Why the outcry against Shekhar Gupta's column?

I'm sure by now most folks have read Saturday's column by Shekhar Gupta in The Indian Express. If you haven't, click here to read it now -- it's a must read. As with the Express editorial on September 3 titled "It's the uniform", Saturday's column has facilitated a groundswell of response and backchat from the retired servicemen community.

First off, let me say that I believe that anyone who reads Shekhar ought to do so without emotional goggles for two basic reasons that have endured in his own long stint as a defence writer. One, Shekhar will say what others won't. And two, I do not know a single person more resolutely on the side of the armed forces (and against the bureaucracy) than him. And I say this without emotion because I've worked with the man, and believe me, there's no editor or journalist for that matter who takes armed forces issues as personally as Shekhar Gupta does. That would also explain the intro para to his column.

Ok, so Shekhar's column basically outlines the fact that by defying the government over the pay commission orders, the three service chiefs have set a dangerous precedent. Now before everyone gets into a right-royal twist, it may be useful to observe just who Shekhar says the precedent will be dangerous to -- future chiefs and liberties of the armed forces! Let's be very clear about one thing. Knowing Shekhar, he probably felt great pride and personal camraderie with the chiefs for what they did. It's only after he sat down and thought about the possible repercussions that he wrote this column -- he still doesn't oppose the actions, but he recognises their repercussions. And is he really wrong? Let's for a second stop thinking about this as an emotional issue -- I know that's almost impossible -- but let's try.

I categorically support what the chiefs did. So do most people, and so does Shekhar. It's something that's made a lot of us really proud, and we don't even put a uniform on our backs, so you can just imagine what icons these three chiefs are to their own men and women! But this does not take away from the fact that a vengeful polity/bureaucracy will strike back at an opportune time, and quote this incident ad nauseum in the future to curtail any proposed liberties, special or discretionary powers that the chiefs may require as the years go by. Let's make no mistake about that. The defiance, while honourable and a real example in these cowardly times, will be used as an instrument of civil power against the armed forces in the years to come. It's not business, it's personal.

Therefore, to think that Shekhar's column is anti-chief and anti-armed forces is to miss the very point. It's a lament, in my opinion. A lament that such a worthy, upright and principled stand by the armed forces chiefs will likely be used against them in the future. And all of us -- journalists, serving and ex-servicemen -- know bureaucrats and politicians well enough to know that this is true.

And may I add that Shekhar's analysis of Defence Minister AK Antony is bang on.

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