The word ‘samparking’ – is unprecedented, but so was BJP President Amit Shah’s visit to General DS Suhag, former Army Chief in latter’s government bungalow in Delhi Cantonment. The visit was part of BJP’s outreach program, ‘Sampark for Samarthan’. Shah-Suhag reportedly discussed “various issues”, including problems faced by Indian farmers in villages and the plight of India villagers. Suhag later spoke to media about the ‘surgical strikes’. Opposition didn’t like the Shah-Suhag meet. One Congress leader tweeted, “These are extremely portentous conventions that BJP is laying down. Using armed forces as a surrogate prop for political ends will have profound implications …..”. He probably believes Rajesh Pilot, Amrinder Singh, other veterans who joined Congress never wore uniform !
There is debate at Nukkad why Shah chose to meet Suhag – was it because of: closest distance; free accessibility post Sitharaman’s cantonments conquest; Jat votes; total pura to assuage immense hurt caused to Armed Forces; lack of guts to meet rank and file; rewarding Suhag for keeping lips sealed as Chief? Media says Suhag may get LS ticket from Rohtak; Shah being poll-math wizard with vote share in Haryana SC/ST + Dalits 31%, Brahmins + Rajputs + Punjabis + Banias 27%, Jats 26% and Yadav/Sainis + OBC 16% (weep my country). But Suhag may not contest elections with Nukkad predicting he might forfeit his deposit like one of his predecessor. But he may end up Governor in northeast (replacing Nirbhay Sharma?) to propagate ‘surgical strikes’ further. And, who knows there may actually be another surgical strike before 2019 given its propaganda value, provided the strategic partner provides fresh set of coordinates.
With government having already spent Rs 3,755 cr on publicity (2014-October 2017), does distribution of pamphlets and pen-drives under ‘Sampark for Samarhan’ indicate waning confidence? Before last J&K elections, it was suggested to BJP that OROP’s official announcement date be made public, plus ensure hundreds of J&K-domicile soldiers serving outside got their election cards and their votes reach in time. Being overconfident, this went unheeded. Resultantly, BJP lost two traditional seats in Jammu, making the region pariah; left to mercy of Mehbooba Mufti even as latter’s honchos stone CRPF personnel to death in Srinagar and HM sings ‘oh my misguided fellas’. Interestingly, to President Pranab Mukherjje’s recent speech at RSS headquarters, one BJP-bhakt Swami Ji (name withheld) says, “What Shri Pranab Mukherjee described Indian culture, is the same culture that gave us slavery for centuries. We need little change, so that our sovereignty can remain intact”.
Nukkad-chat gave nick-name Hanuman to Manohar Parrikar who boasted he taught Army its capabilities and sent them into POK like Hanuman. Arun Jaitley is called ‘Amarsariya’ for the massive electoral loss he suffered at Amritsar, yet given charge of Finance and Defence, his distaste for military and while Hanuman favoured giving full OROP to veterans, Amarsariya blocked it saying yearly calculations are impossible (sic). Amarsariya appeared in MoD only for 20-30 minutes in the beginning being sick and announced, “I am here only for few weeks”. But everyone knew he won’t move till all capital expenditure contracts were signed (samajh gaye na?), and when he did move, he instituted MoD must go to him for anything above Rs 200 cr. Sitharaman’s nick-name is still under discussion being unsure how much more she will damage Armed Forces.
To give BJP its due, one must remember AK Anthony grinning and thumping the table in Parliament when Chidambaram announced Rs 500 cr for OROP – some joke. BJP spent many times more but it couldn’t be termed OROP because with five yearly review (if it happens at all), veterans retiring in intervening period would get higher pension than those retired earlier. It was the stubbornness of Amarsaiya that resulted in veteran protests at Jantar Mantar (JM). The media was used to portray the demand unjust even as civilian defence employees get far higher pay, allowances and pensions (https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/para-phrase/the-military-and-four-years-of-mr-modi-lost-victories/). MoD also swallowed the one-man Reddy Commission Report on OROP anomalies. Where there is so much hue and cry about Armed Forces pay and pensions, why not combative all civilian defence employees saving crores of rupees?
Congress employed police with water cannons to stop a former Army Chief, now MoS (MEA), from laying wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti along-with 8-10 veterans. But on 14 August 2014, BJP unleashed police to baton-charge peacefully protesting veterans at JM. Next day PM Modi from the ramparts of Red Fort congratulated 26,000 police and CAPF for protecting the country, deliberately not mentioning Armed Forces. But if 1.4 million Armed Forces are to be detested because of few veterans at JM, then narrow-mindedness would be understatement. The police action was repeated on 20 October 2017 on flimsy grounds. Whatever be the politics of it, the use of police was unwarranted. These two dates will remain the blackest spots in history of Modi and his government – and what a contrast to the Vajpayee era. Yes, much after the first police attack, these veterans used Congress platform to express views because government blocked all avenues and throttled media (do we have free press?), but in no manner were they ‘joining’ Congress. It may be recollected that when Rahul Gandhi visited JM, he was shooed away by same veterans.
Sitharamn claims Army authorities were “extensively consulted” before ordering free access to public in 62 cantonments, but the PIB release of May 4 mentions she chaired meeting of MPs (not from Parliament’s Standing Committee for Defence) and Vice President’s (who are two-bit politicians) of 62 Cantonment Boards – all civilians. That is where the decision was taken. Sure she reviewed the decision with Army authorities later (PIB release doesn’t say with who all) but she obviously presented a fait accompli to the Army. The public is perplexed how Sitharaman’s unilateral opening of cantonments is connected to land mafia; explanation is at link (https://www.firstpost.com/india/govts-decision-to-open-military-cantonments-endangers-national-security-empowers-corrupt-defence-estates-4497315.html). Sitharaman is empowering Defence Estates that CGDA branded most corrupt part of MoD in 2010, recommending its disbandment and merging its functions in the Services Headquarters (https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/the-big-story/story/20110103-loot-of-the-defence-land-bank-745337-2010-12-25).
In Pakistan, Brigadiers and above get land allotted in military cantonments but in India it is the politician or politician-connected businessman or brokers. Sitharaman and her husband may not have benami properties in Secunderabad Cantonment, as hinted in a news report, but can Sitharaman explain:
- Why clear Supreme Court orders to evict encroachments of over 13,000 acres of defence land, over 2500 illegally occupied Bungalows, number of illegal commercial properties have not been acted upon?
- How many of these illegal occupants are politician or politician related individuals / concerns?
- For example, how Kumari Selja of INC is occupying a bungalow in the heart of Ambala cantonment that houses a Strike Corps?
- How is a fellow like Nihal Singh is occupying a bungalow diagonally across residence of the Strike Corps Commander again in Ambala Cantonment?
No, Sitharaman will not because lawmakers of all political parties are culprits. Pakistan sacked Nawaz Sharif because of Panama Papers but there is total inaction in India for the same reason. Then you have Gadkari saying he will not give an inch of land to Navy in Mumbai and Hanuman querying why Navy is not on Indo-Pak border. Ignoring the study available with Services for restructuring, MoD appointed the Shekatkar Committee but implemented only what suited the mafia. The Advance Base Workshops were taken away from Army control and brought under MoD, rendering their functioning like DRDO and Ordnance Factories. Now Defence Estates is getting ready to usurp more defence land with disbandment of Military Farms.
Sitharaman’s recent press conference mirrored her avatar of BJP spokesperson – aggressive, erudite, painting anything black to white. How pathetic that she rubbished the Parliament’s Standing Committee for Defence Report on the state of poor equipping of Armed Forces, presented during last session of Parliament (https://www.deccanherald.com/national/defence-expenditure-lowest-gdp-india-now-1962-671245.html) and saying there is no shortage of funds. This despite both the national and international media being privy to the report. At least she should have had respect for the Chairman of the Standing Committee for Defence who was Union Minister during NDA-1 while she was struggling in politics. But the fact that he is headed by a veteran Major General probably accelerated her aggression given her distaste for the military – as indicated by her actions. Witness not a murmur from her when the report was presented in Parliament that clearly states Army has even had to shut down multiple ongoing projects for lack of funds, forget modernization.
Rahul Gandhi once publicly tore an Ordinance passed by UPA II. Sitharaman has shredded the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1923, which neither she nor the military is empowered to alter without discussion in Parliament. Ail military establishments (which include cantonments) and installations are categorized “Prohibited Areas” in Section 2 (8) of this Act; while Armed Forces are empowered not to allow entry into Prohibited Areas without ascertaining identity. Trespassing into Prohibited Areas without valid identity and purpose is a criminal offence under the Criminal Pena Code (CrPc). Cantonment Boards have no role in security of military area and establishments. Not that Modi government has not violated the OSA earlier; NSA had taken the Pakistani SIT right into the IAF base at Pathankot.
Instead of acting on clear instructions of Supreme Court to evict encroachments from defence land, Sitharaman has already made her next surreptitious move by inserting in media that against thousands of acre of defence land encroached or transferred to state governments, Army seeks compensation of Rs 1 lakh crore (http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-dna-exclusive-indian-army-wants-money-for-its-land-2622820). This will be sweet music to public but factually not one paisa will come to the Army. If at all it haopens, it will be simple book debit as happened for decades in the past when state governments were supposed to pay expenses for military employed in ‘Aid to Civil Authority’. Defence Estates in conjunction politicians and land mafia will grab more and more defence land, encouraged, empowered and led by Sitharaman.
Why would Sitharaman be concerned about security of cantonments when she is not even bothered about welfare of troops and families, though she announced welfare would be her focus, in addition to ‘Make in India’ when she took over as RM. She has already told Parliament MoD will not withdraw legal cases against disabled soldiers even as Supreme Court lambasted MoD twice within 20 days for blocking disability pension of soldiers, imposing a fine of Rs 1,00,000 on both occasions. Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) has rebuked MoD for not compensating an officer who lost a leg and an eye in 1960s. So, MoD is now busy acting to curtail the powers of the AFT and has hired 10 lawyers being paid Rs 2 lakh each (from defence budget) to fight against disabled, war veterans and widows.
Vibes from inner circle of BJP assess current political scenario making BJP edgy is engineered by bureaucrats who detest Modi’s CEO-type functioning and fear he might go after them. More perhaps after MoS (Defence) pointed out to Modi that MoD bureaucrats were stumbling block in his pet ‘Make in India’ project, being grossly unaccountable. But then Modi Government must take blame for failing to undertake administrative reforms. There is another angle why the government is bent upon emancipation of the military; placing them even below the police and CAPF. Where Subramnyan Swamy tweets Chidambaram ‘honey-trapped’ three bureaucrats whose details he knows, imagine how many MoD-PMO bureaucrats could be aligned with or under blackmail by foreign agencies / anti-national organizations. The illegal accumulation of wealth by bureaucrats too is perhaps at par, if not more than politicians, but not much action has been taken against them beyond retiring them.
The nation was surprised when Amarsariya was handed over two important ministries of Finance and Defence. The diktat that necessitated this was talked in hushed tones but obfuscated by saying PM Modi being new to Delhi, required old hand to guide him in Parliament. But what about Modi’s experience in matters military and defence. In February 2014, Modi had gone on record to say that traders are braver than army jawans (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55d2-aLvqOA). As CM of Gujarat, Modi also established the ‘National Defence University of Gujarat’, meant only for police; it was renamed ‘Raksha Shakti University (RSU) of Gujarat’ just two years back and still has nothing to do with military. That Gujarat hardly contributes towards Army manpower is a fact even today. All the more reason, Modi as PM should have reorganized MoD, replaced it with a Department of Defence (DoD) largely manned by military professionals (like he replaced Planning Commission with Niti Ayog), and commandeered professional military advisors. Ironically, that did not happen and he possibly was negatively advised to humiliate and downgraded the Armed Forces to keep them under check. All such actions including the unwarranted police action could not have been without the express sanction of Modi himself. Unfortunately, the NSA who is Modi’s right hand and an Army officer’s son did nothing to stem the rot with his allegiance to the police; he spoke at police academy, it is the police that will be doing the fighting, not the Army. Then you have Rajyavardhan Rathore stating veterans at JM are aligned with Pakistan, which amounts to spitting at the uniform he once wore, especially after the good time he enjoyed in Army.
It is not veterans alone who write about degradation of military. Nalin Mehta wrote that BJP’s ‘Victory Marches’ through cantonments must stop. Incidentally, there were also slogans raised of ‘Durga Mata Nirmala Sitharaman Ki Jai’ at places – small mercies they didn’t shout ‘Sita Maiya’ Sitharaman Ki Jai, least her own party colleagues dub her ‘test-tube baby’. The sad part was not comment by Sitharaman about these victory marches. Bikram Vohra has advised Modi not to allow alienation of Armed Forces, and to address long list of grievances swiftly (https://www.firstpost.com/india/narendra-modi-must-not-allow-alienation-of-armed-forces-long-list-of-grievances-must-be-addressed-swiftly-4493663.html), adding the “outrage is real” and “even the army chief is not spared”. “The world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people but because of the silence of good people”, said Napolean. The situation has come to a point that while Service Chiefs remain mum, the military is being subjected to politico-bureaucratic terrorism, hitting at the very ethos of soldiers.
The mafia could suggest many options; throttle those who write against the government, cooking up offences being no problem; eliminate veterans at JM by orchestrating terror attack, followed by shedding crocodile tears, ceremonial funerals – end of story. But there is saner option too. Having gone around in circles in J&K past years, if government is back to reaching out to Hurriyat who have been on ISI payroll for decades and in no way are going to change track, how about reaching out to the veterans sitting at JM for over 1070 days. In sharp contrast to Hurriyat, these gentleman of all ranks have given their blood and sweat for the nation and will continue remain loyal. Amit Shah is too big a gun for that, Sitharaman may resign if asked to do so, but how about some low-level politician doing such ‘Sampark for Samarthan’. After all this ‘sampark’ is for garnering votes, even as veterans are just 3.3 million but each of the veteran can perhaps garner 20 votes. As someone said poll-mathematics are fine, but it is chemistry that wins elections. The question is which option Modi will choose. The defence is in extremely poor state and Sitharaman’s actions are wholly anti-Armed Forces, as may be seen from the above. The requirement is to go for concerted and speedy corrective actions, not empty promises and working the opposite.
Government / MoD is not fooling anyone with boasts like AI (Artificial Intelligence) will be optimized in Armed Forces, while the complete set of operational information systems (OIS) in the Army are stymied and an important system like the Battlefield Management System (BMS) pursued for 13 years has been foreclosed because of lack of funds. How do you deploy and use AI-enabled platforms without OIS? The long gestation of the BMS was because of the unaccountable and inefficient DRDO in synch with MoD’s matching qualities. Now that the private sector had invested so much in it, the project is foreclosed? Yes, the blame can be put on the Army, but where is the money? Does Sitharaman and her bunch of bureaucrats understand what is being talked about? And, she says there is no dearth of money? Wuhan or no Wuhan, it is time we start taking defence seriously least we suffer another setback.
If Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was Army Chief, he would have simple responded to Sitharaman’s order to grant free-access to 62 Cantonments thus, “Sweety, you going to withdraw that order, or you want me to put up my resignation?” Service Chiefs need to consider following:
- When the bureaucracy was forcing monetary allowance in lieu of rations, General Krishna Rao told the Defence Minister he would resign if that was forced. He understood that money loses value fast and for every paisa revision, the bureaucracy will fight tooth and nail. The bureaucrats backed out and free rations were granted in kind.
- During the Bofors controversy, Defence Minister held a press conference with Army Chief Sunderji sitting by his side. When questioned by media, Sundarji said Bofors is a good gun, but when asked about the price, he replied pricing is not the job of the Army, please ask the Defence Minister.
- The manner in which the 62 military cantonments have been given free public access today was also tried by the then DGDE in 1997 but on advice of General VP Malik, Defence Minister Mulayam Singh ruled it out and directed that instead construction of roads bypassing cantonments and flyovers be examined. Mulayam’s directions were deliberately glossed over.
- Again in 2001, DGDE Veena Moitra projected the case for providing free-access to cantonments but was strongly opposed by all three Service Chiefs led by General Padmanabhan. Defence Minister George Fernades recognized the threat to the Cantonments and overruled the demand for free access to cantonments.
Above are just few examples but what is happening these days:
- Government employs police to beat up military veterans of all three services at JM peacefully sitting in their regimental caps and medals. They are manhandled, their medals and gallantry awards are snatched by policemen and there is not even a squeak from the three blind mice (read Service Chiefs). At least a statement could have been issued that what has happened is bad because wards of some of those being lathi-charged are serving in the military and watching the cussed spectacle on electronic and social media.
- Three Service Chiefs opposed implementation of 7th CPC till anomalies removed, so the wily bureaucrats wait for them to retire and the next lot meekly accepts implementation. The cover that anomalies would be addressed separately is no excuse because MoD has not resolved scores of anomalies since the 3rd CPC.
- None of the Service Chiefs objected to the issue of Special Army / Navy / Air Force instruction forcing implementation of 7th CPC where the prerogative to issue such instructions are that of the concerned Service HQ, not of MoD.
- Is there any other country in the world where FIRs are lodged against army personnel by the police for doing the work of the police in which it had failed in the first place?
- Why does a Chief have to justify the pricing of Rafael?
As regards, ordering free access to all cantonments, it is quite evident Sitharaman is unconcerned about security of the men, material and families inside; under the garb of inconvenience to public the agenda for garnering votes and grabbing defence land has been pursued – BJP’s victory marches and Sitharaman empowering the Defence Estates over the Armed Forces is proof enough. She has also succeeded in creating a divide between the civilians and the Armed Forces. But what about the Service Chiefs, and the Army Chief in particular? The security of cantonments is their responsibility, not politicians for whom lives are expendable. Even if the military was not consulted, these orders should have been objected to, unless Chiefs thought their predecessors (quoted above) were fools. No need to duck behind the excuse it is only 30-day trial. See the inset 14-year old lying comatose, multiples of which can happen in the so-called trial period. Unless Chiefs find their tongues, this trial period will go on extending with elections coming, and finally end up as permanent vulnerability. The ‘three bags full’ policy must end before more damage is done and ground level discontent goes through the roof.
Free-access to cantonments must stop, for which Chiefs must take up strongly and prevail upon the government. But beyond this, given the present state of generation, Chiefs may find it difficult to locate their spines. Yet, there is a magic wand that Chiefs haven’t found the courage to use till now – votes, which politicians drool for. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that all soldiers can vote wherever they are posted. This was on initiative of Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who also heads the Flags of Honour Foundation, taking up the issue with Election Commission, eventually securing the SC judgment. This judgment gives total power to the 1.4 million strong Armed Forces. The Service Chief in concert Election Commission must ensure that every soldier exercises his franchise in coming elections, though politicians abhor soldiers voting because it upsets their caste-creed calculations. Logically, voting in Armed Forces should be compulsory but if the Service Chiefs are scared of displeasing their political masters all they have to do is signal to their commands to carry on with the voting; being fundamental right and approved by the SC no higher approvals are required anyway.