20 December 2016


Uma Sudhindra
The last 24 hours, I have witnessed all three — speculations, perceptions, and opinions, about the appointment of the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS). I am a mixed bag of feelings. Not because Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat becomes the 27th Chief of Army Staff, while to Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz. I am sure all three are equally capable of doing good for the institution of the Armed Forces.

The mixed bag of feelings is because of the reactions I have witnessed, ranging from “sad day for the country” to “anti-armoured Corps lobby” to “Police/Central Reserve Police Force/Border Security Force, controlling the appointment of the Army Chief”.

I write as a common citizen, who is deeply interested in how my country and the Armed Forces are projected and perceived, both internally and externally. Coming from an Army family, I understand the angst several people must be going through, because the person they wanted did not make it to the top.

However, why do they forget that another professional and capable soldier will be leading the Indian Army for the next three years? The impact of social media messaging on matters of national importance is tremendous. Being hit by negative messages, about how the Indian Army is doomed with this new appointment, people from the Armed Forces’ community influence the psyche of the readers.

The impact of such kind of social engineering happens inevitably. In most cases, people writing about who will make a better COAS, don't even realise how they are shaping thought processes of civilians, who read such information. Civilians are not aware of the nuances of the traditions observed in the Army. Outbursts on social media platforms create tremendous misunderstandings about the capability and functioning of the institution of the Armed Forces.

The last 24 hours, going through my messages on What's App and Facebook, four points that I would like to highlight:

1. It is not the end of the Armed Forces as an institution, as many are claiming. As a citizen of this country, I do not think our Army is so weakly structured, that the appointment of Lieutenant General Rawat as COAS, will harm it irrevocably. That is impossible.

2. The COAS appointment must come after several weeks/months of deliberations and discussions. It is the prerogative of the elected Government to appoint chiefs of all three Services. A new COAS has already been appointed.

Because a lot of people within the Army feel that seniority principle should have been adhered to and are raising a hue and cry about it, the Government of India will not retract its decision. All that is to be done is to give Lieutenant General Rawat a chance and support him to strengthen the Indian Army. All chiefs have contributed something good to the system. It also reminds me of what Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev had said about people constantly being negative and resisting change. “The change has already taken place. We need to adapt to it and make it a successful and positive change.”

3. The impact of social media messaging can have ramifications at different levels. Since social media provides the link between hierarchy and individual behaviour, the sender of the message wears two hats — his and that of the institution. As the recipient, doesn't know who the sender is speaking for, there must be a link between the individual and institutional propriety.

Social media messaging grows in geometric proportions, and when used by individuals with an ‘I-me-myself’ approach, it could damage an institution with a hierarchical structure and collective ethos like the Army. Its members should utilise it, keeping in mind institutional propriety and values. 

4. Last but not the least, with such vitriolic messages comparing senior leaders in the Army, berating the systemic processes publicly, suggesting that the Armed Forces will become a puppet in the hands of the Government, are all read by the juniors in formations across India.

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