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Talking of India's Great Misfortune: Sagging Morale of the Armed Forces By Maj Gen Ashok Coomar

Talking of India’s Great Misfortune: Sagging Morale of the Armed Forces
By Maj Gen Ashok Coomar (Retd)
06 August 2015
A number of articles written by eminent armed forces veterans have recently appeared highlighting the indifference of the government by ignoring the ongoing Relay Hunger Strike (RHS) by veterans at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar and scores of other locations to press for the grant of One Rank One Pension (OROP) and its far reaching consequences. The last piece authored by Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) a former CNS has bluntly and rightly captioned it as “POLITICISING THE MILITARY: A STRATEGIC BLUNDER BY THE STATE”. The Admiral has laid bare the causes leading to the ongoing RHS and the danger it portends for national security. He has clearly stated that bureaucratic penchant for humiliating and insulting the armed forces leads to their demoralization which can only help India’s enemies. Coming from a former CNS can there be a more serious warning?

Why then do the political leadership including PM and RM continues to maintain a posture as if nothing unusual is afoot? In view of silence of the powers that be we must look for possible causes ourselves.

A TV debate some time ago offers us some clues through averments made by a former bureaucrat. Though much to our disgust the revelations confirm conjectures one made in utter disgust.

Participating in a debate on News Nation TV on 13 Jul 2015 Badal Chatterjee a former IAS officer stated that it was the bureaucrat who took the decision and then placed it before the Minister. He was categorical about finality of denial of OROP stating that while signing-up for the army one was expected to know that he would retire at 35 years of age and thus has no right to claim higher pension later! This has not just put paid to the claims of the Prime Minister, Defense Minister etc re-iterating their commitment to OROP but will dissuade promising youngsters from joining the army greatly weakening the sword arms. But do the bureaucrats understand or care about national security?

The debate can be accessed at the following link :- http://www.newsnation.in/videos/special/india-bole-69/13349

In fact relevant video clippings of PM’s addresses during election campaign and subsequent visits to border areas re-iterating his commitment to OROP were the high-lights of the preamble to this debate but failed to deter Chatterjee in making these claims. It is for the first time that any bureaucrat, though retired, has had the gumption to clearly proclaim who exercised the real authority in India!

Our constitution and the rules of business of the government very clearly specify the scheme of governance. Elected representatives lay down the policy frame work and the bureaucracy implements them. How can then a bureaucrat boast of taking “decision” and then just placing it before the Minister as if the latter’s role was just to implement it?
It will be relevant to recall a statement of the former PM Man Mohan Singh some time ago that the main obstacle in grant of OROP was the bureaucratic resistance which at the time was not taken seriously but had substantial truth in it.

The intriguing aspect of Chatterjee’s averments after repeated assurances by the governments to implement OROP is the government’s silence because it brings into question the governments “authority” to alter the “decision” of the bureaucracy “placed before them”.

Once again in the absence of any reaction from the government one is free to speculate the possible reasons. That brings us to the harsh reality that plagues our country – utter failure of the executive in governance on all fronts leaving the common man to ever increasing miseries. Bureaucrats are well aware of this reality as their failures are often highlighted when armed forces come to the rescue of common man. It appears that to hide their shame they are keen to destroy work ethos of the armed forces so that bureaucracy’s birthright to rule may not be questioned at all. To further frustrate the serving soldiers in risking their lives they have been denying even paltry disability pensions to war-wounded forcing an SC bench to observe that the government must not treat disabled veterans like beggars!

Armed forces having been relegated to “subordinate offices” have no direct access to political leadership who depend upon whatever is fed to them by bureaucrats. Barring a couple of junior ministers in the present government the entire cabinet including PM/RM neither possess any experience or knowledge about defense related issues nor have displayed any desire to learn.

More over the fear of a military coup runs deep in the psyche of our political leadership since Nehruvian era. It is therefore difficult for them to ignore the bureaucrat when he lures them into believing that a military take-over would be just a step away if the government appeared to be acquiescing in-to their demands. And when it comes to leveraging a counter to a possible military coup it is fair game to factor in, and even engineer, the baseless demands from all and sundry seeking parity with armed forces on OROP etc.

The PM and the RM must therefore open a dialogue with veterans and the Service HQ to understand the implications of the on-going imbroglio and the bogey of a military coup. They must also not lose sight of the fact that our present state of preparedness is at an all time low and morale of armed forces can be a great force multiplier in bravely facing any onslaught by our adversaries.

Let us therefore not fritter away that great asset by following the course charted by egocentric and self-seeking bureaucrats.

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Ashok Coomar

Media/Journalist/Author

Madhya Pradesh ,  INDIA

Hails from a middle class family of Lucknow, U.P., educated at Allahabad and Gwalior.  Joined Indian Military Academy, Dehradun after passing Intermediate. Commissioned in Dec 1962 in the Mahar Regiment, Infantry. Saw active service in 1965 and 1971 wars. Retired in Dec 2001 and now settled at Bhopal, M.P.

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