Armed forces

With His Tweet, This Armed Forces Judge Has Crossed the Line

Retired Air Marshal Anil Chopra is not like garden-variety trolls; he sits in judgment over others at the Armed Forces Tribunal.

Air Marshal Anil Chopra and his tweet. Credit: Twitter

Air Marshal Anil Chopra and his tweet. Credit: Twitter

Even by the loathsome standards of right-wing bhaktism, according to which baying for blood – of minorities, of ‘sickulars’, of liberals and of any kind of dissidents from muscular nationalism – is a sign of patriotism, the tweets of Air Marshal (retired) Anil Chopra have plumbed new depths. And it is time he and others like him in official positions are called out.

“Any self-respecting nation should have shot 100 stone-pelters by now. India is a country of pseudo-liberals enjoying tea in Pak High Comm,” he tweeted recently in response to the video showing a group of CRPF jawans in Kashmir being punched and jostled by Kashmiri youths.

Note the perverted, but strangely compelling, logic – he suggests India, as a ‘self-respecting nation’, should have shot a hundred stone pelters by now. That it hasn’t shows that India is not self-respecting. Instead, it is a nation of ‘pseudo-liberals enjoying tea in Pak High Comm’. The connection between the army – hardly run by pseudo-liberals and who rarely go to enjoy tea at the Pakistani high commission – may appear incongruous to most sensible people, but make perfect sense to Chopra and his 14,000 Twitter followers. In his bloodthirsty quest, he seems to have completely forgotten – or perhaps ignored – the pellet guns, the encounters, the extra-judicial killings.

In one stroke, he has displayed not just his own macho credentials – “I would have bloody shot them, you know, or even strafed them” one can almost hear him say – but also his contempt for both liberals, pseudo and otherwise, and Pakistanis. One can imagine Chopra being quite the life of the party in his mess.

But Chopra is not your average retired fauji who is foaming at the mouth at Pakistani perfidy and the weakness of a liberal-controlled India. He is not one of those proudly and luxuriously mustachioed retired warriors who nightly declare war on the neighbouring country from the comfort of television studios.

He is, according to his Twitter bio, a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal. It attends to disputes and complaints with respect to the commission, appointments and service conditions of armed services personnel. It also hears appeals arising out of orders and sentencing of courts martial. Which means if a soldier feels he has been unfairly treated or sentenced, he can go to the tribunal. The tribunal is expected to listen to that complaint seriously and pass judgment – thus it is a court with formal hearings according to the law. Chopra has presumably heard many such complaints.

One can also safely presume that the tribunal – which has even laid down the formal dress code for its officials – has clear rules on how its members should conduct themselves in public. How would the chief justice act if one of his colleagues suddenly tweeted in this manner?

But so far, there is no word from the tribunal on whether it has or will ask Chopra to explain himself.

Chopra’s tweets are a mixed bag, from images of flowers to retweets about anything to do with the armed forces. He is also obviously impressed (smitten, more accurately) by the prime minister: “India climbs to 8th spot on FDI confidence index. Wow PM @narendramodi bringing change,” says one. Another, with a video of Narendra Modi speaking, says: “PM @NarendraModi’s befitting response to Farooq Abdullah and ethnic cleansing of Hindus.” Even a cursory look at his time line will leave little doubt on what he believes in and stands for.

It is not as if judges, like any other private citizens, are not expected to have their own personal views. But they are supposed to show maturity and discretion. This particular tweet, which the air marshal later deleted, showed neither. It would have been ill-thought out even if he was not with the tribunal – soldiers are not expected to take such cheap shots – but as a member of the tribunal it is inexcusable.

Social media has provided a platform for the free airing of views and naturally this has attracted malcontents too. Trolling, abuse and threats have become commonplace. Every amateur soldier wants to go to war, every rabid communalist wants to kill the minorities and every misogynist wants to attack women. The worst elements have come out into the open, confident that they will not be held responsible. But there is a difference between a garden variety troll getting his jollies abusing a well-known figure and a former senior member of the armed forces who has to judge important cases. The latter cannot sink to the level of the former. And if and when he does, he needs to be told about it by his fellow judges in the tribunal.

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    Perverted rightwing bigotry has spread beyond politicians. This is the ‘ other end’ of freedom of expression made possible by modern communication system. Debates on certain actions of people may be debated but hate and venomous speeches and comments against some sections of people by eminent persons might be uncomfortable to many including their own supporters