Following is my oped published at ABP Live:
The two strong weak ones
Do not slander the Army and the Judiciary
There are two strong, courageous and fearless institutions in India which, paradoxically, do not have the ability to strike back when attacked by our own.
I am talking about our military and the judiciary.
When I say ‘attacked’, I am not referring to constructive criticism or questions put forth by the public- which is a right of we the people, but of baseless tosh and slander which leaves them vulnerable and unjustly discredited in the naive public eye.
Both are increasingly becoming the punching bags of extremely politically polarized entities who indulge in rumour-mongering for justifying their own existence. And if we study it deeply, contrary to popular perception it is not political personalities themselves who are responsible for this, but the hangers-on and those existing on the fringes and firing from their keyboards, sometimes anonymously, and at other times pseudonymously, without caring a minute about the permanent damage such urban legends could cause to our national psyche.
I would touch some topical issues.
The recent commissioning of BJP Member of Parliament Anurag Thakur as a Lieutenant into the Territorial Army (TA), a part-time citizens’ voluntary force of reservists wherein citizens serve for a few days in uniform each year so that they can be called out for military service during war and emergencies, resulted in all kinds of baseless allegations flying around, including that he had been granted the rank because of being an MP of the ruling party and that he had not even taken part in the selection process. Similar theories and stories were dug out for Sachin Pilot, also a TA volunteer, who was commissioned when Congress was in power. It was also floated on social media that respective Army Chiefs helped these two individuals gain an entry into TA and it was a bad precedent and also that both were ‘overage’ to join the military.
Needless to state, the truth is that both Thakur and Pilot competed with other applicants to join TA and underwent the entire process including the written examination, the preliminary interview board, the Services Selection Board interview (which is the same as applicable to the Regular Army) and medical examination. Politicians joining the TA is also not a new phenomenon. Maj Manvendra Singh of the BJP was a TA volunteer and so was Brig KP Singh Deo, a Minister in the Congress Government. Many other Ministers, MPs, MLAs, Civil Servants, Industrialists and eminent personalities have been a part of TA which is not an occupation or source of employment but voluntary national service restricted only to those who are already in a mainstay civil vocation and which one can join till the age of 42. To therefore cast aspersions on such individuals, irrespective of political alignments, or on the Army, is rather distasteful. Similar was the case when the Army bore the brunt for using the so-called ‘pellet guns’ for mob control while the truth was that Army is not even involved in mob control. While facing flak on valid grounds is perfectly in order, the military today faces the wrath of very many people on unsubstantiated pretexts, depending upon political allegiance. Why? because it cannot rebut or retort, except to the enemy, in a battlefield.
Then comes the judiciary.
The position of judiciary is unique. In every case before any Court, there would be one winner and one loser. Hence, naturally fifty percent of litigants are bound to nurse a grudge which results in the exaggeration of the actual ills afflicting the judiciary. Any decision with a perceived political fallout or any judgment which sets aside an executive decision is made the basis to air grievances on social media and to make irresponsible statements by all and sundry. The acquittal of presumably innocent personalities is blamed on the judiciary but not the faulty investigation or defective evidence collection which is not the judiciary’s function. The tareekh culture is also ascribed to judges who are just one (overburdened) cog of the entire machinery which has multiple stakeholders and participants, including lawyers, the State and the litigants. So ultimately the judiciary, which has no power to increase its own strength or create infrastructure for itself and which at times has to intervene when other wings abdicate their legal responsibilities or has to strike down decisions which are arbitrary or unconstitutional, bears the brunt of every assertion from ‘activism’ to ‘backlog’ because it is convenient to do so by rationalizing and justifying institutional follies and putting the entire blame on it. Why? because it too cannot rebut or retort, except through the pen, and limited to the cases before it.
Whatever be the political alignment, it must not be forgotten that some of our institutions, though not above probity, are above politics, even if they carry with them individual aberrations. Neither those inclined towards the entity in power at any given point of time, nor those opposed to the same must play around with these institutions with the support of lies, slander and drivel. While questioning transgression is wholly and always warranted, trying to vilify or shake public faith in their strong foundations with half-truths is something India and Indian polity could totally do without.
Major Navdeep Singh is a practicing Advocate at the Punjab & Haryana High Court. He was the founding President of the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association at Chandigarh. He is a Member of the International Society for Military Law and the Law of War at Brussels.