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Wednesday, August 31, 2016
PM MODI’S FORGOTTEN PROMISES TO THE MILITARY : By Ashok K Mehta
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 | The nationalist BJP-led Government at the Centre was expected to restore the izzat and iqbal of an impeccably apolitical, secular and professional military. Unfortunately, this has not been the case
Through his invocation of mera jawan during his Independence Day speech and the extraordinary display of respect and affection by three of his lady Ministers tyingrakhis to soldiers, including those deployed at the Siachen base camp, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcased this symbolism as the Modi brand of nationalism. A great gesture indeed, though it cannot mask or compensate the relative deficiencies in defence management vis-à-vis his achievements of other sectors of governance. In his famous interview to Times Now on duties of political and bureaucratic leadership and soldiers he noted: “Those who have to work from the table will work from the table; and those who have to guard the border will work at the border with full strength. Each one will fulfil responsibility entrusted to them. Our jawans are fulfilling their responsibility.” He did not indicate whether those at the table were fulfilling their responsibility.
In September 2013 as prime ministerial hopeful Modi enamoured a big gathering of military veterans at Rewari in the presence of retired Army Chief Gen VK Singh (who as an Army Chief had created a stir in Parliament by disclosing critical hollowness in operational capabilities), now a trusted Minister, that he would give the military its due — in care, respect, welfare and most of all, attention. The BJP manifesto promised to revise defence policy and implement long overdue defence modernisation. He added that it did not matter how good the equipment or how motivated the soldier. What was key was a patriotic Government in New Delhi.
Thirty months later, facts speak otherwise. Two of the lowest defence budgets (below 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product GDP) scant modernisation, zero defence reforms, and a half-baked one-rank-one-pension (OROP) followed by a thoughtless award of Seventh Pay Commission (mercifully not promulgated for the Armed Forces). A country that makes it veterans protest at Jantar Mantar, allows them to be roughed up by police, and accepts its military being told by the Chair of the Pay Commission that it cannot be treated at par with Union Government Services (with regards not to pay but status in the hierarchy of service and command) is sending a rather dangerous signal.
These very officers and soldiers ensure Parliament can proudly pronounce every time there is absence of governance and protests in J&K that it is an integral part of India. For 70 years, the Army has been deployed in J&K; for 60 years along the northern borders; and for 60 years in the North-East. One of the finest militaries in the world has become a border guarding force. It also says something about the capacity of the political and bureaucratic leadership to employ force and coercion along with diplomacy to proactively resolve outstanding internal and external disputes.
The recent judgement by the Supreme Court (July 8) on indefinite deployment of the Armed Forces in Manipur since 1958 while unappreciative of the nuances of counter-insurgency operations and embedded politics, makes a larger strategic reflection: Failure of the Government and the Armed Forces in jointly restoring normalcy. The political class spends its time and resources in winning elections with the nexus between under- and over-ground being clear in disturbed areas. Modi has asserted that winning elections is good for his party.
While Kashmir valley is expected to start breathing normally soon, periodically men in uniform are pitted against their own people notwithstanding external instigations. Cyclic protests signal a breakdown in public order. And when the political class goes underground the onus of restoring normalcy falls on the security forces. It was Lt Gen DS Hooda, the Army Commander in J&K, who first appealed for calm to find a way out of the situation through introspection by all involved in J&K including the Hurriyat. Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh made a similar appeal for calm and peace. Another former Army Commander in J&K observed: “Although militarily the situation in Kashmir valley has been kept under control most of the time, the political and socio-economic dimensions have not been adequately address. This has caused a degree of alienation”.
For the services it has rendered since independence, the military has not got a fair deal. It is one institution that has been mostly taken for granted. Reforms for streamlining the Ministry of Defence have been made by numerous committees and task forces. The powerful IAS babus are preventing integration as it will dilute their control over the military. The Defence Minister’s focus is on defence procurement and Make in India. Manohar Parrikar, someone joked, has become the Minister for Acquisition. Unfortunately, as he lacks the political clout of his predecessor AK Antony, whom he ridicules liberally in Parliament, he is unable to have his way with the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. The new Minister of State for Defence is an oncologist, Subhash Bhamre, who has been locked out from the Ministry’s key files.
OROP is a good example of how good a deal Parrikar could secure for the ex-Servicemen. Maj Gen Satbir Singh, the mastermind of the ex-Servicemen’s agitation, has alleged that the four anomalies in the implementation of OROP were summarily rejected by MoD and not forwarded to the one-man judicial commission of Justice L Narasimha Reddy despite the assurance given by Parrikar. He called it betrayal by the Government.
On the Seventh Pay Commission, independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar (member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence) has said the anger among defence personnel and veterans goes back to the Fifth Pay Commission (actually, the Third Pay Commission) in which the status of the Armed Forces vis a vis other central government Services (IAS and IPS) was undermined in hierarchy of service and command in the guise of preserving civil-military balance. Civilian political control should not mean that civilian bureaucracy is calling the shots and that subordination of military leads to it being disadvantaged or subservient. The 46 anomalies of Sixth Pay Commission and 36 from the Seventh Pay Commission remain unresolved and no legitimate reasons are provided.
The Service Chiefs used to periodically meet Modi when he became Prime Minister. Soon that stopped. Modi did not meet the Service Chiefs or respond to former Service Chiefs over these issues. He was expected to restore the izzat and iqbal of an impeccably apolitical, secular and professional military to sharpen its blunted edges. The political class, with little knowledge of defence, has allowed itself to be guided by babus who know equally little about military issues amounting to the blind leading the blind.