Army seethes at deployment in Sri Sri Ravi festival - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 9 March 2016

Army seethes at deployment in Sri Sri Ravi festival

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th March 2016

Serving and retired army personnel and other concerned citizens have protested at the use of army engineers and combat equipment in building two pontoon bridges over the Yamuna River for a three-day World Cultural Festival (WCF) being organised from March 11-13 on the river’s flood plain in Delhi.

Separately, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has expressed concern over the impact of lakhs of visitors and large structures on the fragile Yamuna bed and the flora and fauna that inhabit it. The NGT is expected to rule on this on Wednesday.

The WCF is being organised by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Foundation, which claims to propagate a “stress-free, violence-free world.” The founder, who is widely called “Sri Sri”, is close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year. The WCF website prominently displays a photograph of him with BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar admitted on Tuesday, to TV news channel Aaj Tak, that he ordered the army to use combat manpower and equipment in constructing the pontoon bridges to deal with security threats to the festival.

Aaj Tak did not ask him how pontoon bridges would help in dealing with security threats to the WCF. Nor, in fact, has the army been given any role in dealing with security or terrorist threats.

Parrikar also cited the precedence of the Kumbh Mela, where army engineers build pontoon bridges to allow the millions of visiting pilgrims to move from one side of the river to the other. Suggesting the pontoon bridges would avert the possibility of stampedes, he declared: “It was done with the sole purpose of avoiding accidents.”

Senior army generals tell Business Standard they are deeply uncomfortable with deploying soldiers and equipment for a function organised by a private, commercial organisation, but they had no choice. “We were not asked or consulted. The Raksha Mantri ordered us to build those bridges”, says a general in army headquarters.

The rules governing the deployment of the army in such tasks is laid down in the rulebook, “Regulations for the Army”. Paragraph 301 on Page 100 legislates on “Employment of troops on duties in aid of civil authorities”.

It states: “Troops may be called upon to perform in aid of the civil authorities any of the following duties: maintenance of law and order; maintenance of essential services; assistance during natural calamities such as earthquakes and floods; and any other type of assistance which may be needed by the civil authorities.”

It goes on to state: “When the services of troops are required by the civil authorities, the local military commander will first obtain, through authorised channels, the approval of the Central Government to their employment.”

Since the WCF deployment is clearly unrelated to law and order, essential services or disaster relief, Parrikar evidently invoked the fourth, catch-all, contingency: “any other type of assistance which may be needed by the civil authorities.”

Technically, therefore, the rulebook backs the defence minister’s order and the generals in fact had no choice but to obey. It is, however, another matter whether the defence minister’s order was ethically and morally grounded.

In a heated debate raging within military circles on social media like WhatsApp, many army officers believe the army chief should have taken a stronger stand against using army resources to help what one officer calls “a government-friendly God-man.”

“Had the army chief stood firm on an issue of propriety, the government would have had no choice but to take heed”, says one serving officer.

In this politically polarised discussion, some argue that, since the army’s resources are legitimately used for organising religious public events like the Amarnath Yatra and the Kumbh Mela, they could also be used for the WCF. Lieutenant General (Retired) Syed Ata Hasnain counters this, posting on Facebook: “When something is wrong it has to be called so. Hundred percent agree that the Army should not be doing this. We provide many things for Shri Amarnath Yatra but that is a completely different issue because of security and the terrain involved.”

Furthermore, the Sri Sri Foundation is a commercial organisation that openly seeks donor funding on its website. “Does the government even know where Sri Sri gets its funding from? It claims to be a non-profit organisation, but we would love to see the book of accounts”, demands another general, who seeks anonymity.

Some, like Lieutenant General (Retired) Raj Kadyan make the weak argument that “laying pontoon bridges for such functions provides good training for the army”. Others point out that the environment in which these pontoon bridges were laid bore no similarity to the conditions in which engineer bridging units actually train for war.

Perhaps the strongest argument against using army assistance in such functions relates to precedent. Says a serving lieutenant general: “Today we have come out to support the Sri Sri Foundation. Tomorrow, it could be Baba Ramdev; after that, the Jamaat-e-Islami; the next day the Dera Sacha Sauda or the Nirankari establishment. Where do we draw the line?”


  1. Initially I used to feel that Nehru and Menon are the worst culprits in degrading the defence preparedness by making coffee percolators in ordnance factories, but Modi Parrikar and the CAOS combination is far more deadly.

  2. Comparing this circus to kumbh mela is a joke, why do politicians make a fool of themselves jugs when we begin to think otherwise.
    Army is not meant to be used in such events. This needs to be made clear. Period. Time the supreme commander wrote a "polite advise" to this effect.

  3. Is India Inc., India Shining and Make In India so poor in capability that private engineering firms cannot build anything ?

    This same nonsense was seen when the Army had to step in and build a bridge in Commonwealth games.

    Is this the capability of Private India to compete in the world market, is this incompetence of private industries is what the PM plans to show in world trips ?

    And then they have the gall to put the Army in the lowest rung in the Pay commission, hem and haw about OROP and sulk when given by saying army's manpower needs reduction.

    No other country has been so undeserving of an Army so good.

  4. @Ajai, sorry for this personal note but one of these days you'll have to let go and be happy. I've stopped watching news channels many eons ago for that exact reason. Your fixation with bjp and everything right appears to be partly paranoia and partly "fetish" - yup. The last thing I wish to read on a defense blog is politics(gandhi, modi aur kanaiya).

  5. The Govt has the right to use ANY and ALL machinery at its disposal to ensure and facilitate the protection, safety and right of people to assemble peacefully (which is their constitutional right). Be it Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Baba Ramdev or Kumb Mela or evacuating Hajj Pilgrims the military does not decide "which orders it wants to follow" - the Army generals or their superiors are bound by their oath to obey. If they do not obey then they are no longer officers and no better than traitors and ought to be disciplined for insubordination and dishonorably discharged....

    The temerity of officers be they general or jawan to "question" or show disaffection towards their "commanding authority" - ie the duly elected civil govt speaks to a culture of arrogance and misguided self-importance of so-called "Generals" who forget the first duty of any soldier - following orders. If they don't like the orders they can quit..collect their pensions and then go to Jantar Mantar and join their "Oliver Twist reenactment" and keep up with their "please sir, can I have some more?" protest.

    A General has no problem ordering his orderly to fold his underwear and shine his shoes - but if the Army Corps of Engineers is asked by the Raksha Mantri to build 2 pontoon bridges for public convenience and safety of tens of thousands of Indian citizens they have a stick up their backside as they think it is beneath them??

    Sick and tired of these paper generals and their ego trips about "propriety" and other BS. If they moan and whine about following orders they should be treated the same way a jawan who complains about cutting grass or polishing some brass nameplate gets. Apparently a lowly Officer's orderly isn't allowed to complain or write snarky BS on Whatsapp about his CO but once you get stars on your lapel you can moan and whine like a little girl ?

    Yeah...welcome to the Indian Army, where professionalism means reluctantly obliging our civilian authority while we moan and complain on Whatsapp like pansies because we are so brave we don't have the guts to disclose our name to journalists when we speak to them or openly display our insubordination..

    1. Confused and immature assessment. if army is required to be professional then it can't be doing jobs which it is not supposed to. State has various instruments and must employ only those instruments which serve the purpose intended. that is all what the issue is about

  6. The competent authority to decide on whether the Army is to be employed in any task is the Chief of the Army staff.No Prime minister or Defense minister is in any way qualified to judge what tasks men in uniform ought to perform.Civilian control of the Army does not give the ministers the right to overrule the considered opinion of the professional head of the service,which he invariably arrives at after due consultation with his senior commanders and staff officers.Elected governments represent transitory gusts of public opinion;the Army chief,Army commanders and principal staff officers at Army headquarters constitute the enduring structure of the country and the Army.As such they have a higher duty to serve the interests of the country and the men under their command and not the diktats of a five year government.The Chetwode motto which is the credo of the Indian Army officer lays this down in no uncertain terms.Should any of these General officers capitulate in the face of political pressure,applied under the spurious doctrine of civilian control of the Army,they will be failing in their sacred duty to the country and the army.

  7. Not entirely your fault, though your political leanings are so evident, but a bunch of Indian journalist (comrades in intent) seems to covey the impression that any thing, even if remotely connected to Hindus and thereby somehow with Modi, needs to be bashed on whatever grounds possible. You guys have not learnt a lesson from recent past that your actions do have equal reactions...or how else Modi could be so popular...

    Kahin Pe Nigahen Kanhi Pe Nishana ...

    I think you have chosen a wrong path ..

  8. going... 1962 way...

  9. SO what about Common wealth games when your Favourite
    CONGRESS messed up and Army personnel worked on a WAR FOOTING
    Round the clock

    That was OK because Congress did it

  10. Since no one has done it, I'l do the usual Bhakt rant: Where were you during .....? You are a Congie/Commie/Sickular/Anti-National!

  11. army's reservations are understandable but do they know that in this event many heads of state are also coming ,also many members of Parliament of US,UK etc. are also coming and 36000 artists and 35lakh people.hence it is justified

  12. “Sri Sri”, is close to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan this year.

    Factually incorrect that Sri Sri is close to BJP. It was till recently exactly the opposite.

    Padma Vibhushan to Sri Sri may be debatable if somebodies sensibilities do not match with Sri Sri.

    But if we can have the Indian Army deployed for cases where they just stood watching the rioters as in the recent Jat Reservation then why not for a real Sanskriti event. It is our Sanskriti that has funded and brought up this Army not that of some random Abrahamic religion. All of lower sections of Indian Army are Hindus and they have to endure JNU-chaap Urban Naxals and then they have to work under the kind of leadership that keeps helping the Americans and French with their utternaces like "No Plan-B" and when the culture of these real Armymen gets promoted then they being taught the lessons of "Secularism". A doctrine that was forced into the constitution by back door with Emergency powers.

  13. So has making a few pontoons made Indian Army WEAK

    If a couple of hundred soldiers DO NOT do Physical training exercises for
    two days ; will they loose their fighting abilities

  14. 1. I'm in agreement with Mr Jean & Sir Anonymous 😊, though I shouldn't have joined this forum because its not some very grave a sin or do the gentleman want to come 'to aid of civil power' only during natural calamities.
    2. Proactive measures are fully justified.
    3. I had personally taken care of international cricket match with my troops in Chinnaswamy Stadium on orders of the AOC-in-C and also the ABVP beauty contest in Bangalore.
    4. Lastly, my reasons for joining this forum are just two:
    a) Please do something on second last para of Mr Jean, to make your army willing.
    b) Indianprestitudes are no good as known world over now. They act more like Vth columnist instead of IVth pillar of democracy.
    Jai Hind and suitable regards

  15. This country's press specialises in raking up non issues and creating a controversy about nothing. There is nothing wrong in the Army making the pontoon bridges. When we have already used the armed forces for indeed mercenary activities like the UN where the government is making money by sending our men and equipment to be used in foreign lands. The Army gives a bill to state government even for flood relief etc. All they need to do is give a fat bill to AOL who I am sure will be happy to pay. The real cause for worry is the penchant for certain sections of the press to create controversy on religious/ political personality based issues. Where is the NGT when the Pampa river is being devastated twice a year every year. All that needed to be said was the AOL would clean up the place and leave it better than it was before. Sri Sri I am sure would have given a personal guarantee for the same.

  16. I don't think propriety has anything to do with it. If the govt is legally entitled to call in the army, the army must comply. You can't pick and choose tasks based on your concept of propriety. The problem actually lies with rule 4 - “any other type of assistance which may be needed by the civil authorities.” In my times of service, it was ' projects of national development'. Has that been changed to this? Needs to be checked.What the army must fight and protest is the rule, which I am sure they'll never do.

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. Where the country's honour is at stake all resources are at the disposal of the PM and he decides.We as citizens are duty bound to support him.


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