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A Legacy of Good
For real gains from Operation Sadbhavana, the Indian Army needs to rethink its approach

Op Sadhbhavna

There is an old saying that one should do a good deed by one’s right hand in such a manner that even the left hand doesn’t get to know. The philosophy behind this saying is that charity remains an offering as long as one doesn’t talk about it, else it becomes propaganda.

Indian Army’s winning the hearts and mind (WHAM) strategy, Operation Sadbhavana starts at the right place: helping the needy. But unfortunately, it ends at the wrong place: Taking credit for the work. Driving through rural Kashmir, it is common to come across bus shelters with conspicuous plaques on it attributing its construction to one of the army units. This is a bit akin to the benches on Mumbai’s Marine Drive, each of which comes with embedded brass plate with the name of the person who gave money for its placement. Most of the benches are in memoriam; charity is not the purpose really.

Operation Sadbhavana, despite the frequent professions of charity, doesn’t really work that way. It works on the bench formula, of commemorating the names of the benefactor. Take for instance, the most common programme under Sadbhavana, ‘Bharat Darshan’. This programme seeks to familiarise Kashmiris, especially children, from remote areas to the rest of the country by taking them on all-expense paid trip to select Indian cities. Such is the perceived success of this programme that Paramilitary forces have started to emulate this. But these visits end on the wrong note, unfortunately. Children or elderly travellers regards this as paid holiday, even as their family members try to distance themselves from the visit. Because the selected people are photographed with the army personnel, which are sometimes printed in local media. This marks these people.

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