‘‘Chinks In The Armour’’

Military Nationalism

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

Since May 2014, the people of India, got awakened to a hitherto unheard of interpretation of Nationalism. The essence of this hateful patriotism is hostility to the people of Kashmir, and the State of Pakistan in general. With this is correlated the glorification of the Army personnel, who are now engaged in warfare with country's own citizens, which is not their job.

The social media sites, as Siachen and Kashmir provide the steady supply of Martyrs, galore with the Corpses, their wailing young wives, blank helpless faces of minor children, not so much to draw sympathy for the brave or the bereaved, but to invoke antipathy to the killers. There is no problem with the glorification of the Military, every country, being Nation states, sets immense store by the valour and sacrifice of the Militia, and makes the forces the vehicle of patriotic exuberance. Indian Military, in spite of all handicaps of inputs and infrastructure, have always proved to be loyal soldiers in guarding the borders, as well as rendering rescue or relief operations in time of internal disaster or emergency.

There have been a lot of criticism on the role of the Army, in Kashmir and in North East, but for those aberrations they are not to blame. The responsibility rests with the authorities who employ them in such duties as normally do not belong to their domain. They are ruthlessly discharging their duties, by dealing the local residents, who are essentially Indian Citizens, as if they were foreign intruders and insurgents en masse.

The rank file joins the forces from remote areas, and mostly from poor background, and they can go to any length for the sake of assigned duties, as the job is most important for them. They are posted in most difficult terrains, do not get leaves, stay without families for years together. During the training and even afterwards, they are treated like animals by the higher ups, who use their services even as domestic helps. They do not get proper diet, proper medical care, and becomes mostly introverts or hypers psychologically, with a pronounced trend of ruthlessness in character.

Another important feature is that Indian Forces are headed by the President as the Chief of the Staff, and since 1947, they have never showed any interest in active Politics, unlike their counterparts in neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Pakistan or Bangladesh. But the empowering with Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and setting them against domestic threats to the state, put them in the center of dangerous political controversy. This has been sharpened by the exhortations of Ex-Servicemen cum RSS ultra-loud speaker like Major General Bakshi and PM Modi himself, who kick-started his Election Campaign with an Ex-Servicemen rally at Rewari in Haryana on 15th September 2013, with a basket of promises.

Now, why this vague sympathy waves for these hapless poor? Well, this is also a part of the total hypocrisy of the present Neo Liberal authoritarian dispensation. In the pretext of the glorification, they are planning to downsize and strip the forces of the existing facilities even.

Curiously after the Election and capture of Power in May 2014, Modi became mute spectator to the trampling of the demands of the Forces, by Bureaucracy, in the name of fiscal prudence. And the Nationalist political party, sympathetic to their cause of Rationalisation of Pension, took an U-turn like many other topics and unleashed the police on protesting veterans in 2015. Their expectations on Pay and Pension were belied. After lots of vascillation, a distorted version of 'One Rank One Pension' (OROP) was announced in November 2015. Contrary to the agenda of Annual review and revision, the government fixed parity and equalisation once in every five years. The officers who sought premature retirement after completion of mandatory pensionable service, of 20 years, were precluded, but later the government relented to the extent of including those who retired till the date of the notification, but denied to the future premature retirement optees. In this connection, it may be noted due to the hazards of the job, and family reasons, a considerable section of the servicemen are compelled to opt for premature retirement. The practice of mandatory absorption of such retirees in public sector undertakings like Banks etc. has already been discontinued. As per latest available information, the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations will be reflected in the month of August salary for central government employees, but not for the military personnel. According to military sources, their new salaries are yet to be notified as the notification implementing the Seventh Pay Commission has not yet been issued by the Defence Ministry. This is because the three service eliiefs have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar seeking their intervention to fix the anomalies expressed by the military which remain unaddressed despite several representations to the empowered committee and assurances from Mr Parrikar. The key demands of the services include Non Functional Upgrade, NFU pay fixation, Military Service Pay (MSP) and common pay matrix for civil and military.

The attack on the dignity of the forces did not end here. The latest Seventh Pay Commission further enraged the community. The government conveniently ignored the old grievance of the servicemen on the issue of "non functional upgradation" (NFU), which is enjoyed by the group A central services. On 12/09/16, the Defence Minister had an interface with the Chiefs of Forces and requested them to implement the Pay Commission recommendations immediately. The seething rage of the Armymen is manifested through Media, and the social media in particular. It may also be taken note of at this point that, the difficult area posting related "hazards allowance" enjoyed by those posted in Siachen glacier is less than the IAS cadres posted in North East or the Andaman Nicobar islands. The assault on the Armed Forces is only a prelude to a greater 'neo liberal agenda' of clipping the wings and downsizing it by mercinarisation of the forces further. How? It is argued that almost 60% of the defence budget is spent on manpower costs. The food supply and acquisition cost is 16%. Examples of government's fiscal mismanagements are also used, like other sectors, in cost factor analysis of Armed Forces also. In the face of rising OROP agitation government came out with figures to prove that the burden of pensions was too huge for the government to bear (they had no idea before the Election), it showed that military pension budget only is Rs 75000 crore, which is higher than the combined budget of the Navy and Air Force. The argument against OROP was that the implementation would hamper the military modernisation, making less money available for buying equipments from foreign vendors.

So, three Neo Liberal research papers have been prepared and submitted. 1) Ajay Shukla, "pressing the reset button in MOD" (published in Business Standard 26th May 2016), 2) Bhupendra Kumar Singh "Rightsizing India's Armed Forces: Problems and Prospects" (published in Eurasia Review, 29th June 2016), 3) Sandeep Unnithan "Chinks in the Armour" published in India Today,11th September 2016).

The sum and substance of the all these lengthy researches, which are under active consideration of the government, is outsourcing and privatisation of Forces, its personnel and infrastructure. The experiment started with V K Singh, the present Union Minister, who, as the Chief of the Eastern Command, outsourced some essential services. The point No One is the redundancy of the existing domestic defence production units, which can hardly cope with the present day sophisticated technological expectations. So, either modernise by FDI, in case such FDI is not coming slowly dismantle them. In developed countries like USA and UK, Private Military Corporations (PMC) concept is already working. So the same thing may be implemented here also. In present day, the warfare is highly technology driven, the necessity of foot soldiers are diminishing. In an age of automation, Drones, unmanned aircrafts, guided missiles which can strike any difficult target anywhere, so less is the requirement of core combatants, once the role of combatants is replaced by high technology equipments and gadgets installed by foreign suppliers, maintenance and other routine jobs will also be taken care of by them, the need of running Govt. owned manufacturing and assembly workshops, are no longer required.

Now, the establishment of Forces, have been classified in two sub divisions. One is core combatants, the foot soldiers, and the various trade and service providers. Now the allied service providers like the food and dress or Uniform or logistic supply is integrated with military services. The personnel involved in trades like barbars, cobblers, cooks, washermen, drivers, logistics supply and upkeep, are also parts of service personnel, They are trained with the personnel so as to make them ready for services in the combat force, in time of emergency. Similarly, Engineers, Technicians, Doctors, Nurses, etc. also form part of the Military forces. But proposals are being mooted to segregate these allied services and trades from core Military establishment, so as to minimise pay and pension loads. Private Military Corporations may be initiated to provide these facilities to the Military. All these ideas are still in the papers, but in the pipeline waiting for implementation, stage by stage.

Lastly, India has already entered into a logistics sharing treaty (Logistic Support Agreement–USA) with USA, whereby the critical Military establishments are thrown open to their free use, so the role of National force in country's defence will be not that much required. The main reason for privatising the defence support services, first to bail out the debt ridden Indian Cronies, second to facilitate the entry of multi national PMCs from USA or UK, to Indian shores. The 100% FDI, in the defence sector leaves little scope for Indian Industries to hone their manufacturing skills The Capital expenditure would thus fatten the foreign manufacturers. Indian Companies that have capacity to provide support services to combat formations, are likely to be biggest gainers.

That the armed forces need to avoid wasteful expenditure, cannot be denied, but to do away with their roles and missions to foreign or indigenous corporations, is not going to be helpful, or rather a direct assault, on the dignity of the Forces, and a threat to the sovereignty and sanctity of the Nation State. So, in the last analysis, it transpires that, like all other topics, the Nationalist pride and celebration of the valour of the personnel, is fraught with sheer hypocrisy, and sham. One thing must be made clear that private profit motive cannot go hand in hand with the spirit of patriotism, which demands unconditional dedication to the Nation, and selfless sacrifice for the countrymen.

Vol. 49, No.17, Oct 30 - Nov 5, 2016