The Cross of Fire, a 1992 Colin Forbes thriller, had its plot set in France against the backdrop of a neo-Nazi movement. A right-wing army general disgusted with the problem of immigrants and indifference of democratic leadership decides to take matters into his hands. He conferences in his army commanders and issues them an ultimatum. Either they support him on a well-planned coup or they don’t leave the room alive. The army commanders are forced to concede and the general then proceeds to take a majority of middle-rung officers into confidence, replacing many key appointments with officers personally loyal to him.

Next the general unleashes several Special Forces units incognito to create a series of “terrorist" actions all over France, plunging the country into chaos. One such action bombs a TGV train carrying the entire democratic leadership; liquidating them in one go. Other units are positioned near important communication centres, radio and TV stations, administrative buildings and major highways. The plan is to push the country into anarchy with riots, explosions, killings and general pandemonium until the desperate French populace starts begging the army to take over. The general then plans to reluctantly oblige, promising a return to democracy as soon as the situation stabilizes.

And that is how a coup happens even in fictitious imagination. Not by a couple of units fanning out of their garrison in a routine mobilization exercise. The fact that routine movement of two army units sparked a front-page story two years ago probably surprised the army more than anyone else, primarily because it is not in their DNA to even contemplate such a possibility. As pointed out by the defence minister and other senior officials—at best the incident was a misunderstanding which should have been put to rest then and there. So it is bizarre that this non-issue is being dredged up again.

India is currently going through unprecedented socio-political, economic, external and internal security challenges. The looming political uncertainty, allegations ranging from corruption to nepotism, accusations and counter-accusations, hypocrisy and opportunism are combining to create a perfect storm. Every opportunity to undermine adversaries is being exploited with scant regard to propriety, its relevance or implications of such actions.

In these circumstances, it would behoove saner minds to leave the Indian Armed Forces—an institution that has been apolitical, non-parochial and perhaps one of the only remaining instances of national integration working for the national cause—out of this mudslinging. The Armed Forces (though recently tarnished by aberrations of individual and tragically, senior officers) are possibly the last bastion of what our founding fathers conceived this nation’s strength in diversity to be.

This million-plus army is drawn from each and every part of our country, purely on merit, kept largely insulated from its degenerating environment, trained to value mission above self and honed to a point where it sacrifices lives for us. Whether it is military operations safeguarding our country, aid to civil authorities or action during disasters, this organization has delivered each and every time—selflessly with no expectation of reward or recognition beyond their professionalism and honour.

It is perhaps one of the last remaining unsullied role models for our youth, who have been disillusioned by several other establishments.

Raking up a bogey, which anyone remotely familiar with our army will dismiss as pure nonsense, is possibly the worst insult that can be inflicted on it, especially if it is being done for self-serving goals and not for any organizational improvement. Tragically, our nation attempts to learn very little about its own defence forces. We don’t appreciate their travails or hardships. Most of us are ignorant about their organizational structures, command and control mechanisms, safeguards, deployments, previous operations, modus operandi and an unblemished tradition of political detachment.

And, therefore perhaps, we don’t appreciate that the army marshals its strength from the morale of the nation behind it. Our troops don’t fight with just weapons; they fight with resolve drawn from 1.2 billion people.

They don’t scale the impossible heights of Siachen glacier with just mountaineering equipment, they claw up, buoyed by a sense of responsibility towards our safety. Our pilots don’t fly rescue missions through storms just using instrumentation; they are also guided by the desire to save fellow citizens from death. Our soldiers stand between us and our enemies, so we can sleep peacefully in the knowledge that nothing will happen to us—not during their watch. It is their sacrifice which allows us to enjoy our freedom and the democracy whose current manifestation has reached a nadir that no country could be proud of.

Of all ranks in the Forces, none have a tougher job than its junior officers—the lieutenants, captains and majors. It is these young men and women who have to lead soldiers into combat. It is they who shoulder the enormous responsibility of motivating troops and explain to them the incredulous insinuations of trust deficit between the military and political leadership.

They have enough painful battles on their hands without having to add this one. And such mongering for whatever objective is a great disservice to troops of an army that prides itself on apolitical professionalism and draws its strength from it.

Raghu Raman is a commentator on internal security, member of the www.outstandingspeakersbureau.in and author ofEveryman’s War (www.fb.com/everymanswarbook). The views expressed are personal.

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