(Source- Business Standard)
Friday, August 14, 2015
A QUESTION OF READINESS (To invite indiscipline in the ranks of ex-servicemen is slowly but surely going to lead to unpredictable conduct among those still serving) by Premvir Das
August 13, 2015 Last Updated at 21:50 IST
Two recent columns in prominent national dailies by persons who have held very senior positions in the armed forces, merit serious consideration of all those in government or outside, as their views can be brushed aside only to the nation's great disadvantage. Both of them, Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, a former vice chief of the army, and Admiral Arun Prakash, an erstwhile navy chief, have distinguished themselves in war and in peace in the service of their country and in safeguarding its honour, and are "soldier-scholars" of impeccable professional integrity. And both have commanded large bodies of disciplined men who would lay down their lives at their one command. The impact of what they have said is closely tied to the combat readiness of India's military.
Fighting capabilities revolve around two basic parameters viz. what the armed forces have, read materiel, and the people who have to use it, read men. These are two sides of the same coin and cannot be delinked. If one looks at the first of them, the equipment status of the military has been commented upon all too frequently in recent times to bear reiteration. It will be enough to say that our most potent artillery - the 155 mm gun - is now over 25 years old, mechanised vehicles three decades dated in their technology are deemed frontline, and the main weapon carried in the hands of the infantry soldier, the INSAS rifle, is a relic of the 1980s-90s. The main armour, the T-90 Russian-origin tank (also made in India under licence) was first procured two decades ago. In the navy, the latest frontline submarine is over 20 years old; several others are much older. Eight of the 18 frontline frigates and destroyers have been in service for three decades or more. The air force is, possibly, a little better with its Sukhoi 30 aircraft - but what it has in quality is outweighed by what it does not have in numbers. This story can go on. To top this, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General, India's armed forces are seriously deficient in the reserves of ordnance that they should mandatorily have in stock. So, materiel is not an area where we can justifiably claim satisfaction; on the contrary, it is a sector which must arouse great concern. Yet, given this serious state of affairs, neither of the two persons quoted above have stressed hardware as a crippling inadequacy.
This brings me to the second, and obverse, face of the capability coin - the men. Here, the issues are recruitment of desired numbers of the right quality, and then training them step-by-step to become suitable for every rung of the ladder that needs to be climbed, both by officers and other ranks. Crucial to this entire process is their motivation to carry out tasks assigned without hesitation and at one single command. Indeed, these attributes are not easily acquired and could take far more time and attention than the purchase of equipment which essentially needs financial resources and firm decision making.
It is this second parameter that both Mr Oberoi and Mr Prakash fear might be in danger of getting compromised. It is not that they have bemoaned inadequacies - and, indeed, there are few if any so far - but what they have focused on is what might happen if things of concern to them are not dealt with quickly and in a satisfactory way. Here also, the reference is more indirect than direct. In short, they have highlighted the indivisible relationship, nay kinship, which exists and will always exist between those in uniform and those who have worn it earlier and are sometimes, condescendingly, referred to as "veterans". Their emphasis is on this linkage and the impact that the issues raised by one can or will have on the other. And, nothing, can act as a catalyst either way more than the current fire raging around "One Rank One Pension" - OROP for short.
To any ordinary thinking person, the OROP issue should be a non-issue. If a person retiring at a certain rank today after having served for a specified number of years earns a pension X, then why should a person who retired at the same rank and with the same time spent in service 10 years earlier, or 20 for that matter, not receive the same? This equivalence is, in fact, recognised already. An officer who retired as a vice chief or chief several years ago earns the same pension benefit as the equal rank person who steps out of uniform today. It is logical, therefore, for the others to argue that this very equivalence should apply to them.
For some inexplicable reason both this government and its predecessor have made this issue seem more intractable than it may be; bureaucratic rigmarole and resistance and the inability of the political leadership to overcome both seem to have added to the mess. All this has resulted in a spate of rumours and otherwise unwholesome actions by different parties. For example, there are stories going round that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is enraged that the ex-servicemen in Amritsar voted for his Congress rival, Amarinder Singh, in 2014 - which led to his defeat - and, therefore, has no love lost for their cause. The ex-servicemen, or at least a quite large segment of them, have taken to agitation, an unimaginable mode of conduct until now.
But this is not about OROP or its "whys" and "wherefores". The greater concern is what the effect of this ongoing confrontation may have on the serving personnel. Just about every ex-serviceman has one or more relatives in the uniformed community and their recourse to fasts and strikes cannot but fail to have an impact; regimental affiliations in which serving and retired are seen as one "family" is another very strong bond. The ex-servicemen community is as disciplined as the serving one and to invite indiscipline in its ranks is slowly but surely going to lead to unpredictable conduct in the other - which could be disastrous.
It would be naïve of the government to think that the "veterans" are a spent force and can be delinked from the uniformed men and, therefore, taken lightly. Nothing can be further from the truth. Wisdom lies in recognising this reality sooner rather than later, before the situation becomes difficult to retrieve. Hopefully, this will happen on 15 August, as is being rumoured, when the prime minister stands on the ramparts of Red Fort. If things are not set right soon, there may be more of the Bharatiya Janata Party meeting Mr Jaitley's fate when the electoral battle is joined again in 2019, unless worse happens in the time in between. But the damage already done will not be easy to repair; one fallout already visible is the clearly falling confidence among veterans in the PM's credibility.
The writer is a former commander-in-chief of the Eastern Naval Command. He has also served on the task force constituted by the previous NDA government to review higher defence management
(Source- Business Standard)
(Source- Business Standard)