Review of Kargil Operations: Media Goes to Battle

13 Aug, 1999    ·   242

Maj. Gen. Yashwant Deva, AVSM ( Retd.) argues the media has an important role in creating the right kind of ambience. Let us, therefore, treat media as comrades in arms

Kargil operations will go down in history as saga of bravery, grit and sacrifice beyond the call of duty, unparalleled in this century. It will also be remembered for two other noteworthy deeds viz, stardom of media, and digitization of the battlefield -- the theme and thrust of Tofflers' War and Anti War. Hitherto media in India had a jaundiced view of the armed forces and reported only the morbid and the foul. Isolated cases, mostly rumours and plants of misdemeanor and human right violations, were picked up and blown out of proportion. It is the first time that media went to battle, shoulder to shoulder with the jawan, and actually saw the mettle, and steely nerves, he is made of.



Barkha Dutt became a darling of the brave. The arduous climb, the roar of the guns, the sheltered wait at the forming up, the war cry, the assault at the Tiger Hill, the victory swig and the cheers -- no Bollywood movie could have done it better. Her battle-seasoned voice brought action to the Indian homes in real time, nostalgic of Sanjay narrating the battle of Mahabharat. Vishnu Shom had a joy ride in a MIG-2000. Whoever allowed it, indeed deserves high marks. Exploits of other reporters were no less, either in intensity or sensitivity.



Then there were memorable visuals. Of many that left an indelible impression are: a jawan shaking hands with a child in the backdrop of Kargil waste; a soldier's widow -- a soldier herself -- saluting her martyred husband and not a tear in her eyes; jawans' respect to enemy's dead, draped in Pakistani flags; collages made by children adorning the bunkers; and jawans sharing each other's faith, putting many a politicians and sectarian leaders to shame.



Daily briefing by the Army and the Airforce spokesmen were well received and quoted. Questions were answered with aplomb and frankness, not the kind of slick and evasive replies one gets from the civil authorities when grave tragedies strike us, a telling instance of which is the Gaisal rail disaster. And yet some writers have been uncharitable in describing these briefings as dull. Unlike a news story, which sells only if it is exciting and melodramatic, soldier's tale is of substance sans pretensions. A military operation is not a surgical operation and must not be clinically viewed and debated in public, particularly so when it is still on.  Human angle is the most significant aspect of Kargil operation, reflected in focus on  the ecstasy and the travails. of soldiering. By and large, the media just did that, and left the professional reporting and analyses to the serving and the retired soldiers, respectively.



The military, except for the initial misgivings, allowed a free run to the reporters. The trust generally paid of. But there were serious hiccups. A senior journalist chose to level the specious charge of drug running against the Armed Forces, and maliciously timed it. A reporter gave graphic details of movement of reserve formations and a leading daily front paged it. There were many other instances, some trivial, some serious. Let media too conduct a review and carry out introspection as to where it has failed the country and abused the freedom of press.



Let me leave an adage with the readers that I enunciated elsewhere. If fight we must, then let us fight wars:



• That are short.



• That are popular.



• That are winnable.



The media has an important role in creating the right kind of ambience. Let us, therefore, treat media as comrades in arms. The art of managing  media is not to mange it at all and let it self regulate.