“The day a soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for
Magadha. From then on you have lost all moral sanctions to be
Chanakya advise to Chandragupta Maurya
How do you define a person who volunteers to join a profession for the love and ideals of the uniform? A life which he chose for its respect and dignity, above corporate glitters or babu’s prominence; not because he was not capable of achieving the same but because he aspired a path of “Nation Above All”. A path he well knows that may lead him to proudly raise the tricolour of victory or return home as an immortal wrapped in it. He preferred to be a symbol of patriotism and not scoured nationalism whose vocabulary is increasingly being tarnished by political flavours and non-secular musings. He is apolitical, secular and beyond partisan intentions of political parties. For him Naam, Namak and Nishan define his DNA of Wafadari, Imandari and bhaichara. Yes, he is the immortal “FAUJI” who chose this honourable path not just as a profession but a way of life.
So, what does a Fauji really aspire in the chartered course of the next five years, by the government? It’s all about the displaying the right intent, taking small but strong decisions to empower him and imbibing the spirit of compassion for this warrior, by those voted into power. He thus seeks the following:-
Arm him to Fight ,Win and Live to Fight yet Again.
Ensure his Status and Dignity in the Society.
Keep the Institution Apolitical and Curb its Unprofessional Exploitation.
Defense Reforms to be Ready and Relevant for the Future.
Respect, Care and Wellbeing of Veterans and Families of our Martyrs / Fallen Soldiers / Disabled Warriors.
Arm to Fight, Win and Live to Fight yet Again
While the spirit to fight of a soldier is infinite, inadequate budgeting and frustrating procurement procedures have failed to arm him for the assigned tasks. Inadequate budgetary support, bureaucratic decision paralysis, lack of accountability and responsibility, frustrating procurement cycles and weak defence industrial base are only some of the ills. The key remedy is that the trajectory of the defence budget is gradually reversed to attain 2.5 to 3% of GDP.The defence budget needs to dovetail a three five-year assured financial perspective with complete harmony between the MoD and the MoF with inbuilt non-lapsabilty. Major time critical procurements identified on value, vulnerability analysis and priority, based on threat assessment, must be followed up at the highest level by a high power operational readiness committee under PMO.
Another concern is to reverse the import orientation. “Make in India” remains an inspiring slogan with some good policy initiatives but lacks major outcomes and needs to be accompanied by matching re-structuring and accountability of MoD procurement agencies.
Ensure the Status and Dignity of Soldier
The systemic erosion of status by successive dispensations has adversely affected civil-military equivalence and dignity of the uniformed fraternity. The effect is deleterious for the morale and prestige of a soldier. To add to the concerns, the bureaucracy has successively downgraded the status and financial equivalence of the Armed Forces with every Pay Commission report. The NFU debate and the sheer lack of concern for the legitimate entitlement and equivalence are indeed shameful. Even the warrant of precedence is repeatedly tweaked to suit the convenience of the bureaucrats and widen disparities. Why should the soldier in or out of uniform be fighting court cases against MoD for Disability Pensions, OROP, NFU and several other legitimates demands? The need is to reflect upon the government’s outlook to this most respected national icon and arrest policies which dilute and tarnish the image of defence services resulting in a sense of victimhood. While the released OROP even if perceptually truncated and National War Memorial constructed are major positives, but a lot needs to be done with due impetus.
Keep the Institution Apolitical & Curb its Unprofessional Exploitation
The systemic attempts to politicise of uniform and its progressive unprofessional exploitation has eroded the morale and image of a soldier. Can the image of a soldier ever be related to soldiers laying yoga mats or building civil infrastructure in peacetime for states when our own border infrastructure remains woefully inadequate? Can political decisions infringe into their cantonment ethics and dilute sacred defence institutions, which were preserved with honour and pride for the last seven decades?
The recent trend of deriving political mileage from military operations and creating divides by encouraging political media debate on matters military is indeed a cause of concern. The opaque suitability clause for promotion to “Chiefs” also merits greater transparency. The greatest challenge, however, lies in the recent trend of senior defence veteran’s exodus into politics, with newfound political inclinations on virgin grounds, opportunist ambitions though late in the day and desire for pre-eminence in an environment which was alien so far. This could adversely influence the apolitical character of the serving soldiers who cannot be isolated from the extended family of veterans or would play to the galleries in his last few years to seek political patronage. Thus, the danger of political creepage and its avoidable fallouts in an otherwise apolitical organisation is real. The government thus needs to ensure that the services irrespective of all new found challenges retain their apolitical character, as also are employed only in tasks for which they have donned the uniform.
Defence Reforms to be Ready and Relevant for the Future
The creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) or in the interim a Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee (PC COSC) while critical, seems to threaten the MoD and defence bureaucracy, and even raises turf issues within the services. Thus, defence reforms remain in the never-ending realm of national debates, beyond political sagacity, wisdom and vision. A crucial national security flaw lies in the compartmentalised structure of MoD, run exclusively by an insulated bureaucracy, and its failure to integrate the armed forces. The change in MOD staffing patterns to ensure armed forces are intrinsically involved in national security management and apex decision-making process is marred by apprehensions of loss of ground by the bureaucracy. Even within the services, leave alone jointness but interoperability continues to be a challenge marred by turf issues. Thus, monolithic and compartmentalised structures, persevered by outdated higher defence organisation, served by torpid mindsets and antiquated staffing, have lost their relevance for the future. While the recent initiative by the army to restructure and the right size is laudable, but the bloated civil counterparts in MOD have adopted an ostrich approach to their internal restructuring and downsizing. Similarly, the recent approval of Space, Cyber and Special Forces joint organisations is a welcome step, though too late and too little. However, critical issues like appointing a Chief of Defence Staff, restructuring as Integrated Theatre Commands, raising of National Defence University, formulation of a National Security Strategy and enactment of Armed Forces Covenant Act remain elusive. The root cause of systemic dilution of authority of Defence Services is the antiquated Allocation of Business Rules, 1961 (AOB) and Transaction of Business Rules 1961 (TOB). These need to ensure that the three Service HQ and IDS are given the status of Department, with respective Vice Chief as administrative head and the three chiefs kept above departments, dealing directly with the PM and RM for the defence of India’s land, maritime and aerospace domains. Thus, the government needs to take strong decisions by reforming the national security apparatus by bringing the armed forces into it by an act of parliament. This includes amending the AOB and TOB, the creation of the CDS and integrating the armed forces HQ with the MOD and raising Theatre Commands.
Respect, Care and Wellbeing of Veterans and Families of our Martyrs / Fallen Soldiers / Disabled Warriors
Fauj is a family, with veterans and our windows a part of the extended family. Today’s serving soldier is tomorrows veteran and our brave widows / Veer Nari’s an emotive connection to our fallen brave hearts. Thus their care and wellbeing is a reflection of soldiers tomorrow which impacts his morale and status in uniform. A veteran’s greatest desire is the respect and status in society due to him for all his sacrifices in uniform. It’s payback time for a grateful nation whose compassion and actions are reflective in the care and welfare of veterans and families of fallen soldiers. Not enough is being done in this regard. Protests and rallies by veterans for their legitimate rights and seeking legal recourse does not auger well for the nation. More importantly, is the issue of our moral responsibility for the care and wellbeing of the families of our fallen comrade in arms. Thus, reviewing and diluting educational allowances to their wards was not in the right spirit. There is a need for a better outreach model with greater compassion, respect, empowerment and assured lifetime connectivity to address all concerns expeditiously, than just release of monetary dues. The evolution of a large number of NGO’s supporting this noble cause is welcome, but also reflective of the state failing to meet their vital obligation. The mantra should be to connect, show compassion, take care, and empower our veterans and the families of our fallen soldiers.
In the meantime, while the “Fauji” will continue to take up issues with those in power and await their empathy patiently, he will continue to stand tall in the line of duty and never fail the nation.
Lt Gen A B Shivane, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd) has had an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades. A distinguished Armoured Corps officer, he has served in various prestigious staff and command appointments including Corps Commander of a Strike Corps on the Western Front. The General retired as Director General Mechanised Forces in Dec 2017. He is presently appointed as Consultant MoD/OFB. The Officer is a renowned defence analyst and prolific writer on matters military and national security.
The Correspondent Bureau