Telegraph Calcutta

Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat speaks to Sankarshan Thakur

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Q General Rawat, you are more than half the way into your term, what would you rate among your achievements?

A few things I had set my mind on. Within the ranks, I wanted all sense of difference or discrimination ended. This unit is rated higher, they get more priority, they get less. Nothing doing. We are one army, one force. There are no shades to OG (olive green), OG is one shade and that is us. I also wanted to deal with discipline issues sternly – corruption and moral turpitude. Nobody will get away with that. No second chances. And, of course, I wanted to continue to modernise the army and keep it abreast of the times and its demands. The most important issue here was technology, the continuous infusion of updated techno- logies for our men and machines. We always need to ask ourselves: are we prepared, are we equipped to compete with world armies? This is the age of information warfare, cyber warfare. We need not only a strong man behind the gun, we need a smart man behind the gun. This reorientation has to happen, physically and psychologically. The one good thing that has happened in this regard is the impetus to Make in India.

Q How is that?

In the sense that as we move forward, we are also looking at indigenised weapons systems in addition to what we get from elsewhere. We have a new unit called the Army Design Bureau and it is exploring both the public and private sectors, see what they can produce for us. If they want some hand-holding from our side, we are prepared to give that, tell them what precisely we need. I am happy to say that it is moving well and you will see the results.

Q Could you be more precise?

Well, we must have an army capable of undertaking all tasks at all times. We are putting our soldiers into better gear, better protection. We are replacing the Gypsy vehicles with the sturdier Tata Storme; we are getting a new range of assault rifles; we are getting the Vajra tanks from South Korea, from America we shall have a version of ultra-light howitzers, many things have happened, many are happening. This modernisation is a long and continuous process.

But you are also substantially undersizing the army in terms of personnel…

As we infuse technology, we must revamp. It does not mean you take the old baggage along. After Independence, the army moved into many remote areas where there was no infrastructure to speak of. The army had to do it all by itself and we did it. Today’s India is much changed. There is infrastructure available everywhere, there is expertise and logistical assistance everywhere. Why should that not be outsourced? We want a lean and mean force, our requirements have changed, technology has changed, we need to reorient and structure ourselves accordingly.

Let me take you to an issue that has engaged a lot of your time and attention as Army Chief: Kashmir.

Too early, I’d rather not speak about it.

But you have spoken volubly on Kashmir in the past, and without mincing words…

Yes, but I will tell you why I’d rather not at the moment. There is a new man (the recently appointed Governor Satya Pal Malik) in charge. In Kashmir, we want to give the new man time. I do not want to fix his position by making statements and airing my views at the moment. I will speak later. He has to set the agenda. He has to decide what he wants to do, how he wants to handle the situation. If I speak now, people will say the army is trying to influence him or dominate the discourse in Kashmir. That will not be right. We have to see how he goes about it. If he has plans and he can rein in terrorism, we will be most happy.

But I am sure we can talk about the recent past in Kashmir. The Ramzan ceasefire, for instance. It failed, you withdrew it at the first opportunity… it didn’t last long.

It was a gesture we made to the people of Kashmir. Festival time was approaching, we made that offer. Although let me be very clear we never said we will allow the violators of the ceasefire to go scot-free. And our assessment is the other side did not take the offer seriously. They do not want to give peace a chance.

Who is they?

I do not mean the people. The people of Kashmir want peace, they are tired of this. If they were given a chance, why would they want to live in such turmoil?

But the same people, often entire villages and neighbourhoods, come out to disrupt secu- rity forces and shield militants. That is increa- singly the trend.

That’s because they are being pushed by the gun, they are afraid of the gun. They do not come out on their own, they are compelled to come out by elements that are active in the Valley and are under constant motivation and encouragement from across the border.

But a lot of them are highly motivated, especially the young, won’t you agree? I mean when have you seen funeral processions at which these gunmen routinely turn up with no sense of fear or consequence? They are feted like heroes…

That’s a false sense of heroism. Look, there are forces across the border that are engaged full-time in trying to radicalise these people, especially the youth. It is being stuffed down their minds that they are on their way to some martyrdom, they are even being compelled in many cases. All of these young boys who appear on such occasions become part of the next janaza (funeral procession). Do you think parents who have toiled to educate their children want them to go this way? They are being forced into this, all of them. There is also a deliberate effort to try and indigenise terrorism, to recruit and radicalise and arm more and more boys so it can be argued that it is a local movement and not exported from across the border. Kashmiris are being forced at gunpoint to do this, they are motivated most of all by fear.

 Many argue these are sacrifices being made for the sake of azadi

What azadi? Talk to Kashmiris and most of them do not know the meaning of azadi, they can’t define it, most of them have no idea what they are talking about, most of them have different interpretations of it. Azadi is a nebulous thing, azadi from what?

Well, for a start, they say the army and paramilitary should go…

We know where that sentiment is being fostered from, we all know. They just go on repeating and repeating until it begins to ring like the truth to them. All this radicalisation of the youth, the brainwashing, this false sense of martyrdom and what happens in heaven, etc., this talk of a new Caliphate… Don’t we know who is doing this? But what are they talking about, these nonsensical things? But as I said, I don’t want to talk too much on Kashmir right now.

There is also the issue of AFSPA that comes up again and again.

Look, insurgency and terrorism are very special situations. And everybody knows what is happening in Kashmir daily. When the army is called out in aid to civilian authority, we have to carry along an officer with magisterial powers with us so he can sanction action, whatever the situation requires. But insurgency is different. There is a grave situation we are handling every day. And do not forget, the army is your last resort, the nation’s last resort. We are called in only when the situation is extremely bad, as a last option, and in Kashmir the situation is such.

Q I ask again, do we still need AFSPA?

You remember what it was like in 1990, gun-toting militants were walking the centre of Srinagar, they were going from house to house threatening and killing people. For a time, it seemed out of control, a terrible situation. But we brought it back. We retrieved it. But just because we retrieved it then, you think provisions are no longer required? You think there are no terrorists? You think there are no guns and arms? You think there are no sleeper cells? There are enough of them around, and we know what is happening from across the border. The pressure has to be kept up all the time.

How do you see a set of army officers approaching the courts in defence of AFSPA, since we are on the issue. How does that reflect on the state of civil-military relations?

We have always supported our soldiers. Always. It is an unnecessary concern. AFSPA gives us rights to operate in certain situations. Its misuse, we punish.

Not very often, not in Kashmir…

No, why? We have instituted proper inquiries, the signal has gone out against misuse. In Machhil, in other cases. But let me tell you, there are fake cases too. And we have to fight them. And what is the punishment for those who make false allegations? There are 1,528 cases in Manipur, are many of them not hearsay? Are they all true? In Assam, there was a complaint we have killed someone. We produced the person a month later. What did you say? Security forces are being maligned too. Who protects us? The army has paid with its blood for peace to arrive, or in the effort for peace. Don’t malign your own soldiers even before they have been proven guilty, owe them some debt and respect.

But there are also soldiers like Major Leetul Gogoi who take human shields, and then get involved in what appears to be unsavoury behaviour. Why did you commend him?

Listen, I thought about it to myself. What would I have done in that situation? Would I have shot my way through and killed or maimed people? Or was there another way? Forget afterthought, we are all very wise in hindsight. He had to make a split-second decision. And he made it, he took the initiative and he took the least harmful way out of that situation. I commended him for that. For quick thinking, for trying to save lives, for trying not to vitiate the atmosphere even more.

But what self-respecting army would take a human shield, General?

No, we do not normally do it (take human shields), I am not saying this is what we do or should do. I am only saying in that split-second he took a decision and it was probably the better decision because it saved lives and probably a worse situation.

And what about the inquiry he now faces for inappropriate behaviour?

The inquiry is on. But let me tell you something. I too have operated on the ground. We do work with informants, especially in an insurgency situation. And often women are very good informants. You see, some of these young terrorists like to have girlfriends who they meet furtively when the situation allows. A lot of these girls are not sure they are being cheated or two-timed. They are uncertain. They can be nervous. They open up. And they have good information to reveal. That could be the case here. But even if that was the case, the way Major Gogoi was going about it was not correct. But let us see, the inquiry is on. And I told you there are no second chances for corruption or moral turpitude.

One last question. Do you not think the army has been politicised more than ever before and alarmingly? The way the jawan is daily invoked and used in the political discourse by the government, the way the army is sought to be valorised by the ruling party? Are you comfortable with that?

You have started giving the jawan the respect he deserves. You know what happens in the US? When a flight is carrying the body of a dead soldier, the pilot announces it to all passengers… Ladies and Gentlemen, this flight is carrying the remains of so and so… and everybody puts their palms to their chest and stands to two minutes’ silence. That is respect. Today, we are beginning to bring that respect to our jawans and martyrs. Earlier a soldier died in Kashmir, we would do the last rites there. Now we drape him in the Tricolour and bring him to his native place and the entire community gathers to pay its last respects. Where is the politicisation here? This is due respect. In fact we are talking to Air India to do what is done in the US. And if Air India can do it, why not the other airlines? What is the shame in respecting a soldier who gave his life for you, for the nation?

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