Monday, February 22, 2016

Not doing enough for Armed Forces

Deepak Sinha

[It’s ironic that issues like the arrest of a student activist or the death of a student galvanises our politicians and public more than the grave issue of national security]

Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad’s gallant but ultimately unsuccessful fight for survival is finally over and he has been cremated with full military honours. 

It is now time to step back and introspect on the media hoopla, public mass hysteria and ersatz patriotism that followed his death. 

Indeed ironically, his miraculous survival against all odds under 35 feet of ice for six days forced people to sit up and take notice of the difficult challenges that our military faces while defending our borders.

That public memory is short and media attention is fleeting, comes as no surprise.

Media and public focus, with attendant political activity, has now shifted to ‘graver’ issues of the alleged anti-national activity and Government high-handedness at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. 

In all the petty politics, other nine colleagues of Koppad who tragically lost their lives in the same incident and also the superlative action, the grit, the courage and determination displayed by all those who were involved in the search and rescue operation, at great personal cost and physical danger, is all but forgotten.

Indeed, it is ironic that the tragic suicide by a student or the arrest of a student activist galvanises our politicians and the public more than either issues of national security or the pathetic circumstances in which a vast majority of military veterans or their widows survive. 

One needs to accept the hard reality that the military in this country is seen as nothing more than security guards who is paid to protect the treasury; to be seen, but not heard.

That is why, the sacrifice of a thousand of our soldiers who have been psychologically or physically maimed while protecting our borders and their way of life have never concerned the common man or the more privileged in their drawing rooms. 

If it had, Governments, over the years, would have been more empathetic and sensitive in their dealings with the military.

We would then not have witnessed the unsavoury sight of an 80-year-old war veteran being pushed around by policemen in the name of ‘security’. Nor would there have been the necessity of the veterans to protest or resort to hunger strikes against the Government’s deplorable interpretation of the one-rank-one-pension imbroglio.

For that matter, there would have been no need for the serving military Chiefs to object to the Government against the horrendous recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission which has taken upon itself the task of demeaning and castrating the Armed Forces, probably just to prove who’s the boss, by justifying its arguments with mistruth and outright lies. 

How else can one justify paying bureaucrats double the ‘hardship allowance’ of that received by those serving in Siachen while serving in Guwahati or elsewhere in the North-East. 

Or, why should the paratroopers get ‘hazard allowance’ that is around 10 per cent of the allowances received by personnel of the ‘Cobra’ battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force deployed in Maoist-affected areas.

The Prime Minister certainly earned brownie points for his unprecedented visit to the Army hospital where attempts were made to revive Hanamanthappa. His ‘gracious’ gesture is to be welcomed, but it means little if such symbolism continues to be at complete variance with the action initiated by his Government to fulfill its promises made to the military earlier. 

It may be recalled that former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had done exactly the same when she publicly credited the Armed Forces for the 1971 victory, honoured its architect, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, while quietly ensuring that their pensions were drastically cut, compensations reduced and their prestige and standing eroded by the Third Central Pay Commission. 

It is in this context that the action of the Congress, which was then in power, to refuse to send the Defence Minister or the Service Chiefs to attend his funeral three decades later, must be seen. 

Soldiers, both serving veteran, are not stupid. They will no longer be fooled by symbolism.

A vast majority of the soldiers who toil for a living fully understand that the compensation they receive only guarantees their loyalty to the extent that the organisation that they serve looks after them. 

We need to remember that the men and women who join the military of their own volition do so not to earn money, but because of their abiding faith in the country and what it stands for. 

Unfortunately, over the years, their expectations have been belied and they have been let down by an uncaring public, scheming politicians and self-serving bureaucrats. 

The vital question that confronts us today is: Are we worth for our soldiers to die for?

The writer is a consultant with Observer Research Foundation


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