Veterans: The Mouth Piece of the Serving Fraternity

Serving soldiers of today are veterans of tomorrow: What you sow today, you will reap tomorrow!

Veterans: The Mouth Piece of the Serving Fraternity

The article in the Times of India by Rajat Pandit in the 26 July 2021 edition was followed up with a similar article in the Economic Times of 31 July 21 brought out the stark reality of the shortage of Officers in the three services, i.e. Army Navy and Air force.

“The around 13 lakh strong armed forces have a shortage of as many as 9,712 officers and over one lakh soldiers, airmen and sailors, as per the latest figures tabled in Parliament on Monday. The Army has a shortage of 7,912 officers and 90,640 soldiers, while the figures for the Navy are 1,190 officers and 11,927 sailors. The IAF, in turn, has a shortage of 610 officers and 7,104 airmen, said junior defence minister Ajay Bhatt, in a written answer in Rajya Sabha.”

On the heels of this article was another short piece in the Tribune that highlighted the drop in recruitment numbers from three leading contributors from the states to the armed forces; Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana both of these articles and the ongoing struggle of the Veterans for getting their dues be it Status or Pensions, prompted me to express my thoughts on the subject.

Post retirement opportunities not being very encouraging, having retired young, most of the veterans are compelled to look for jobs through sheer necessity, this aspect amongst others could be seen as one of the reasons for the lack of volunteers to join the army. However, social network and manner of dealing with the armed forces by the present dispensation, both government as well as higher military leadership at Army Headquarters is a major contributing factor to this dismal state of affairs.

One must understand the requirement of two aspects that are generally uppermost in the mind of the veterans; first is ‘respect, dignity and grace’ as it meets the public eye and the second and equally important is the ‘continued loyalty and  ardent support by these veterans for their parent organization, that makes the veteran community virtually the ‘mouth piece’ of those in uniform who are a ‘gagged’ lot while in service and cannot or may not speak up in the interests of the organisation, which is also akin to the National Interest!

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Skills and Expertise of Veterans

The world over, one can explore the role, responsibility, achievement as well as the plight of veterans. They have earned and got respect for standing for both the organisational as well as the National Interest. Their sacrifice has not gone unrecognised or unrewarded.

In Israel, veterans run some of the most successful businesses, America too has examples of many an industry being run by veterans and a similar story can be seen in the United Kingdom or France. India seems to lag behind with most veterans getting involved in ‘physical security’ as managers or operatives. This state of affairs could be due to the lack of financial support on the one hand and a lack of awareness amongst government as well as corporates regarding the skills and abilities that veterans possess.

One should examine the traits and skill sets that armed forces veterans have imbibed during service in their ranks. In brief, apart from technical skills in the field of Information Technology, Engineering etc, they bring with them expertise in the areas of Hospitality, Team building, Branding, Sports, Materiel Management, Health & Hygiene, Leadership, Conflict and Crisis management, Project Management, Town Planning, Environmental issues, Teaching, and training to list a few! These do not cover the aspects of machine tools, carpentry, mason work which Engineers bring to the table.

The biggest assets a majority of these veterans bring with them is a sense of discipline, responsibility, a spirit of sacrifice for the country and organisation with unquestionable commitment. To enunciate a policy seen as hostile to veterans or the organisation will be detrimental for the future.

Veterans are a worried lot today because of not the Governments attitude alone but also the utter disrespect shown by those in uniform. This is one huge influencing factor resulting in the disillusionment of our youth and discouraging them from joining an organisation full of risks combined with a sense of disrespect attached once the uniform is shed.

The Veteran Network

A majority of persons who join the armed forces come from rural India and have agriculture as part of the basic family enterprise, thus the coinage of the slogan of “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan!” by our former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The contribution of army officers for joining the army is more from urban areas than the rural areas. Whether from urban areas or rural areas, each family ends up as an employee, employer, father, mother or others from a larger family, thus making these as areas of influence.

It would thus be seen that the Veteran Network has an outreach in Cities as well as Rural Areas. They are Veterans from an Extended Family of the Organisation they served in, Parents, Children, and Relatives within the immediate family, employees, and employers. Social networking connects them all, negative actions by the Government as well as Service Headquarters spreads fast, is discussed at dinner at home or drinks at a bar. Even though most army stations have debarred entry to veterans, it does not prevent them from getting together as and when possible.

Responsibilities Veterans can Undertake

Imagine the gains of engaging these men and women towards nation building? Building national pride, spirit, training and development at educational Institutes including schools and colleges? Rural development to give each village a sense of belonging and ownership to create pride amongst the residents? Source talent for sports at the village and district levels?

Expertise of the plethora of well-read Officers, Experienced Junior Commissioned Officers and Jawans (incidentally only an army soldier is referred to as Jawan because he retires young!) can be gainfully explored in conceptualizing policy for veterans in areas like post retirement skills and opportunities, Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme and Canteen policies, publicity for Image building and projecting the armed forces in a positive manner.

Interface between the serving including the Service Headquarters and veterans needs a revisit to objectively create an outreach and strengthening the bonds to benefit the veterans as well as the organization since neither can be divorced from the other in this marriage for life.

The recently announced policies on ECHS, CSD, Treatment in Military Hospitals, amongst others reflect a lack of sensitivity of those in service towards veterans, forgetting that they too will superannuate to join the long lines of veterans at the gates of military stations where they are today being denied entry, gag orders for use of social media, attempts to isolate those in uniform from Veterans and the worst being efforts to shoot the messenger by closing doors of feed back while taking a negative view of honest inputs because they don’t fit the mindset of policy makers!

These and other issues like One Rank One Pension a promise made in 2014 and the review due in 2019 being contested in Supreme Court, Non-Functional Financial Upgradation sanctioned based on the AFT award but being challenged in the Supreme Court are all issues being discussed at each home and have had a serious impact on the hitherto popular option for youth to join.

It has been forgotten that approximately 75% of those serving are from Veterans families! How can this not have an adverse effect on these individuals as well as the youth who are at the right age for joining the forces? As someone in uniform rightly said” Jab mera baap jantar mantar par baitha hai yan lathi khata hai to muchje dukh hota hai”.

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Serving Soldiers of Today are Veterans of Tomorrow: What you Sow Today, You will Reap Tomorrow!

The Service Headquarters as well as MOD (unfortunately viewed as an organization hostile to the very service they are meant to serve) must adopt an attitude of inclusivity as far as the veteran’s community is concerned, it is this respect which is likely to change the mood of social media, not preventing the use of social media! Small actions are likely to bring huge benefits.

The present dispensation both at the service headquarters as well as ministry need to take a serious re-look at the treatment being meted out to veterans and through them to the serving too,feedback needs to be encouraged and taken positively. One needs to remember the huge public outcry in the United States after the Vietnam War that lead to demonstrations and ultimately a change in policy and doing away with conscription. It also resulted in a change in attitude giving Veterans more respect. Let us wear our Medals and Ribbons with pride or be prepared to reap what you sow!

Veterans are the’ mouthpiece ‘for those still in uniform since the Army Act prevents those in uniform to speak out on many subjects, their Nationalistic Spirit and Pride needs to be capitalized upon.

Veterans would do well to organize themselves under a single Association and stop infighting which only weakens their position, this Association needs to be recognized by the Army Headquarters AG’s Branch who need to get periodic feed back and suggestions. This is vital since those in service cannot form associations and are also subject to the Army Act which prevents them from forming associations as such.

I would like to conclude this piece with a small anecdote which concerns leaders and the praja! One day leaders along with their Navratans decided to get a feel of the pulse of the praja and set out to visit a village.

On reaching the village they saw a man digging at the roots of a small hillock, they watched him for some time and then enquired of him as to what he was doing? The man responded by pointing at the hillock and then at his house, telling them that the hillock blocked sunlight to the house so he was going to dig it up and remove it!

At this the leaders and Navratans laughed, calling him an idiot and brainless and then remarked, do you think you can remove that hillock in your lifetime you fool? The man pointed towards his wife, children, grandchildren all carrying shovels and walking towards him, he then said; not in my lifetime, but it will happen in the times of my children or grandchildren.

A revolution had thus begun. The leaders understood and returned to review policies to address public requirements in right earnest! The moral of this story being’ listen to your veterans and show them some respect’ in turn the organisation will benefit and so will you.

Combined with the long-standing demands of farmers, many of whom are veterans or belong to families of soldiers, the overall impact is surely nothing short of devastating in so far as pride is concerned. The two communities are now at Jantar Mantar! Most unfortunate indeed. Having said that, one needs to recogise the fact that this silent protest is no less than a revolution in itself. Sadly those in power do not see it!.

I have written this piece purely with the intention of sensitising those who can influence a change for the better. While there is no doubt that  the armed forces  enjoy respect of our citizens however  there are hints and clear indications that ‘all is not well’ and much needs to be done as can be seen from the appeal by the Chief Minister of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh to the Police and Administration exhorting them to treat veterans and soldiers with respect.

The old adage “You reap what you Sow” holds good today, lack of  sensitivity to the present veterans are the Seeds being Sowed for those in uniform to reap tomorrow. The organisation and country too may end up as losers, tread carefully!

About the Author

Brig. Sharma is a veteran with 35 years of military experience under his belt, Brigadier Sharma, was commissioned into the JAT regiment. He has had rich exposure to the travails of the country in the remotest of areas. He has seen closely the happenings in J&K, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram in operational circumstances.

In addition, he has had the proud distinction of being, selected to raise the NSG and being a squadron commander with the 51 SAG, an Instr in the IMA, Col GS of an active div, Cdr of a Bde in super HAA, DS in AWC, and the Brig Gen Staff responsible for facilitating the training in various Military Establishments including the School for CI & Terrorism & Jungle Warfare. He has been a member of study groups on China as well as Officer Cadre management in his time.

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

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