WHILE WE SLEPT:
POLITICIZATION OF INDIA’S ARMED FORCES
An article published in the June, 2009 issue of the journal, "Defence Watch"
Adm. Arun Prakash (Retd)
The recent displays of blatant praetorianism across our eastern and western borders have served to confirm that the Indian Armed Forces are truly the sole sub-continental inheritors of the priceless apolitical tradition bequeathed by their British progenitors. Armies are sent into battle only when statesmen and diplomats have been unsuccessful in ensuring peace. Our Armed Forces have not only fought gallantly on the battlefield but consistently and impartially upheld India’s integrity and secular democratic tradition, when all others have failed the nation.
Their darkest hour occurred in the wake of Operation Blue Star; an unseen internal crisis which threatened to rend the taut fabric of discipline and loyalty which binds together our magnificent Army. The manner in which it contained and defused this calamity will remain another (untold) saga of outstanding military leadership.
This monastic devotion to discipline is the reason that Subhash Bose’s Indian National Army and the Free Indian Legion are, till today, spoken of in hushed tones in the Service environment. The exact details of the 1942 Royal Indian Navy mutiny (even though it imparted a decisive impetus to the freedom movement) will forever remain confined to confidential volumes kept under lock and key on board every warship. Similarly, public expressions of defiance like hunger-strikes, dharnas, marches and demonstrations by civilians cause acute discomfort to the soldier, sailor and airman because they run contrary to the essence of all that he has been ever taught: unquestioning respect and obedience of lawful authority.
Once he doffs his uniform, an ex-Serviceman (ESM) is technically liberated from the restraints of military discipline, and is free to adopt the demeanor and behaviour of any civilian on the street. But deep inside, his soul cringes at the very thought of conducting himself in a manner which would have brought disrepute to his uniform, unit or Service.
Why then did our ESM start resorting to demonstrations in April 2008, in the heart of the national capital as well as in many states? Why did they thereafter graduate to relay fasts at Jantar Mantar? And why are they now surrendering their precious medals to low level functionaries in Rashtrapati Bhavan?. Although they have conducted themselves in a most dignified and orderly manner, the very fact that veterans ranging from Generals to Jawans have been marching on the streets and squatting on footpaths has sent shock waves throughout the Services community; even if the media and our fellow citizens have largely ignored this disturbing development.
I am not about to argue the case of the ESM, but a brief summary of events would help to orient the reader. In early-2006 when the 6th Central Pay Commission (CPC) loomed into sight, the Service Chiefs, individually and collectively, through the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), appealed to the Raksha Mantri, on the basis of bitter past experience, that a Service member be included in the CPC. This request having been declined, when the CPC Report was released in 2008, the Services found to their dismay that the recommendations expectedly contained many glaring anomalies impacting adversely on serving personnel as well as ESM.
At the persistent urgings of the Service Chiefs, a Review Committee was constituted; ironically yet again bereft of a Service representative. The Review Committee aggravated the anomalous situation by arbitrarily making some further unwarranted modifications. A series of instructions were issued by the Defence Accounts and pension disbursing authorities which were self-contradictory and compounded the prevailing confusion as well as unhappiness. While the Chairman COSC took up the issues relating to serving personnel with the Government, the ESM became convinced that since no one was listening to them, they had no choice but to adopt agitational methods. They have, therefore, taken to the streets since April 2008.
Military veterans, world-wide are objects of spontaneous respect, affection and admiration because they are national symbols of courage, patriotism and sacrifice; a segment deserving of special consideration by the Government. The grievances of our ESM, should, therefore, have been handled with far more sensitivity and responsiveness, than they actually were.
The current ESM movement has been able to mobilize opinion country-wide and gather self-sustaining momentum, mainly due to connectivity provided by the Internet and cellular phone networks. While the MoD seems to have adopted a disdainful and detached stance towards their grievances, the ESM roll-on agenda now encompasses canvassing political support for their cause, and even the formation of an ESM political party which will put up candidates for the forthcoming General Elections.
Thus it is now obvious that, while the nation slept, the process of “politicization” of our Armed Forces is well under way, if not complete. The 6th CPC has also inflicted serious collateral damage by deepening the existing civil-military chasm and thereby further slowing down the languid functioning of the MoD.
As a former Army Chief has pointed out, the ESM retain “an umbilical connection” with the serving personnel; they hail from the same regions or neighbouring villages and often belong to the same extended family, whom they meet when on leave. In any case, the Services and ESM constitute one big family. No one should have any doubts that the essence of whatever happens at Jantar Mantar or India Gate will slowly but surely filter back by a process of “reverse osmosis” to the men in uniform.
Even if the politicians and bureaucrats do not care, the nation’s intelligentsia (where are they?) need to introspect. Does the nation want proud, independent and self-respecting Armed Forces who live by the professional soldiers’ honour code and die unquestioningly