Political amnesia is a thing most convenient. In January this year, a few weeks ahead of soldier Tej Bahadur Yadav's explosive revelation on Facebook about poor living conditions of jawans at border posts, the government had banned the armed forces from sharing photos and videos on social media channels and warned of disciplinary action in the case of a breach.
The communiqué sent out by the home ministry to directors general of all central armed police forces, including the BSF, CRPF and Assam Rifles on November 28, was reportedly obtained by Hindustan Times. It was a perfectly sensible order, given that soldiers are posted in conflict zones and much of their social interactions are bound by strict service rules that cannot be flouted.
On Wednesday, however, Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, tweeted out a short clip of a jawan, identified as Shriram Gorde of 9th battalion of Maratha Light Infantry by the Times of India, making a speech at a gathering, violating the Home Ministry's own guidelines.
A fact that was promptly pointed out by Dinesh Kumar, a retired army colonel.
Gorde's complaint is peculiarly similar to the line that the government has been backing to slam peaceniks and skeptics who criticised the surgical strikes on Pakistan after the Uri terror attack. What started as a simple morale-booster for the armed forces serving under severe and testing conditions to aggressively guard peace in the sub-continent, soon spiralled into a attack against those who extended their support to Kashmiri separatists, protested against the government in Kashmir, students elsewhere who raised slogans to support the Kashmiris' right to self-actualisation and activists working in Naxal-affected areas, dubbed as Left-terror sympathisers.
In short, it soon became less of a campaign to valorise the armed forces and more of a convenient tool in the hands of politicians, whether from the government or the Opposition, to brand anyone who criticised the army as an enemy of the nation.
Gorde, too, in his impassioned and highly political speech, criticised the supporters of Afzal Guru, who was hanged to death for his role in the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001.
"I feel bad when the people demand proof of surgical strikes," he said, repeating a comment that several ministers from this government have made soon after the strikes. He spoke at length about people turning up in large numbers at funerals of slain terrorists. Incidentally, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which is alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir, made no secrets of its disapproval after the hanging of Guru.
"PDP has always maintained that late Afzal Guru's hanging was travesty of justice and constitutional requirements and process was not followed in hanging him out of turn," PDP legislators had said in a written statement circulated to media.
The TOI quoted an army source as saying that it will probe how a serving jawan made a political statement at a camp organised by some veterans.
"The Army is looking into the matter. The soldier in question had been deputed with others for the 'Know Your Army' campaign for Rashtriya Katha Shivir organised by some veterans. It's a common practice. He did not approach the media or know that his statement would be recorded and go viral," an officer told the paper. Borde did not hesitate to use the word "deshdrohi", and Rijiju, tweeting about it, clearly had no reservation about endorsing it. It's a slippery slope, seeking the definition of who is a 'deshdrohi', and who isn't, and especially left to the public, it soon becomes a tool for suppressing contrarian voices.
What's interesting is, despite being called out for labelling Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur "a political pawn", admitting to not even seeing her Indo-Pak peace video before assuming that she was "being used" by political parties to stand against her nation, and inadvertently encouraging trolls who attacked her for that very reason, Rijiju's latest tweet is yet another attempt to bring back the patriotism debate.
Instead of tweeting a clip in which an allegedly serving soldier is taking the political platform to question people's patriotism, Rijiju should work to stop the growing polarisation amongst a large section of people on social media platforms. No right-thinking person ever doubts a soldier's contributions to the country. But repeatedly dragging the army into political debates is doing the forces no good either.
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