How to measure a soldier’s worth

The resignation of Indian Navy Chief D K Joshi shows the simmering discontent between political bureaucracy and the forces. Military matters should be tackled jointly and not left to the forces alone. They are answerable not just to the nation but to men, who work under their command as well. It the greatness of Indian democracy that just prior to the elections, the ex-servicemen are now in a position to ask questions. This change has come about because the ‘forces’, stay ‘apolitical’ while the ex-servicemen are forced to take the ballot route by organising themselves better. Today there are about 14 lakh serving personnel, who still cannot vote at place of duty and there are around 24 lakh retired personnel, together with spouses and dependents, who account for 1.5 to 2 crore voters. If counted, they can create a swing of up to two per cent at the national level and that will be enough to worry any political party.

Has the ex-service man arrived from political isolation to the main scene? Not really! Because both the national parties have ex-servicemen cells, while the Aam Aadmi Party is still silent on matters related to defence? A cell is a confined space that restricts movement. The ex-servicemen need to come to the main scene because, leave alone One Rank One Pension (OROP)’, there are other pressing issues that need urgent national attention. The manner in which Naval Chief’s resignation was accepted is a sure indicator.

The OROP is an emotional issue and the fine print is awaited. Rahul Gandhi, whose rally in Uttarakhand was successful ‘crowd-wise’ than the BJP, has made this the main stay here. Timing is the very suspect and the fact that when the party in power could have sanctioned the same in a permanent manner, why on vote on account? The vote on account is to ensure that the work of the government is carried on and is not curtailed for want of budgetary provisions. It ensures posterity but lacks fiscal strength. Rs 500 crore are supposedly provisioned for a span of three months. One wonders, will it be back to business once the new government comes in!

Earlier too, by this very government, there was an attempt to try to pass off modified parity in pension between the pre and post 2006 retires as OROP. In the budget speech of Chidambaram, para 56 gave greater stress to bridging the gap but the fine print of which is still awaited. By the time this promised pension, which is effective from 1 April 2014, reaches to people, votes would have been cast and the next set of five year promises will be made. Hence, wait for the fine print before you cast your vote!

The issue of trust deficit is glaring. The events of 2012 have shown the trust deficit and no amount of statements can hide the real truth. Sixty-five years after Independence, the civilians still don’t trust such a fine institution. It is indeed saddening. Having been a deputy general officer commanding at Hissar, I can say with conviction that such exercises are routine and ammunition is never carried. Thus that Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty (BMP), infantry combat vehicle), was at best a mobile 14 ton transistor. If the civilian military leadership does not have such elementary knowledge, then they will be spooked. The track record of civilian military leadership, during the tenure of UPA-II, was nil because of two power centres.

There are other issues as well. There is a trust deficit between the UPA and the veterans’, in particular, about rank pay arrears, to an extend that in emails Ministry of Defence (MOD) is connoted as Ministry against Defence (MAD). Each and every veteran feels he has been short changed by at least two to three lakh in the rank pay arrears case even after the Supreme Court ruling. Rank Pay arrears were due from the fourth pay commission but the MOD worked out the same in such a manner that every veteran felt short changed and the matter has again been passed onto the Supreme Court of India.

Moreover, each and every award of the Armed Forces Tribunal, regarding grant of enhanced pension to widows, disables and a host of others either passes away or is reduced to being flat broke.

An issue that deserves special significance is the image of the soldier and his place in society. The soldier has to run from pillar to post to get their work done. The way the civil administration treats our soldiers, is frustrating to say the least.

The governments’ track record on strategic thinking is no better. Earlier, the nation faced a single threat and diplomacy ensured that the other power was negated, thus 1947, 1962, 1965, 1971, Kargil etc all saw a single enemy. Suddenly, in the past few years the budget remains at two per cent GDP and the threat faced by the Army is two and a half front, Pakistan, China and subversive elements, and this threat is hybrid also, in a nuclear environment. What has the government done for the nation?

One of the worst legacies is going to be arms procurement. The capital expense on arms procurement is around Rs 80,000 crore every year. If these arms were manufactured in India then around one lakh plus jobs would be generated in India itself, every year. Thus India would then be an arms exporter and more than a crore people would be employed in its manufacture, which would benefit around four crore people by modest estimates.

Is this mere thinking or hard facts? China, Israel and India, all three got independence around the same time. Today China and Israel, which did not have a very good industrial base are leading arms exporters’. Why is India a net arms importer? The reason is simple.

Importing has huge kickbacks and the political party in power gets access to these deals, and thus the three forces need to be kept out of the decision loop. The ex-servicemen need to come to the fore, because today the forces are at 50 per cent of their efficiency and by modest estimates it will take 20 more years to bridge this gap. This period of vulnerability needs to be curtailed, thus there lies an urgent need to put defence on a higher priority. The forces now need modern platforms.

The author is a retired brigadier
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