Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the ongoing agitation by a group of armed forces veterans at the Jantar Mantar site in Lutyen's Delhi, the treatment meted out to them by the Delhi Police on October 30, 2017, marks a dark day for Indian democracy.
The armed forces have been mandated by the constitution to safeguard not only the nation but the statute as well. Armed forces veterans form a pool of trained and disciplined manpower with nationalism ingrained in them and need to be treated as an asset. The armed forces form an important pillar of national strength and its members willingly forgo many of their fundamental rights and basic necessities of a dignified life to ensure the safety of the nation's frontiers.
The constitution mandates them to carry their ranks with them even after retirement. The constitution recognises the uniqueness of the Indian armed forces and their members, both serving and retired.
How did Delhi Police dare to treat veterans and ladies in the manner they did in front of cameras? The same police forces are the first to disappear whenever a serious law and order problem occurs -- and the Army is called in to rescue them and handle the adversity. At whose behest did they display such brutality against the peaceful veterans?
The courage, discipline, sense of sacrifice and love for the nation among veterans needs to be imbibed in every citizen of this country if we wish to become a superpower. Their ill-treatment can have long-term implications on national security and can be ignored at its own peril by the government.
In this era of electronic and social media, which has penetrated all frontiers, news travels instantly everywhere. The police action against veterans can lead to alienation of a large segment of disciplined and patriotic people. It definitely will adversely impact the morale of the serving soldiers.
It is not only that today's serving soldier is tomorrow's veteran but that today's veterans are also fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other relatives of the serving soldiers. The blood of those who would have watched the high-handedness of the police or read about it must be boiling, but the discipline ingrained in them prevents them from reacting.
Money spent towards modernisation of the armed forces cannot compensate for the morale of the man behind the gun. It is ultimate and the nation has watched the grit, determination and high morale of the Indian Army soldier on the barren and daunting heights of Kargil. Can the nation afford to have the morale of its soldiers in their boots? Imagine the impact it would have on national security.
Will any young man who would have watched the police brutality against the senior retired officers be ever motivated to join the armed forces? If the armed forces fail the nation in future, will the responsibility for their downslide be owned by the political leadership or the bureaucracy?
Civilian control of the armed forces does not imply control by those in civvies. In the garb of civilian control, the bureaucracy in India is trying to control the armed forces, negating their uniqueness as enshrined in the constitution.
In fact, Jantar Mantar is the manifestation of the growing civil-military divide in our country towards which every successive government has contributed. The state of affairs is not only saddening but alarming. The bureaucracy is hell bent to downgrade the status and financial equivalence of the armed forces, which becomes obvious with every Pay Commission report since the third Pay Commission.
The armed forces make up 30 per cent of the government's work force. That they are not represented in any Pay Commission displays the disdain with which successive governments have treated them. The serving soldiers and veterans are only demanding their due and not looking for any extraordinary largesse, they are fighting for their izzat (pride) and status that have been continuously eroded by the babudom in Delhi.
The warrant of precedence is tweaked to suit the convenience of the bureaucrats. A Major General was equated to a Joint Secretary with 30 years' service. The 30-year clause has been conveniently removed and today a Joint Secretary with 18 years of service equates himself with a Major General.
Nowhere in the world are police allowed to wear the badges of ranks of the army except in India, to achieve a false sense of equivalence. The most ridiculous is an attempt to equate the ranks with the Armed Forces HQ services cadre which was raised as a subordinate support cadre to assist the armed forces officers so that the availability of serving officers in active units was not affected. How can commissioned officers be equated with any other service, let alone a subordinate service? It happens only in India in the garb of civilian supremacy.
The present government granted One Rank One Pension (OROP) which previous governments denied. There was dissatisfaction in some quarters and the government accepted that anomalies exist. The one-man Justice Jeevan Reddy Commission was appointed in 2016 and submitted its report in November 2016, but its contents are yet to be made public. The neglect is hurting the veterans, eroding the credibility of the government and adding to the widening civil-military rift.
The Ministry of Defence, supposedly the custodian of the interests of the armed forces, is the most distrusted organ of the state as far as serving soldiers and veterans are concerned. The distrust is due to substantial acts of omission and commission. The government needs to act immediately to stop this trend and act on various reports submitted concerning the revamping of the ministry and integration of Armed Forces HQ with it.
(The author is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist and strategic analyst. The views expressed are personal. The article is in special arrangement with South Asia Monitor)