Jay Bhattacharjee writes an open letter to former Army chief General Malik who led the army in 1999 during the Kargil war. Read on…
General V.P. Malik (Retd.)
PVSM, AVSM, ADC
Former Chief of Army Staff
Dear General Malik : 23 February 2016
Sir, please allow me to state up front, that I have been (and will continue to be) one of your admirers for a number of reasons. The first one, of course, is that, from Sept.1997 to Sept.2000, you commanded a 1.4 million strong Army that has protected and guarded our young Republic (which is, at the same time, an ancient and venerable civilisation) with the utmost commitment, valour and loyalty. For almost the entire Indian population (barring a minuscule minority), the nation’s armed forces are the most admired and venerated institution by a thousand miles (please pardon the hyperbole). No other institution comes anywhere remotely close, in this contest.
The other reasons are personal. You have a natural dignity, composure, sang froid, and articulateness that are exemplary. Truly befitting a military leader. Then, of course, it is a matter of record that you led the Army to resounding victory (at an incredible cost) in a war that had everything stacked against it. This does not take away the magnificent contribution of our air warriors, the men in blue, who carried out very difficult operations to support their OG comrades. Your famous statement that the armed forces would do their best with whatever equipment and resources they had at their disposal, is still etched in my mind and brings back painful memories when I think of the Kargil war.
However, the reason why I am penning this letter to you is because of certain developments that are not of your doing. The provocation is the “open” letter sent a few days ago by a prominent Indian journalist, Barkha Dutt, to the Prime Minister. The communication has been uploaded on the internet portal of the media house where Ms. Dutt works (http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/a-letter-to-pm-modi-from-anti-national-sickular-presstitute-barkha-dutt-1279441).
As you can see, the title of this article is deliberately provocative and eye-catching. Nothing wrong in this, per se, since the media in our shores and in other countries derives its bread and butter from self-generated publicity, whether in the form of TRPs for TV programmes or the number of “likes” / “shares” for a written piece. However, the latest salvo of Ms. Dutt (BD) needs to be closely scrutinised and assessed. Please permit me, dear General, to spell out the broader concerns I have with this piece, before I come to the thrust of my letter to you.
.It is a matter of enormous mystery to me (and countless others) how BD and her employer company have survived, let alone prospered. If you remember, and I am sure you do, the episode of the Nira Radia tapes and how BD and her shenanigans were mercilessly exposed, you will surely ask yourself how this person continues in public life. In any other civilized, democratic country, she would have been hung out to dry and banished to the 4th Estate’s version of Siberia, to live in oblivion. In fact, BD’s shameless shenanigans were briefly featured in a crudely-crafted “apology” on her own channel and she was seamlessly “rehabilitated” in her job, where she continues till today. If anything, she has prospered and flourished, and her amour-propre has gone up in geometric progression. It is only in good old Bharat (and in some tin-pot banana Republics like North Korea, Haiti and some Islamic dictatorships) that miracles like this happen.
The present essay by BD fits squarely in her trademark mould. Using all the tricks that her profession has taught her, she projects herself as a fearless defender of civil rights, free speech, right to dissent etc. The backdrop for her article is the JNU saga and all its nuances. I am not going into the intricacies of her piece in this letter to you, since I believe the Prime Minister and his colleagues are quite capable of rebutting BD’s disingenuousness and intellectual sleights of hand. Because, I now propose to come to the reason why I am writing to you and why I need you to respond. Mea culpa for the rather longish preface, but I am sure you will pardon me.
What bothers me deeply is that, in this latest brouhaha, BD, once again, has projected her “veer senani” image of a fearless warrior and admirer of the country’s armed forces. Her purple prose would have you believe that her Kargil experience in 1999 “and the intimacy and immediacy of that overwhelming exposure would make me a life-long admirer of our military. “ In fact, BD gives the distinct impression in her epistle to the PM that she played a vital role in the entire Kargil war. She compounds her crime when she extols herself in her latest book, This Unquiet Land – Stories From India’s Fault Lines (2016) and involves you directly. She, as is herwont, goes on the attack fearlessly and takes the figurative bull by the horns. This is where you come in directly, dear General.
BD, on page iv of this book, refers to the “venomous whispers” about her conduct when she was covering the Kargil war and claims that when you gave her an appointment after the war, you complimented her about her performance and even said that she (BD) was a “force-multiplier”. As far as her use of a satellite phone (an Iridium instrument) was concerned, she quotes you as telling her that others (including some persons in the Army) had the same satellite phones and more importantly, the Pakistani military did not have the capability of monitoring these satellite phones. She puts you in the centre podium by claiming that you have confirmed this conversation with her in your own memoirs of the Kargil war.
This puts the whole thing in a new perspective. The fact is that all sources verify that BD was the only journalist in the war zone who had a satellite phone. Also, the number of satellite phones with the Indian army was limited to a few senior-most officers who were not in the conflict zone. Therefore, the chances of BD’s satphone being the one tracked by the Pakistanis are very high. The errors of commission and omission, of which BD is accused of, are extremely serious. After the Dy. Brigade Commander at Drass, Colonel David, briefed BD on the progress of the actual assault on Tiger Hill, BD is reported to have gone live immediately. Indian intercepts of Pakistani military messages indicate that the Pakistani rear commanders immediately alerted their troops on top of Tiger Hill to redirect .their fire in the direction of the Indian soldiers who were climbing Tiger Hill. About 14-20 of our soldiers were massacred by this deadly fire and died on the ropes they were using to climb their target.
There is another incident pertaining to BD that has been talked about for years. When doing a recording outside the Brigade HQ gate, her cameraman switched on a light fitted on the camera to illuminate her – helmet, mike and all. This was the trademark image of BD that she and her employers mercilessly capitalised on, for many years after the war. A few seconds later, having said that she was reporting from 56 Brigade HQ, BD and her team moved out. After about five minutes or so, Pakistani artillery saturated the area with a barrage, after having got a fix on the light. A small STD booth at the gate took a direct hit, killing an officer and three jawans from 17 Garhwal Rifles, who were present there at the time.
I am reproducing all the old reports, because they have not been satisfactorily explained. Neither have they been investigated with the seriousness and rigour that were called for. As a result, BD has got away scot free and, worse, projected herself in a light that may not be accurate at all. Do not forget, General, that the Kargil war was her launch pad. And I am afraid, you have not been altogether kosher with the Indian public, your comrades in the army and your conscience. You have not seriously investigated the reported offences and misdemeanours of BD. To start with, when on the 6th July 1999, our Army intercepted the conversations between Pakistani troops dug in at Tiger Hill and their rear HQ, you were furious with NDTV and BD. You immediately directed XV Corps HQ to issue a signal asking the entire press corps to leave the region.
As it transpired, this blanket order was quietly withdrawn a few hours later because of Lt General Arjun Ray (in charge of the Army’s media cell) who persuaded you not to penalise the entire press corps because of BD’s crime. You and the Army took no action against BD. A year after the war, when NDTV went into overdrive about their Kargil coverage, you and the Army again kept quiet. This omerta continues till today, even when BD refers to your accolades about her in her latest (2016) book. You, clearly are not the only one responsible for the relentless rise of BD. Your Army comrade Mohinder Puri, too, did not hesitate to seek encomiums from BD at his book release function. Neither can Shiv Kunal Verma, from an old military family, resist the temptation to have BD as one of the chief invitees at his book launch.
Dear General, as an officer of the Sikh Light Infantry, you are surely aware of Guru Gobind Singh’s prayer to Lord Shiv when he seeks the courage to do the right thing :
Dehi Shiva Bar Mohe Ihe, Shubh Karman Se Kabhun Na Taron.
Na Daron Ari Son Jab Jai Laron,
Nischey Kar Apni Jeet Karon.
(O God Shiva, give me this boon,
That I never desist from doing good deeds
I be fearless when I fight the enemy
And that I certainly attain victory)
As a son-in-law of the Punjab, it is my honour to invoke Guru Gobind Singh. But, finally, I have to conclude with Gurudev’s words, since BD has had the chutzpah to quote Tagore in her letter to the PM. The last Renaissance figure the world has seen, says it all about doing the right thing in life :
অন্যায় যে করে আর অন্যায় যে সহে
তব ঘৃণা যেন তারে তৃণসম দহে।
(The one who commits a wrong and the one who tolerates wrong- doing, may they both be engulfed by the fire of your contempt)
Jay Bhattacharjee MA(Cantab), FCS
Advisor (Corporate Laws & Finance)