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Politicising the military: A strategic blunder


India’s armed forces, apart from their role of safeguarding the nation, provide a bright strand in the national fabric, which represents the ideals of integrity, discipline, secularism and professional excellence. Indian_Army_soldier_at_Camp_Babina

Since independence, they have embodied a proud pan-Indian martial tradition that promotes a sense of national unity and cohesion. In a region full of praetorian militaries, the Indian armed forces have remained scrupulously apolitical and a staunch pillar of democracy. Above all, they have come to the rescue when all other agencies have failed the Indian state.

Like those who take up government service or political office, the serviceman, too, swears an oath to the constitution of India. But, unlike them, the soldier bears an ‘unlimited liability’ for defense of the nation. His oath of allegiance includes this commitment: “I will obey all commands of the president of India …..even to the peril of my life.” It is for this reason that the soldier is given a special place in society.

However, this year’s Kargil Vijay Diwas, meant to celebrate the victory of Indian armed forces over Pakistani intruders and to honor those who fell in battle, left a bitter taste in every soldier’s mouth. While politicians paid saccharine tributes to our fallen Kargil heroes, veterans – many in their 80s – were into the fifth week of a public agitation, asking the NDA government to redeem its promise of granting ‘one rank one pension’ or OROP. 130507-A-DK678-010

It was government inaction on the 6th Pay Commission anomalies that first drove the veterans on the streets in 2008. Political indifference was compounded by the hostile approach of MoD (ministry of defense) bureaucracy in handling problems related to pensions and allowances of aging veterans, war widows and battle casualties. Forced to go to the courts, they were stunned to find a litigious MoD fighting them at every step through appeals. In a bizarre development, the MoD perversely refused to implement even Supreme Court judgments favorable to the veterans. This was what eventually forced a disciplined and politically-neutral segment of society into the maw of party-politics.

In the run-up to the 2014 elections, dismayed by the traditionally disdainful attitude of the Congress, the veterans allowed themselves to be lured by the BJP’s putative nationalist stance. Jumping on the party’s bandwagon seemed like a sure way of getting their demands met. The post-election allocation of cabinet portfolios to freshly retired military officers – a move of questionable wisdom – seemed to bear out the veterans’ optimism. A year later, however, the disillusioned veterans are seeking alternative political options.

Once he doffs his uniform, a veteran is, technically, liberated from the restraints of military discipline and is free to adopt the demeanor of an ordinary civilian. But deep inside, his soul cringes at the very thought of conducting himself in a manner which would have brought disrepute to his uniform, unit or Service. Public agitations and undertaking fasts and dharnas are activities he instinctively associates with trade unionism. They are the antithesis of military discipline and fortitude; a creed he has followed for a lifetime. Similarly, he harbors distaste for political horse-trading. Unfortunately, misrepresentations and prevarication, by successive governments, on the issue of OROP have driven our Veterans to adopt this approach.

It seems incredible that none of the wise-heads amongst India’s political leadership has taken cognizance of two stark realities. Firstly: that veterans retain a strong umbilical connection with serving personnel because the two constitute an extended family. Whatever happens at Jantar Mantar is flashed across to the men in uniform, almost instantly, through print, electronic and social media. Secondly: anything that humiliates the veteran also hurts the self-esteem of the soldier – because he is tomorrow’s veteran.

And yet, in an inexplicable and self-destructive continuum, governments have deliberately proceeded to downgrade and demoralize their own armed forces and veterans. This insidious process, orchestrated by the bureaucracy, has employed the instrumentality of successive pay commissions to whittle down the financial and protocol status of the military while bolstering their own. Politicians have allowed themselves to be persuaded that the key to ‘civilian control’ of the military lies in equating it with the police and paramilitary forces and making it subservient to the bureaucracy.

A savvy political leadership should have seen through this ploy and realized that: (a) soldiers and veterans are emblematic of a nation’s pride and honor and need to be protected from such internal assaults, (b) demoralization of the military erodes national security and benefits the nation’s enemies, and (c) allowing politicization of the military is a strategic blunder that will have long-term consequences.

It is appalling to think that, from 2008 onwards, no political leader has had the good sense to visualize the damage that would be caused to India’s security edifice by veterans taking to the streets and seeking political support. All this could have been nipped in the bud, very simply, by reaching out to the veterans, creating grievance redressal mechanisms and establishing direct communication with them. By egregious neglect and inaction, politicians themselves have helped destroy the apolitical ethos of our military, which the nation has been so proud of.

Irresponsible and intemperate voices of the veterans are already being heard on the social media; some demanding that the three service chiefs should offer their resignations over the OROP issue. Worse suggestions may follow.

Even at this late hour, a spark of statesmanship, sagacity and empathy for the Indian soldier can pull us back from the precipice. Recognition of the sacrifices made in fulfilling the extraordinary demands of military service, articulated at the apex political level, and earliest accord of OROP would justify a quid-pro-quo demand for cessation of the veterans’ agitation and their participation in politics.


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Indian Navy, Restructuring its Organisational Setup to Cater to Advancements in its Military and Technical Systems

As per Navy sources, the proposal was discussed at length at the recently concluded Navy Commander's Conference in New Delhi

Indian, Navy, Military
As per a senior Navy official, the re-orientation will result in functional re-organisation and optimal manning of its platforms by efficiently utilising the lean manpower. Pixabay

Indian Navy, the leanest of the three armed forces of the country, is contemplating restructuring its organisational setup to cater to the advancements in its military and technical systems.

The re-orientation is proposed as the force is acquiring systems with super-special technologies equipped on platforms, including new ships, frigates and submarines. As per a senior Navy official, the re-orientation will result in functional re-organisation and optimal manning of its platforms by efficiently utilising the lean manpower at its disposal.

As per Navy sources, the proposal was discussed at length at the recently concluded Navy Commander’s Conference in New Delhi.

At present, the Navy’s staff strength is 56,000, which includes 5,600 officers. In comparison, the staff strength of the Air Force is 1.5 lakh and the Army, 13 lakh.

Indian, Navy, Military
The re-orientation is proposed as the force is acquiring systems with super-special technologies equipped on platforms, including new ships, frigates and submarines. Pixabay

“Discussions are underway to develop an organisational structure based on the Operator-Maintainer concept of the US Navy. In this concept, the operator of any system on a particular platform is technically qualified to undertake the first line of maintenance of that system,” said a senior Navy official.

However, given the technical complexities involved in operation of new systems on board any platform, technical knowledge is required.

“To acquire crew with the requisite technical knowledge, the Navy is contemplating on altering their training methodologies and even recruiting staff with the necessary education backgrounds,” said the official.

Indian ships typically have two sets of crew. There are sets of ‘operators’ to run systems, like radars, a fire control systems or guns. There are separate sets of ‘maintainers’ whose services are called in when any of the systems malfunction. The ‘operator-maintainer’ concept would mean overlapping of technically complex functionalities.

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As per experts, Russian ships too follow the operator-maintainer concept. Russian platforms were witness to massive overcrowding when they were inducted into the Indian Navy because these were designed to accommodate only a limited number of persons. The Royal Navy of the UK has tried this system on its ships too.

“In the operator-maintainer concept, each person has to be technically qualified because maintaining a modern platform is complex. There are two issues involved for India in adopting this system. The existing crew has to be trained with much higher level of technical competence.

After merging of functions, leaves available to any staff, which is around three months a year, have to be curtailed. Another issue pertains to the costs involved in training the staff. There has been a trend among officials quitting the Navy after 15 years of service for lucrative jobs in other sectors of the economy,” former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told IANS. (IANS)