Indian armed forces in whirlwind of politicisation

Armed forces are a closed-knit society. It ferociously defends its status as a holy cow, abjuring all inquisitive peeks. Yet, over the years, Indian forces have undergone a metamorphosis. The chiefs of the three services and other senior officers no longer call a spade a spade before the political chiefs. Col Retd. Alok Asthana claimed, ‘The Service Chiefs are dancing girls pirouetting to the tune of the babus’. He, inter alia, severely criticised attitude of present army chief and the government for not giving due respect to veterans. He warned `India will disregard the opinion of its veterans at its grave peril’ (The Wire, November 7, 2017).The veterans feel that they have been meted out a raw deal for their lives in the line of fire. He quoted George Washington’s observation: ‘The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation’.

The shrill `one rank, one pay’ demand is being increasingly aired in Indian media. The veterans first highlighted this demand through a sit-in and hunger strike at Jantar-Mantar Crossing in New Delhi. But, they had to abandon their protest when police resorted to brutal baton charge to disperse them. The veterans now have many other demands _ (a) Army to be depoliticized, (b) The untouchability and ghetto system practiced by all Armed forces and ancillary services to be abolished. (c) Sewadari (batmanship) system to be ended. They allege this system converts soldiers into domestic servants. (d) Decent washrooms are provided to jawans aalso. (f) Providing secure platforms to jawans to report officers’ corruption without fear of retribution (whistle-blower protection).

The veterans are rueful that officers are promoted to the highest rank, provided they have adequate political clout. They quote that the previous army chief was not even a psc (Passed Staff College), a pre-requisite for promotions. In over ebullience to please his political masters, the present army chief took many decisions that accentuated sense of humiliation in army. He deployed soldiers to clean up garbage, and build railway over-bridges. Even the railway unions and retired officers denounced his decision. A.P. Mishra, former member of the Railway Board (Engineering) said, ‘Railway workshops are much better equipped than army workshops. And, the railways engineering cadre is known to act fast in emergencies’. The army chief was oblivious of the fact that `army engineers and workshops lacked expertise to make permanent bridges’. It possessed acumen to ` make a temporary bridge rapidly so that the advancing columns retain the required mobility even in enemy terrain, not to make permanent bridges for pedestrian traffic’. He awarded commendation certificate to Major Leetul Gogoi for driving in Srinagar streets with a Kashmiri Farooq Ahmad Dar tied to the front of his jeep. The major was later caught red handed with a teenager in a Srinagar hotel.

One lingering grievance is that `all army generals and equivalent ranks in two other services are working for their own career advancement at the expense of those they command’. The general officers have grouped themselves around politicians and Indian Administrative Officers for a Faustian bargain with the IAS’ general officers of the army.

The army is unhappy at chief’s decision to privatize army education, postal services, electrical and mechanical Engineering workshops, animal transport, some units of Ordnance and military farms. The army resents that the chief is trying to emulate us military-contractor system.

The veterans allege that Indian army has partially implemented Shekatkar-Committee recommendations. As a result, the forces are being demorlised.

The sagging morale is reflected in increasing incidents of suicides and fragging in Indian forces.