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UNFORGIVEN

Officers Training Academy, Madras.

December 1993

Actually, I don’t remember date clearly.

As I walked past the notice board of Jessami Company, with its sundry instructions and timetables, I chanced upon what seemed like poetry. Gentlemen Cadets write poems on two subjects’…soldiers and girl friends. I read on…it was a quote from a poem.

We the unforgiven

Led by the unknown

Have done the impossible

For the ungrateful

I always wondered what those lines meant.

July 2018

Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir governor, NN Vohra meets Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Northern Command of the Indian Army. His message is simple. The army must be restrained even in face of grave and extreme provocation. In simple terms, the Indian Army can be pelted with stones, acid bottles, Molotov Cocktails…it can be shot at by terrorists hiding between stone pelters, but the army must not shoot back.

It is okay for a soldier to die, and for that he is paid. But a stone pelter, a criminal under any civilized country’s law, is a victim. Catch 22. The criminal is also a victim. This is the Stockholm Syndrome in reverse.

I don’t know what the good General said to the Governor, but one thing is certain. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh is an infantryman, a soldier’s soldier. When push comes to shove, he will stand by his men.

I too am a soldier. I left the Indian Army in 1999, but I am a soldier. Present tense. Soldiering is more than just about a uniform. It is a state of mind. And, this state of mind is binary; zero or one.

What business does the army have in Kashmir and the North East? Well, truth be told…none.

The soldier did not create the Kashmir issue. He did not create the situation in North East. He knew nothing about the Red Corridor before it happened. The elite who were elected by the people of India to lead them, created these festering wounds.

So, the soldier shed his blood to cover up greed, aspiration and incompetence.

There were times in the early 90s when terrorists would walk on the streets of Kashmir, waving AK 47s, unchallenged. There were thousands upon thousands of them…Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Sudanese…‘mujahedeen’ of various nationalities. They raped, killed, pillaged and committed arson at will. They said that this was the price of “azaadi” that Kashmiris must pay. They set up courts to dispense their brand of “justice”. We had almost lost Kashmir, simply because the writ of the Indian state did not run in the Valley.

It was the Indian soldier that pulled back Kashmir from the brink of anarchy and chaos. Yes, our methods were violent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We did what had to be done. We shed blood. Lots of it was ours. Today if Kashmir belongs to India, it is because of the soldier. Not because we have only killed, but because we have also died. And by the sheer finality of this act of martyrdom, we have kept alive our collective right to the inviolable sovereignty of India.

Peace is a relative word. So relatively, there is peace. But there is no solution in sight. There is no roadmap. We stumble from one initiative to another; a ‘ceasefire’ here, a ‘soft-touch’ policy there. We look unsure, tentative and uncertain. Like a vicious street dog, the enemy smells our fear hormones.

The only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. We have forgotten this time-honored adage and paid the price. Repeatedly.

Who did the ceasefire in Kashmir benefit? Did it bring peace and respite to the common Kashmiri? Did it stop terror attacks? How many security forces personnel were martyred because of the ceasefire? Who is answerable to their families?

And the biggest question of all…do we, as a nation, have any solution to these problems that does not involve the death of a soldier?

Remove the Indian Army from Jammu & Kashmir and the state will be swallowed up by China and Pakistan in less than 24 hours. The blood of the Indian soldier defends Kashmir. The blood of the Indian soldier protects India. There are many who question the manner in which this protection is given. You must have heard that India is the world’s largest democracy. Freedom of expression is sacred here, more sacred than the life of a soldier. A terrorist gets legal aid faster than a soldier gets first aid.

And the joke is on the soldier. He, the soldier, gives his life to protect the very freedom of expression that people use, to abuse him.

Today, the soldier stands cornered for no fault of his own.

India asked, “Who will shed blood for me? My honour is at stake”.

The soldier stepped forward and said, “Send me. I will die for you”.

Over seven hundred serving soldiers have approached the Supreme Court for justice. They are called human rights violators and are accused of using excessive force. The soldier is confused. What is excessive force? Can quantum of force be decided from the air-conditioned environs of a room in New Delhi?

Many soldiers involved in those operations in the North East, have since retired. Cases of more than two decades back are being pulled out. Actions of soldiers twenty years back, when Manipur was besieged by terror, are being judged by the saner environment of today.

It’s a never changing story. The sameness is constant.

“Why did they call us, if they didn’t want us, Sir?” asks an officer, bewildered. He is a typical fauji…idealistic and believing in all that is good. As I said, typical. “There is no greater honour than dying for the motherland”. Yes, that kind of soldier.

I try to explain to him. I tell him that its only a very few who insult his sacrifice. Most people honour his devotion to duty. He looks at me. He wants to believe. He desperately wants to believe. But I sense cracks in this massive edifice of trust. He does not believe so unhesitatingly any more. They have irrevocably violated the purity of his soul.

In those dark, violent and desperate days when the nation craved a glimmer of light, the soldier burned everything he possessed. And when he had nothing left to burn, he set himself on fire.

I think this is a song. Or a quote. I don’t know. But I am witness to this burning. To this burning, I testify. I was there. A part of me also burned.

Today, that soldier is questioned and a chosen few sit in moral judgment. The air-conditioning is set at 24 degrees. The heat, dust, noise, humidity and inconvenience are trapped outside. As they sip their favourite beverage, they want to know what rules he broke in the festering jungles of the North East when he was carrying the dead body of his buddy, and had not eaten in days. They want to know why the correct protocols were not followed when the soldier was under fire in Kashmir, three bullets in his chest. “He should not have fired,” they say, all wise and knowing. He tries to tell them that he fired because they were trying to lynch and burn his buddy alive. Then, he stops trying. There is no point in telling them. They come from a different universe, a universe he has never inhabited.

It couldn’t be more perfect. Let the inquisition begin, followed by death by public humiliation. What does the soldier know, anyway? How can we trust him…this man who would die for a piece of colored ribbon? Or a flag? Or a song that is just 52 seconds long? He doesn’t fit in. He doesn’t belong here.

This is a true story. I wish it were not.

But at least now I know what those lines on the notice board of Jessami Company at OTA meant. I know how many of my brothers paid the price.

And so the soldier remains today, as he has always been…

Unknown. Unsung. Unwept. Unforgiven.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

#Unforgiven #MajorGauravArya #IndianArmy #adgpi

RED SNOW

70 years. 3 generations. This is a microcosm of the loss Kashmir has suffered since 15 August 1947. It started with nothing…just the greed of a few men who wanted power at any cost.

The word in Sanskrit which describes the power struggle in Kashmir perfectly is Varchasva. This is the fight for overall suzerainty and ultimate power, whatever the cost. This power cannot be shared. It’s very nature is that is is unquestioned and unquestionable.

The old, vile men of Kashmir…those powerful few…found resonance with another set of old vile men. But this other group of old vile men were not from Kashmir. Far towards the west of Srinagar is city called Rawalpindi. They were from Pindi. They wore Khaki. They were far better organised and funded.

Together, these old, vile men…of Kashmir and Rawalpindi…burned Kashmir to the ground. Khusrau’s paradise was no more.

But life finds a way. This video hopes that the silent majority of Kashmir will find their voice and speak out against the tyranny of a few old, vile men.

For too long, blood has been shed. For too long, Kashmir has seen RED SNOW.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

Watch video here 👇

EXPENDABLE

This story is about India, the largest democracy in the world in which the cheapest commodity is the blood of the Indian soldier. This story is about Kashmir.

In the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, more than 3500 CRPF jawans were seriously injured in the stone pelting that ensued. No one knows how many were martyred. The nation does not care. The nation does not want to know.

The nation does not know why CRPF and Jammu & Kashmir Police jawans who are injured or unwell cannot be treated at civil hospitals in Srinagar and South Kashmir. There have been cases in the past wherein jawans of these forces who were admitted in civil hospitals, have been assaulted by mobs inside ICUs and OTs. Now, they are treated in Indian Army’s 92 Base Hospital at Badami Bagh Cantt. Kalashnikov wielding men guard 92 Base Hospital. Under the shadow of the gun, our boys are safe.

Every country, without exception, uses disproportionate force to counter terror. The United States of America invades. Russia launches air strikes on foreign soil. China “reeducates” the entire population of Uighurs. France and England send their armies to fight wars abroad, using all weapons of war.

When Army Public School, Peshawar was attacked on 16 December 2014, Pakistan reacted violently. F-16s took off from air bases and entire villages in North Waziristan and tribal areas were razed to the ground. Heavy and medium artillery was brought out, as were helicopter gunships. Civilian areas were pounded to dust. Military courts were set up overnight and terror accused were dragged out of jails and hanged. No judge, no witness, no appeal; just hundreds of blindfolded men swinging by their necks in cold, dingy cells. Visiting terror upon the doorstep of hapless civilians and use of massive disproportionate force on innocents is a time-honored tradition in the Pakistan Army.

The Indian Army is a moral army. We fight fights terrorists using the same weapons that the terrorists use; AKs, rocket launchers, machine guns, carbines, and grenades. Collateral damage is kept to a minimum. We are extremely proud of this morality. We live by this code. We die by it. Why? Because we are operating inside India. I understand that. All soldiers understand that.

But the nation must also know that this morality exacts a very heavy price. This morality costs fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. And there is nothing heavier than the body of a martyr. I have carried martyrs on my shoulders. It breaks the spirit. It is this weight of our morality that we must carry.

The Indian Army soldier can face the enemy without fear, but ask him to face the guttural scream of a widow and confusion on the face of orphans…he will do the unthinkable. This battle-scarred warrior of a hundred firefights will hesitate and take a step back. This is the price of our freedom.

So, we soldier on.

It is time we took a stand. The poison in Kashmir must be countered. The enemy must be defanged. For too long it has been fashionable to describe Kashmir as a political problem. It was, many years back. It is now radical Wahhabi Islamism that has taken firm root. If we do not act now to purge India of this poison, it will be too late.

Ideologies, especially poisonous ones, know no geographical frontiers. If our masters think that the ideology of the Islamic State will stop short of the Banihal, they are lying to themselves. Suicide bombings and public hangings are signature tunes of this new Jihad. IEDs have been re-introduced into Kashmir. It’s only a matter of time.

Lets make up our minds as to what we really wish to do in Kashmir. Should we put our minds to it, it is fairly simple. Don’t touch the innocent. Don’t spare the guilty. Period. Solutions to vexing problems are often simple, staring at us in the face. We deliberately look for complicated cures, trying to foolishly satiate the maddening urge to justify a higher level of intellectualism.

When a political leader releases stone pelters for votes, the result is Sameer Bhat. This gives a sense of inflated importance to a petty criminal, and he starts calling himself Sameer Tiger. How many J&K Police and CRPF jawans must have been injured…how many would have been martyred…in arresting those 4000 stone pelters. No one knows or cares. Votes are important. Security personnel are expendable.

As I walked into my favorite bakery in Srinagar last week, the owner stepped out to greet me. He had grown a beard, as is the fashion in Srinagar these days.

“Assalam-o-Aleikum, Mudassir* bhai. I must call you Maulana saheb now” I greeted him, with a smile. Well, he certainly looked the part, beard in full flow.

“Waleikum Assalam, Major saheb”, he responded, warmly embracing me.

“One day they will kill me if they find out that I am your friend. The things you say on TV…”, he said, rolling his eyes in mock disapproval.

“They should anyway kill you because of your baking skills. You are a public hazard,” I laughed, punching him in the arm.

“Things are changing fast, Major Saheb. There is evil in the air. For too long we have stared at the abyss that did not exist. Now that abyss is staring back at us. It has become real,” my friend said sadly. It must be all about living in downtown. There can be no other reason for a Kashmiri baker, or any other baker for that matter, to quote Nietzsche, even if the quote is absolutely mangled.

There was nothing to say. So, I said nothing.

Six strawberry rolls. Six walnut cakes. Packed neatly in a large paper box. I started to reach for my wallet. He refused firmly. Typical. So, I did what I have always done. I put the entire amount in a donation box, which has been on his counter for ages. I know my friend. The money will go to the right place, every rupee accounted for.

We exchanged jokes, my friend and I. The same old jokes about each other. Kashmiris don’t know how to make biryani, I said. Lucknow is not Lucknow any longer, he said.

As we walked outside, my friend observed, “Have you seen those Zombie movies? Stone pelters are like that. They take drugs and keep throwing stones.”

We embraced. I left for BB Cantt.

Politics is tearing the Kashmir Valley apart. Each Kashmiri political party uses these zombies for their own agenda. Stone pelters will throw stones for anyone; anyone who can sponsor the next fix. It has become a respectable day job. Some will throw stones for entertainment, because there is nothing else to do. Its fun to see someone else bleed. And if you are hit in return, there is always sympathy and money. God forbid, should you die, you are a celebrity. Thousands of people will attend your funeral. Why? Same reason. There is nothing else to do.

Its time the government took a firm stand. Who are we afraid of? Why this typical Indian obsession with “What will people say?” The world will say nothing. Our civilization has not survived thousands of years because of the world’s approval.

I have spoken to stone pelters. They have a very healthy respect for Rashtriya Rifles. CRPF and J&K Police are under orders to deal with stone pelters with limited force. If that caveat is removed, stone pelters will soon develop a very healthy respect for CRPF and J&K Police. It’s a matter of 7 working days.

Lets stop this tamasha of tear gas and pellet guns. Lets stop this litany of “misled youth”, Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat. Our guns are not for the Republic Day Parade.

Stone pelters are murderers. They kill. They intend to kill each time they pick up a stone. They only understand the language of the heel of the soldier’s boot. That is the language we must speak to them in.

They are not mislead youth. They are not young men who have been given a bad deal by life. They are traitors and must get the “azaadi” of the grave. When stone pelters defile the uniform of a soldier, they are not just insulting the soldier and his uniform. They are insulting what that uniform stands for. They are insulting India. Such an insult cannot be left unanswered.

I have said it before and I will say it again. A nation does not live on its knees. It is time for all of us to rise together and roar in one voice…

My soldier is not expendable.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment
Indian Army

*PS: Mudassir is a common Kashmiri name. My friend’s name is not Mudassir. And though I tease him, he is an excellent baker.

#Expendable #MajorGauravArya #IndianArmy #adgpi

THE SHARK AND THE GOLDFISH

When India became independent, the overriding feeling amongst our leaders was that the Indian Army was a remnant of our colonial past, and best forgotten. Since “Ahimsa” was to be the nation’s guiding principle, the army was really not required. The police would be sufficient to handle minor disturbances. For nine weeks, that was the over-riding emotion. Then, Pakistan attacked. The 1947-48 war was the longest post-Independence war we have fought.

Between 1948 and 1962, even when war clouds loomed in the horizon, we were the proverbial ostrich. After the humiliation of 1962, realisation dawned that war and strife wanted us, even if we didn’t want them. Pakistan again attacked us in 1965. Wars and insurgencies came and went. An insurgency morphed into militancy and is now full-blown terrorism. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.

This entire image of India as a nation not seeking war and taking pride in not having an expeditionary army is true. We have never gone looking for war. But wars have often come looking for us. I don’t have to tell fellow Indians that we live in a very rough neighbourhood. And yet, the sheer necessity of a strong military escapes us. Platitudes cannot replace weapons. But the real issue is vastly different.

Our thinking is strategically stunted.

Think of national security as a horse with four legs. All four legs must be strong, for us to gallop. Economy, diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces are the power profile of any nation. Except that in our case, we are one leg short.

I am not an economist and I don’t understand money too well, but I am told that independent institutions say we are the fastest growing economy in the world. People also say that we are doing very well diplomatically. I don’t know. These are not my areas of expertise. What I state is hearsay. About intelligence, I know even lesser than what I know about the economy or diplomacy. And anyway my “spook” friends sip coffee and talk about football. They don’t talk shop…ever.

Our fourth leg is broken. I deeply apologise for being blunt and making this transactional, but a nation gets the army it pays for, and payment is not about money alone. It is many things. Money is just one part of it.

Bravery alone does not win wars. An MQ9 Reaper stationed in Afghanistan can receive an input from a US Air Force desert base in Arizona, USA. It can hover at 50,000 feet above sea level for 36 hours and can put a AGM-114 Hellfire missile inside a 2×2 window, whenever the operator in Arizona so desires. Sounds like science fiction? Well, this technology is more than a decade old.

China is developing/stealing this technology, and since the Chinese focus only on work and don’t have to bother with red tape and babus, they are going to clone this weapons system and get it operational this year.

This is less than 1% of what is happening in our neighbourhood. If I were to mention just 10% of what China is doing, it would take several pages to simply state facts.

We, who often claim a permanent seat at the United Nation Security Council, have not been able to give our soldier a decent rifle. Was I talking about MQ9 Reaper? I am sorry…I do get ahead of myself, sometimes.

The issue is not so much with the budget. We are a growing economy and as we grow, so will the budget. The issue is that the things that can be done with minimal expenditure are not being done. Many reasons…envy, jealousy, rivalry…name it and its at play. We don’t need the Chinese and Pakistanis to harm us. We are doing a fantastic job of it ourselves.

Lets play a little game. Go to www.mod.gov.in and then click on Menu. In the drop down menu, click on Who’s Who. Finally, click on Department of Defence. Study the list carefully. Then click on Department of Defence Production. Then click on Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare. Finally, click on Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

Once you have gone through the names on all lists, you would have understood the problem. More than 95% of the people, who are actually in-charge of India’s defence and national security at the Defence Ministry’s policymaking level, have not spent a day in uniform. Ditto for the DRDO list in which names are not mentioned.

The people who make policies don’t know the people they make them for.

The production people don’t involve the end user.

The people who look after ex-servicemen welfare have no clue about veterans.

The DRDO designs with little end-user input, giving us eggs like Tejas and INSAS.

These are the people who give orders to the Army, Navy and Air Force without having served a day in either service. And their orders are followed in letter and spirit. India is a democracy and civilian supremacy cannot be questioned. It must not be questioned. But would you agree to undergo a bypass surgery, by a person who is not a cardiac surgeon? And if your answer is NO, then why don’t you, the people of India, protest when the security of YOUR nation is entrusted to people who don’t have the expertise to do that?

The Defence Minister must be someone elected by the people, and of that, there can be no doubt. Power in a democracy flows from the people. Many people have been clamouring for a military man to be made Defence Minister. While politics will decide that, the problem is clearly elsewhere. It is in the lists you read earlier. You can make a former general the Defence Minister of India but unless structural changes are made in that list, nothing will help.

The four legs of India’s national security work in silos. In any nation, the military forms an integral part of diplomacy because it is the military that is a nation’s final insurance against diplomatic failure. If you want to be derogatory, you can call this gunboat diplomacy. But it mostly works, mind you.

Posting a middle level officer as a Defence Attaché to an Embassy or High Commission is simply not enough. When the Prime Minister of India sits down to negotiate with another nation’s leader, both heads of state must know that somewhere in the background lurk INS Vikramaditya and INS Arihant. Subtlety is the key, but 1.2 million soldiers is a compelling argument.

For too long we have shunned projection of hard power. There has been the odd success like Operation Cactus in Maldives in 1988 when Brig. Farouk Bulsara entered Maldives with 1600 Indian Army paratroopers. The enemy was spooked witless. Then there have been gigantic foreign policy failures like Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. In Op Pawan, the army was consulted only when it became difficult for the political dispensation to distinguish soldier from cannon fodder.

The economist and the diplomat alone are not enough to catapult a nation to superpower status. Somewhere in the background, a soldier underwrites all the ebbs and flows. We may like to look at the world through the prism of justice and morality, but there is nothing just and moral about the way the world does business. The United States Marines are humorously referred to as the last hundred yards of US foreign policy. It’s both funny and true.

Lets not shy away from projection of hard power. China did not withdraw from Dokalam because India gave the world Yoga and Kamasutra. They withdrew because we were strategically and tactically far stronger in that particular area. They are building a road in general area Dokalam, but it’s not the same place that we defended. The army Chief said that if we can defend Siachen for more than three decades, we could defend Dokalam indefinitely. He was just stating the obvious. Anyone who has been posted to Dokalam will tell you this. This is hard power projection.

Our national power profile is skewed. The Indian Armed Forces must have their say, as subject matter experts. They must be involved in policy at the highest levels. Administrators are generalists. We need specialists advising the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. The Chief of Defence Staff position is years away, if at all. The low hanging fruit is immediate restructuring of the Defence Ministry.

Percentage of GDP committed to the budget is one way of looking at defence preparedness. India has other equally important priorities. Education, health, infrastructure and human resource development are as critical as defence. But everything is not about budget allocations. How smartly we spend that money is up to us. For that, we need soldiers to lead policy making. And that does not cost money.

When we have our policy imperatives sorted, we will start acting the part of an emerging super-power. It is then that the people of India will see global projection of hard power, and not just tableaus of missiles on Republic Day. Parades are an important part of military culture, but there is far more to the armed forces than shiny uniforms and marching to a drumbeat.

A shark is a predator of the deep seas. It is in the nature of sharks to hunt and kill. For too long, the armed forces have been sharks masquerading as goldfish. It goes against the DNA of soldiering. One day India will find its rightful place in the comity of nations, and the soldier will be an important part of that journey.

To our East and West we have two nuclear powers, and both have waged war on us. We are swimming in very dangerous waters. India must choose whom it wants defending its flanks, in these murky waters.

In the dark depths of the ocean, a shark is the final argument.

 

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment (Bhaduria)

#IndianArmy

# #ADGPI #MajorGauravArya #TheSharkAndTheGoldfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOURTH COLOUR

It was the summer of 1994 and my Unit, 17 Kumaon was stationed in Suratgarh, Rajasthan. Just as summer was peaking, the local transformer went out one fine night, with a bang. Fourteen days of hell followed, before they managed to restore the transformer. I remember that in those fourteen days, we would often go to the Officers Mess of 10 Sikh Light Infantry. They had a generator and were fantastic hosts. Other youngsters of my Unit were obsessed with football. They would watch the game with the concentration of a sniper stalking his prey. I, on the other hand, had no interest in football. I still don’t. For me, a sport was all about riding horses and showjumping. When I was commissioned into the infantry, I understood that from now onwards, I was the horse.

Well, I digress.

On one such sojourn to the 10 Sikh Li mess, I ventured a little further and heard the children of an officer speaking in fluent Punjabi. In the army no one thinks twice about these things and they don’t matter. But outside, it can create a controversy. Well, the officer was a Malyalee. And his children were speaking Punjabi inside the unit Gurudwara. They had come for the langar, as all kids do. Spiritual enlightenment was still decades away, if at all.

We had adventures in the blazing deserts of Rajasthan. Mahajan Field Firing Range, a few hours from Bikaner, was our happy hunting grounds. Field exercises were no fun but when the sun went down, the desert would come alive. Snakes and scorpions found their way into our boots. Yes, we had adventures. Staring at Fort Abbas in Pakistan was how evenings were spent. There were no TV sets there.

Shortly, the Unit moved to Gurdaspur. Punjab, glorious Punjab, with its green fields and hospitality was a stark contrast to the large nothingness of Mahajan. Soon, we settled down.

New to the station, 17 Kumaon was itching to celebrate but the one major Kumaoni festival, Dussehra, was still months away. My Paltan is a pure Kumaoni battalion with 100% Hindu troops from the Kumaon region. Officers, as is true for the entire army, are from all over India. Had it been Dussehra, 17 Kumaon would have been decked up like a bride. There would have been “kaal ratri” on the eve of the big day, a “Mandir Parade” on the following morning, followed by the ritual sacrifice, and then the “shastra pooja”. The famous Kumaoni “choliya dance” would have followed. Finally before we all went home, we would have the feast…the massive “bara khana” with the mustard-spiked Kumaoni “raita” as the centerpiece. One spoon of that raita would have your scalp tingling like you had a thousand ants crawling on your skull.

But as I said, Dussehra was still months away.

So, Colonel Lincoln Lewis Andrews, YSM (Yudh Sewa Medal), Commanding Officer of 17 Kumaon decreed that we would celebrate Janmashtami with equal fervor. We would show the Brigade HQs what 17 Kumaon was…our spirit, our traditions and our hospitality.

Officers were invited from the Brigade. The Brigade Commander was tied up elsewhere and sent his regrets, but never mind…everyone present would know that the “bhullas” were second to none. “Bhulla” means younger brother in Kumaoni and that is how troops are addressed in my Unit.

The Unit Mandir was spruced up and on the big day, we assembled at 2330 hrs (11:30 pm) at the Mandir. Col Andrews led the Mandir parade, and with the “arti thali” being passed around, the Mandir was soon reverberating with bhajans. Col Andrews was a boxer, and he sang like one. I was sitting right behind him and had to bear the brunt of his musical talent. But he was the CO and I was then a young Lieutenant. I kept my peace. Another reason I kept my peace was that Capt. RK Anuj, Adjutant of 17 Kumaon, was sitting next to me. He was also my senior subaltern. I had very valid reasons not to air my precious opinion.

17 Kumaon was caught up in the fervor of Janmashtami, and was led from the front by its CO. Whenever the bhajan reached a crescendo, Col Andrews would repeat the lines “Brij mein aayo mere Nand Lala” along with everyone. Suddenly, at 2359 hrs, one minute to midnight, everyone stopped singing.

The Unit Panditji gave a sharp command, “Mandir Parade saavdhan baith”. 17 Kumaon turned into a thousand statues.

Turning to the CO, he saluted and said, “Ram Ram Sahab. Sri Krishna ke janam ki anumati chahta hoon, Shrimaan”. Pandit Ji was asking permission from the CO to allow the birth of Lord Krishna. No one batted an eyelid. This was the Indian Army, after all. Traditions were everything. Izzat. Wafadari. Dastoor.

“Ram Ram, Pandit Ji. Anumati hai”, said the good Colonel, beaming.

A silent signal was given. Far away, half a kilo of plastic explosive went off. The cradle of Lord Krishna was slowly lowered from the ceiling. The hall exploded with bhajans.

It was at 0003 hrs, three minutes past midnight that the Mandir phone rang loudly.  The CO was asked to come on the phone. Well, the Brigade Commander basically said that he was back. He had heard so much about the Kumaoni Janmashtami. Would it be possible for him to attend the celebrations?

Col Andrews was a war hero, with a Yudh Sewa Medal in Operation Pawan, Sri Lanka. The LTTE had feared him. But the Brigade Commander’s visit was a bit too much. But what could he do? Lord Krishna had “already been born”.

“You are welcome, Sir”, said Col LL Andrews, his throat obviously dry. There was nothing else to say.

A few minutes later, the Unit Panditji again said, “Mandir parade saavdhan baith”. Marching up to the Brigade Commander, he saluted and smartly said again, “Ram, Ram Sahab. Sri Krishna ke janam ki anumati chahta hoon, Shrimaan”.

This time it was the Brigade Commander who gave permission for the birth of Lord Krishna. The same distant explosion. The same cradle lowered gently.

There was much bonhomie and the “suji ka halwa” prasad was consumed in vast quantities. 17 Kumaon sang bhajans to its heart’s content. Subedar Gopal Singh Soin, the soul of our Mandir functions, raised his right fist and shouted “Kalika Mata ki Jai”. A thousand throats roared the Kumaoni battle cry.

Col. Andrews folded his hands, closed his eyes and whispered “Jai Ram Sarv Shaktiman”. The Mandir Parade was over.

As we stepped outside the Mandir and wore our shoes, I could see Col Andrews chatting with the Brigade Commander. He was beaming with pride.

It was on that day that I learned a valuable lesson. If you are an officer in the Indian Army, the religion you were born into is secondary. The religion of the troops you command is your religion. You live and pray with your men. And when the time comes, you die with them.

When a Hindu officer of the Grenadiers Regiment refuses a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day, because he is fasting for Ramzan, you know you are in the Indian Army. And when all the other officers from different regiments keep down their lemonade glasses in a show of solidarity, it sets you thinking. Who are these men? What are they made of?

I recently tweeted pictures of an Iftar function organized by the army in Kashmir. Trolls reacted the way they mostly do. The Indian Army was accused of minority appeasement, pandering to Muslims, feeding traitors and becoming “sickular”. I was almost made to feel as if the Indian Army was standing for local elections and Muslim votes were critical for electoral victory. I mostly don’t react to trolls when they fire at me. But this was different. If you don’t speak about the Indian Army with the utmost respect, expect a response from me. No attack will go unanswered.

Much as many people may hate it, the truth is that the Indian Army is both secular and liberal. Yes, the same army that has killed thousands of terrorists, defeated and dismembered Pakistan, stared down China and continues to sacrifice lives everyday in the line of duty. Fret as you may, this is carved in stone and defended by 1.2 million men and women with automatic weapons. It is not going to change.

Now, about the Iftar in Kashmir. Every Kashmiri Muslim is not a terrorist or a stone pelter. I go to Kashmir frequently. I do claim to have a little sense of what is going on there. There are many who oppose us. There are many who stand with us. And those who stand with us put their lives in peril to do so. They must be defended, whatever the cost. More importantly, they must be respected.

I am all for throwing stone pelters in jail. I am against ceasefire. I would love to see the Hurriyat leadership in prison till the day the sun rises from the North. I celebrate the killing of every terrorist. I am the strongest possible votary for vertical escalation on the Line of Control.

But the fact remains that Kashmir is a war on terror, not a war on the people. Our morality often exacts a price. So be it. We don’t worship Lord Rama because he was a powerful king. He is God because he is “Maryada Purushottam”. He is the most ideal of men. On the first page of the 2018 Indian Army coffee table book, there is full-page painting of Lord Rama. His morality is our compass. This is “dharma”. This is duty.

The Indian Army is not just a powerful army. It is also a moral army.

Politicians and the media have mangled secularism and liberalism beyond belief. Many Indians believe these ideologies to be architects of India’s impending doom. Nothing is further from the truth. Secularism is simply the separation of religion and the state. Liberalism is simply the ability to accept opinions and behavior different from ours. That’s all. In my book, there is no other definition. Our books, should we choose to look carefully, are exactly the same.

The Indian Army is all about what we value most in our life – honour, brotherhood, integrity, loyalty, faith, courage and morality. It is the defender of all that is right. The truth cannot always be defended with a pen, a banner and a candlelight march. Sometimes, it needs a soldier with a gun.

Ask anyone and they will tell you that our national flag has three colors. But it actually has a fourth color, invisible to the eye…look from the deepest recesses of our collective morality and there it is.

The fourth color in our flag is Olive Green.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

#TheFourthColor #IndianArmy #MajorGauravArya #adgpi

THE NOTHING STATE

In 1947, Pakistan attacked us in Kashmir, took away our land, and we did nothing. In 1962, China attacked us. Nothing. In 1965, Pakistan attacked us again. Nothing. 1993 bomb blasts. Nothing. 1999 Kargil. Nothing. 26/11 Mumbai. Nothing. Parliament attacks. Nothing. Punjab insurgency. Nothing. Kashmir terrorism. Nothing. LoC violations. Nothing. Numerous major and minor terror incidents across India. Nothing. Attacks on military installations. Nothing.

We have become the “nothing” state.

In that warm, viscous fluid deep inside the womb of inaction, we find solace and comfort. It’s the perfect world, shielded from the guttural screams of the dying and the silence of the dead. Peace is a punch line.

Speak about an armed response, and you are labeled a warmonger.

After the battle of Chamkaur Sahib in 1705, Guru Gobind Singh Ji wrote a letter to Emperor Aurangzeb. The letter was called “Zafarnama”. It bears reading for its sheer sophistication and clarity of thought. Such vision and strength of character is impossible to find. Of the 111 Persian verses, the closest to my heart is verse number 22.

Chu kar az hama heelt-e-dar guzasht

Halal ast burden ba shamsheer dast.

All modes of redressing a wrong having failed

Raising of the sword is pious and just.

What is India’s threshold? When will we say, “Thus far, and no further”? How many body bags are too many?

Centuries ago, Guru Gobind Singh Ji gave us a template to follow, and we ignored it. This has been amongst this nation’s greatest misfortunes. Zafarnama is not just a letter written by a warrior-saint to a cruel, megalomaniac emperor. It actually sketches the outline of what must be India’s foreign policy.

A nation state must have the capability and the intent to punish its enemies. We have the capability. Where is the intent? Remember, there is no respect without fear.

The lessons from Russia are instructive, though extreme. It is part truth and part urban legend. They say that a Middle Eastern terrorist group had once kidnapped a Russian official. The Russians found out where the terrorist leader’s family lived. Next day, the terrorist leader received a small box. When he opened the box, he found his fathers severed hand in it. The Russian official was released promptly, simply because the message was clear; if desired action was not taken immediately, more body parts of the old man would follow.

I don’t particularly like the way Russians do business. But then, I don’t like the way Indians do business either. They are too harsh. We are too soft. They are all action. We are all talk.

One day, this national obsession with excessive debate and discussion that we wear like a badge of honour, a nod to our democratic legacy, will sink us. We must realize that consensus and discussion are not an alternative to resolute action. Both are required in equal measure.

As a nation, we must swiftly find a balance between what we are and what we seek to be. If we are a peace-loving nation, following the great traditions of Gandhi and Buddha, let us stop claiming eligibility for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. A seat at that table is not for the weak, or the peaceful.

The Big Five of the UNSC are the biggest human rights violators in the history of this planet. From slavery to colonialism, from pogroms of its own people to artificially induced famines, which killed tens of millions, these nations have done it all. You would argue that, that is in the past. You would be right. And wrong.

Since the end of World War II, USA has never been at peace. UK keeps toeing the US line, like an obedient parrot. China is expanding its military footprints globally. Russia is bombing Syria, and setting up ground forces including fast moving armour, to counter NATO in Europe.

Actually, not much has changed…except the methodology. Not for a moment am I saying that we emulate the wrongs of these nations. But let our morality not be an excuse for inaction. That is all I ask.

Soft power is good to have and its effects are far reaching. It can do what hard power cannot. But the inverse is also true. While it is true that Bollywood has taken China by storm, along with Yoga; it is also true that no military commander worth his salt would recommend releasing Dangal at Dokalam, at the height of an Indo-China face-off.

We are a nation that has become too dependent on soft power.

Wars are hell. Wars are avoidable. But if we must go to war, there is no point in being tentative about it. That’s the surest way to lose.

Whether it is terrorism in Kashmir, insurgency in the North East, Naxalism in the Red Corridor or incursions along the Line of Actual Control we have always come across as a nation that is weak and unsure. If we are slapped, we make turning the other cheek a show of great maturity. Its almost like it’s a virtue. “India is an old civilization and can be expected to behave maturely”, says the world. Its actually saying, “The Indians will keep discussing the matter till it fizzles out”.

Take a step back and think about it for a minute. Forget about the legal complications and what the world will say.

Lets say India does the following:

  1. Imprisons all Kashmiri separatists in jails outside Kashmir.
  2. Incinerates completely a Pakistan Army Brigade Headquarters across the Line of Control.
  3. Throws stone pelters in jail for 5 years, all outside Kashmir. All stone pelters interrupting Security Forces operations to be jailed for 15 years. Build new jails, if the need so arises.
  4. Declares President’s Rule in J&K.
  5. Abrogates Article 370 and 35A.
  6. Withdraws its High Commissioner from Pakistan, leaving behind minuscule junior-level staff.
  7. Warns Canada and UK that if they actively allow anti-India activities from their soil, they should not expect “business as usual” with India.
  8. Carries out selective targeting of “persons of interest” inside Pakistan, and globally. The message should be simple…you cannot target India and hope to live in peace.
  9. Gives CRPF “special powers” and a timeline to wipe out Naxalism in the Red Corridor.
  10. Withdraws MFN status from Pakistan and bans all trade with that country.

What will happen if we do this? Let me tell you:

  1. The world will erupt in an uproar because they are not used to such actions from India. Our ambassadors will be summoned and strong statements given by all. Beyond that, nothing will happen.
  2. Pakistan Army will go back to doing what it does best – making cereals and selling fertilizer.
  3. China will make a statement, to which we should not respond.
  4. Pakistan will say that it is a nuclear weapons state. That statement accounts for nothing. It says that even during a cricket match.
  5. Our soldiers will stop dying needlessly.

I am not asking our nation to do anything that is extraordinary by global standards. Pakistan Army attacked us in Kargil in 1999. We were a nuclear weapons state. Did that stop Pakistan? Did the world do anything? The world did nothing because the world ALWAYS does nothing…unless its own interests are at stake.

It is time to take a hard line. I am NOT talking about being militaristic. I do not intend to play the warmonger. But I have said it before and I will say it again. A nation does not live on its knees. Enough is enough.

Because of my views, I have been called a rabid hawk. If peace means allowing our soldiers to die, then that peace is not acceptable to me, because that is peace without honour.

I am not a hawk. I am just a dove with very big claws.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17 Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

Indian Army

#MajorGauravArya #TheNothingState #IndianArmy #adgpi