The RSS-BJP’s penchant for hypocrisy remains unsurpassed, and nothing brings this out better than what they say and what they actually make the Army personnel do.
The Union Minister for Defence Nirmala Sitharaman admitted that “probably for the first time the Army has been called in to take up and complete a civil job”, while announcing the decision of the Union government to ask Army engineers to construct footbridges at Elphinstone Road Suburban Train station, Currey Road station and Ambivilli stations in Mumbai.
A month before, the same minister had announced during a visit to Kashmir that the Prime Minister’s Office “desired” that high-altitude areas and operational areas be cleared of litter/garbage left behind by the Indian tourists as part of “Swachhata Abhiyan” (cleanliness drive) of the RSS-BJP government.
Coming in the wake of orders to the Army to assist ‘Sarkari Godman’ Sri Sri Ravishankar’s environmentally disastrous “world cultural festival” on the banks of river Yamuna, the RSS-BJP government is showing what they actually mean when they claim that it is under their rule that the Army shed its “softness” and “lack of aggression” to undertake so-called “surgical strike” and praised the RSS antecedents of government leaders for making this happen.
Thus, when the RSS-BJP government wants every Indian to emulate the armed forces, showering praises on them for commission of crimes, such as when Major Leetul Gogoi used Farooq Ahmed Dar as human shield and tied him to the jeep for more than seven hours, their rather low opinion of the Armed Forces becomes evident.
The battle over One Rank One Pension (OROP), the pleading and constant reminders that these ex-soldiers served and did what was asked of them, the fact that they had to come out on the streets and were attacked by Delhi Police at the behest of the Union government, which also refused to condemn the police for attacking ex-servicemen, made some of them realise that they were no different than other working people who too face repression when they agitate against their employers.
They remain mere pawns in the government’s game. As “faujis” they were assured that they are a class apart from the civilians. The fight over entitlements which soldiers feel they ought to get and the long drawn-out struggle to get them, their frustration at seeing the government contest their demand for Non-Functional Upgradation for officers as done for the Grade ‘A’ civil officers, and the lowering of their status vis-a-vis civil administration, have certainly politicised them. Pleading, demanding, protesting, negotiating, facing brute force of the police, arrested at midnight, tortured in custody, slapped with criminal charges, what else does all this suggest but harassment and humiliation? So the sense of dishonour, being slighted, their services being belittled, and that they are now being made to do menial tasks rankle most of them.
If the government is concerned over armed forces losing their “esteem”, as former ‘Pracharak’ Manohar Parrikar once opined, because they have not “fought any war” lately, then one wonders if it is this government’s way of shoring up the esteem by making soldiers clear garbage, assist “Godmen” and build footbridges
Veterans smarting under these moves have likened it to raising a “Kachra division”.
What is intriguing is the fact that serving senior officers, including the army chief, accepted whatever the government demanded of them. It is a commonly held view that since armed forces come under civilian control, they have to obey whatever civilian authorities demand of them. However, as Charles Bancroft, military historian and considered an authority on Carl von Clausewitz had cautioned, “politicians must not attempt to use instrument of war to achieve purposes for which it is unsuited. It is the responsibility of military leaders to ensure that the political leadership understands the character and limitation of the military instrument.”
If military leaders fail to make the government leaders understand the pitfalls of using the armed forces as first responder for everything that goes wrong, or not objecting to their prolonged use in wars at home, then they too must share the blame for becoming willing partners in degradation of armed forces.
But what is unequivocally true is the BJP’s narrative that only under its rule have the armed forces regained their honour is a fraudulent claim. A government which belittles ex-servicemen by denying them OROP, opposes Non-Functional Upgradation for military officers which Grade ‘A’ civil administration officers enjoy, ranks them lower than their civilian counterparts in status and seniority, and orders them to carry out menial tasks, revels only in hypocrisy.
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