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Change Of Guard At IGAR(S): A Military Case Review

When on the night of 23rd August 2006 over a dozen journalist and media-persons were specially invited for ‘Social evening-cum-dinner’ by the new IGAR(S), Maj Gen BK Chengappa of Garhwal Rifles Regt at his Hq’s Officers’ Mess, a new chapter of AR-Media relationship has begun anew. That warm spirited dinner was a standard public relation military initiation which should not be lost on the minds of the honeyed media boys. And that was also a well-placed perfect opportunity to personally know “Who’s Who” of the AR’s general staff officers (GSO) for the information starved media personnel of Manipur since there is now no PRO/IGAR which had made so much difference over the one year.

Before the establishment of the IGAR(s)’s office in 2005 under the exceptionally professional command of Maj Gen. BS Ghotra of the Gorkha Rifles Regt and his most ably genuine PRO/IGAR(S), Lt. Col. AK Mathur with his highly efficient Liaison officer in Maj. H. ‘Hurry’ Devgun of the Jat Regt, the much demonized image of the AR has been visibly salvaged. Had the IGAR(S) with court Martial citation certificates on ‘ready-to-serve’ basis been instituted about 5 years back, who knows the Oinam, Turibari, and other highly controversial killings like that of Th Manorama and Pastor Jamkholet Khongsai would or even could have been averted, minimized or professionally handled with due respect.

Without proper top most authority and full time regular PRO/AR, the highly independent AR units acted as they please without the fear of direct accountability. Passing the bucket and the Home Ministry immunity shield had thoroughly enraged the police and the general public. Of course, some reported brutal atrocities and alleged staged encounters have still been on the run; but there is no way to keep an eye on each and every officer and rank whose mental fitness are highly questionable. There are always black sheeps and mad dogs all over the world’s armed forces fraternity like rogue units, glory-seeking officers and mental-fatigue disorders; of course, death-squads to execute the ‘Final solution’. We all know about the My Lai-4 (TuCung) Tulibari massacres, besides the ‘tomato Ketchup’ video-graphed re-enacted encounter for gallantry award, etc. All these made a horrifying lasting impression on the minds of wary general public.

Hence, a professional PRO public-friendly General Staff Officers (GSO) like the new genial Col. Thimayya who took the role of the equally modest but hard-charging Col Mathur must have to thoroughly polish the hard earned pride of the AR in Manipur. A Herculean task it might sound but nothing is impossible if there is a patriotically sincere heart in it. Now, the AR is recognized a part of the regular army unit, the task is even more challenging, and as such cannot be run independently without trust worthy press information officers (PIOs) or a professional PRO for AR like it did a couple of years ago. Direct genuine public relation activities are far better than combat brigades. Few words of thanks and transparent press communique are far effective than thousands of spin-doctored press releases handed out by the PIB/Defense Wing. Promotional press-releases are not generally accepted as a whole truth by well-bombarded readers. A ‘˜cry wolves’ factors in armored sheep’s’ clothings: therefore an unavoidable element of doubt to the general public even in real successful military operations or combat missions.

General Public is the ageless all-conquering commander which molded and shaped the history of all nation-states. Hence, the new IGAR (S), Gen Chengappa, should have to follow the foot steps of the legendary Gen. Douglas McArthur‘s public relationship in hostile environment. During his Governor-Generalship in post-war Japan, Gen. McArthur was as fearless and efficient as he was sure footedly pompous. (He and his father Gen Arthur McAthur, were the only father-son ‘combo’ to receive the US armed forces highest gallantry award, the President’s Medal of Honor).

Once there was a strong anti-American mass protest against the US-Occupation policy wherein thousands of very hostile Japanese agitators completely filled the route to Gen McArthur’s office in Tokyo’s Imperial Compound. His security officers adamantly pleaded to provide him US Marine’s combat escort parties/teams from his residence to office for fear of physical assault in an unescorted staff car on open ride on volatile mobbed-street, but the ever gung-ho 5-star General flatly refused the combat escort convoy. Because of his imposing courage, the hostile protesters not only gave him an open way but also respectfully bowed their heads in silent honor all along the route in Kodo (the Loyal Imperial Way). That’s a typical Rommel act, rather doing a Rommel, which so inspired the famed Afrika Korps, the German Panzer Armee, the general public and even the Anglo-American troops. While Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery of ELALamein was a soldier’s general, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was a public/peoples general.

Only if the IGAR(S) and GOC 57th Mtn Div could follow Field Marshals Monty-Rommel military principles with (Gen) Mac-Arthurian spirit, the CI-OPs will be far more effective than ever before and would be accepted by the ever enlightened General Public. Body counts, the number of captured UG militants and arms with full military might are not the ultimate signs of CI-OPs success. You can just go through the biographies of former US President Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon along with that of Gen. Maxwell Taylor; one could see the disastrous common factor – Vietnam. Nearly a 200,000 hostile body counts, millions of captured arms, ammunition, bombs and other assorted weapons at the cost of over 58,000 US troops, 800 helicopters and about 500,000 local combat causalities and the precious lives of over 1 million Vietnamese civilians in 10 years period only to be ended in shameful US military set back. The disastrous Vietnam military campaign came inexplicably about 5 years after the stunning defeat of the French military might at Dien Pheinphu at the hands of the courageously resilient Vietnamese militiamen. Some people can’t just learn the important lessons of peoples’ powers. Well, now, let it be learnt by those who have to learn.

All insurgency and counter-insurgency movements have been all about public support or the lack of it. A poorly armed company-size Cuban guerrillas led by the legendary Maj Ernesto Lynch ‘Che’ Guevara (Argentine citizen) and Fidel Castro in the rugged Sierra Maestra mountain range defeated US-backed Dictator Col. Batista by means of military junta because of absolute public support, esp, guajiros (pr Guahiroes) the peasants class. They achieved this stunning success in just 4 years period (1956-1959) armed only with sub-machine guns, M-1 Garands, M-2 automatic rifles, machine guns and grenades against a full Cuban army division and a thousand military police of the Batista Regime, i.e. 1000 guerrillas against 7000 military personnel, who were routed by Maj Che Guevara led Barbudos (bearded ones) in just 2 weeks clinical military operations. But that’s Cuban’s Cuba.

And that’s what exactly undid the symbol of modern day guerrilla warfare, Maj Ernesto Che Guevara in Bolivia on that fateful day of 9th October, 1967 at Higuera aftermath of the Yuro Hollow ambush by the elite Bolivian Rangers. The non-Bolivian revolutionary forces were not trusted nor respected or wholeheartedly supported by the down trodden peasants and local ranchers who respected only the mightier and more powerful forces. With full co-operation from the wary peasants and the general public, a unit of the elite 3rd Bolivian Rangers under Capt Gary Prado Salmon ambushed Che Guevara and wiped out his Burbodo guerrillas on 8th October, 1967, from a tip off by peasants. Ernesto Che Guevara (like other 3 wounded prisoners) was shot dead by a 2nd Lt. Mario Teran of the elite Bolvian Rangers (specially trained by Maj Ralph W Shelton of the elite US Army’s Rangers) at around 1.30 pm on 9th October, 1967. This is a good example of the citizens/people’s power. No success without public support: the dangling stake of opportunity in Manipur.

Coming back to the new IGAR(S) issue, the task ahead is first that of consolidation after due re-observation, evaluation of all AR’s units standard performances in armed and civil activities, logistical co-ordination study, then the military effectiveness of AR units’ deployment re-examination. The most important assignment should be direct observation of the professional combat readiness and field morale of all AR officers and ranks. Like Field Marshals Monty and Rommel, Gen. Chengappa needs to show directly that he is their soldiers’ general and that he would stand for all the AR jawans as they would for him, as long as it is the right honorable stand. Even foot-soldiers can be either the most effective or the most destructive war-machines; therein lies the abstract point. It’s all about the military character and leadership qualities of field commanders and generals. Bullet rounds are the jawans, weapons are the field officers and the weapon-holders are the generals. The jawans (read: bullets) go where the general wish to and the effectiveness depends on the quality of the weapons (Read: field officers). So, both the IGAR(S) and the GOC, 57th Mtn Div, Gen Kochekan, need to be the professional holders of the weapons. A jolly good job to handle with full honor.

Commissioned into the Garhwal Rifles Regt in 1970, Maj Gen BK Chengappa is a 1971 Indo-Pak war veteran and had served as a Garhwal Rifles battalion commander in Churachandpur district in early 1990s. It is worth mentioning that the Garhwal Rifles and the Gorkha Rifles (the present regt of Maj Gen BS Ghotra who is the first IGAR(s) in Manipur) are the most decorated regiments in the Indian Army. Raised by Lt Col. EP Mainwaring at Almora on 5th May, 1887, the Garhwal Rifles’ formation reached the present day HQ at Landsdowne (Kalundanda) in Garhwal on 4th Nov 1887.

However, the regimental foundation day is 1st Oct, observed since 1921, wherein the Garhwal Rifles were honored with prefix ‘Royal’ and given the privilege to wear the Scarlet Lanyard on their right shoulder. The Garhwal’s War Memorial site was regally opened by the then commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army, Lord Rawlinson of Trent, on 11th November, 1923. The Garhwal Rifles had won as many as 30 Battle-Honors and the gallantry awards are: 3 Victoria Crosses (the highest military award in the British Empire); 4 Mahavir Chakras (the 2nd highest in India); 52 Vir Chakras; 13 Kirti Chakras and 1 Ashok Chakra in its chequered history. Now, it is the duty of both the IGAR(S) and GOC, 57th Mtn Div to uphold the AR-Army image as they would for their most honored parent regiments.

*The article is written by Donn Morgan Kipgen

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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