Every Occasion, every Festival, every Birthday, every Anniversary, I never fail to get a call from Biraj – My buddy in my last posting. He came only for a few months, but a tragedy at his home, a still born baby, he was forced to stay with us for a year more on medical grounds. I got him a house allotted out of turn and ensured his wife was looked after by doctors regularly. At times when he was away in the unit to do his upgrading cadres, I drove his wife and her mother in my own car to civil Hospital (as we were in a defence establishment without Military Hospital facilities). His joy knew no bounds when he was blessed with a healthy boy. He considered me as his family, and till this day is grateful to us for having been with him during his troubled times. Such stories abound in the Army. You can call Biraj by any name – Sahayak or Batman, but he was my Buddy. I respected him, he respected me. Period!
Buddy System. Somebody asked me why should you have this buddy system? Why not abolish it? Well, the buddy system is how we operate in war. Each man’s backside is looked after by his buddy. For an Officer you can’t have another officer, because he is only one in the Platoon or Company. So he has a Buddy. They train together. They are the eyes and ears of each other. The simplest example I can tell you to elucidate this relationship is by this example…… Have you seen old couples communicate? They hardly talk. One look and the other person knows exactly what needs to be done. Exactly the same way, the buddy and the officer communicate without speaking. It also helps the officer to concentrate on his tactical plans rather than bother about his administrative requirements which is taken care by the buddy. Buddy System is not only for officers but every soldier has a buddy. They live together, work together, train together and if possible go on leave together.
This buddy system is authorized by the Govt in the War Establishment. Every soldier is allotted work as per his trade classification. There are NO specific “Buddy” trade. A Soldier becomes a Buddy as per his trade requirements. In an Armoured environment more often than not the Radio Operator of the Officer doubles up as his buddy. In an Infantry environment the Rifleman becomes the buddy. In peace time, they need to be together and train together. Gen Panag in his Tweet reveals that the Batman concept came into being from a man who used to looked after the Battle Horse and hence the name Batman, which evolved to Sahayak and now the Buddy.
Buddy Stories. In Northern Glacier in 1994, one soldier fell in crevasse and was not visible, going in for help was not warranted nor acceptable risk. His buddy, a young officer, entered crevasse without permission and rescued his Buddy with pulse of 18 only. Warmed him up and finally saved him. During 1947-48 war…..during an attack on a ridge, the Company Commander got injured so did the company JCO. While being given first aid for his injury the Company Commander had only one wish, to have breakfast on top of the Tekri…..As the Company Commander was from Rohtak, his buddy promised him that breakfast will be on Rohtak Tekri. Attack to recapture the ridge was led by that NCO and to this day that ridge is known as ‘Haryana Ridge’ with a ‘Rohtak Tekri’. I know of someone’s buddy refusing and delaying his daughters marriage till his Officer reached for Kanya Daan. There are many instances of the jawan’s children being named after the officers they served and respected.
If someone is using the Buddy for work other than what he is meant for, using more than one person as a buddy, then the person doing it and the one ordering it, both are at fault. They haven’t understood the True meaning of it altogether. Buddies are not servants by any means. Such practices if done, should be stopped forthwith. The issue is with shortage of officers, where there is limited grooming leading to misuse of this system.
Our Grooming. I remember, when we were youngsters, we had to maintain a “Crepe Book” which was made after interviewing each person. It had the details of each and every soldier in our sub unit. It also included his family details and everything under the sun from his pay to promotions. This book used to help us a lot, esp. when we used to meet a soldier during the day’s work. We would start our conversation by asking about his family. A soldier’s happiness and morale shoots up when he knows his superiors really care about him and his family. In many units, Officers on commission, stay with troops in the unit lines till they pass upgradation test and are accepted by their company as their Officer.
Many units send their young officers on a familiarization tour to the areas where their troops come from. They learn their language. Show me one Officer posted to a Gorkha Unit who doesn’t speak Gorkhali! I was commissioned in a unit which was commanded by Col (later Brig) Riyaz Ahmed Ansari. He and his wife used to lead all the Aarti’s in the Unit Mandir. Vice versa, I also know of my course mate, Martyr Maj Rajiv Kumar Joon, Ashok Chakra, Shaurya Chakra, of 22 Grenadiers, who used to not only pray but keep fast with his Muslim troops.
Such leadership is a routine affair in Indian Army. Which is why our troops are ready to die in battle, because they know their paltan, their officers and buddies genuinely care for them and will look after their families with honour, long after they are gone. It is also because our officers lead from the front, that we have the highest Officer to Men casualty rates anywhere in the world. Our Forces have done proud to our Nation, every time they are called to action. Such victories can never be achieved if everything was actually rotten within.
Cook House. It is a drill to this day in units that the Duty Officer visits the Langar- the cook house of the men, and tastes the food every day. Many sub-units take pride in the fact that their Khaana is the tastiest. When the supply chain breaks down due to contractual issues, breakdown of transport, bad road links, or due to poor availability of fresh veggies during summers, the kitchen garden comes to the rescue. I also know in some units, where the soldiers contribute 1 rupee each a day to pool in and make an extra vegetable dish to make the food better. And who is the Cook? He too is a soldier himself who is by trade a “Cook”. Good food is a great morale booster. After all the Army Marches on its Stomach.
In the field area, sometimes supplies do not fetch up esp. in forward areas when the weather gets bad for days. Helicopter drops are not possible, and hence there would be some days when we would be forced to go without fresh veggies. We lived with a bit of tinned food, till the time the weather cleared and we got fresh dropped in parachutes. Everyone understood the issue and roughed it out equally.
The Videos. So it hit me, right in the socket when I saw videos uploaded by soldiers with their cribs and rants. Something seem to have broken down somewhere. On digging a bit deeper, I found at places things could have been better. But more importantly, What I found was that, the video uploaders themselves were defaulters, undisciplined fellows trying to avoid punishment by resorting to this method of maligning everyone up the chain. There is a malice in this whole show. The Armed Forces are by and large very fair and have a good redressal mechanism, a system that rectifies and corrects itself very well. It is nearly impossible to cover up issues in a large scale as there are a number of checks and balances in the system. If one or two bad eggs exists in the higher chain, they do get sorted out by the people above them. Hence the blatant idea peddled that a cover up takes place everywhere is prima facie false.
Media. That brings me to the role being played by media. They peddle stories that sell. They all want to be by the side of the underdogs, they want to rescue those who are being tormented and downtrodden. Well that is all fine. But all Stories have another side, which is strangely not being portrayed. This hyperbole of videos and showcasing the poor side of the Forces definitely affects the morale of the Troops and causes a chasm in the Officer-Men Relationship, which can affect the Nation as a whole.
In battle, there is No question of defying authority, No second Takes, No Runners Up Trophy. When the Leader orders, “Fire”, there should be NO Questions asked back. Whether it is an HR violation, or whether there any restrictions. You either Fire or get Killed. You either Win the War…. or Lose it. Hence the Discipline and Authority is of paramount importance in the Forces much more than all other organisations. Media should never play with topics that break down this Discipline. If it does, then, We are certain to Lose the Next War.
Yes by all means, highlight any wrong doing by approaching the concerned HQ. Every effort will be made to rectify or reset and provide justice. Because these wrong doings by itself may prove to be the unmaking of a Disciplined Force. But if you do a Media Trial with inexperienced commentators, trigger happy Twitterati supported by disgruntled elements, be rest assured you have done immense damage to the Organisation that has been carefully nurtured over the years, and in turn will ruin the nation.
Our Defence Forces have been great and will continue to be, despite these Key Board Commandos and Social Media Warriors (who wouldn’t know the difference between Gorilla & Guerrilla as Sam Manekshaw put it). I request you to kindly stop sharing the one sided untruths. For those of you who did not have clarity on this issue, I hope you have it now.
Let’s be there for those who Live and Die for us- Our Armed Forces. Let us Salute the True Heroes and Warriors, not the smart alecs with their smart phone.