Armed forces

Is the Military’s Paranoia Under the Modi Government Justified?

The armed forces are being systematically demoralised by the central government, at a time when they should be celebrated and encouraged.

Indian army soldiers. Credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta/Files

Indian army soldiers. Credit: Reuters/Mukesh Gupta/Files

Warning Chandragupta, Chanakya had said, “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be king.” Sadly in India, under the present government, this has become the norm. The One Rank One Pension agitation, which lasted months, led to a half-baked release, with the appointment of the Justice Reddy commission to suggest anomalies, if any. The commission submitted its report on October 26, but the government will take ages before it announces any changes. This delay and the inaction of the government has compelled the veteran community to relaunch its agitation. It also led Subedar Ram Kishan Grewal, in sheer frustration, to commit suicide on Wednesday. Senior pensioners (like Grewal) are amongst the most affected and unlikely to gain any benefits from their hard-fought agitation.

Similarly, post the announcement of the seventh pay commission, the military had to officially refuse to implement it, having considered it to be demeaning. It demoralised a force that has rarely questioned government decisions. This was truly a ‘sad day for India’. Amongst all government services, the military is the only one left to implement the pay commission. Justice Mathur and his team ensured that the most revered organisation in the nation is not worth being granted equal dues and only fit to be downgraded. These discrepancies have been getting compounded with each pay commission and though they have been referred to the anomalies commission, no inputs have been forthcoming. The government announcing the special release of a month’s salary as granted by the seventh pay commission as a Diwali gift was a publicity stunt. This was the hard-earned money of the soldier, not government largesse.

A protest demanding OROP. Credit: PTI/Files

A protest demanding OROP. Credit: PTI/Files

Even more demeaning was a government notification, post the surgical strike, reducing the disability pension of the military and making it lower than that of people in other services. Given the ensuing hue and cry, this decision has also been referred to the anomalies commission. As if this was not enough, the defence ministry issued a notification on October 18, further reducing the military’s stature within the ministry. With outrage being expressed across social media, a clarification was issued claiming no error had been committed as it quoted earlier policy instructions and failing to mention the group of ministers report of 2009, which had set the precedence and was accepted and implemented by the government. The defence minister has announced a three-member commission to study the same. In the meanwhile, the prime minister, keeping the election scenario in mind, asked the nation to wish military personnel on Diwali.

The seventh pay commission changed the way the military and its veterans view the bureaucracy and political leadership, and vice-versa. The commission equated the military with the Central Armed Police Forces on an illogical thought that all those who enter government service through the common CAT exam should remain at par, others be damned, as if only an exam has value, nothing else. Poor analysis, coming from a supposedly eminent group meant to consider the future of all government services. What caused greater hurt was the government ignoring the military in the panel of secretaries and also accepting its downgrading without a murmur. This compelled the military and its strong veteran community, as well as its countless well-wishers, to wonder who runs the government – the bureaucrats or political leaders – and whether its systematic downgrading is part of a deliberate plan.

If the defence minister can make a statement that he was not aware of the downgrading and the circulars issued by his ministry, then it clearly indicates his lack of control over his own staff. His earlier insistence on the military to accept the pay commission and his public statement that the disability disagreement was a non-issue shows the lack of desire on the government’s part to resolve problems faced by the military. All these actions are being conducted when the nation faces its toughest crises in years – increasing militancy and heightened tension with Pakistan. The government and the nation should have been behind the military to support them as they try to thwart enemy designs. However, the opposite was happening.

The past sequence of events indicates a systematic downgrading of the military. Never in the history of India have so many anti-military announcements been made by various branches of the government in such a short amount of time. It is not possible for bureaucrats to issue such policy letters without having the confidence of their respective ministers. Therefore, it makes the military feel that it is being systematically targeted according to a laid-out plan. The reasons could be many. The first is that the military is gaining prominence within the country and receiving accolades from all quarters for its sacrifice and strong actions in defending the borders, which have made the public feel proud to call themselves Indians. No other government service has ever received such accolades. Further, it is known that the military can never let the country down, irrespective of the treatment meted out to it. Thirdly, the military was always timid and accepted government decisions, without so much as a whimper. However, this time it reacted and did so forcefully. Finally, the veteran community has been very vocal for the first time, criticising the government whenever it attempts to hurt military morale.

The question I leave to readers is whether those behind this systematic degradation are truly nationalists or enemies of the state. Yes, in the present context, the military has a right to be paranoid and needs to be permanently on guard, as it faces more enemies within (aiming to hurt where it can the most – its ego and status) than from the outside. While the military can face external enemies and win, its chances of winning its internal battles appear to be even more compounded, with a strong anti-military lobby within the establishment, unless its veterans, well-wishers and the media continue to provide it whole-hearted support.

Harsha Kakar is a retired army officer and a strategic writer based out of Lucknow. He can be followed on Twitter @kakar_harsha