Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2019-11-04 10:04:02 Published on Nov 04, 2019
It is astonishing that a Government that constantly harps on nationalism has not spared any effort to degrade and destroy its own armed forces, those very people who keep the country safe
Just a poster value

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) juggernaut seems to have hit two unexpected speed breakers and is suddenly starting to look vulnerable as it failed to win a decisive mandate in either Maharashtra or Haryana. It is beside the point that it has gone on to form a Government in Haryana with the support of odds and ends and may probably do so in Maharashtra too after pandering to the whims of the Shiv Sena. It is indeed ironic that a driverless, confused and demoralised Congress has been able to dent Prime Minister Narendra Modi's armour, putting the BJP on the defensive. It also dispels the myth that the Congress cannot win without the Nehru-Gandhi dispensation at the wheel, and in fact, proves just the opposite, that the salvation of the grand old party lies in becoming “dynasty-free.”

Incidentally, the recent Assembly poll results also put paid to the BJP’s hope of a “Congress mukt Bharat”, an undoubtedly catchy but ridiculous slogan, which only shows up the saffron party’s own insecurities and an unarticulated wish for ushering in single-party rule. Of course, these results would not have been possible without the complicity of the BJP itself, in that it lost little time in scoring own-goals. Its support to crooked and foul-mouthed legislators, an inability or unwillingness to control hate-spewing karyakartas (workers) and the general perception that it is a party that is willing to cut off its nose to spite its face seem to have brought it to this pass.

Its leaders, it appears, are so enthralled by their own spin on issues that they end up living in an alternate reality. For example, even the most ignorant among us understand that the economy has crashed and burnt, yet that has only now been acknowledged by the Government’s top echelons, though they have attempted to reduce their own culpability by blaming it on a global downturn.

However, the most interesting aspect of these elections is the fact that unlike the Pulwama- Balakot incident, which won Modi his second term, attempts to ratchet up tensions against Pakistan prior to the voting, with cross-border artillery attacks against alleged terror mounting bases, neither drew nationalist fervour of the kind that the BJP had hoped for, nor benefit it at the ballot box. What is worse, it has exposed the Army Chief to ridicule and loss of credibility for having added to the confusion with his bombastic statements.

What makes this result even more significant is that both Haryana and Maharashtra have a fairly high percentage of military veterans and serving personnel among the electorate, who under normal circumstances, tend to vote conservatively especially when national security is at stake. Indeed the hypocrisy surrounding this Government’s constant hyperbole on “nationalism” is finally unravelling, as the average citizen sees through the hype, something that most in the military have been aware of for quite some time now. It will be interesting to see how their votes impact forthcoming elections in Bihar and Jharkhand, which have substantial numbers of serving and retired military personnel.

It is indeed astonishing that a Government that constantly harps on nationalism has not spared any effort to degrade and destroy its own armed forces, those very people who sacrifice their all to keep the country safe and secure. One could easily be fooled by Modi’s showmanship; his push for the construction of the National War Memorial or his spending time with troops at the Line of Control (LoC) during Diwali, all exemplary initiatives in themselves, until one realises that they are just an image- building exercise bereft of any higher motivation. The string of broken promises, too numerous to count and the continued degradation of the military, almost on a daily basis, show him and his Government up as just another motley bunch of power-hungry  politicians bent on using the military to project themselves as great leaders.

Take the case of One-Rank, One- Pension (OROP), a controversy that refuses to disappear. The scheme was notified by the Government on  November 7, 2015 with the proviso that it would be effective from July 1, 2014 and that equalisation of pensions would be carried out every five years. This implies that the next equalisation of pensions should have been implemented by July 2019. The Government’s interpretation of OROP was vastly different to that approved by the Parliament, leading to much heartburn, but yet grudgingly accepted by the vast majority of veterans. Though there is a segment of veterans who, while continuing to undertake a relay hunger strike, have also approached the Supreme Court for justice.

Incidentally, given the large number of anomalies that emerged in its implementation, the Government was forced to set up a one-member Judicial Commission under Justice Narasimha Reddy. The commission submitted its recommendations on October 26, 2016 but these have yet to see the light of day.

However, what really takes the cake is that in June 2019, the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) suddenly woke from his slumber and opposed implementation of OROP in its present form, a task he was mandated to have completed by July 1, 2019 as per existing orders. Remarkably, let alone taking umbrage at his commitments not being honoured, Modi decided to set up another committee to go into the issues raised by the CGDA under the chairmanship of the CGDA himself. One is reminded of Marx’s well-known quote that history repeats itself “first as tragedy and then as farce.”

Actions really do speak louder than words but in truth the treatment of veterans is only just a minor side-show. While the Defence Minister was conducting his own Shastra Puja at the induction ceremony for the first Rafale aircraft being handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) in France, his Ministry was busy issuing written instructions barring the issuance of official passes to military officers of the rank of Colonel and below to the Republic Day Parade, that ironically is organised by the military itself.

Incidentally, the notification hides a more sinister purpose as it attempts to legalise the downgradation of Colonels and equivalents by the simple expedient of stating that only Directors and above will be issued passes. The contradiction is that as per existing norms Lieutenant-Colonels are equivalent to Directors. It seems to have escaped their attention that issuing a similar letter of equivalence in 2016 had to be finally withdrawn in January 2018 because of the widespread furore that it created within the military.

Similarly, one may recall the controversy that erupted over the then Defence Minister’s move of arbitrarily and unilaterally opening up access to Military Cantonments to the general public, thereby causing widespread consternation within the military community with regard to security issues. The Government has now initiated the next phase of its plan. It has now decided to undertake measures to amend the Cantonment Act so that houses within Cantonments that had been given on 99 years’ lease to civilians can no longer be taken back on completion of the lease period as their ownership will now be given to existing tenants. As is well-known, Cantonment land has been a lucrative target of the land mafia for decades and this Government seems to be emboldening such elements.

One is forced to ask why would an avowedly nationalist party eviscerate its own armed forces? One rationale may well be that the Government is extremely insecure because the military, given its ethos and method of functioning, tends to be an independent institution, isolated from political issues that may be swirling around. Not something that will please an autocrat like Modi. Or this Government may well be attempting to remodel the military in its own ideological image and hopes to bring about such change in a top-down manner, just as Pandit Nehru attempted. The introduction of the concept of “deep selection” for higher ranks, wherein factors other than an individual’s service record or seniority, which can be easily measured, are also given importance would assist in ensuring the promotion of  “suitable” officers.

In the past few years, two of our Service Chiefs have been appointed for reasons other than seniority, leading to some turbulence within the system. Politicisation of the  hierarchy, if it is happening, is a rather dangerous road to take. While the present crop of officers may be willing to be ordered about by their political masters, it is only a matter of time before a fresh crop will demand to be treated commensurate to the power that they wield. If this Government is so keen to bring the military closer into our political governance structure, it may just as well allow the Army to contest elections. Given the unpopularity of our politicians, one would not be surprised if the Army won the people’s mandate to rule. That, as we can see in Pakistan, would spell disaster in the long run.

This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

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Deepak Sinha

Deepak Sinha

Brig. Deepak Sinha (Retd.) was Visiting Fellow at ORF. Brig. Sinha is a second-generation paratrooper. During his service, he held varied command, staff and instructional appointments, ...

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