Guilty Before Being Tried!

Lt Col Shrikant Pasad Purohit of the Army's Intelligence Corps is “suspected” of terror. Yet, most television news channels and some newspapers violated all norms of journalism and went to town with malicious headlines: “Army’s Image Stained”, “Terrorism Tarnishes Indian Army” etc. 

Several news channels claimed that the officer had “confessed” to being the “mastermind”. Such breathless reporting was based on a leak from some low-ranking policeman speaking on behalf of the ATS in Maharashtra. The ATS has since denied that Purohit has confessed anything like that. It has also denied claiming that he passed on 60 kg of Army RDX for the Samjhauta Express blast, as had been so widely reported. Such sensationalism amounts to branding the entire Army as communal and is the latest example of the kind of twisted journalism that is rampant.

Rather than rushing to be the first with breaking news and opinion, the editors should pause and think rationally. In this case, they should have asked themselves whether the discovery of one officer with fundamentalist leanings — or perhaps even half a dozen such officers and soldiers — in a million plus Army amounts to the breakdown of the Army’s proven secular ethos and iron clad discipline. 

While the nation has been at peace, the Army has been at war — of one kind or another — ever since independence. Scrupulously apolitical, the Indian Army's greatest achievement since independence is undoubtedly its monumental contribution to keeping the Indian nation united, despite strong fissiparous tendencies, strident religious fundamentalism, ethnic dissonance, externally aided insurgencies and large-scale socio-economic disparities. 

Called out again and again to quell numerous ethnic and communal riots, to disarm mutinying armed constabularies and State police forces and for many other allied tasks when the civil administration had failed to stem the rot, the Army has always acted firmly but fairly and always employed the minimum possible force. The Army's unimpeachable impartiality has led to success in these endeavours and has earned for it the trust and admiration of a grateful nation as a steadfast defender of the supremacy of the Constitution of India. Unlike in some neighbouring countries, the Indian Army has, in effect, been a great champion of democracy. 

The Army is also an exemplary proponent of the power of positive secularism, as all ranks not only tolerate each other's religion but also actively participate in all the rituals and celebrate each other's festivals in a spirit of genuine reverence. Hundreds of thousands of ex-servicemen have spread the Army ethos of secularism, tolerance, moral uprightness and selfless discipline — the essence of the Bhagvad Gita — to all the corners of the country. The serving jawans proceeding to their villages on leave also carry the same message with them. It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Indian Army has been a major force for national integration and has knit India together better than any other organ of the State. 

However, some of the media and other inimical forces now appear to be bent on destroying the strong bond that the Army has forged with the people of India. A few weeks ago the representation about anomalies in the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report, made through legitimate means by the three Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister, had been dubbed to be “defiance” of civilian authorities. In other cases too the media have gone completely overboard. Some months ago, the media had shamelessly “tried” and found Arushi Talwar's father Rajesh Talwar guilty of his daughter's murder when the police and the CBI did not have an iota of evidence against him. There is a clear case for better self-regulation on the unfettered freedom that the media enjoys.

The Indian Army has earned its impeccable reputation over 60 years of dedicated service to the nation; its image cannot be so easily destroyed. In fact, it is the image of the irresponsible media that stands tarnished in the public mind. However, if the media continue to indulge in wanton attacks on the armed forces, the morale of the soldiers, sailors and airmen will certainly be adversely affected and, in the long run, that will not augur well for India's national security.

-- Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies