Monday, April 22, 2013
What ails Veterans?
(Note: Some of the suggestions here are against my own emotions. To be of value, our judgement must be based on sound rationale and logic, not emotions).
Issues like ‘One Rank One Pension’ (OROP), rank pay, and persistent denial of their dues in a murky environment of bureaucratic machinations have left the Veterans distraught. What is even more frustrating is that wherever the judgements given by the Armed Forces Tribunal are in favour of the soldiers – serving or retired, the government has either ignored compliance or gone in appeal thereby denying justice to the veterans and/or serving soldiers. In such a regime the problem is not these ‘issues’, it is the invisible issue of a serious ‘disconnect’ that needs to be addressed urgently.
At the Veterans’ Seminar held at the imposing Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantt on 17 Apr 2013, the Army Chief, Gen Bikram Singh was candid, forthright and appeared genuinely concerned about the problem and, as he assured us all there, he is actively pursuing the matter in a soldierly style without seeking publicity. Veterans could become a force multiplier for the Chiefs to lend support to their Cause more effectively. We also need to understand that it would be highly inappropriate for any Service Chief to associate himself in any manner with ESM organisations with political overtones and record of uncivil, un-soldierly misdemeanours.
Here are some suggestions on how Veterans can garner support and respect for their Cause from our Chiefs and most parts of our society, government and judiciary.
Need for a Paradigm Shift.
Some harsh realities and hard facts are:-
(a) In Democracy, Military shall take orders from the Civilian Authority. Politicians, no doubt, constitute the Government but ‘governance’ is carried out through ‘Civil Services’.
(b) Unfortunately – sorry, perhaps ‘fortunately’ – neither the politicians nor the bureaucrats in our country have much knowledge about military capabilities, limitations and requirements. This makes the Service Chiefs truly indispensable in matters of national defence and security. There is a need to foster goodwill, trust and cooperation to mitigate and iron out distrust, rivalry and confrontation at all levels of civil-military relations. Measures could be devised to plug in this vacant space of ignorance and be counted.
(c) There is no point debating that ‘civilian control’ implies ‘political and not bureaucratic’ in a scenario where the whole nation cries hoarse against politicians meddling with the police and civil administration. Perhaps blurred lines could come handy for a sagacious military leadership to create an appropriate working environment that will turn confrontation into cooperation.
Criticism pays, Emotion betrays.
Objective criticism backed by logic, reasoning and irrefutable evidence is an art and armour of the civilised. Intemperate, uncivil, abusive language and emotional outbursts are the traits and credentials of the lowly – eg, street urchins, criminals and prostitutes. Flurry of mails loaded with expletives, each dirtier than the other, might be giving orgasmic pleasure but deflates the punch in our argument besides showing us in poor light.
Then there are some very well meaning, respectable veterans too who proudly flaunt their audaciousness in writing impolitely to the President, Ministers and Editors of Newspapers and circulating them by mass mailing. Firstly, such communications are never put up to the addressed dignitaries for these very reasons. Secondly, even when such communication is put up, its crunch contents are first highlighted and commented upon in an accompanying Minute by a Babu already packed with hostile attitude against the veteran class. Our angry/emotional outbursts thus come handy to him for such highlighting and adverse comments/recommendations.
Image, Esteem, Honour, Izzet
Our image is what the mirror shows; and I am proud ours is still the most loved and admired in our society despite our own doings in tarnishing it in the recent years. Embellishments like image, honour, esteem, izzet et al were never showered upon us by any Government. No power on the Earth, no angel from the Heavens can bestow these intangibles upon us. Nowhere is ‘honour’ served on plate. There is neither a ‘giver’ nor ‘usurper’ in such a dispensation unless we are confusing ‘honour’ with the material largesse. Our ancestors earned izzet and honour by sacrificing, abiding discipline, humility and self-denial in conduct. We have brought ourselves down by concentrating only around three of us – I, me and mine.
The most talked about topics among the serving officers are postings, promotion boards, ACRs, course grading; or golf, single malts and visits, if it is huddle of seniors. As for the veterans, each RWA meeting, Club AGM ends up in verbal duels, accusations and humiliating name-calling with scant respect for the elder and senior. And lo, we demand izzet from the Government and the Public!
Strategy needs Change
Perhaps we have created confusion in the public mind by mixing up our image with others in protesting, slogan shouting and rallying much in the same manner as do our politicians and quota demanding caste/clan leaders. The fact that no veterans rally has been huge enough to have coercive effect on the political establishment proves that the idea of street-shouting has not found many takers in our own camaraderie. Nor did the ‘medal depositing’ ritual evoke any response. And why would it? What do we mean by ‘depositing’? The intent of the depositor was implicit: ‘I am returning only this metal, not the benefits that came with it.’ The whole exercise became an object of ridicule.
We need to review our strategy. Some ideas are here, more are needed from fertile brains of many strategists among us:-
(a) Broaden the Cause by espousing larger public issues to enlist willing support of more sections of the society. Today’s soldier is tomorrow’s veteran. Soldiers draw motivation from their elders and, therefore, problems of the veterans are bound to affect fighting efficiency of the Forces.
(b) Raise the tempo of the debate enlisting support from outside as well in a regime where noise and number matters more than anything else.
(c) Shielding the ‘Military’ from the civilian public in name of security has harmed us all. The civilian view of the Army is limited to what they see at the Republic Day parade besides a skewed perception of ‘subsidised’ groceries, free rations and ‘unlimited, cheap’ foreign liquor. If only they knew about what deprivations and hazards we go through! They need to know their Military’s capabilities, requirements, hazardous operating environments in areas where no camera teams dare shoot.
(d) Unite in Solidarity. We are divided in two ways. One, there are over 200 Ex-Servicemen organisations each claiming to be more genuine than the other and thus creating more fissures and animosities through internecine wrangles. Two, these are all headed by officers – perhaps inspired by our own culture of rank based command structure in the service. This model has disillusioned a larger and more crucial number in our strength – our retired JCOs/OR. We need to integrate them by according due respect and concern to them.
(e) Let others talk about us! Imagine the impact, credibility and appeal of veterans’ issues being raised by civilians rather than us seeking for ourselves. Of course, this will have to be planned and orchestrated diligently from behind the scene.
(f) Integrate PMFs and those retired bureaucrats who are above the ‘civil-military rivalry.’ Let us be honest, there are some very honest and dedicated IAS officers who are fighting their lonely battles and going through hell in their own system. We must invite and honour such stalwarts in the otherwise corrupt and callous system.
(g) Lastly, a point of caution: the farther we remain from ‘politics’, the better it is. Our strength of 2.3 million veterans deeply divided in their political leanings and widely dispersed all over make a tiny insignificant entity dissolved in a milieu of 1.2 billion. Unlike other regional groupings, we are not a ‘constituency’ that could make a difference even regionally. Only in Punjab and Haryana they might help in achieving minor swings provided they unite for voting - which is highly unlikely though.
‘The Indian Ex-Services League’ (IESL)
Founded by our most adored heroes like Gen KS Thimayya, DSO and Field Marshal KM Cariappa, OBE, the IESL is the oldest Ex-Servicemen organisation officially recognised by the Government of India. It is also the most organised and headquartered in dignified premises in at 9, Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi with State units in all states giving it a pan India reach. Welfare of ex-servicemen and all related issues like OROP, Rank Pay, Rehabilitation, Status etc could be better planned, orchestrated and presented to receptive government authorities if all of us were to rally around and lend support to the League which enjoys unquestioned credibility and appeal all over.
Presently, Lt Gen Balbir Singh Yadav (Retd) is the President of IESL. I have known him as a competent and daring leader, a man of frugal habits, unimpeachable integrity, a teetotaller, most affable and selflessly dedicated to the Cause of veterans and war widows. Also, he has never been involved in any controversy and continues to command universal respect even after retirement.
Let me also declare here that I am neither a member of the IESL Governing Council nor in any way an interested party in the Organisation’s affairs. It is purely my own assessment from a neutral standpoint as a Veteran that rallying around with an organisation like IESL might enable us to present and pursue our case better in courts, government and media.