Date: Thursday, 4 June, 2009, 4:51 PM
My article Elections and the Indian Military: A perspective has been published on merinews.com .
A transcript is as under:
THE RESULTS of the 15th General Elections, announced on May 17, 2005, have already had major influences on a number of entities, from political parties to the stock exchange, the media and the very large number of military veteran organisations that abound in our country. This piece will confine itself to the military veterans.
For starters, it is obvious that in the election jungle, the military veterans are novices. Elections in India require money - lots of it, including masses of the ‘black’ variety; a well-oiled organisation; loyal workers who are either ideologically motivated or kept on the pay-roll for long periods; a ‘vote bank’ well nurtured and kept ‘satisfied’ over a long period; ‘gumption’ and ability to work in the hurly-burly environment, where gentleness has no place and street-smartness is the order of the day. Can you imagine a military veteran being weighed against ‘ladoos’ or some such culinary delight and smiling through the ordeal for the benefit of the media! During this election, the few who were brave enough to stand for the elections fared miserably, as was expected. I think all must have lost their deposits. Two I know – Lt Gen BKN Chibber (Amritsar) and Colonel Suri (Chandigarh) surely did.
The veterans political party, a minnow really, the Rashtriya Raksha Dal (RRD) did field a few candidates, but they were also nowhere, although a very senior and highly respected veteran, Col MS Krishnamoorthy , had put his heart and soul in bringing up this party in the last six to eight months. However, political parties need a great deal of time, dedication, large number of volunteers and of course funds to come up to a stage where they can give the established parties a run for their money. The veterans should be thinking of a timeframe of 20 to 25 years and not just a few months, as was the case this time.
Over a period of time, the military veterans created a myth and started believing that if they decided to participate in the political process, they will have a ready-made vote bank of nearly 25 lakh veterans, 13 lakh of active duty military personnel and nearly four times these numbers comprising the families and dependents, making it a tidy one and a half crore. It was conveniently forgotten that all these numbers are spread throughout the length and breadth of the country, resulting in very few numbers available in different constituencies. In addition, all veterans are already associated with one party or the other or vote in the same fashion as their brethren or kin. Weaning them away would need sustained efforts. As far as the serving persons are concerned, a large number are still not registered as voters, as the service headquarters dilly-dallied in conveying detailed instructions and the civil authorities, in any case can not be hurried!
Till 2008, most retired military officers were fairly blasé about political activity in the country. That is not to say they were ignorant, but their thinking continued to be influenced by their in-service experience of being apolitical. The prevailing political culture of corruption, vote banks, emphasis on castes and classes, exploitation of religion to whip up emotions, distributing largesse selectively and downright nepotism also resulted in the veterans distancing themselves from the entire political process, as an exercise in futility. Consequently, the retired rank and file were left to their own devices and as a natural progression they adopted the culture of their civilian counterparts. A large number did, however, coalesce into small veteran organisations within their own villages or surrounding areas. This had little effect on their ability to take advantage of the political dispensations, as they were not organised strongly.
It was the highly skewed recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission of March 2008, that proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and activated the military veterans, especially the veteran officers. The recommendations of the Commission were so unjust and so heavily biased for the civilian bureaucracy that there was no other course left to the military veterans but to vehemently oppose the recommendations by all means. There was a sudden awakening amongst veteran officers, which soon percolated down to the rank and file. The credit for this must go to a newly formed organisation called the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement (IESM), which galvanised the veterans. Here, it needs to be recorded that the internet became the vehicle for both dissemination of information and for net-working. An existing blog started by the Signal Officers of the Indian Army a few years back, “Report My Signals,” played a sterling role and continues to do so, in bringing together the veterans spread far and wide throughout the country. However, predictably the reaching out to the rank and file had to be based on more conventional means of communications.
At this stage, it may be useful to have a reality check of the existing veteran organisations. All are involved in pursuing the issues affecting the veterans but each has adopted a different methodology. Their primary and other objectives are also different. These are conditioned by the agendas of their organisations, the environment in which they operate, the extent of official patronage, if any, that they get, which is actually pitifully little when compared to what even the run of the mill (and mostly fake) non-government organisations (NGO’s) get.
The oldest veteran organisation is the Indian Ex Services League (IESL), founded by two early and highly respected Chiefs of the army – Field Marshal Carriapa and General Thimayya. This is the only veteran organisation that is recognised (whatever that means!) by the government and gets funds from the Central government. Most, if not all state governments, have not considered it fit ever to assist or nurture any veteran organisation, on the specious plea that they assist the veterans officially through their departments of defence. Without sounding offensive, most activities of these departments are in actuality designed for furthering the cause of the politicians in power!
An offshoot of the IESL is the All India Ex-Services Welfare Association (AIEWA), which had carried out considerable work in the past to get equal pension for the veterans. Then there is the Sainik Sangh, also known as All India Ex Soldier’s League. The Navy and Air Force have Foundations, which have a well laid out agenda, and they seem to work only within this.
The IESM comes next. It is a comparatively recent organisation, which has only one aim – to get One Rank One Pension (OROP) at the earliest.
It is the first veteran’s organization to adopt an agitational approach to meet their objective. They have captured the imagination of a large number of veterans and it continues to increase its membership. It professes to represent all ex-servicemen of the country, a claim disputed by many. They are in the eye of the storm at present because of the manner, in which they pushed their Advisory supporting a particular political party during the elections, disregarding the sensibilities of a large number of their members. Other groups are really local, as their membership and agendas have a predominantly local colour.
The military veterans of the nation are as fractured as the verdict that was expected to be delivered by the electorate according to all pundits. While the polity has proved them wrong, the veteran organisations continue to be fractured. Despite the past failures in efforts to forge unity, it continues to remain the goal of all veteran organisations, as they do understand that without unity they will continue to be marginalised. Let us hope they succeed.
Former Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS)
Former Director Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM