An article of topical interest by a retired naval officer A Bhardwaj is forwarded for your info pl.
From “Dewey Canyon III” to Action at Jantar Mantra
The Indian veterans need to identify with the civil society. They have probably used their ultimate weapon of returning the medals far too early in their movement
In 1971, many US War veterans had joined the national mainstream to protest against the invasion of Vietnam and Laos. The peaceful anti-war protest by the veterans in Washington, called “Operation Dewey Canyon III” began on 19 April 1971. On April 23, more than 800 veterans, one by one, tossed their medals, ribbons, discharge papers and other war mementos on the steps of the Capitol Hill, rejecting the Vietnam war and the significance of those awards. The protest shook the US government and received wide media coverage.
Recently, the Indian veterans decided to do something similar. After protesting for more than two months at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and various other locations across the country, they finally decided to return their medals to the government. As many as 5000 medals were handed back. Undoubtedly, it is shameful on the part of the government and the administrators to be utterly disdainful of the soldiers’ plight. The veteran’s demands are plain and simple. All they are asking for is onerank one-pension. They are hardly demanding the moon, especially when one sees that “secretaries to the government, judges, MPs and MLAs have been granted one-rank onepension. That covers the full executive, legislature and top babus,” says Karan Thapar, a noted journalist. But almost all political parties have turned a blind eye to this long pending demand of the veterans.
However, despite the use of this Bramha-Astra (returning medals), the veterans involved in the protest have hardly been able to awaken the national consciousness and shake people (leave alone the government) out of deep slumber, in the same manner that the US veterans had done in 1971.
The question is why is this so? Many involved in the protest say that the movement is still in its infancy-they are not getting the support they need from the serving community. One fully agrees with the protesting veterans when they blame the politicians and the bureaucrats for their double speak. But what needs to be probed is why is the general public not rising up to show solidarity with the veterans? And why is the media so lukewarm owards the protestors?
The public sees the entire movement to be based on a very narrow agenda of pay hike, something which they themselves have to grapple with in their daily professional life. Therefore, neither the media nor the public sees any novelty in the veteran’s movement. The nation sees the military man to be a giver, somebody who willingly sacrifices his life for providing security or “public good” for the nation. Contrast this with the emotions evoked in 1971 by the US veterans returning the medals. The American public saw them as a part of the nation, someone who could be trusted to walk alongside them o protect the nation from the clutches of warmongers. It was a national cause in which veterans participated, therefore, it was natural for the public to feel aggrieved and the White House to rise up to take some concrete measures to ameliorate the deteriorating confidence in the State.
But the Indian veterans’ actions smack of parochialism. If only, they could align themselves more with people’s concerns. If only they could make efforts towards getting closer to the society at large, perhaps they would not have to rue the fact that the politicians turn a deaf ear to their valid demands.
Currently, the Indian armed forces community is neither fully a part of the government’s decision making apparatus nor is it fully a part of civil society. Conscious effort will have to be made to abolish terms like “bloody civilians” from military parlance. It is only then that the Indian public will respond in the same manner as the American public responds to their military (In the US Presidential elections, candidates’ often flaunt their military service to seek the approval of the electorate). It is to be understood by the veterans that bureaucrats will never move the files in their favour and the politicians will continue to pussyfoot. It is only the civil society, which can put pressure on the government. And for the civil society to take up cudgels on behalf of the veterans, the veterans will have to show solidarity whenever the civil society comes out on the streets for a just national cause. Now some may argue that this could lead to greater militarism of the society or vice versa the military may get more civilianised in the long run. But the fact is that the civil-military amalgamation never leads to erosion of democratic ethos. In fact such interactions only help to make the country stronger.
On the contrary, when the military tries to reach closer to the seat of power, the threat to democracy gets exacerbated and becomes dangerous. It is high time that the Indian military began understanding that the ambit of civil-military relationship extends beyond the narrow confines of flag ranks equations vis-a-vis their counterparts in the civil services.
Atul Bhardwaj Editor Salute is a retired Naval officer. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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