BY RSN SINGH
No sooner the country got its independence the Indian Army was mobilized to save Jammu & Kashmir. Thereafter, its direct and indirect threat was used to integrate Hyderabad, Junagarh and for the liberation of Goa. Despite this nation-building role, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was always suspicious of his own Indian Army. While Pakistan treated its army as the savior of the newly formed State, Nehru in his subconscious perceived his army as a colonial relic. All these years, the bureaucracy or the ‘brown sahebs’ ruled the roost and continued to degrade and humiliate the Senior Army Officers.
1962 was therefore waiting to happen.
Nehru was paranoid about an army takeover, because between the years 1958 and 1960, countries like Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar), Indonesia and many other countries of Asia came under military/dictatorial rules.
The 1962 War compelled the Indian leadership to address the imperatives of the armed forces both qualitatively and quantitatively. The result was therefore favourable in 1965. The Indian Army acquired a new height by 1971. The result was the stupendous victory in the war against Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
Mrs Indira Gandhi emerged as a formidable leader after the 1971 war, but for probably the same reasons or perceptions like her father, she embarked on the exercise on the emasculation of the armed forces. General Sam Manekshaw, the hero of 1971 war, was elevated to the rank of Field Marshal, but the Indian Army was consciously devalued in status and benefits. Strangely, the status and pension benefits of the victorious military were reduced from 70 to 50 percent, and for civil bureaucracy it was enhanced from 30 to 50 percent. Mrs Gandhi allowed her bureaucracy to run amuck vis-à-vis the armed forces. Such was the level of humiliation that any Undersecretary of the Government of India could issue his own ‘warrant of precedence’. This author has seen one such ‘warrant of precedence’ signed by an Undersecretary, who equalized a Captain with a clerk. The situation was never arrested thereafter. The senior leadership of the armed forces beyond the rank of Major General never raised their voice against this because they were somewhat comfortably placed vis-à-vis the bureaucracy. There was however one exception, Lt Gen SK Sinha, who as Adjutant General constantly and cogently raised the issue. He was superseded.
Mr Vajpayee also did not address these issues.
The situation had become hopeless for the Indian Armed Forces. The only solution was in bypassing the bureaucracy and reaching out to the political class. It was not easy. In this respect, however, a large enough window appeared in form of Mr Narendra Modi.
This is straight from the mouth of a serving Lieutenant General. When Mr Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, the Southern Command Headquarters instructed the Lt Gen, who was then a Brigadier posted in Gujarat, to seek a personal appointment with him and request for lowering the VAT in respect of CSD items, as they were relatively prohibitive for the serving and retired personnel. On a given day, an appointment was given, and Mr Modi walked in with some officials and inquired the issue at hand. The Brigadier requested for some relief with regard to VAT. Mr Modi then turned to his officials and asked them ‘in Faujion se aap kitna paisa kama lete ho’ (how much money do you make from the faujis). The official ranted out some figure in few crores. Mr Modi’s next remark was ‘Zero VAT’. He then asked the Brigadier to collect the letter by a given time and confirm to him, as he maintained that the babus were quite capable of mischief.
In many of his political rallies, the Prime Minister mentioned as to how he served tea to the soldiers during 1965 war on railway station. Here is a Prime Minister, whose heart beat for the armed forces. Here is a Prime Minister, who was not catapulted to his chair by internal and external powers. He has been a successful Chief Minister of a state and has reached his position through the electoral route. As an experienced Chief Minister, he exactly knows how to deal with bureaucracy.
Narendra Modi was therefore the window of opportunity of reaching out the political class to address the mountain of accumulated problems with regard to the armed forces.
In one of the public meetings at Rewari during the election campaign, in which there were overwhelming number of Ex-Servicemen on the dais, Mr Modi turned around, bowed to all the Ex-Servicemen and used the word ‘naman’, a very sacred gesture in Indian culture. But some of the mercenaries will never understand this. One leader at the Jantar-Mantar was mimicking the same gesture and drawing applause from some of his own ilk in attendance. This has been captured on camera by one of the news channels. It may be added here that the Indian media, particularly, the audio-visual media has acted very responsibly during this entire OROP agitation at Jantar-Mantar. It is very well known that there was another camp under the banner of PBOR (Personnel Below Officers Rank), who were raising filthy slogans at a much higher decibel level against their opposite camp. The entire media imposed self-restraint from airing this phenomenon, otherwise we all know what amplification affect can the audio-visual media have. The entire Kejriwal agitation under the garb of Anna was a result of this amplification effect. When the cameras were removed the agitation also died.
Coming back to the issue, the Prime Minister spoke about OROP in ‘Mann ki Baat’, wherein he takes up two or three issues after very careful deliberation. He said that OROP was ‘not a matter of politics for him but one of the commitments’. On his Independence Day address, which the whole world watches, the Prime Minister confirmed his commitment to OROP and invoked the sacred National Flag and 125 crores Indians in the backdrop of Red Fort. No Prime Minister in most parts of the civilized world can politically survive by retracting his commitment on an issue of such importance and magnitude.
Ordinarily, as has been the Indian experience, such agitations are called off, once such solemn promises are made by the highest authority of India or even a State. There are civil trade unions in some of the Army installations as well, and they too call-off their agitation once the military commander concedes or reasons out with the striking lot.
Curiously, the very next day on 16-August, the agitation at Jantar-Mantar was ratchet-up. It is not inexplicable. There were vested political interests, who did not want Mr Modi to get the credit for OROP. Probably, they were being manipulated not only by internal players but external players as well. It may be noted that most self-appointed leaders of the Ex-Servicemen sought Lok Sabha Tickets from more than one party. One of them contested and lost his deposit. The others are preparing ground to contest the forthcoming Punjab Assembly Elections. One political party, which has made very heavy inroads into this entire agitation is known for its links with inimical powers.
Meanwhile, Rs 8,300 crores were earmarked about four weeks back for OROP. This was based on extensive calculations. Strange, after this was earmarked, the self-appointed leaders of the Ex-Servicemen kept questioning the Prime Minister about his inability to provide the sum and ridiculed him for announcing Rs 1,20,000 crores for development of Bihar and 1 billion USD to Mongolia. No educated Army Officer, who has even a rudimentary sense of geopolitics and strategy will ever question the latter. As far as the allocation to Bihar is concerned, it is not going to go to the Chief Minister’s pocket but for expansion of railways, roadways, health, education, agriculture etc. in the state.
Moreover, all Biharis are not covered by pension.
Therefore, when these self-appointed leaders now say that they had full faith in the Prime Minister and not in so-and-so, they are lying through their teeth and are now trying to wriggle out.
At the Jantar-Mantar, religious slogans were raised. The uncouth slogan borrowed from a movie was adapted, i.e. ‘Sadda Haq Ithe Rakh’. The inflection and nuances of the particular slogan appeared to be “You bloody deliver my ‘right’ now and here”. This language was never used when a Punjabi knowing Mr Manmohan Singh was the Prime Minister. Mr Manmohan Singh’s government increased the pensions of Other Ranks & JCOs in 2009, allocating more than 7,000 crores. But he like his predecessors played the diabolical game in doing so. Retired Officers were deliberately excluded so that Mr Manmohan Singh and his mentor could drive a wedge within the ranks.
So with the advent of the new government, here was an opportunity for the Armed Forces to reach out to the political class through none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was a historic opportunity to settle many larger and pressing issues for the institution of armed forces like status, warrant of precedence, Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU), lateral induction, integration of service headquarters and MoD, and the question of CDS.
It may be reminded that when a young man joins the armed forces, he is full of enthusiasm, dreams, ambition and aspirations. Every soldier and every officer dreams of the highest positions attainable. No young soldier thinks about pensions. If he thought as much he will be a poor fighter. For him his honour and status in the society is prime concern. Of course, he expects salary commensurate to that. His entire focus is on his service life. When he is young he has a concept of time, which is long. A month or a year may be a very long time for him because he is impatient. As he grows in life the same months and years get shorter and of course many other concerns are added, post-retirement being one of them. However, this phase is very small. If a serving soldier or an Officer, who is also essentially a soldier, does not enjoy the expected status in the society, the lot of the Ex-Servicemen will be far worse.
With the coming of the new regime, a bridgehead (foothold) in the polity of India had been made. This opportunity should have been utilized to enlarge this bridgehead and restore the status and dignity of the armed forces. With the political class on the side the armed forces, the speed of decision making could have been accelerated on matters concerning men and material.
The self-appointed Ex-Servicemen leaders have however destroyed that bridgehead with the political class due to the influence of some vested interests. This agitation without doubt has created a sense of distrust for the Ex-Servicemen amongst the political class across the political divide. The shadow of this distrust will immediately be felt on the Seventh Pay Commission in respect of serving personnel.
Well ‘Sadda Haq Ithe Rakh’ has materialized not because of the slogan but because of the nationalist commitment of the present dispensation. But in this somewhere the ‘future Haq’ (right) of the serving personnel have been bartered, and the most worrisome scenario would be this ‘Sadda Haq Ithe Rakh’ phenomenon travelling to the units of the armed forces. This author requests the media not to fan this phenomenon. Let the authors of this phenomenon live and die in wilderness.
(RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research & Analysis Wing. The author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan, he is also a Guest Blogger with Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)