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It’s worthy of a 21-gun salute

Political parties must be lauded for handling the army troop movement issue maturely.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON APR 05, 2012 08:09 PM IST

‘Don’t you think I would be a worthy replacement for you, madam prime minister? You have a long nose. So have I. But I don’t poke my nose into other people’s affairs.’ These words from soldier extraordinaire the late Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw on being asked by then prime minister Indira Gandhi whether he was planning to take over in the aftermath of the Bangladesh war sums up the depth of the separation between the military ‘church’ and the civilian ‘State’.

Decades later, that question lingers uneasily in the air. But with a major difference. No one in the civilian administration seems to be buying the theory that the troop movements in January, which certain reports suggest could have been the prelude to a coup, is plausible. There is no doubt that there were troop movements. But these have to be seen in the context of the exigencies of the army at that time. Prima facie it would appear that either certain elements in the civilian establishment or in the army put a spin on events to suit their own ends.

Suggestions that there is a schism between sections of the government and the army too cannot be dismissed. But none of this amounts to the possibility that the army was actively building up to a coup, coyly referred to in many reports as the C-word. There are well-established norms and protocols which define the interaction between the army and the civilian administration. And to give the government credit where it is due, it has handled this whole issue in a manner so as to allay public fears — and without maligning the army. Even more credit should go to those who could have been tempted to make political capital out of the issue. The BJP has behaved with remarkable restraint, rising to the occasion as a responsible Opposition party. So have all the other parties who are often quick off the mark when it comes to embarrassing the government.

All of them seem to have realised the dangers of politicising this highly sensitive issue. Despite intense pressure to give the outgoing army chief his marching orders before his actual date of departure, the government has held its hand. The general might well like to contemplate the extent of mischief people have indulged in, largely thanks to the very public airing of his grievances. Those who are claiming, and this includes the BJP, that relations between the government and the army are rocky seem to be generalising the issue a little too much. The Chief of the Army Staff appears to have a personal problem but this cannot be magnified into an Army-State clash. Circumspect behaviour on all sides becomes all the more vital as there is already trouble brewing in the form of PILs against the next chief. If the army and the government handle this with the maturity it has shown now, then a 21-gun salute for both is in order.

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