The Armed Forces and Independent India
The Army and the Indian Nation
Recently when I sat down for a drink with a Major of the British army, I was surprised when he asked me “Look captain do you know your army chief has agreed that soldiers will build bridges in Mumbai?.” I was not aware and expressed my ignorance on the matter. Later, I checked and came to know that the army would build bridges (over bridges) at 3 three suburban stations on the suburban lines in Mumbai. One will recollect that on one of the bridges which dated from the days of the Raj, a stampede had taken place and over 50 had been killed. The bridge was built a100 years back and could not sustain the heavy traffic that had grown over the last century resulting in the deaths. It was a sad event but the government of the day had just sat on their haunches and done nothing and now in dire need of a face-saving approach had asked the army engineers to build the bridges, bypassing the agency responsible for this work like the CPWD and the Railway construction.
Using the Army, a Political Stunt
This use of the army to make a political point is nothing new, but the alacrity in using the army for covering up government inadequacy is hard to digest. But the governments of the day will use the army to help them save face, but when it comes to giving the soldier, sailor, and airman his due, the government suddenly develops cold feet.
Inherent Apathy of Political Class and Civil Servants
One wonders why this happens. One reason is an inherent apathy to anything military and the second is to ensure that the army does not grow out of hand and threaten the political leadership. There is a fear that the masses who like the army may compel the army, to act against a corrupt political leadership. Already any common Indian wishes that army takes over and throws the corrupt political leadership into the Bay of Bengal. I am afraid this includes the Modi government which promised much to the soldier but backtracked at each and every step.
The political leadership right from the time of Nehru realized that the best way forward was to break the army command structure and secondly to get supine “yes sir, yes sir 3 bags full” general staff at the helm. Nehru who all his life had under the tutelage of Gandhi sat in non-cooperation movements only and fasts unto death (only to give up at the last moments) had no strategic vision and considered the armed forces as an unnecessary appendage. He started the ball by appointing General Cariappa the army chief. In the process, he superseded another Lt General Kulwant Singh and by appointing Cariappa he had a man who was beholden to him. Nehru took the first step at that time when he abolished the post of C-in-C India and replaced it with Chief of staff. Thus the unified command structure was broken.
Nehru did other things as well with the nodding of the head by Carriapa. He reduced the salaries of the Kings Commissioned officers but retained the higher salaries of the Civil servants.This was the beginning of the down gradation of the armed forces and for this Cariappa and his successor general, Rajendra Singhji must be held responsible. True to form these generals pandered to Nehru’s political whims that China was not a danger and never put up single paper to the government cautioning that China had aggressive intentions... History knows what happened as China knocked out the army and Nehru from his pedestal of “great nonaligned” leader in one blow.
During this period Nehru and his DM played havoc with the top hierarchy of the armed force and a supine general Thapar was the chief when China attacked. There are reports that Thapar was bewildered and he let the armed forces down by accepting an order to throw China out signed by a Joint Secretary- junior to him in protocol by two ranks.
Tinkering with the Top Brass
This state of tinkering with the armed forces leadership continued and General Harbaksh was not made the chief, as a rumored midnight visit by JRD Tata to Indira Gandhi made Manackshaw the army chief. Unfortunately, he is guilty of not putting up a single paper to the GOI for rehabilitation of officers who could not make it to the next rank. His credit for the victory over Bangladesh also is to be shared with Lt Gen JS Aurora who burnt the midnight oils at Fort William and made the elaborate plans to defeat Pakistan in East Pakistan.
Then we have another supine general Bewoor, who at a critical juncture agreed for reduction of the salaries and pensions of armed force by 30%. This was a dereliction of the trust of over a million men under arms.
The reduction in pensions continued for 40 years till Rahul Gandhi realized the problem and instructed the then FM Chidambaram to approve and commit the sanction of OROP and restorations of old pensions.
Modi and OROP
Narendra Modi came on the scene and during the time in the opposition blared with a trumpet that he would approve OROP as defined by the Koshyari committee and approved by 2 parliaments. He did not do it and the result is that soldiers are still agitating. But many of the agitators have been ousted from Jantar Mantar and compelled them to seek the helping hand of the Congress and Rahul Gandhi.
Modi government is guilty of many more things. Free rations which were being provided for decades to officers have been discontinued by his government on the basis of a pay commission recommendation, that did not have a single military member. It was a biased commission that took away an important perk of service and now the government has sanctioned a paltry amount. This is sad and shows that Modi wants to use the armed forces for propaganda like building bridges but when it comes to giving perks he looks the other way.
Modi has also not approved NFFU (Nonfunctional increase) for the armed forces but sanctioned the same to civilian officers. There is also a big disparity in payment of allowances between civilians servicemen in the deemed hard areas like Ladakh and Assam. So much for Modi’s talk that he “loves’ the armed forces and makes a big show by attending festivals with troops. He must read the Indian thinker Chanakya who was the advisor to Samrat Chandragupta, who has stated that the armed forces are the key to a kingdom.
Modi is now aided by the Army Chief, General Rawat. This man is beholden to Modi, as he was made chief over senior generals and now he parrots the government line. He recently recommended that Bharat Ratna is awarded to FM Cariappa, as his only suggestion. Otherwise, he has been saying 3 bags full to NFFU and rations. India faces a danger from China and Pakistan and Modi may well realize that by not agreeing to genuine demands he is playing with fire. The Indian nation deserves better men then a present lot of leaders who have failed to realize that soldiers retire young and need better pay and pensions. But many are bound by their own rhetoric and that is the bane of India.
There is hope as recently Modi did mention that he would ensure sanction of OROP for the men. This shows that he is aware of the problem but the Civil -Political nexus will have to be broken.