Avoid speaking tripe in China, General Bikram S

Chief of the Army Staff General Bikram Singh is scheduled to visit China July 2-5, and to meet the top military officer there — General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, the apex military-defence-national security-related agency in the Chinese system. COAS’ talking about the forthcoming “Hand-in-Hand” exercise — the fourth such exercise on counter-terrorism tactics, etc is fine. It is the fact that he’ll be hosted by the Zhongnanhai (Foreign Office) in Beijing and will be discussing among other things, what PTI described as, “bilateral ties, regional security and other issues of common concern” that raises the gravest apprehension. General Bikram with a long stint in the army’s PR Wing as its spokesman (during the Kargil ops) fancies himself a talker. From the few times I have heard him he seems to get easily carried away with his own words, which come out as a jumble.

The potential problem, especially where China is concerned, is this: His often ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of babbling could be genuinely confusing to the Chinese or create serious misunderstandings. The Chinese language is at once abstract and precise in what they say and the message they want to convey. Designated Indian interlocuters — all of whom invariably consider themselves, albeit unwarrantedly, as masters of the English language and tend to be garrulous, sometimes going beyond their brief. It is a problem compounded by imprecise language (usually of the stilted variety). COAS’ minders, hopefully, will keep this trait of his in mind and advice him to curb it, and coach him in what to say and how to say it on such issues as the South China Sea disputes China has with a number of littoral and offshore states in Southeast Asia. And, if the Modi Govt wants to convey its no-nonsense attitude then Bikram should be instructed to bring up the unceasing habit of PLA on the LAC to be needlessly provocative and to signal to the other side the Indian Army’s intention to respond strongly and in kind. He could mention the trampling of the democratic instincts of the people in China generally and in Tibet, and throw in HongKong as well — where over 780,000 people, a few days back, braved harsh official retaliation to endorse a petition for more individual rights and democracy.

The short point to make is and this is something Bikram S should bear in mind. He is the Indian Army Chief, not a smooth-talking diplomat. A gruff exposition mostly on the unacceptability of the habitual offensiveness of the Chinese military stance and political attitude, would push the Chinese back, which is what’s needed and required of him. Leave all the tripe about perpetual peace, Panchsheel, and the rest of that nonsense to MEA staffers paid to shovel it. And, he should be reminded, that for God’s sake to rein in his tongue, lest what he says inadvertently or otherwise be noted down by the Chinese note-keepers and regurgitated by Chinese negotiators at a later date as something representing GOI’s view. The rest of us meanwhile should cross our fingers and pray Bikram doesn’t shove his foot in his mouth.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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12 Responses to Avoid speaking tripe in China, General Bikram S

  1. RV says:

    Bikram SIngh will do well to heed the ancient Chinese saying – “Closed mouth gathers no foot”.

  2. Harish Janakapudi says:

    The Chief has been the few good spokesmen we have seen in recent past. Pl dont undermine the speaking abilities. As an institution many people must be working to give him a complete picture and being an eloquent orator he definitely would know the right words to speak.

  3. shankar kallat says:

    It appears that the author is speaking as a “proxy” for somebody who is known for dropping “bricks” – “the Army is paying off the political personalities in Kashmir” variety. The present COAS has, whenever he has come before the press, has come across as being quite articulate and sober in his comments.
    The advice to talk “aggressive” with the Chinese seems unwarranted, because the COAS would have been briefed by the “powers-that-be” before he left for China on various issues of interest, especially on the Govt’s stand on some recent pin-pricks by the Chinese state. After all he is visiting China, though as COAS, on behalf of the INDIAN GOVT.
    The author has cast innuendoes without specifics, which in itself defeats his very message he is trying to put across on someone else’s behalf.
    The author needs to rein his “unwanted” advice, which anyways carries little weight. The COAS is on an important visit and all and sundry would be well-advised to hold their horses till after the visit, lest what they “mis-write/mis-advice” cast negative “vibes” during a crucial visit

    • RV says:

      This is in many ways a factual post. I cannot recall any specific incident where Bikram has committed a serious blunder while communicating. As COAS, he gets a script and he faithfully reads it, as any good officer would/should. In that post, the shelf-life of “actors who write their own scripts” is pretty short.

    • RV says:

      BTW, this statement is uncalled for::

      “It appears that the author is speaking as a “proxy” for somebody who is known for dropping “bricks” – “the Army is paying off the political personalities in Kashmir” variety.”

  4. Aruna Vankapti says:

    Abrasive commentary has become the hallmark of the journalistic

    community at large. Mr Karnad seems to harbor the delusion that he has

    been anointed as the chief spokesperson on matters military. Launching

    irrelevant and unfounded personal attacks is only a testimony of the fall in

    standards of Indian journalism. A Service Chief’s pedigree to handle issues

    is built on a solid foundation of more than 40 years of experience and he is

    definitely more erudite than a person who has spent his lifetime indulging in

    arm chair journalism.

  5. Ramesh Harsha says:

    Verbal eloquence is not Mr Karnad’s slave. I am sanguine that a

    person of the caliber of the Chief of Army Staff does not need endorsement

    from Mr Karnad to hold forth on matters of mutual interest with his Chinese

    counterparts. Whatever personal grouses Mr Karnad has should best be

    kept to himself.

  6. rahul kulkarni says:

    Diplomatic posturing is not the responsibility of the Army. Ideally, it should be decided after consultations with the security establishment and issued by the govt. The Army cannot and should not be speaking in a voice outside Govt policy. So the suggestion of the “ Leading Conservative Strategist” is out place.

    Now going on to the ability of the Chief express his point of view withClarity . This has been on display time and again during his distinguished career. Mr Karnad need only look at the India Today conclave 2013 when he tackled the Pakistani journalist on the sensitive Indo Pak Relations for evidence.

  7. suraj thapa says:

    Mr Karnad who clams to be the formeost conservative strategiest on India has no clue on what he is writing about and needs to be told that military power is one of the components of national power. In todays scenario, when we are importing 60 billion dollar worth of items from China, it certainly needs a grave provcation to throw caution to the wind & try to solve problem militarily. The author is blissfully unaware of the geopolitical environment in which India & China Need each other equally. Yes we have to keep up our guard to avoid another embaressment but useless sabre rattling is going to be counter productive

  8. mehram shaikh says:

    taking cheap shots at the Army Chief seems to be the favourite passtime for numerous so called military strategiest. It is to the credit to the present chief that he has maintained his dignified silence & has not given them the publicity that they are aiming at, It is not the first visit of the chief to a foreign country & never ever has he been found wanting in his public discourses. It would have been better if the author would have deliberated on the pecularities of Indo China Relations rather tahn advocating wild west way of trigger happy nations, which thankfully India is not.

  9. Nishant says:

    When a Chief goes out of foreign diplomatic tours, he seldom goes there to sight see and make merry. Detailed briefs on the country situation, prevailing political atmosphere, our diplomatic and military relations and what stance is to be taken is briefed and re briefed till the cows come home. Point is Gen Bikram surely is more than well equipped with his ammunition in words, which of course obviously will have to toe the line of the present government. So please calm down and write on more credible issues.

  10. Manoj says:

    There seems to be a trend in the country to malign any military officer they know of. If he talks on the lines of the government then he is a conformist and not a military strategist, if he deals with diplomatic issues with a military mindset then he is a rogue general with his own agenda. Come on, have a heart, give the military a break. They know very well when to shake hands and with whom and when to pull the machete out and strike like there is no tomorrow.

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