Indian Army, the largest component of the Indian Armed Forces is now facing a psychological warfare operation meant to spring disenchantment in the Army by the world’s most popular messaging app WhatsApp. The most popular messaging app with 60 million active users in the country has turned out to be a nightmare for the Indian Army.
Earlier in the week a host of unsigned messages sprung on the messaging platform after the Uri encounter in Jammu and Kashmir and PM Modi’s speech in Srinagar. According to NDTV, these messages thought to have been widely circulated, are possibly an indicator of discontent with PM Modi’s recent remarks when he was accused by the opposition of politicizing the Budgam shootout where two innocent young men had been shot dead by the Army.
One of the messages that refers about the recent Uri encounter in which 11 soldiers and policemen were killed, said, “The terrorists desperately tried to break the cordon established by Lieutenant Colonel Sankalp Kumar, Havildar Subhash Chand and Naik Gurmail Singh but these brave hearts fought till their last breath.”
The other message read: “He proves that all he has is a political agenda and rightly so also as he needs the numbers in the houses of parliament. But the army is just a tool and that too a dispensable one.”
Both the messages add up to the problems faced by the Indian Army in Kashmir right now.
Army acceptance of the Budgam killings
The recent problems for the Indian Army began in the valley after Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda admitted to the “mistake” of his personnel killing two Kashmiri youths in Budgam. The quick admission, five days after the shooting on November 3, was aimed at calming tempers, reported Hindustan Times. Budgam in particular had witnessed daily protests, with locals coming out on the streets raising slogans. The administration was forced to impose partial curfew.
“We take responsibility for the death of the two boys in Kashmir. We admit that a mistake was made,” While announcing a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh each for the deceased, Hooda said, “There was some information about a white car with terrorists. Obviously, the identity was mistaken in this case.”
Details revealed to HT also highlighted that the army personnel were in violation of several standard operating procedures (SOPs).
With elections running in the state, it became the right bait for the politicians in the valley. While the Army promised to complete the inquiry in ten days, Chief minister Omar Abdullah, who tweeted about the killings ‘vitiating the election atmosphere’, had also taken it up with the then Defense Minister Arun Jaitley.
The matter was once again dragged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his recent election rally, while campaigning in Jammu and Kashmir. “For the first time in 30 years, it is the Modi government’s magic, that the army admitted at a press conference that the killing of two youth was a mistake. An inquiry commission probed the matter and those who fired the bullets were charged. This is proof of my good intentions.”
All this happened right after the valley witnessed the death of eleven security force personnel, including eight soldiers and three policemen who were killed in a deadly pre-dawn attack by militants on an Army camp in Uri area of Baramulla district. This particular incident had given rise to the WhatsApp messages that spread like wildfire on December 6th, a day after the Indian forces faced casualties in Uri area.
According to the Army, “all the messages are part of a malafide operation….None of the messages have been written by serving officers of the Indian Army. Army Headquarters is monitoring social media 24/7.” The Army also added that the message related to the Uri incident is a complete fabrication since the sequence of events described is incorrect and the Commanding officer of the unit has denied that anyone in his unit has posted the message.
Social media guidelines by Army
Meanwhile, Lt General Hooda has written a letter to his officers asking them to follow ‘a nuanced approach’ which ‘balances local aspirations’ to fight a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir. He has asked his commanders to change operations in sync with the conditions, focus on ‘training and education of officers and men to drive home the circumstances and the conditions in which we operate and our code of conduct.’
Additionally, he has warned against falling prey to ‘print, electronic and social media’ which sway not only public opinion but also the sentiments of our own officers and men’. The full text of the letter can be read here.
The Army has also posted a series of guidelines on its social media pages - “Personnel are prohibited from circulating chain mails, messages, posts etc on aspects of Armed Forces.” Interestingly, the Army also asks veterans to be careful on what messages they forward. Hinting at the recent sharing of content on social media and messaging apps, the army also advised its personnel to verify the content before sharing anything on the medium since it is affecting the image of the Army.
Issuing a circular won’t decrease the problems of the present Indian Army which is battling unrest among its staff with the growth of social media. Tracking down messages on WhatsApp is a challenge with its servers not being in India. But the real problem is about lack of communication, as told to Rediff by top army officer. “The media does not always play ball or carry the statement in full even if we issue a clarification, further distorting the message.”
The Indian Army has created its own social media presence but in today’s times it can’t stop the usage of social media. It will have to dig deep and find out the real issues to bolster confidence of the army men. To a certain degree, Lt General DS Hooda’s letter does that. ” The Army is deployed in J&K to do a job and we will do it to the best of our ability. Mistakes will happen. Let me assure you that I have a clear understanding of the difficulties under which we operate and that nobody will be unfairly harmed. This clear message must go out to all units.”