Is Being Critical of Government Wrong?
Let us scrutinize two important statements which give us an understanding of loyalty/ what is right.
- Statement of the oath an Indian Army officer takes on commissioning:
“I (name) hereby solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India, as by law established and that I will, as in duty bound honestly and faithfully, serve in the regular Army of the Union of India and go wherever ordered, by land, sea or air, and that I will observe and obey all the commands of the President of the Union of India and the commands of any officer set above me, even to the peril of my life.”
- The Chetwode motto given at IMA:” The safety, honour and
welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
My students keep asking me as to whether they are free to criticize the government’s policies or speak only in support of them even if they are convinced that the policies are wrong? Through this discussion I intend to gradually answer this question with logic.
Understand the Concept of Democracy
The most popular definition of democracy as given by Abraham Lincoln is:
“Government of the people, by the people and for the people”
The term democracy comes from the Greek language and it means “rule by the people”
The contents of the Preamble to the Indian Constitution are somewhat like this,
“We the people of India having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens——–, do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.
Thus, democracy implies that the citizens have the supreme power.
Neither Indira was India & Nor is Modi is India
The people elect their representatives to run the administration on their behalf. It is similar to a housing society electing representatives to run the administration for the benefit of the residents of the society. In short, Modi has been given the contract to administer India by the people from 2019 to 2024. He is a public servant answerable to the people and not a hereditary ruler or messiah with divine authority. Neither Indira was India and nor is Modi, as he would like Indians and the world to believe. He is answerable to us for the poor state of the economy, rising unemployment and farmers’ distress and suicides caused by his incompetence. In a democracy we must ask these tough questions. By not asking these questions we will be doomed. Today, we are heading in that direction.
Authoritarian Command is the Norm in Defence Forces
We, from the defence forces, are quite accustomed to behaving in an authoritarian manner. Commanding officers tend to believe that they are demi-Gods. I have come across numerous such people in my career. I will quote a conversation I had with one such Brigadier when I was working as the head of operations and intelligence staff in the rank of a Major. He told me that he doubted my loyalty to him. I told him that his suspicion was correct and I also agreed with him in that I was not loyal to him. He was quite surprised and he asked me to explain my concept of loyalty. I told him that I was loyal to India and the Army. He then asked me that did he not represent the Army and the country to me? I answered him that he was wrong because I had not come across any such senior ever in my career. I further explained that so long as he was serving the interests of the Army and the country he could be assured of my loyalty. He also had to realize that whenever he was not serving the interests of the Army or the country then he could be assured of my resistance. Let me give an example to explain things.
A Lt Col was ambushed by NSCN (IM) in Kohima town. He survived with wounds. The Army has to decide as to whether he should be treated as a Battle Casualty or not for deciding his benefits. The relations I shared with my boss were such that on most serious matters I just drafted his views/opinion etc without discussing with him in accordance with what I deemed correct. Normally he just signed such stuff with minor changes. In this case he called me and confided in me that he had learnt through some staff that the Corps Commander (Lt General) was of the view that the injured officer should not be treated as a Battle Casualty because he had disobeyed the orders as regards security. As per the policy he should have used a minimum escort of three vehicles for his movement and he had used only two. I told him that I always moved in Kohima town in a single vehicle, without any escort and usually travelled so twice in a day. He did not have the capability to provide me escort for my movement and hence I was guilty of disobeying the orders of the Corps Commander twice every day for almost one and a half years. Hearing his views, I knew what he would do in case I was shot dead. I told him that fortunately my father and father-in-law were both lawyers and I would be advising my wife to take him and the Army to court to get justice in case I got killed. He just signed on the draft prepared by me! Needless to add that we had a terrible personal relationship but a great professional relationship which served the interests of the organization well.
Serving Defence Personnel
Serving Defence personnel are not free to communicate with the press or social media without due approval and are expected to be apolitical. It is natural that serving personnel will not be heard speaking and definitely not writing against government’s policies.
Citizens in a democracy play a vital role in safeguarding their rights. Defence aspirants cannot be equated with serving defence personnel. Citizens, just like the media, should act to safeguard democracy.
When a citizen sees that the government is engaged in actions that violate the Constitution as well as the principles of ethics and morals, then there is no question that he/she should accept and condone them but must do what is right for the country. When citizens find the government committing unacceptable acts then they must strongly speak out against them. That is a responsibility that comes with being a citizen of a democracy.
A defence aspirant is a citizen and not a serving defence personnel and hence he/she should speak / or act in accordance with what he/she feels is correct as per his/her understanding, be it in support or against the policies of the government. Each one of us must fulfil the responsibility reposed in us by democracy and the Constitution and not be fooled by government propaganda.