'Beating the Retreat' ceremony has turned into a 'Bollywood tamasha': Ex-Army vice chief

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi described this year's ceremony as an “absurd spectacle” which was “reduced to a ‘tamasha’ of sorts”.

'Beating the Retreat' ceremony has turned into a 'Bollywood tamasha': Ex-Army vice chief
Rehearsal for 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony

New Delhi: A former vice chief of the Indian Army has hit out at the top armed forces brass for turning this year's 'Beating the Retreat' ceremony into a Bollywood “tamasha”.

Writing for a web portal called thecitizen.in, Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi described this year's ceremony as an “absurd spectacle” which was “reduced to a ‘tamasha’ of sorts”.

Lt Gen Oberoi, who had lost one of his legs during the Indo-Pak War of 1965, said in the article titled “Sirs, I am Disillusioned and Devastated” that “our bandsmen, besides playing martial music, are also adept at playing symphonies (both western and Indian), but there is a place and occasion to play them. By all accounts, a ‘Beating of Retreat’ ceremony is not one of them!”

“We may in future years witness dances to showcase our wide variety of dance forms, or God forbid gyrations by the Bollywood ‘nautanki’ crowd and rappers to liven up the staid proceedings!” he added.

Hitting out at the three armed forces chief, Lt Gen Oberoi wrote, “You, the custodians of all things military and the wisest amongst us all (that is why you are the Chiefs of our fine military), have unfortunately set a deplorable precedence by the manner the sacred, ceremonial and military pageantry ‘Beating of Retreat’ this year was conducted.”

He also slammed the absence of veterans from this year's Republic Day parade and wrote, “For the first time since I took part in the parade, as a cadet from the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1959 I think, I was shocked to see no participation by the veterans, who have sacrificed their lives and limbs for the nation. Are they of no consequence? Are they spent forces (khali Kartoos), as far as the nation is concerned. Let me rub it in, because you as Chiefs of both serving personnel and veterans agreed to have a shoddy cardboard tableau marked OROP, trying to show the false magnanimity of this self-serving government, which having gone back on its word to sanction OROP in its totality and parliamentary approved definition, has reneged at the behest of those darling blue-eyed boys, also known as the bureaucrats.”

 

The full article:

"Sirs, I Am Disillusioned And Devastated"

Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi

Thursday, February 04,2016

Dear Chiefs,

Since the evening of 29 Jan 2016, I have been fighting an inner battle on whether to share my dismay and disappointment with the three worthy Chiefs of the armed forces of our country, the same armed forces that have not just brought glory to the nation since our independence, but have secured the nation from both external and internal threats. After a great deal of introspection and soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that I must apprise you of my misgivings, which incidentally are shared by the majority of my brother and sister officers, both serving and retired.

Let me commence with the absurd spectacle of 29 Jan 2016, when a solemn ceremony – ‘Beating of Retreat’ was reduced to a ‘tamasha’ of sorts, for want of a better word!. You, the custodians of all things military and the wisest amongst us all (that is why you are the Chiefs of our fine military), have unfortunately set a deplorable precedence by the manner the sacred, ceremonial and military pageantry ‘Beating of Retreat’ this year was conducted. I need not remind you worthies that traditions are the core of the Indian Military and flouting them on account of pressures/ requests from political and other bosses amount to letting down the troops whom you lead and who are always ready to even sacrifice their lives at your orders, but please do note that they will do so only if the orders are legitimate and legal and not to please your bosses or others.

It would be churlish of me to remind you of why the ‘Beating of Retreat’ Ceremony is performed and what the traditions and sequencing are that must be observed; I am quite sure that your staff dealing with the subject would have done so, or would do so when this epistle of mine appears in the public domain. Suffice to highlight only three of the ‘wrongs’ (or shall I call them blunders) that manifested themselves in this year’s ceremony.

Firstly, our bandsmen, besides playing martial music, are also adept at playing symphonies (both western and Indian), but there is a place and occasion to play them. By all accounts, a ‘Beating of Retreat’ ceremony is not one of them! I do hope we do not add more colour to it in future on account of directions from the higher ups and ask them to wear dhotis and kurtas to add authenticity to the proceedings!

Secondly, while some of our bandsmen, particularly drummers do get into the spirit of the moment and start swaying, if not gyrating, as they play, but is it forced on those poor boys or they do so automatically, as the spirit moves them? It was really distressing to see some of the drummers, specially from the Naval Band, breaking out into some sort of a bhangra or akin to it , either in their enthusiasm or to impress their Chief! Maybe, the proximity to Bollywood may have inspired them!

At this rate, we may in future years witness dances to showcase our wide variety of dance forms, or God forbid gyrations by the Bollywood ‘nautanki’ crowd and rappers to liven up the staid proceedings!

Thirdly, I was quite shocked to see police bands amidst the military bands during the ceremony. I have no idea why you forgot or you agreed to these police bands taking part in this highly exclusive military spectacle. I have nothing against the police, but the way they are being permitted to participate in military ceremonies spells another doom for the Indian Military. I am all for egalitarianism, but the line must get drawn at the appropriate place. I or my comrades cannot draw such a line; it is only you who can do so. I do hope that you will do that, unless you have reached so far in the “Yes Sir, Three Bags Full Sir” syndrome that you feel you have no choice but to conform!

Let us move on then, for having stuck my neck out already, I might as well go the whole hog. Since we have been talking about ceremonials and pageantry associated with the month of January, let me draw your attention to the Republic Day Parade, which is so meticulously organized by Headquarters Delhi Area, but somewhere the plot is lost when the netas and the bureaucrats gather all the praise and the sweat, energy and time spent on such a major military event is usurped by them. Hallelujah, why has the military become so subservient?

For the first time since I took part in the parade, as a cadet from the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1959 I think, I was shocked to see no participation by the veterans, who have sacrificed their lives and limbs for the nation. Are they of no consequence? Are they spent forces (khali Kartoos), as far as the nation is concerned. Let me rub it in, because you as Chiefs of both serving personnel and veterans agreed to have a shoddy cardboard tableau marked OROP, trying to show the false magnanimity of this self-serving government, which having gone back on its word to sanction OROP in its totality and parliamentary approved definition, has reneged at the behest of those darling blue-eyed boys, also known as the bureaucrats.

Do you think the people of India will go along with such a fraud! You may be fully committed to your bosses, but why have you become such ‘Ji Hazoors’ that you have now forgotten even your comrades in arms, who incidentally were at least partly responsible for assisting you to reach the present high appointments you hold!

Three more small points, as I have already vented most of my ire. I fail to understand why it is our valiant jawans who are press-ganged into laying mats on the Rajpath so that the government (read the Prime Minister) can showcase mass yoga to the world. What do the huge armies of civil servants do?

While it is good to showcase women power in the military, it is wrong for lady officers to be made to carry rifles in the squads while participating in the Republic Day Parades. Since we do not have women enrolled as the rank and file so far, let lady officers lead squads of their regimental/corps contingents, as male officers do.

My last point relates to a group photograph taken at the ‘At Home’ of the Army Chief that has gone viral on the e-mail circuit and on the social media that shows the three Chiefs subordinated to the back seat, during their own ‘At Home’, while the netas, both present and past are reposed on comfortable chairs in the front row. Have the armed forces been reduced to such a state on their own function? See, how the mighty have fallen! Hallelujah and Jai Ho simultaneously!!!

Let me end this epistle on an optimistic note by conveying my best wishes to you Sirs. I do hope you will reflect on what an old soldier feels and perhaps carry out at least some of the suggested changes so that our sacred military traditions are preserved and not sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Hopefully, your legacy would not be repeated in future by your successors.

Jai Hind!

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