Tinkering with Soldiers Honour & Betrayal of Veterans!

"Once considered a ‘Holy Cow’, the credibility of armed forces officers and its Generals have nose dived."


Tinkering with Soldiers Honour & Betrayal of Veterans!
“What spineless wonders? when asked to bend, they crawled!”

Over the last few years, strange things have been happening in the Indian Armed Forces. The ecosystem is being disturbed by tinkering with time tested rules, procedures and drills. Latest in this Kitty of horrible decisions is subjecting the armed forces to fend for itself to generate additional funds for modernisation and upgradation. A noble way found is to play with the legitimate rights and status of soldiers.

While thousands of crores of farmer’s loans were being written off, there was a huge financial crunch for defence and security. While there were banking scams, involving lakhs of crores of rupees, armed forces were asked to tighten their belts. Lakhs of crores of subsidies are being given for religious pilgrimages or religious functions, but there was shortage of funds for the security of the country.

The shortage of funds is not only for essential arms and equipment but also for soldiers' perks such as pensions, pay and allowances and Non functional Upgradation (NFU). This discrimination deeply affects the motivation and morale of soldiers and lowers their self esteem, which would prove catastrophic during war.

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Unfortunately, more than outside forces, it is the elements within the armed forces, who were doing damage to the soldier's motivation and morale, and in the forefront of all this is the poor quality of Generalship, as a result, strange propositions were being suggested to overcome the paucity of funds for modernisation of defence forces.  

What is worse was an atrocious solution being found by the Department of Military affairs (DMA), headed by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, to tide over the funds scarcity by armed forces?

The DMA, instead of telling the government of the day that any expenditure on defence and security was a national premium for ‘National Security’, has proposed a new policy on pension and retirement ages of officers, whereby, 100 percent pension would only be granted if an officer serves for 35 years. It virtually means bringing down the pension by 25 to 50%.

What a unique way of creating funds for Armed Forces upgradation and modernisation? While it should be the duty of the nation to provide requisite funds for the defence and security of the nation, the onus has been shifted to soldiers. The irony is that the new policy on pension was being proposed by the highest office of the Indian Armed Forces.  

With the promulgation of such a policy, only those who had served for 35 years would get 100% pension. In the present scenario, only an ex-NDA cadre might be benefitted, who get commissioned by the age of 22 years. Most others would be losers. Even amongst the ex-NDAs those who get relegated once or twice would be the losers.

"More than outside forces, it is the elements within the armed forces, who were doing damage to the soldier's motivation and morale, and in the forefront of all this is the poor quality of Generalship."
CDS Bipin Rawat standing next to the tri-service chiefs during the Republic day parade; File Photo

What a betrayal of officer cadre by their own seniors? One is ashamed of the quality and shortsightedness of the Generals of the armed forces. Of course, the blame equally lay on the shoulders of veterans, who in their heydays of service, had paved the way for the promotion of self-seeking officers.

In the days gone by, the Generals of the days had given preference to ‘personal service’ over professional attributes of the subordinates. This is why poor quality of higher military leadership rules the roost. No wonder, cases of corruption, amongst senior officers, have become order of the day.

Therefore, once considered a ‘Holy Cow’, the credibility of armed forces officers and its Generals have nose dived. Soldiers were no more being treated with respect and honour in the civil corridors of power.

There was a time when a young Lieutenant could walk into a Deputy Commissioner’s office with confidence and elan, but today Generals wait outside like Common citizens.

How would a politician care for a retired Army Commander of Army, who sought the job of an ‘Information Commissioner’ of a state Government or an  ex-Army Chief cum ex Governor of an important state who contested in a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) election? What message does an ex Army Chief send to the general public, who is serving as a boss of a research organisation of a Corporate house?

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In July 2011, I was travelling by road from San Francisco to Los Angeles, in the USA on Highway I-5. We stopped at the SIX FLAGS AREA--- for refuelling and refreshment. It was 4 July, the American Independence Day. I saw a notice on the restaurant entry - 'Free meal and Drinks for Veterans'.

I took out my camera and took the photo of the notice. The manager cum owner of the restaurant walked up to me and asked me as to why did I do it? I casually mentioned to the restaurant owner that I was a veteran of Indian Army.

“Lo!”, he said, "It is an honour to have you here, sir! We will give the same treatment to you, too”. To say the least, he did not charge anything from us. What a respect for an alien soldier, who is disgraced and dishonoured in his own country! No wonder, the USA is the world's only superpower!!

It reminded me of the atmosphere in Punjab during and after 1971 war - when I was respected like this. Nations do not become great by lofty talks or taking vows of anti-corruption by the armed forces commanders but by respecting the men who safeguard nations honour and dignity. Respect and ‘IZZAT’ a nation pays to its veterans, is the national premium for safety and security.

The American National War memorial in Washington DC, is manned round the clock by serving soldiers. Come rain, snow and thunder, sentry stands unmoved right in the open. In our country war memorials are desecrated and disrespected. Stray dogs and wandering cows find a shelter there. A few years back, a war memorial statue at Ludhiana in Punjab was uprooted and thrown away.

I remember when General Douglas Mac Arthur was the Chief of the US Army in 1931, American president Franklin Roosevelt proposed to cut down defence expenditure. In a meeting with the President, Gen. Mac Arthur pleaded with the President not to cut. But Roosevelt did not listen to him and dismissed him. Gen. Mac Arthur got up and walked away but then turned and said:

"Mr. President, when in the next war, an American soldier with an enemy bayonet piercing his abdomen, spat out his last curse, I do not want the name to be Mac Arthur but Roosevelt."

It is NO gain saying the fact that Roosevelt reversed his decision.

Compare this with Indian Generalship. They do not even have the guts to cry on the insults being heaped upon them publicly by bureaucrats and politicians. How sad we saw three Chiefs sitting as dumbos when the then Defence minister, announced truncated One Rank One Pension (OROP) on 5 September 2015. Not a whimper of a protest by anyone of them. How sad they were not even consulted on the Premature Retirement (PMR)/Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) issue before the announcement.

"What a betrayal of officer cadre by their own seniors? One is ashamed of the quality and shortsightedness of the Generals of the armed forces. Of course, the blame equally lay on the shoulders of veterans, who in their heydays of service, had paved the way for the promotion of self-seeking officers."
CDS Bipin Rawat saluting his men on Republic Day; File Photo

What was more disturbing was the fact that none of them had the guts to tell the Raksha Mantri: "Mr. Defence Minister, please tell your Prime Minister that it was the biggest insult you have heaped upon the armed forces. The armed forces will not remain the same hereafter. If the mistake is not rectified soon, the last bastion of holding together of Indian nationhood would get disintegrated.” Nations who make their soldiers beg for their legitimate rights, often come to grief.

Sheepishly sat the three Chiefs and sheepishly they walked away. Therefore, the decline of the image is not sudden but it has been gradually sliding down. It has been happening for quite a while. A trickle of spineless officers yesterday has become a Tsunami today.

One is reminded of late Nani Palkhiwala, great Constitutional lawyer. Commenting upon the conduct of bureaucracy and media,  during 'The Emergency; in 1977 he had said in his book ‘We - The People’: “What spineless wonders? when asked to bend, they crawled!”

Remember also the quote by Sun Yat San, an ancient Chinese military philosopher: “I am not afraid of an army of a hundred tigers led by a sheep but a hundred sheep led by a tiger!” Well! We can now assess the impact of the ‘Succession Plan’ for Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS), initiated in 2005, during the tenure of General JJ Singh as the COAS.

"All your Rafale or Chinook deals or FDI investments would not be able to prevent this humiliation because what matters more in war is the man behind the machine."
Rafale Fighter Jet; File Photo

There is a wrong notion that Military strength flows out of Economic strength. In fact it is the reverse of it. China was Nowhere in the sixties and seventies but it successfully used its manpower to flex its military muscles to send cold sweat down the spine of the USA and even the USSR.

Today its economy is at normal rates around 15 Trillion dollars while India is at roughly around three Trillion Dollars. Mind you China became independent two years later than India.

Look at the USA, their economic strength draws out of their Military power. In the USA, other than military arsenal and space research, nothing is manufactured. Everything comes from outside at terms dictated by the USA. And it is a 20 trillion economy-- merely because of its military muscles.

Look at your neighbour Pakistan. It is starving for finances for development but it is reckoned at par with India, purely because of its military power. A giant like India is a helpless spectator to Pakistan's pinpricks because we do not have the proper military muscle to shut her up.

Finally, the Bureaucracy and the Government must know that it was not the machine but the man behind the machine which matters. Pakistan's Sabre jets and Patton Tanks in 1965 war fell prey to Indian Gnats and Sherman tanks respectively.

The Kargil war of 1999 was NOT won by the Generals sitting in the air conditioned rooms in Delhi or Srinagar but by motivated soldiers led by spirited Captains and Majors. This proved itself again in the Galwan incident in June 2020.

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The need of the hour  was to rebuild the spirit and motivation of the soldiers. Unless quickly rectified, India will pay a heavy price for disrespecting its soldiers and veterans, and in the next war with China or Pakistan, when an Indian soldier flees from the battlefield, shame will not only be on the Generals but also the Government. National humiliation would be worse than the 1962 war.

All your Rafale or Chinook deals or FDI investments would not be able to prevent this humiliation because what matters more in war is the man behind the machine.

Not only veterans and soldiers but also the civil society has to speak up for the restoration of soldier’s honour and dignity by rebuilding his broken spirit, lest India pays with its freedom and integrity . It would be worthwhile to quote and remember, Martin Niemoller, (1892 1984), a Lutheran pastor of Germany , who, after the 2nd world War, had lamented about Nazi Germany, thus:—

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran of the ’71 War & has served extensively in various counter insurgency environments across the country.

He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert and a regular contributor at the 'Fauji India' magazine, ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: rajee749@yahoo.com)

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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