Friday, 12 December 2014

Opaque MoD of Modi Sarkaar: Army's Social Media Paradox

In the aftermath of the Arnia and Uri cross border raids by Pakistan Army Fidayeen, Social Media has been on fire with reports of disaffection and discontent in the junior officers of the Indian Army. The Indian Army has sought to gag its Officers and Men on Social Media. Its internal communication has failed to retain credibility in the face of competing narratives on Social Media, finding resonance with its rank and file. The absence of MoD on Social Media given that it controls the Indian Armed Forces, is a shocking contrast to the rest of Narendra Modi led Government, PMO, down to Ministers and Ministries, easily in the category of oversharers on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Google+, and assorted Blogs and Websites.
The genesis of the provocation lies in the timing of Machhil and Budgam incidents where the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley, and the Indian Army top brass, including Army Chief, Suhag, and Generals Hooda and Saha were seen as throwing the above two enquiries, to appease Kashmiri Muslim voters in Jammu and Kashmir Elections. The gist of anger centres around the perception that, Rules of Engagement by anti insurgency troops were sought to be watered down, to the disadvantage of the Army, resulting in increased casualty numbers, wounded and dead. The issue has found resonance with many on Social Media, including serving and retired, Officers and Men.

To add to the boiling pot were no holes barred Television debates, that included self opinionated Veterans who have served in the area, including Core Commanders, GoCs and points down the rank. While Indian Army Social Media handles put out the usual fluff beginning with the ubiquitous COAS and All Ranks, the real debate and conversation had shifted elsewhere. The wildfire integration of conventional and social media, lost as it may be, to the MoD and the Army, is consumed daily by all Indians, including its Armed Forces. With average response times down to 15 minutes for a holding statement, the Army Internal Communication or those of its Social Media handles clearly failed miserably, just like the QRTs up in Arnia and Uri.

Information Vacuum breeds disinformation. The assertion by the Army top brass that this was an enemy exploit insults both the intelligence and common sense. Even if one were to hypothetically retain that as a possibility, the loud resonance with the said perception, in both active and retired troops must sound an alarm not just in the Offices of the PMO, but also in that of the Raksha Mantri, and MoD, Core, Division and Brigade, down to Battalion. The Social Media policy of the Indian Armed Forces is a prehistoric tome with insults to personal responsibility, lazy abbreviation, open ended vagaries, and bears no comparison to similar policies of contemporary militaries. Unrealistic and not based in media consumption patterns, it smells of Colonial brown sahib MoD, mustiness.

The issue of silly statements to the pet MoD media has been found out, as has the spin by Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi. Manohar Parrikar is tasting a soufflé cooked by his inglorious predecessors, and troop disaffection does not need to be an addition to his many worries in Procurement, Border Infrastructure and that contortionist wet dream called, MakeinIndia, a dangerous construct crafted by the rhetoric magicians in BJP, and their self appointed ideological grandfathers in the Sangh, punch drunk with all authority and no responsibility.

This is a Command crisis where the Army leadership and its communication is incongruent to the pulse of the Officers and the Men, it leads. The Election populism of the BJP Government in Kashmir has perhaps for the first time in the history of the Indian Army brought things to such a sorry pass. The reputation of the Army has been tarred, and honest mistakes made in the heat and fog of war, made to look like premeditated criminality. Nobody except the dead soldiers or their orphaned families seem to think there is a war going on!

Immediate steps to restore credibility to the Communication abyss that the Indian Army finds itself staring into must include unambiguous Rules of Engagement in Insurgency and Counter Terrorism Operations of the Indian Army. It should further clarify the position of the Government of India and Military on the status of AFSPA. The perception that Machhil and Budgam judgements were a frame-up need to be urgently reversed, and amends made to wronged officers and men, punished TSD Officers, War Widows, and Handicapped Veterans or others, facing harassing litigation by MoD. The OROP pension saga festers as a sore despite promises by Narendra Modi that have yet to be put to bed!

The Army brass and the Security, and Political leadership, of the BJP led NDA Government, can of course do what precedent dictates, and bury their heads in sand, and do nothing. Till the next cross border raid hits and resultant anger, of real or apparent betrayal, sparks a mutiny. Sad as it sounds for a Government that came to power on promises of Change, Governance and Transparency. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Beware of the Believer!

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