Indian Army in Kashmir: from WHAM to LHAM 

The Indian army has moved from an operation to earn goodwill and remove fear of the army to insisting that people fear men in olive green

Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Political Bureau

Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM) was the avowed objective of the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir during the last one decade or so under Operation Sadbhavna. But of late it seems to be ‘Losing Hearts and Minds (LHAM), if Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is to be believed.

Army Goodwill Schools (AGS) were set up under the scheme, hostels and vocational courses launched, teenagers and the elderly taken on a conducted ‘Bharat Darshan’ and cricket tournaments organised for youth in the Valley under the aegis of the army.

‘Have no fear/ Indian army is here’ would read the banners at events organised under the scheme. While there always were whispers about money meant for the scheme siphoned off, the army clearly had hit upon a win-win formula.

So, what went wrong? What provoked the Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat declare in a calculated interview to the Press Trust of India that his men were engaged in a dirty war in Kashmir and he would welcome a chance to return fire rather than allow his men to deal with stone-pelters. “I wish they would use weapons so that I can do what I want,” he was quoted as saying, setting off a huge controversy.

Curiously, even earlier this month the estimated number of militants active in the Valley was said to be not more than 200. The number of infiltrators or ‘foreign militants’ was put officially at 40.

Clearly, General Rawat is not concerned with the small number of militants. He, in fact is more concerned with the young, mostly students and women, who have been hurling stones at security forces. And the General does not seem satisfied with the efficacy of tear gas shells, water cannon or pellet guns. He would rather use bullets.

This is also not the first time that Indian army has landed itself in a controversy. In September 2013, former Army Chief, General VK Singh, now a Union minister in the Modi Government, had triggered a controversy by claiming that most of the Jammu and Kashmir ministers were on the army’s payrolls.

The controversy had erupted after an internal inquiry report of the army had been leaked. It claimed that one of the ministers, Ghulam Hasan Mir, had been paid ₹1.19 crore by the Indian army’s Technical Support Division (TSD), disbanded after General Singh retired, to topple the then Government.

If that was not ‘dirty’ enough, the present chief appears to believe that people need to fear the army.

The army chief has been both lionised and ridiculed for his statements. While Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Ata Hasnain endorsed the views of General Rawat in a tweet, there were many who were quick to point out that the latter was ‘degenerating the army to a rag tag force’ whereas others upheld Gen Rawat for ‘standing with the soldiers.’

Shalini Tiwari tweeted: Bipin Rawat means business. No apologies, no regrets. Stern message- you mess with us, we will finish you.

Major Gaurav Arya hailed Gen Rawat’s leadership.

“Army faces a tough mob in front of it. But it has more to fear from the mob behind it, egging it on,” warned Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Vice Chancellor designate of Ashoka University and outgoing president of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi in The Indian Express on Monday .

Underlining that relationship between the Indian Army and Indian democracy might be entering new and unchartered waters, Mehta argued that “the widespread support for Major Gogoi, both inside and outside the army, has little to do with operational considerations or the wisdom of the action. Army is being drawn into a vortex where a quiet, dignified and assumed acknowledgment of its professionalism will no longer be enough. It will constantly have to be granted its place in a society of spectacle.”

Sharing this article on twitter, one of the tweets read:

In today’s editorial titled, Kashmir human shield debate: The General has it wrong, Hindustan Times wrote, “It is hardly reassuring that the nation’s top soldier thinks it is necessary that Indians should be afraid of those in uniform, but in any event the use of human shields doesn’t engender fear: it invites contempt.”

Manoj Joshi, a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and author of Lost Rebellion: Kashmir in the Nineties, said in a piece titled: Losing Hearts and Minds in Kashmir, the ‘Innovative’ Way, The problem here is that the politicians, and this means the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party-coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, and the Union government at the Centre, have created a situation and dumped the problem on the lap of the armed forces.”

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