negative actions of the bureaucracy, his views cannot contradict those of the national leadership, even if he has reservations. Thus, we veterans need to consider the constraints under which our chief serves, rather than seeking to comment negatively at every stage. In all probability, he would also have been hurt by the treatment meted out to veterans and non-implementation of OROP.

Meeting agitating veterans would send a wrong message to the government, hence has been avoided. He would be involved in behind-the-scenes discussions trying to ensure OROP is processed early and also would have raised maltreatment against veterans at appropriate fora.

These may not be topics which he could discuss in media conversations, hence are deliberately left out. No chief would ever sell his service for personal post-retirement benefits. It is a fallacy which has flourished over the years, solely because a few were awarded with post-retirement appointments. Bureaucrats battle us because we dominate headlines, are more efficient and get more respect from the nation than they do. Jealousy causes more harm than good.

Blaming the hierarchy or seeking resignations of service chiefs is not the answer. Resigning solely to project anger against government apathy is akin to disregarding orders, which would harm service reputation more and enhance the pleasure within the bureaucracy.

Has any bureaucrat ever resigned or owned responsibility? Let us stop seeking resignations and criticising. The chief is capable and knows what his job entails and would be working for the benefit of the organization. Politically we are ignored because we as veterans have never been able to impact vote banks, since we remain a fractured community. Even our own veterans who now form part of the government are the first to ignore us because we are not united.

If we are to be a force to reckon with and ensure the government accepts our just demands then we veterans need to unite, break the shackles of groupism and become a force which can change the fate of governments by the ballot box.

The famous story of the US Bonus army, spreading across social media, is an example. Till then we will always face degradation and be ignored. The organisation would only gain if we support the chief, rather than accuse him.

Let us as a veterans’ community join hands to pressurise the government to act on the threat of the ballot while trusting and supporting our serving hierarchy.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)