Author : Deepak Sinha

Originally Published 2017-10-23 05:03:27 Published on Oct 23, 2017
Political interactions with the services: Just symbolism?

Some of the Mr. Modi’s actions in his dealings with Military, over the past three years, have indeed become game changers and should be emulated by all politicians irrespective of their ideological leanings. I refer to his penchant for spending time with the military. Be it visiting units deployed on the Line of Control at Gurez on the occasion of Diwali, or inviting the Special Operations Forces team, which carried out the trans-border operation in Myanmar against North Eastern militant groups, for ‘chai’.

By and large our political class has kept the military at arms- length with little attempt made to interact with those men and women who work in extremely difficult conditions to keep our enemies at bay and our country safe from their depredation. In this process many have lost their lives or have been injured both in body and spirit, not just in operations but also while carrying out routine tasks far from their families and loved ones in inhospitable terrain. The government on its part does, in its usual bureaucratic manner, recognize such acts and grant monetary compensation, albeit reluctantly, as numerous court cases and the recent controversy over differing pension scales applicable to the next of kin of those tragically killed when deployed on the Line of Control in J&K and those killed while deployed on the Line of Actual Control against the Chinese receive.

But money and medals aren’t everything and sadly lacking has been the utter absence of any interaction by our political leadership with the average soldier, sailor or airman in recognition of a job well done. There was the odd exception off course, George Fernandes, for example, whose stint as defence minister is still fondly remembered by the military for the manner in which he interacted with them. This is what makes Mr. Modi’s actions laudable and worthy of emulation. But, maybe it would be asking for too much from leaders who, for the most part, are unable to shed the burden of their inflated egos and sheer sense of entitlement. They appear to be afraid to step down from their Olympian heights, lest they be seen as lesser mortals. God forbid, the last thing they want is to be equated to us, the average citizen! So, why wouldn’t the Hon’ble President behave like a minor potentiate and awkwardly stand and await the arrival of a Param Vir Chakra awardee, or more likely his next of kin, as they somberly make their way up to receive their award on Republic Day at Rajpath? To expect the President to take a few steps down to convey his and the Nation’s humility and gratefulness to the awardee for his gallant act would probably be asking for too much indeed.

There’s a raging controversy over just such a situation in the United States where four American servicemen recently died in an ambush in Niger. As to why those soldiers were deployed there and as to what they were doing there has receded into the background and the question that seems to have gained traction is the callous manner in which President Trump handled his conversation with the wife of one of those killed. One cannot help but ask when was the last time you heard that the supreme Commander of our Armed Forces condoled the family of one of those killed in the performance of his duties? Probably never, because that is not what Presidents in India do. We have done what we are best at and reduced the President and Supreme Commander of our forces into just another “babu” signing parchments of commissioning and other knick- knacks.

Surely, this utter lack of involvement on the part of our political leadership reflects not their wish not to politicize the military but an utter lack of interest in those whose votes do not hurt their prospects at the hustings, given the existing restrictions on Servicemen being allowed to vote at their place of posting. More importantly, it is also not in consonance with what most consider as the essence of what a democracy should represent — “A Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”. A maxim coined by John Wycliffe in the prologue to his translation of the Bible in 1384, but made popular by Abraham Lincoln during his famous address at Gettysburg.

While Mr. Modi’s words and actions are appreciated by Servicemen, there remains that sliver of doubt as to his motivation that is difficult to cast aside. There are those who believe that his acts reek of hypocrisy and are just empty gestures only aimed at getting political mileage as he did with the “surgical strikes” during the UP Elections. He has also been less than truthful with regard to fulfilling his election promise on OROP, which he continues to falsely claim to have fulfilled, despite growing dissatisfaction among veterans. Moreover, there is also the inescapable fact that his Government continues to assiduously work, through the Ministry of Defence, at downgrading the military’s standing and equivalence at every opportunity that it gets, ignoring the genuine grievances of the military. Its insistence on approaching the Supreme Court against the adverse NFFU verdict given by the Armed Forces Tribunal is one such example.

However, to blame only the bureaucracy for the missteps taken by the government would not be an accurate reflection of the factors at work here. There is certainly little doubt that the Services community, especially veterans, is extremely wary of Mr. Modi and tends to take his words with more than just a pinch of salt. If perceptions in this regard are to change, Mr. Modi will have to do more than resort to just token gestures on festivals, however important and welcome they are in themselves, and make a genuine attempt to resolve outstanding issues that have been agitating the military over the past few decades.

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.

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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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