Don’t Burn the Last Bastion by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

‘Sir, will China invade us?’  ‘We hear China has increased activities on the border’. Chinese consolidation activities on the LAC have prompted such reactions and fears. Lot of such inquiries from citizens within and outside India. Why?  Bodies floating down Ganga, mass graves, lack of oxygen, medicines or hospital beds, botched vaccination program, uninterrupted work on Central Vista – all these have eroded our political capital immensely and seeded such doubts. Our national institutions are being compared to ‘rottweilers’ in the media. Economy? Unemployment figures and stock markets – both rattling up. Strangest combination. Rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. An ominous divergence which bodes ill. Leadership? Kis Chidiya ka naam hai bhai? National level paralysis in responding to the second wave. Erosion in comprehensive national power.  Many have never experienced India being so weak. Nor did I for that matter. This frightening experience will last. V shape recovery? Dreamland! However, I still assure them. India’s military power and Armed Forces are intact. The only component of India’s national power which is standing between India and Chinese domination. Jaan Jaye par Vachan Na Jaye. Mar Mitenge, Par Bharat Bachaienge. Our last bastion will not fail. 


However, I wonder.  Why are we burning out our last bastion?   


The posting out of the Commandant, Base Hospital is the result of systematic political erosion and weakening of the Armed Forces. The entire episode reeks of present-day Gangetic odor. The only saving grace being, a Bovine-Uro specialist is not replacing him. How does one take a Major General out from a command assignment in a jiffy? That too a pulmonologist of high repute. A rare commodity during a prolonged pandemic of pulmonary nature equated to a war! The press releases of the Army reveal more through incoherence. In the worst-case scenario, the General could be guilty of dereliction of duty or insubordination (of which I have a doubt).  So are the Prime Minister, the entire cabinet and all the administrators. Am I wrong? They should also be side lined for ‘de-stressing’ by the same token. Is the Government above board and doing everything great for the Armed Forces? In the past seven years, the apolitical and professional nature of the Armed Forces has been continually eroded. They have also been blunted by neglect, incompetence and underfunding while exploiting and misusing them. Exploited during elections in the aftermath of surgical strikes. Scarce warlike resources like assault bridges (in their last legs of life) misused for quasi politico- religious purposes at the expense of war preparedness. Defence lands and cantonments manipulated through innocuous methods. The significance of the posting out of the Commandant, Base Hospital is immense. It is degradation of military leadership. It affects the security and well-being of a nation. It represents a rot which has set in long back.   


In April 2019 there was a mass induction of recently retired senior armed forces officers into ‘THE’ party. It appeared then, like a mass wedding of below poverty line couples. I had written about it in my article ‘Political Crumbling of the Last Bastion’ . I had opined that when senior officers  join politics en-masse, it is either due to a  deep-rooted political conviction and leaning or a new found desire at extending their political careers. If it is the former then the Armed Forces have been politically infiltrated at leadership level systemically. This is surfacing now. Many such retired officers have come out of their political closets to influence serving people, wittingly or otherwise through social media (WhatsApp groups of various kinds of affiliation). That is downright dangerous. What is even more worrying is that only one party seems to be appealing to these worthies. Of course, the fact that the party has a litany of broken promises seems to have been lost on these geriatric ‘Military Politicians’. What is that fatal attraction which other political parties do not seem to have? Needs examining. 


The Armed Forces cannot entertain any thought process, other than that in the Constitution. We owe our loyalty to the Constitution of India and nothing less.  Diluting it is a frightening prospect. Misinterpreting it is even worse. Many senior officers in service are already seen and perceived to have made compromises with the devil to curry favours. Nextgen India will have to face the brunt of this latent strain. If not curbed,  we could see the beginning of ‘Ziaisation’ of Indian Armed Forces.  


Let me turn to political extension of careers. An officer from the NSAB  was recently active at the hustings in West Bengal with vociferous entreaties of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ to his prospective constituency. A backward integration of his path is revealing. Parachuted into a very important procurement related appointment for which he was ill equipped. Thereafter, fitted into an industry body to influence defence procurement. Elevated into the National Security Advisory Board. Thereon to  the political hustings. The electorate voted for his opponent and gave the message ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’.  I have mentioned him in despatches in an article in 2018. There is a clear political trail. Analyse this from any point of view. Politics, procurement, overrated incompetence and ambition make a heady cocktail but contribute to poor national security. I wonder if the concerned individual resigned from his post at the NSAB before contesting elections? Or will he now be reinstated into it? This case reflects the larger malaise. One might pooh pooh it to say it is isolated, slanderous and unproven. Well Sir! Did someone say that it takes only one dirty fish to spoil the pond? I am afraid there could be more. The fact that promotions and appointments to higher ranks are also being compromised politically is a matter of public knowledge and concern. This strikes at the root of the professional competency of the Armed Forces. A smoke and mirrors illusion is being spun.  


The Prime minister advised the Services to rid themselves of legacy systems and practices related to traditions, customs, doctrine, procedure and regulations that have outlived their utility and relevance. I have analysed it in one of my recent articles and wondered Who Will Tell the Prime Minister that the Armed Forces are heavily indigenised , as per the Constitutional framework.  I was advised that my timing was wrong.  Recent events have convinced me that my timing could not have been better. Why would you fix a system which has never failed India? Either the PM is ignorant of his military or is being misled. What is that indigenization problem that the Armed Forces have to fix which the government has not been able to implement by rules, regulation and practise? The Prime Minister’s address reminded me of the famous wish of Henry II of England preceding the death of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. He is said to have remarked  Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”  Promptly, four Knights obliged , by killing Becket. I wonder which four knights will oblige by destroying the existing traditions of the Armed forces or inculcate indigenised customs, traditions and doctrines. If they go on an overdrive then India would not only be destroying its last bastion but its most respected institution. See the original movie  ‘Becket’ in which Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole acted or its hindi adaptation ‘Namak Haram’ in which Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan acted. You will know what I am alluding to.     


Much as I would like to blame the political class or one particular party for wooing the Armed Forces, the problem and dilemma is within. It is not without sense that it is a custom that in an officer’s mess, any discussion on ladies and politicians is a taboo! The answer? Do away with the Officers Mess at unit level? I read about such thought somewhere. I see one of the knights! The Armed Forces and leadership will have to introspect deeply. Promotions / appointments on political considerations only dilute the professional ethos and standing of the Armed Forces. Please the politicians and bureaucracy and they will exploit you to the hilt. They will like nothing better than a uniformed soldier being reduced to a circus routine. The bureaucracy will assist politicians with glee. Deal with them professionally and they will respect you irrespective of your rank and appointment. That has been my lifetime experience. We are used to standing our ground without fear or favor. We can cede ground and honor only through professional incompetence a la my essay ‘ Generally on Generals’. The Indian Armed Forces which you lead, have defended the nation whenever asked to do so. We have been successful each and every time in our history, except, in 1962, when we were sent into battle field unprepared, after thorough neglect by the political elite. The nation trusts us. Parties come and go. If uniformed officers’ stoop, the men they command will suffer and the nation in turn. Military leaders are better being stiff necked instead of displaying weak spines. Those who wear a star on their collars should know that irrespective of the color of their uniform, they can be dispensed with in a cavalier fashion, unless they draw their line in the sand based on professional competence, honor and integrity. It is a call of conscience and the rank one wears individually and the collective dignity of the Forces. The Commandant Base Hospital was dealt with summarily due to systemic compromises of years gone by irrespective of the merits and demerits of the case.     


Overall, India should make no mistake.  China has its gun trained on it.  If the Armed Forces buckle even slightly, India will be forced to sue for peace on Chinese terms. Then there will be costs imposed on India. Those costs will not only be economic but also, cultural and societal. Maybe even political. In such an eventuality, the ‘Xi Jinping’ thought could fill the void created in school syllabi on subjects related to federalism, citizenship, nationalism and secularism. There is no doubt in that in the current conditions, Indian Armed Forces are our last men standing. They will not allow India to fall provided you do not let them fall. They are our last bastion. 


Don’t Burn the Last Bastion.

The Armed Forces represent Patriotism. In my opinion, it is way beyond Nationalism…I leave it at that for now….


Jai Hind. 



55 responses to “Don’t Burn the Last Bastion by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Beauracretic interfeation in techinical metter military metter is un called for.

  2. Aptly said.

  3. The top brass must resist the temptation for very short term gain. Once deviated, it will be extremely difficult and winding to correct the course.

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