The neglected forces

The numbers of political parties in India have increased from a modest 55 in 1952 to around 370 today. The politics of the country is changing from national political parties to regional political parties, with around seven occupying the centre stage today.

Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have active ex-servicemen cells. These cells are fairly active but a cell is best described as a confined place which restricts the movement of the inmates. It goes to the credit of Narendra Modi and the BJP that they got their ex-servicemen out of the cloister. Have they uncorked the gene from the bottle or do these nationalist serve national interests by being locked in various parties’ cells. Do regional parties satisfy the hopes and aspirations of ex-servicemen, whose frame of mind is more nationalist and his grievances more to do with central governance? In a unique experiment in Uttarakhand a large number of veterans and retired  professionals have got together to form a political party under Lt Gen T P S Rawat but the experiment is still formative to give any conclusive results.

If parties can have ex-servicemen cells that covertly woo them, is there any harm if the same is done across the spectrum by all political parties in an open transparent manner with the press watching every move? What is the harm in openly wooing 26 lakh retired ex-servicemen whose support influence a large number of people. What is wrong with this nationalist vote bank which sees nation first and parties later? Will the crucial aspect of discipline and the apolitical nature of the Army be influenced by ex-servicemen or those, who are seen as ‘has been’ within the armed forces circles?

The Army has water tight statute provisions for fundamental rights and every ex-serviceman is aware that he cannot cross that Rubicon with a serving soldier, because he knows where the shoe pinches? This is a naïve argument from those who have neglected the forces for the last 67 years and till date have not spent any energy or time in understanding the ethos of the forces. Why should ex-servicemen destroy the apolitical nature of the forces which has nurtured them and still gives them respect? In fact there is so much of seething anger within the defence community when innumerable cases of war widows and war injured are rejected. It is a known fact at the back of every soldiers mind that loss of limb and life is inherent in the profession yet they march on fully aware that recently the government has passed an order that certain civil services can take themselves and their kith and kin abroad for medical treatment, what about those whose very job entails this very risk?

Another neglected issue is the postal ballot. An election in Uttarakhand was won on the power of the postal ballot, but while the average voter can vote with an electronic voting machine, the archaic system of the postal ballot continues for not only the defence and para military forces but also for their families. It does not suit vested interests that their votes be counted locally in the place where they are serving because than they too become an interested party hence the archaic system must continue, most of the votes become invalid and scores of soldiers and their families are denied their right to vote because the system remains from the past.

It will be interesting to note if other parties try to emulate what the BJP has done. Regional parties are going to play a dominating role in the 2014 elections. By wooing the ex-servicemen the BJP has nationally tried to reach out to each and every corner of India. By a single stroke of dynamic thinking the BJP has reached out across the domain to a committed and disciplined cadre that is nationalist thinking and extremely angry with the Congress and not fully supporting regional parties. In fact ex-servicemen have been traditional supporters of the Congress.

Thus the trend of the elections normally is either BJP versus Congress, or the two national parties versus the regional parties, or one of the two BJP or Congress versus the regional party. In such a scenario the BJP is trying to undercut both the Congress and the regional parties, the idea is very smart and the explanation by others of trying to present a façade of affecting the apolitical nature of the Army an unconvincing reply.

In fact most ex-servicemen feel that the BJP is trying to strengthen the forces, because the agenda is self explanatory. The issues raised in the recent rally have been correctly brought out; an interesting aside was India as an arms exporter? The nation does not need to import arms with its huge kickbacks, in fact the nation has been a laggard at indigenisation, Israel and China both also became independent around the same time and are now arms exporters. The number of jobs created will run into millions and rather than a few benefit from kickbacks the aam aadmi will benefit once this huge job market opens up. When Barack Obama visited India and a deal for just 10 aircraft was signed the message he sent back home was 10,000 jobs saved.  There was only one issue that was in national interest and not raised, that was parliament ratifying the agreement with Bangladesh regarding Teesta water accord and the Treaty of the Enclaves, which is the immediate requirement in national interest which needs to be done soonest.  That is where the acid test may lie. In the immediate future, was it only a poll call or genuine national interest because that is a Congress Bill.

The survey gives a go ahead to the BJP in three states where polls are due, how will the ex-servicemen fit into the larger scheme. There are two types of people, the first is fastidious, who finds faults everywhere and wants to set everything right. There is a second type, who accepts status quo. The former is responsible for progress and the latter is responsible for humanity.
Modi stands for development and polarisation while the Congress and regional parties stand for humanity, food security bill, MNERGA.

Which way will India vote? The ex-servicemen, with their nature, will head for progress and hope to overcome the polarisation with their secular credentials. Interesting times lie ahead, hopefully.

The author is a retired brigadier
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