Saturday, August 29, 2015

OROP - Explaining Whites n Pinks!

OROP Resolution & Future
Brigadier Vijay Raheja, Veteran

Post publication of certain tables in an article on One Rank One Pension (OROP) in a recent edition of India Today, have gone through the source, which has been in circulation in the form of a Draft Government of India Letter (DGL); for over a year. The fact that such a letter exists makes it amply clear that same came into being after due deliberations between Ministry of Defence and stake holders, ie   Service Headquarters and representatives of Ex-Servicemen.
Perusal of DGL brings to fore the intricate detailing and clear mindset aimed at resolving anomalies.
Present Imbroglio and Solutions.
It is not my aim to reinvent the wheel and as such have no intention of starting with definition of OROP on which it is assumed that there is total clarity. Let me therefore come straight to cause(s) that have led to the predicament and then on to painstaking efforts on part of Ministry of Defence and Service Headquarters to resolve matters.
It is concomitant effect of ‘bunching’; a concept followed by successive pay commissions that creates a divide in serving personnel, when people in same rank, having different number years of service are given a fixed starting salary. With subsequent promotions and years of service differential largely gets ironed out since every rank has a top of the scale – however few anomalies do arise. Typical example would be a person retiring on last day of the month, before  increment due month as against his colleague, who has same number of years of service retiring a month later, but with an increment – such cases would be far and few. Coming to pensioners the fixation is at the lowest end of the rank band, irrespective of years of service and hence the need of OROP and periodic review. A stage will come, as and when top of scale is reached for each rank there would be no change in pensions and therefore the misnomer of a 3% increase each year needs to be dispelled. Periodic review would be required to resolve anomalies that may arise, with marginal financial impact.
Adequate safe guards have been inbuilt in DGL to ensure equitable treatment to one and all. Some note worthy measures are enumerated.
To begin with calculation of service rendered for officers who have been promoted from ranks has been brought on an even keel; being different earlier for pre 1986 and pre 1967 commissioned officers. It is now total service from date of enrollment till date of retirement; thereby ensuring same pension to all retirees with number of years of service criteria.
Next it has been ensured that All Honorary Nb Sub, Modified Career Progression Scheme (MACP) Nb Sub and equivalents are granted pension of Nb Sub. Similarly any change/improvement in Hony Lt/Capt and equivalent shall be applicable to regular commissioned officers in ranks of Lt and Capt and equivalent ranks, if it is more beneficial.
As a consequence of introduction of time bound ranks (i.e. up to the rank of Colonel and equivalent), it is proposed that for past pensioners who retired before 16 Dec 2004 i.e. before time period for promotions was reduced, years of service will only be relevant and  table for  higher rank be taken into consideration to determine pension of such retirees.
Finally, a safety clause,  to protect existing  pensioners, has been included  wherein any changes in policy regarding pay or promotion which affect pay/pension of future pensioners, shall also be passed on to the past pensioners
Hopefully, anomalous situation created due to bunching, as suggested by earlier Pay Commission Panels will change. Needless to say that painstaking efforts must have been put in by Service Headquarters to project what is best; as also point out anomalies created over the years to Seventh Pay Commission Panel. In addition, Panel Members have not only travelled over the country and interacted with veterans, but have visited far and remote areas to see working conditions of our troops. Add to this, as someone said, “Aborted Pensions of defence personnel as against Fully Matured Pensions of Civilians” am sure things are bound to change for the Soldier

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

OROP - Time is running out - The Government must Act Fast!

Dear Readers,

BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have all through been most supportive of the military needs. Even before coming to power, Modi had carved out his own niche of trust and camaraderie with the military personnel and the Ex-servicemen (ESM).  They are now, however, puzzled at the undue delay in implementing the OROP (One Rank One Pension) despite the unambiguous assurance given by the Prime Minister at various occasions including his declaration at Siachen Glacier on the eve of Diwali last year. The ESM (2.5 million) are now unhappy and suspect that the Babudom is misleading the Government on the issue of OROP which has been unequivocally been endorsed and approved by the Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister himself. 

The PM declared on Aug 15 that the Govt had saved Rs 15000 cr in gas subsidy after enforcing direct credit system within last one year. It is also officially understood that 40% of food security bill (Rs 2.27 lakh crore this year) is intercepted by corrupt officials and never reaches the target beneficiaries. If this corrupt practice is reduced just by 10%, it will result in annual savings of more than Rs 23000 crore annually keeping the recurring budgetary increases in view. There is also enough scope to cut non-plan government expenditures in many other areas including unduly bloating perks and privileges of MPs and ministers.

The OROP bill has been estimated to be between Rs 8000 cr to Rs 9000 cr. Even if the Govt goes by the highly exaggerated estimates (Rs 12000 cr) being paraded in some media columns, it can still be easily funded from the aforesaid savings.

It is, therefore, abundantly clear that OROP is no extra financial burden on the national exchequer and the payout is very much feasible from within the available resources with the Govt. There is enormous money that needs to be raked in by cutting down the unnecessary "burdens" like subsidies, corruption, black money, rationalization of expenses in high offices and curtailing VVIP culture.
It is reliably learnt that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is fully convinced on the legitimacy and feasibility of clearing OROP soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been all through inclined to clear the OROP and is also learnt to have ordered the Fin Min to tune in and remove all "technical hurdles" in the way without any further delay.

The QUESTION, however, remains: When is OROP going to be implemented? Lingering wait is dangerous as irate ESM go on Fast unto Death. There have been occasional threats of self-immolation and hanging from the trees at Jantar Mantar. How long will organisers succeed in dissuading ex soldiers and families of martyrs from taking these extreme steps? Even from within the Services, there are gloomy signals of simmering resentment and restlessness among the serving soldiers as well.

The time is running out. The Government must act fast.

Just heard about Col Pushpinder Singh's worsening condition in ICU.  I pray for his recovery back to good health.  I would also implore all others on 'Fast unto Death' to break their fast and await Government decision which hopefully should come soon.    

Best regards,
Karan Kharb
कर्ण खर्ब
उत्कर्ष The Turning Point 
(A Leadership Development Initiative)
Mob: +91 9818047092
Modi should ignore the naysayers on OROP - 
including the Fin Min

(R Jagannathan, published in 'First Post', Aug 24, 2015 12:34  IST)

If there is a worse way to handle a sensitive issue like OROP - one-rank-one-pension for the defence forces - I am yet to hear about it. The BJP has messed up big time on an issue that is not only very close to its own heart, but one that is long overdue.

Morally, politically and economically, Narendra Modi is making a serious mistake by unconscionably delaying OROP. Most arguments used against OROP are misleading, if not plain wrong.

First, when the previous government had already made a commitment on OROP and the then prime ministerial candidate had promised a full commitment to it in his election campaign, there was no way the decision could have been avoided. The only question that needed to be decided was when the scheme would be implemented and how OROP entitlements will be calculated. Two months was the maximum required after May 2014 for OROP to come into force.

Second, OROP affects the BJP's strongest constituency - the armed forces. As a nationalistic party, the BJP has drawn a disproportionate share of activists and politicians from the ex-servicemen's constituency - and this constituency is huge. The defence forces have 1.3 million serving personnel, another 1.2 million reservists, and many millions of ex-servicemen. And we are not even talking of other paramilitary forces like the NSG, the Assam Rifles, the Special Frontier Force and armed central policing forces like the CRPF, which has over 230 battalions of its own. Add them all and the numbers will surely double at least to around six million.If we assume an average household size of five people per serving or retired defence jawan or officer, we are talking of close to 25-30 million people who will gain from OROP now or in the future. Can the BJP mess around with the futures of such a large constituency?

Third, there is the economic argument. The finance ministry under Arun Jaitley would surely have argued that the fiscal deficit will go for a toss if OROP is implemented this year. But the cost of OROP is reckoned at anything between Rs 8,000-12,000 crore, depending on who you include and how you calculate the rate of pension. This amount would be less than one-tenth the food subsidy, where in fact 40 percent goes to the wrong people. It needs the government to only reduce food subsidy wastage by 10 percent to pay for OROP.

Even assuming the real payout will be twice as large, assuming we include all military and paramilitary personnel, including CRPF, we are talking Rs 25,000 crore. A big amount, no doubt, but not unaffordable to a government committed to cleaning up the wasteful subsidy system. Half the savings have already accrued from cleaning up the LPG subsidy system with the direct cash payments scheme.

An honest approach to the problem of fiscal deficit would have been a simple statement from the government that OROP will be implemented in two stages, with 50 percent of the target -ex-servicemen (the lowest-paid) being eligible from this year, and the other from next year. Alternatively, we could have covered all people upto 75 percent of OROP entitlements this year and 100 percent next year.

To have ex-servicemen on hunger-strike and a minister and former army chief's daughter backing their cause is a public relations disaster for the Prime Minister.

In any case, if the real issue is only the impact on central finances, there is also the counter-argument: when consumption demand in the economy is weak and business is not investing, a higher payment to ex-servicemen may be just the pep consumption demand needs.

It is an established fact that whenever public sector pay rises after the implementation of pay commission recommendations (the next pay commission's recommendations will have to be implemented from next year), consumer demand picks up and growth revives. In an economy that wants to raise its growth momentum and jobs, what can be better than an additional Rs 10,000-20,000 crore in the hands of consumers, thanks to OROP? And remember, higher demand leads to higher tax revenues from increased economic activity and hence lowers the fiscal deficit after a lag.

The economic argument against accepting OROP is thus weak. On the contrary, by sanctioning OROP our defence personnel will not only be defending our border better but also our economy.

The Prime Minister is probably getting bad advice from his finance ministry on OROP. He should over-rule them and announce OROP before Rahul Gandhi turns up at an ex-serviceman's home and offers fake sympathies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Needed: A Paradigm Shift in J&K

Karan Kharb

                Pakistan proxies and the separatists in Kashmir suddenly seem encouraged and emboldened as was evident recently from the drama enacted by Masrat Alam. These noises must be rasping hard on the BJP ears because its partnership in the state government had generated optimism for peace and progress. The Hurriyat leaders whose diktats to boycott the elections was spurned by the Kashmiri electorate had once seemed to have been consigned into oblivion – but only until the release of Masrat Alam.  He started spewing anti-India venom right from the moment he stepped out of the jail early last month. Flagrantly misleading and provoking the Kashmiri Muslims against India, he sang eulogies in praise of Pakistan and, surrounded by the Pakistani flags, declared. "I am not a citizen of India. Nor do I believe Kashmir to be part of India."  Now, put behind the bars once again, hopefully he will be tried for his audacious anti-India activities including treason.

Ironically, the opposite of what was expected from the new BJP-PDP dispensation is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. The election of 2014, which recorded unprecedented voter turnout despite vigorous boycott campaign mounted by the separatists, was held in a peaceful atmosphere attracting worldwide acclaim as a democratic exercise in the trouble-torn state. Interestingly, however, the poll mandate threw up two arch-rivals in the state politics – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People's Democratic Party (PDP) – as leading contenders for power with 25 and 28 seats in a hung Legislative Assembly of 87 effective seats.  That such political adversaries would become allies and form the government, was largely viewed as impossible. But it happened. Perhaps inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ethos of 'Sabka sath, Sabka vikas', the BJP went ahead and forged an alliance with the PDP after two months of sustained negotiations steered by Ram Madhav and the PDP supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.  Understandably, it raised public expectations but scared the separatist lobbies.

                Unlike other states of the Union, governance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is uniquely complex. Firstly, being a border state it acquires special geo-political significance, which is heightened even more with Pakistan having ceded Shaksgam Valley to China and the latter launching massive infrastructure development including multi-lane roads in the area. Secondly, besides its mountainous terrain remains covered either by dense forest or by snow, the state is also demographically divided with Jammu-Udhampur having predominantly Hindu population, the Kashmir Valley predominantly Muslim and Ladakh having a mix of sparsely populated by Budhists and Muslims. Thirdly, India's relations with Pakistan and China directly influence politics and happenings in these areas.  Fourthly, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution bestows 'special status' on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which distinguishes it from the rest of the states of the Union. This weird constitutional proviso makes the state look like a 'nation' within a nation.

                Thanks to these outlandish physiognomies of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, governments have been consistently smug in running affairs of the state in a status-quoist manner engendering a privileged class of self-righteous politicians and protected elite of bureaucracy insulated from the people.  The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan against India in this region has been fuelling chaos in the state.  More lives – military as well as civil – have been lost in the last quarter century of violence here than the combined total death toll of last three Indo-Pak wars.  Development has been another serious casualty while official corruption has thrived reducing civil administration to a self-serving mechanism largely denied to the people. The carrot dangling approach of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to placate and win over the Hurriyat and hard core separatists has already flopped.  Masrat Alam has very effectively utilised his brief release from captivity to reignite the fizzling voices of separatism in Srinagar. The brief drama he so diligently enacted with Hafiz Sayeed from Pakistan assuring Jehadis (proxies) in Jammu and Kashmir every kind of support – "Government, Military and moral" – has once again opened up the wound that has festered for over a quarter century now.

Azadi from the Bondage of Article 370
                For the first time in the history of J&K, BJP has partnership in the state government. It has a strong full majority government at the Centre. There is ample evidence for the government to understand that placating tactics and dithering have only led to worsening the situation rather than solving the problems.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the J&K government are today faced with a serious challenge, which they can convert into a grand opportunity to usher in new era of peace, prosperity and genuine azadi by integrating the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream of sovereign India. The so-called 'special status' under Article 370 has actually promotes 'separatism', inter-se rivalry and mistrust because the distinguishing constitutional provisions treat the state of J&K differently vis-à-vis the rest.  It also kills the fundamental principle of 'EQUALITY' enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. No public interest has been served by it so far.  On the contrary, those in power use it from time to time for personal gains by blackmailing the Central Government under its shadow. 

                To the international community too, continuance of 'special status' for J&K gives an impression of 'some final decision about J&K's still hanging in the air' – an impression Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists have been cashing on to bolster their claims. Viewed from any angle, the provisions of this Article have proved to be a silky noose in the J&K neck.  The principle of equality entitles the people of J&K to be liberated from this royal bondage, which has only hampered their development.  It has deterred the Indian investors and multi-national corporates from investing in J&K.

                Permanent solution to a problem as ticklish as this cannot be easy but how long shall we allow this wound to fester in search of easy solutions? Time is now ripe to administer the bitter pill.  Article 370 must be repealed and the state of Jammu and Kashmir integrated into the national mainstream without further delay.

Fighting the Proxy War
                India has been telling the world what Hafiz Sayeed has audaciously owned up now.  In an interview to a media channel he recently admitted that he and his apparatus including Jamat-ud-Dawa has been "aiding the jehadis in Kashmir with full support from the Pakistan Government and the Army". India has information about a number of terrorist training camps running in Pakistan under the aegis of ISI, Hafiz Sayed and his associates.  The Indian Army hunting and fighting terrorists in the hinterland has been troublesome for the civil population who are frequently subjected to frisking besides facing a host of other hardships in the endemic violence in the region.

                The Indian Army should change its tactics for fighting this war. The Army should mind only the areas of its war time responsibility along the border/Line of Control (LC). Violence in the interior should be handled by the state police and paramilitary forces.  The local

government authorities must assume responsibility for peace and intelligence in their area of responsibility. As a strategic shift, the war should be carried to the enemy territory.  The Indian Army has the capability to carry out special commando missions against designated targets deep inside Pakistan with a fair degree of success.  It is disappointing to see that we have unwittingly neglected the offensive initiatives and developed a more defensive and over protective mind-set over the past few years. Pakistan, on the contrary, has always been proactively offensive and innovative from Kargil onward. 
Despite being aware of India's higher nuclear potential, Pakistan has never felt deterred from hurting India anywhere anytime whereas India has been visibly deterred not only from proactive offensive strikes but even from delivering punitive strokes as reprisal against audacious terror attacks like Mumbai 26/11, Parliament attack, Red Fort attack or beheading of our soldiers at the LC. This stance must change to bolder and devastating punitive actions unless we are preparing to be beaten and defeated in the next war.    

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

OROP – Invest in Esteem & Morale

Karan Kharb
A perception has progressively gained ground in the civil society and media as if the demand for One Rank One Pension (OROP) were no more than an issue concerning the 2.5 million Ex-servicemen (ESM) – a mere 0.2 per cent of population with no meaningful vote bank concentration in any parliamentary constitution in the country. Even those favourably inclined towards the ESM’s long outstanding demand tend to view it as a “welfare measure” for the veterans who served through uncommon ordeals and made sacrifices for the country. So, their support for the OROP sprouts from their sympathy for the fauji bhai rather than concern for the national security. The pay-offs of soldiers’ pay, allowances, service privileges and pension are far more significant than just satisfying personal and domestic needs of the military personnel – serving and retired. These tangibles have a direct bearing on the intangible vital assets of the Armed Forces – leadership and morale without which no weaponry or technology, however modern and sophisticated, can deliver desired results. Every government action or inaction that lowers the military status and privileges also brings down the morale of the soldiery. It is incumbent on the Nation to invest in optimal upkeep of military morale and esteem.  As observed by the Supreme Court a few years ago, “pension of the ESM is wages for the services already rendered for the country.”  Every serving soldier today also foresees his future as a retired soldier. Therefore, the issue of OROP affects not merely the retired military personnel but also the serving soldiers and thereby the entire system of national defence and security.
            The ongoing OROP campaign of the military veterans has been somehow kept sealed from the civilian citizenry of the country. While it is laudable for the organisers not to succumb to political manipulations attempted by Congress and others, it is not understood why they have not enlisted support of the farmers, youth and social cause crusaders which could broad base their campaign and magnify its appeal. From time to time military is called in to help wherever the situation goes beyond the control of the civil administration, be it natural disasters or distraught law and order. The organisers owe it to explain to the nation why upkeep of military morale, dignity and esteem is in the best interests of the country and particularly vital for building a mightier India poised for greater global roles in the coming future.
            MG Devasahayam, who participated in the 1962 India-China war and 1965 Indo-Pak war, joined Civil Services and retired as an Additional Secretary. He points out, “As of now I am afraid OROP is being pursued as a military style command & control operation. Commanded by Generals, assisted by Brigadiers/Colonels with Other Ranks only playing subordinate role. First of all this brass should realise that OROP is not a military operation to be carried on by issuing orders and getting them obeyed. Also, OROP has far more civilian content than military. It does not merely concern the government but more than that the people at large because it is from their tax-rupee that the additional pensions will be paid”.
            Whereas concerns have reportedly been expressed about the cumulative financial burden that would add up to the national defence budget in view of approximately 50,000 military personnel retiring every year, it also needs to be understood that India spends a huge part of its defence budget in importing military hardware which will have to be curtailed without hampering the modernisation programme. The ‘Make in India’ initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one major step to save outflow of defence money and to free the country from dependence upon others for critical needs during crucial times.  As indicated by the Prime Minister himself during his visit to Srinagar last year, “funds thus saved would be diverted to improving military stations and quality of life of military personnel and their families”. As an emerging Asian power, India aims to play strategic global roles in the coming times even as its largest land borders with China and Pakistan remain militarily volatile keeping the Army deployed along LoC/LAC and engaged in fighting low intensity conflicts in the interiors. Defence experts predict that by 2045 India shall rank world’s third highest military spender after US and China. Therefore, when viewed in this context of macro level geo-strategic scenario emerging, it would be myopic to think about reducing defence budget by saving from salaries, privileges and pensions of the fighting men. Instead, finance planners will have to explore and find means and methods to rake in more funds for defence through speedy operationalisation of initiatives like ‘Make in India’ and exporting military hardware and technology to friendly countries.    
            Military in India has been traditionally insulated from the civilian mainstream of the country. Unlike in America, Europe or even China and Pakistan, politicians and civil servants in India have scant knowledge of military matters. A huge majority of them would confuse a gorilla with the term guerrilla, mortar with motor, field gun with a pistol and so on. Not many of them would know the difference between a ‘division’ and a ‘section’, ‘bomber’ and ‘fighter’ or why Army ‘captains’ look younger than ‘captains’ of the Navy!  There is a need for enhanced inter-action, training and association among civil-military departments and personnel on a regular basis.  Civilian officers of the MoD, MLAs, MPs and ministers should go through frequent military familiarisation programmes to imbibe the necessary sense to understand military capabilities, limitations and requirements.  It is primarily because of lack of knowledge that people tend to assume that upkeep of a large standing Military is an unnecessary burden on the national exchequer. After India gained freedom, the Congress government headed by Nehru had also had this weird notion that a peace loving Panchsheel preaching India did not need to spend public money on the maintenance of defence forces. Police, they thought, would suffice instead! Thanks to the Chinese invasion of 1962, India was shaken out of this misconception.
The primary role of Military is not fighting a war, but to deter and forestall the possibility of a war and, if ever war is thrust upon, to fight and coerce the enemy to cease fighting and accept peace at our terms. That is the ideal that should influence India’s politico-military thinking.  The Chinese invasion (1962), Indo-Pak war (1971) and the Kargil war (1999) have thrown up some very serious lessons which have been sadly ignored. The shameful debacle of 1962 was a direct result of colossal political neglect of military advice. Repeated military warnings about the Chinese intentions were spurned and military snubbed by both – Prime Minister Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Cabinet wanted the Indian Army to launch the offensive In June. The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), Gen Manekshaw disagreed and prevailed upon the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to let him prepare and go for the offensive in end 1971. The resultant victory astounded the world and catapulted India very high in the comity of nations. Thereafter the governments became complacent and increasingly indifferent towards military. Kargil came as a reminder with intelligence failure, shortage of guns, ammunition, communication systems, manpower, and vehicles and so on. The Army was ill prepared but pushed into war. When asked about shortage of weapons, ammunition and equipment, Gen VP Malik, the COAS said, “Yes, we have shortages. But we shall fight with whatever we have.” Thankfully Pakistan had officially disowned its infiltration force and was under the US pressure not to escalate the skirmish. The use of enemy artillery and air was minimal.  Yet, India lost nearly 600 soldiers just to recapture its lost territory in a sector.  
            Not only were demands and recommendations of veterans or Service Headquarters ignored by the government, recommendations as significant as those of the Kargil Review Committee were dumped after just making cursory changes.  A confidential letter written by then COAS Gen VK Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaked to the press in March 2012 revealed how callously indifferent the government had remained towards making up the long outstanding glaring deficiencies of arms, ammunition and equipment of the Army even as huge scams were unravelling in defence procurement as also in a number of other government contracts like coal blocks, 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and so on. Official neglect was eating into the fighting capabilities of our Armed Forces. The perception of ‘raw deal’ given to the military by the 6th Pay Commission was getting reinforced by the perpetual governmental indifference. Military leaders from commanding officers to the level of Service Chiefs were proving helpless in meeting the most genuine requirements of the units and personnel. Depleting resources in the face of unabated intrusion of terrorists, heightening proxy war scenario, insurgency and emergency mobilisation in the wake of floods, earthquake and other ‘aid to civil authority’ roles started taking a toll on military leadership and morale. In its cascading effect, it precipitated erosion of basic structures of command – a dangerous development for any military.  Faith in higher commanders dwindled giving way to demotivation and demoralisation which manifested through increasing cases of insubordination, desertion, suicides and even mutinous behaviour in certain units.  Cumulatively, the malaise was growing into a serious threat to the national security itself.
            Thankfully, this degenerative process in the spine of national security stopped after the UPA government vacated office in May 2014. National security and military preparedness were listed at the top in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priorities as was evident from his first call to heads of SAARC nations, appointment of Manohar Parrikar, known for his down to earth approach and result oriented performance as Defence Minister, Ajit Kumar Doval, the renowned expert, as National Security Advisor and expeditious clearance of long pending defence purchases. Prime Minister Modi also visited defence installations, military stations, naval and air bases to get first-hand knowledge of the state of military preparedness. He chose to spend his first Diwali as Prime Minister with the troops at world’s highest and toughest battle field – Siachen Glacier.

            These early initiatives and direct inter-actions of the Prime Minister rejuvenated the sagging morale of
military personnel. As months passed, however, the momentum seemed to slow down and expectations of serving and retired military personnel started receding culminating into visible and vocal resentment.  While the Prime Minister is loaded with onerous responsibilities, his initial thrust lines should have been accelerated through the systemic modes to make the Prime Minister’s declared policies credible. The bureaucracy, however, did not seem very enthusiastic to speed up in the direction shown by the Prime Minister. Instead there is enough evidence that mandarins in the South Block continued in the wrong direction. There are many court verdicts passed in favour of serving and retired soldiers by the courts but rather than honouring the judgements passed even by the Supreme Court, government departments have been persistently delaying implementation and filing appeals for review without sustainable grounds. Such actions mar the government’s credibility and spread avoidable annoyance in the military and veterans alike.  OROP is one such emotive issue which has been deliberated and decided at all levels. There was no plausible excuse to delay implementation of a pre-decided issue for which the Prime Minister himself has declared unequivocal support more than once. “This mute inaction”, fasting veterans at Jantar Mantar complain, “is unlike Modi and has sent the ESM community fuming on country wide protest rallies and hunger strikes after waiting for one year”. Opposition parties are luring the ESM who thankfully are unhappy but not yet hostile to BJP. Whereas immediate roll out of OROP shall rein in the anti-BJP drift in the ‘Jai Kisan, Jai Jawan’ constituency throughout the country, any further delay will provide handle to the Opposition to disrupt the coming Monsoon session of the Parliament and to wean the ESM away from BJP besides further vitiating the already uneasy civil-military relationship.     
[Acknowledgement: This article was published in 'Organiser' (Jul 26, 2015). ]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jammu and Kashmir – Modi's Golden Chance

Karan Kharb
                In the last 25 years, the intensity of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir has been fluctuating.  Phases of peace have proved to be no more than lulls in the battles used by the proxies of Pakistan to regroup and reorganise before unleashing their next phase of violence. Ironically, whereas the new political environment with BJP-PDP coalition government in the state and the NDA Government with fully majority BJP at the Centre should have effected a decline in the violence and separatism, the problem has become even more volatile.       
Marginalised leaders of a divided Hurriyat amalgam including Syed Ali Shah Geelani whose poll boycott diktats were spurned by the Kashmiri electorate, are now back on the centre stage. Efforts to pacify the separatists by releasing the likes of Masrat Alam saw a spurt in anti-India demonstrations. Fissures within the Hurriyat are apparently closing as supporters of different factions are converging. It is reliably learnt that this convergence is aided by ISI masters who want all separatist groups to rally around Geelani-Masrat duo so that Hurriyat is projected as a unified 'representative' body to promote separatism and an anti-India sentiment in the Valley. CM Mufti Mohammad Syeed's ambivalent stand on the separatists and violence has been a cause of recurring embarrassment for the BJP.
                Unlike other states of the Union, governance in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is uniquely complex. Firstly, being a border state it acquires special geo-political significance, which is heightened even more with Pakistan having ceded Shaksgam Valley to China and the latter launching massive infrastructure development including multi-lane roads in the Pak occupied areas of Gilgit-Baltistan. Secondly, besides its mountainous terrain that is covered either by dense forest or by snow, the state is also demographically divided with Jammu-Udhampur having predominantly Hindu population, the Kashmir Valley predominantly Muslim and Ladakh having a mix of sparsely populated Budhists and Muslims. Thirdly, India's relations with Pakistan and China have directly influenced politics and happenings in these areas.  Fourthly, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution bestows 'special status' on the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which sets it apart from the rest in the country. This weird constitutional proviso makes the state look like a 'nation' within a nation.
                Thanks to these outlandish physiognomies of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, governments have been consistently smug in running affairs of the state in a status-quoist manner creating and promoting a privileged class of self-righteous politicians and protected elite of bureaucracy insulated from the people.  The proxy war unleashed by Pakistan against India in this region has been fuelling chaos in the state for decades.  More lives – military as well as civil – have been lost in the last quarter century of violence here than the combined total death toll of last three Indo-Pak wars.  Development has been another serious casualty while official corruption has thrived reducing civil administration to a self-serving mechanism for the privileged few and largely denied to the people. The carrot dangling approach of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to placate and win over the Hurriyat and hard core separatists has already flopped.  Masrat Alam has very effectively utilised his brief release from captivity to reignite the fizzling voices of separatism in Srinagar. The brief drama he so diligently enacted with Hafiz Sayeed from Pakistan assuring Jehadis (proxies) in Jammu and Kashmir every kind of support – "material, moral and military" – has once again poured acid into the wound that has festered for over a quarter century now.
Dissension in Gilgit-Baltistan
People in the 'Northern Areas', Gilgit-Baltistan do not call themselves Pakistanis.  Constitutionally, they are Indian citizens.  Of course, that is not to suggest that they believe to be Indian citizens either but, mercilessly persecuted and exploited, they strongly envy their brethren on the Indian side of LoC. Demographic transformation has been so engineered in this region that the aborigines have been gradually overwhelmed by the settlers from down south. In 1948, the Shia–Sunni ratio in Gilgit-Baltistan was 4:1; today it is 4:3. With a population of 2.5 million (Shi'as, Sunnis, Ismailis and Nur Bakshis), Gilgit-Baltistan is the largest region of POK covering an area of 73000 square km as compared to the remaining area of so-called 'Azad Kashmir', which measures 13000 square km.  It is larger than the combined total area of Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. It equals the entire province of Khyber Pakhttunkhwa of Pakistan. Kalash of Chitral – also called Nuristan/Kafiristan – are the remaining non-Muslim group in this region. In contrast to this demographic transformation and persecution across the LoC, India has honoured its commitment and even today Indian citizens who do not belong to the state of J&K cannot purchase property here nor can they settle here.
Outsiders have come and accumulated property in this region under the guise of 'development projects' and 'industrialisation'. Military has arbitrarily usurped local land for military garrisons. Some parts have been ceded to China providing it the corridor that opens routes to the Islamic world even as the local Baltis remain fretful against ongoing exploitation of the region by Pakistan and China. Issues like mineral exploration, land compensation, control and utilisation of revenue and royalties from dams have been agitating the locals who remain bereft of basic amenities of life. Chinese bring their own labour force, denying the Balties the job opportunities that should have been rightfully theirs in job-starved region.
Voicing his people's anguish, Senge Tsering Hasnan, a Balti intellectual and activist, told me in New Delhi recently, "In Gilgit-Baltistan, we want what Indian Kashmiris have. In India they contest elections and represent the state in the Parliament as MPs; you have given them 'special status' etc. Even pro-Pakistani leaders in Gilgit envy the Indian Kashmiris who have benefits of Indian judicial, political and economic institutions. As for us, forget rights, persecution fills us with fear."
Similar sentiments have been echoed by Abdul Hamid Khan, chairman of Balawaristan National Front from time to time and a number of other Balti leaders and activists.  "We know that because of Pakistani fundamentalism and because the so-called Azad Kashmir is actually even more badly enslaved than the Indian-held Kashmir, no Ladakhi Buddhist in his right mind would ever consider joining us as long as we remain under Pakistani occupation", says Abdul Hamid Khan.
        What is even more interesting is that unlike the Indian constitution, Pakistan's constitution deems POK as 'disputed territory' and not integral to Pakistan. Pakistan Supreme Court has also given verdicts in the past calling POK as 'disputed territory' and disallowing treating it as Pakistan territory. Whereas the J&K constitution declares the state to be "integral part of India", the Azad Kashmir constitution stipulates 'right of self-determination' but in practice, freedom is severely curtailed by Pakistani system of controls. Therefore, the entire state of undivided Jammu and Kashmir legitimately belongs to India and even by its own constitutional tenets Pakistan has no legitimate right to meddle with affairs in POK/Azad Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan. The obligation of meeting aspirations of the people of POK including Gilgit-Baltistan lies on India but the aggressor has continued to hold this territory in defiance of the UN resolutions and the will of the people of the state.    
        Of course, the popular resentment against Pakistan in the region does not suggest any strong swing of passions in favour of India. Regional leaders and parties clamour for freedom for the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region, which, as they claim, includes Kargil and Ladakh. Growing enthusiasm in Pak-China partnership in this region and a surging injured Balti consciousness have further enhanced its significance as a junction point between Central Asia and South Asia on the one hand, and between China and West Asia on the other. Borders of India, China, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan converge here. Any power that controls this region will gain the ability to influence relations and happenings in these nations.  Little wonder why China is entrenching its presence and expanding its influence in this area. Access to Gwadar port via Karakoram highway provides China an alternative trade route besides placing it strategically in a far more advantageous position near the Persian Gulf.  In sharp contrast to these manoeuvrings in its most sensitive region, India had almost succumbed to the Pakistan inspired 'Track II Diplomacy' that had sought demilitarisation of Siachen Glacier, the highest and forward most positions held by the Indian Army in the closest vicinity of these manoeuvrings. In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had himself declared his Government's resolve to withdraw the Army from these dominating positions and declare Siachen complex as a 'Peace Park'.            
Article 370 – An Anathema to J&K
There is ample evidence for the policy planners to understand that dithering and placating tactics have only led to worsening the situation rather than solving the problems. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the J&K government are today faced with a serious challenge, which they can convert into their golden chance to usher in new era of peace, prosperity and genuine azadi by integrating the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the mainstream of sovereign India. The so-called 'special status' under Article 370 has actually promoted 'separatism', inter-se rivalry and mistrust among different sections of the society and political establishments because the distinguishing constitutional provisions treat the state of J&K differently vis-à-vis the rest. It also kills the fundamental principle of 'EQUALITY' enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India. No public interest has been served by it so far.  On the contrary, those in power in the state use it from time to time for their personal gains by blackmailing the Central Government under its shadow. 
Technically, Article 370 applies to the whole of undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir including what has now become Pak occupied Kashmir (POK) or 'Azad Kashmir' as Pakistan sells it to the world. Whereas India has steadfastly honoured the provisions of the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh and Article 370, Pakistan has violated all norms and conditions imposed by the UN even as it has continued to counter blame India for the same. Pakistan's occupation of POK is the outcome of its blatant aggression and not a result of any Instrument of Accession or people's mandate. Whereas India has steadfastly abided by the conditions laid down in the Instrument of Accession and enshrined those conditions in its constitution as Article 370.  Accordingly, no person from outside the state of J&K is allowed to purchase property or settle down here whereas Pakistan has outraged the original demographic profile of the areas of J&K under its illegal occupation since 1947. On the contrary, it uses India's provisions of Article 370 as a beating stick against India by displaying the subjugated territory of POK as 'Azad Kashmir' and calling the rest of J&K as 'disputed territory as evidenced by the Article 370 that distinguishes it from the rest of India'.                
To the international community too, continuance of 'special status' for J&K gives an impression of 'some final settlement about J&K's still hanging in the air' – an impression Pakistan and the Kashmiri separatists have been cashing on to bolster their claims. Viewed from any angle, the provisions of this Article have proved to be a noose of silk in the neck of J&K.  The principle of equality entitles the people of J&K to be liberated from this royal bondage, which has only hampered their development because it has deterred the Indian investors and multi-national corporates from investing in J&K.
                Permanent solution to a problem as ticklish as this cannot be easy but how long shall we allow this wound to fester in search of easy solutions? Time is now ripe to administer the bitter pill.  Article 370 must be repealed and the state of Jammu and Kashmir integrated into the national mainstream without further delay.
Need for New Vision, New Resolve
The world has changed since 1947. From bipolar, it has become unipolar today. Soviet Union and the Berlin wall have gone. Once avowed enemies, the US and China are big-ticket trade partners today. Communism has changed stance to be friends with capitalism. A class of new nations has emerged in the post-Soviet Central Asia. West Asia is engulfed in chaotic Islamist struggles, which have reached India's doorsteps aggravating the proxy war scenario for India. China is also having a taste of this malaise in Xinjiang where the Uighurs have been up in arms against China for quite some time now. The state of J&K including POK and Gilgit-Baltistan has assumed greater significance in the altered geo-political matrix in this part of the world. However, India's perception of the Kashmir issue and its theories and practice of fighting terrorism have remained fixated in time. In their post-partition history of 68 years, India and Pakistan have fought four wars. Repeated victories, including dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971, have failed to solve issues and bring about an atmosphere of mutual trust, friendship and cooperation between the two neighbours. If so, it is time India changed its strategic perceptions and addressed the problem with options not tried before. 
Narendra Modi's arrival as India's Prime Minister heading a strong government with single party BJP majority and NDA partners ushers in a new era of nationalist resurgence in India. He is aided by a team of professional experts of proven record of accomplishments such as Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor – a thoroughbred professional with enormous experience and capacity to think and devise differently. The world is watching a new India rise under Modi whose deft initiatives have established India in a class of nations willing to enhance cooperation, promote peace and join to fight the menace of terrorism together. As a member of the world's fastest growing economies – BRICS – India is now very much counted in the comity of nations. The rousing welcome and standing ovations given to the Indian Prime Minister during his visits to the US, France, Japan, Australia, China, South Korea and all other countries in India's neighbourhood indicate how the world is looking up to India's role as a regional power in this part of the world and as an important player at the global stage as well.  
Today's India has the potential to alter the matrix of relationships with its neighbours including Pakistan with a view to addressing the problems holistically and decisively. Economics of trade and commerce must be interwoven in efforts to bring about a congenial environment where each neighbour's own interests would be adversely affected if peace and cooperation were betrayed. For this, India needs to make its resolve clear by emphatically stating how it is committed to respect every nation's sovereignty. At the same it must also clearly state its resolve to protect and safeguard its own against all kinds of threats with all the goodwill and, if and where needed, with the utmost power at its disposal. A strategy of covert operations and earnest goodwill could go hand in hand to defeat the menace of terrorism and proxy war. Pakistan must be made to understand that exporting crime and terror to India will entail prohibitive costs hereafter and India could take the proxy war to the places of its origin – even if such places are across the LoC.  Whereas Pakistan's presence in POK and every intrusion across LoC would be always illegal, India's actions across the LoC would be very much in order – technically and legally. India's self-imposed restraint from venturing into areas of POK has matured into a paradigm that would make such a suggestion appear weird and brazen today. Yet, the fact is that POK is not Pakistan even by its own admission.
So far, India has not lent any worthwhile support to the genuine demands of people of Gilgit-Baltistan who have been suffering from ongoing persecution and exploitation.  India's support to their cause could also help in curtailing, perhaps reversing, the trend of terrorists infiltrating through LoC.  Espousing such a cause will also enhance stakes for Pakistan in talks with India.

All these arguments notwithstanding, India and Pakistan must sit together and find amicable solution to their festering problems taking a realistic view of the situation. The era of wars is fading and the civilised world is moving towards better times for our future generations. Neighbours in today's world could choose a common road to peace and prosperity or remain entrenched in animosity and take a flight to assured mutual destruction.   

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

OROP – A Moment of Anger and Hope

Karan Kharb
                Military veterans are again shouting from the streets – an act that does not behove of their
widely adored chivalrous image in the country.  But they have a cause to fight for and a reason to be angry.  For more than 30 years they have been fighting for ‘one rank one pension’ (OROP), a demand that has been recommended by numerous parliamentary committees, promised by all major political parties in their pre-election manifestos, unanimously accepted in the parliament but never delivered despite being budgeted twice – in the last budget of the outgoing UPA government and in the first budget of the present Modi Sarkar. The essence of the OROP demand is that there should be no disparity in the pension scales of military pensioners and equal rank and service length must get equal pension irrespective of their dates of retirement. In other words, a Sepoy, Subedar or Colonel who retired in the past should get the same pension as given to his counterpart retiring today or anytime in the future.   
Like the euphoric multitude of India’s voters, defence veterans also exhibited extraordinary zeal in spurring the Modi wave throughout the country. His passionate appeals moved them to unite and vote for the BJP. Later, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the troops to celebrate Diwali at the world’s highest battlefield Siachen Glacier in 2014, he had passionately declared, “I am happy that Providence has ordained it in my destiny that the long pending OROP dues of our ex-soldiers shall also be delivered through my hands.”  Ironically, even as they are holding rallies and fasts to register their protest against the lingering delay, their faith in Prime Minister Modi has not diminished.
                Now, when the first anniversary of the Modi Sarkar passed off without the government ordering implementation of OROP, the Prime Minister has reiterated his commitment in his ‘Man ki Baat’ broadcast on 28 May 2015. However, rather than feeling reassured, the once-bitten-twice-shy ESM community has been somewhat disheartened by the Prime Minister’s statement that he was lately realising that the issue of OROP was not as simple as he had thought and, yet, it would be finally resolved during his tenure. The ESM are suspecting bureaucratic machinations being at play to delay, dilute and deny the roll out of OROP that stands finally accepted and settled in all respects. Even as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have attempted to alley these fears, the ESM organisations failed to elicit any specific timeline for OROP implementation from the government. What gives credence to the existence of anti-military bureaucratic machinations is the slowly rising behind the scene demand from the central police organisations like BSF, CRPF. ITBP and others for “equal benefits” to their pensioners as well. 

                There are strong reasons why the OROP must be granted to the military pensioners and why it cannot be extended to any other government service. Firstly, military is the ultimate tool of state power and it steps in where all others have either failed or unwilling to undergo the hardships and danger involved in tackling the situation at hand.  Admittedly, military personnel have to retire younger because upkeep of military’s combat potential to its optimum necessitates it.  Thus retiring earlier than others between the age of 35 to 50 years, the soldier finds himself in the vortex of onerous responsibilities like growing children, education, marriage of dependent siblings, care of old ailing parents and allied expenses at a time when his income is slashed by half. Paramilitary personnel and civilians, on the contrary, continue getting enhanced salaries keeping pace with their escalating expenses at home without any disruption in their service. Unlike the soldiers, by the time they superannuate at the age of 60, most of their family responsibilities would be over with children settled and earning.        
Secondly, service progression of civilian employees who suffer from disease or other physical disabilities is protected and they are retained in service until the age of superannuation whereas disabled military personnel are medically boarded out of service because the ‘sheltered appointments’ do not exist in the combatant military service.  
Thirdly, the officers’ case is even more intriguing. The 6th Central Pay Commission introduced the concept of ‘Non Functional Upgradation’ (NFU) for 58 cadres of Group A Services to remove stagnation and alleviate the disparity between the IAS and other Group A officers. Accepted and implemented by the Government this concept implies that whenever any IAS officer of the state or joint cadre is posted at the Centre to a position carrying a specific grade pay in Pay Bands PB-3 or PB-4, the officers belonging to batches of Organised Group A services that are senior by two years or more and have not been promoted so far to that particular grade would be granted the same grade on a non functional basis from the date of posting of the IAS officers in that grade at the Centre. Hence if an IAS officer becomes Joint Secretary in 17 years of service the officers of Group A Service will start drawing the salary of Joint Secretary in a maximum of 19 years of service and similarly that of Addl Secretary /Lt Gen in 30 and 32 years respectively. What is intriguing here is that the Armed Forces officers have been excluded from the Group A Services in so far as NFU is concerned.
What has irked the Armed Forces officers most here is that if stagnation and growing disparity were the criterion to safeguard career progression of Services other vis-à-vis IAS, no one would deserve NFU more than them. The pyramidal structure of military hierarchy squeezes out many officers who are meritorious for holding higher responsibilities but cannot be promoted due to limited vacancies in higher ranks. The career progression being cylindrical in the case of Group A Services, 95 per cent officers reach the level of additional secretary whereas only three per cent commissioned officers in the Armed Forces become lieutenant general.  Furthermore, whereas 100 per cent civilian government officers retire after reaching the highest pay scale in their pay band at the age of 60 years, at least 85 per cent military officers retire between the age of 50 to 58 years.  A significant implication of NFU is that all IAS officers and Group A Service officers retire after attaining the highest pay scale – HAG or HAG plus – and thus getting the highest pension rate in their cadre despite having been superseded in lower ‘ranks’.
Much of the growing resentment among military personnel – serving and retired – could have been stemmed if the retiring military personnel were provided appropriate government jobs including lateral absorption in police and para-military forces. Likewise, whereas military officers are in demand in the private sector, governments at the Centre and in states, thanks to bureaucratic resistance, have been reluctant to absorb retiring military officers in government jobs in positions corresponding to their last position/rank/seniority. A rich reservoir of multi-function experience of military engineers, administrators, crisis managers is allowed to go waste even as IPS officers with no unit level command experience are posted to guide and supervise paramilitary forces just as the ubiquitous know-all IAS officers are posted vice chancellors of universities, chairmen/directors of public sector units, defence installations and you know what. This nexus has succeeded in scuttling implementation of the post-Kargil Subramanyam Committee report on reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which has persistently avoided induction of military officers and defence expertise in the country’s apex defence planning organisation.

Prime Minister Narrendra Modi, however, seems to be addressing higher military, defence security framework differently.  Having visited the Army, Navy and Air Force installations and forward areas within the first few months of his swearing in, Modi has put Manohar Parrikar, a man known for his pragmatism and performance, in charge of country’s Defence.  MoD is humming with activities that suggest some long term changes being in the offing. The Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Finance Minister have all unequivocally endorsed the legitimacy of ESM’s OROP demand. What has not happened in the last 68 years is happening now, slowly but powerfully.  Even as the ESM are restive and protesting, their faith in the present government has bolstered their hope.  
[Acknowledgement: This article was published in 'Geopolitics' magazine (July 2015)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Plight of India's Military Might

Karan Kharb
                Powerful nations radiate powerful influence far across their geographical borders over countries and continents. And this influence is mostly coercive – often disregarding opinions of a majority of sovereign nations. President Bush was brazenly explicit in conveying his threat even to friendly countries when he said, “If you are not with us, you are against us.”  The world has watched in the recent decades how a couple of powerful nations have not felt deterred from launching punitive operations against unfriendly regimes. Ongoing conflicts in West Asia and Central Asia are glaring examples of this reality.
Much as the weaker nations might despise such arrogance of mighty nations, the latter have been succeeding in enforcing their plans, even if partially, in different parts of the world.  In the realm of geopolitics, it is clear that the powerful nations use a combination of soft power and coercive power to achieve compliance, cooperation and, wherever possible, even submission of targeted regimes. Effect of soft power is enhanced manifold if it is backed by credible hard power, that is, military power that gives meaning to diplomacy, strategy, trade and economy. If wealth alone were power, West Asia would be ruling the world.  If geographical size were power, Russia would be Power Number One and the Soviet Union would not have disintegrated. Irrefutably, it is the Military Might that adds awe and aura to a nation’s standing in the regional and international equations. Israel would simply not exist today if it were not so. Today its utterance and posturing shakes up the neighbourhood and makes the world sit up and listen to it – their consent or dissent just don’t seem to matter.
                 Even so, in the reckoning of military might, an array of high technology, sophisticated fighting machines and equipment – an area where critical deficiencies have seriously hampered the Indian Army’s modernisation programme – is but one factor, significantly weighty though. The man behind the gun, however, shall always be the decisive factor in projecting and executing this military might. No amount of modern technology and wherewithal can substitute human – the soldier whose wellness makes the ultimate difference between victory and defeat in war. Modern world’s high-tech protective gear, high precision weaponry, satellite communication systems, computerisation and nano-tech breakthroughs will deliver little until the user is motivated to dare adversity and danger. Napoleon accorded three times more value to the soldier’s morale vis-à-vis material. In 1993 when the Government expressed inability to finance raising of the Rashtriya Rifles, Gen BP Joshi relied on military morale and raised the Force equipping and manning it from the existing manpower and equipment of the Indian Army.  Again, at the outset of Kargil War, it was this intangible but enormous asset of military morale that prompted the Army Chief, Gen VP Malik to say, “…..we will fight with whatever is available….,” despite critical deficiencies of arms and equipment.
Traditionally, military personnel are not expected to demand favours nor admit weakness. Enquire about his ‘morale’ and even a dying soldier would spring up and scramble to fight. The same is true of his commanders too. No unit or formation commander would ever confess a decline in morale or erosion of espirit de corps in the Forces no matter how pathetic their state might be. On an expedition – war or adventure – Indian soldiers have never sought rest, comfort or even food until it is all over! Little wonder, Kautilya whom the world knows more popularly as Chanakya, had cautioned King Chandragupta, “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!” Edicts in Atharvaveda (Kaand 4/Anuvakah 7/Sukta 31 & 32) and Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Sangram/10th Adhikaran/Ch 3) also underscore a powerful advice to Governments, “To win wars, influence neighbouring states and to promote his national interests, the King must build up an Army of soldiers so honoured, privileged and motivated that their wrath unnerves the enemy; their sacrifices beget love and respect of their own people; and their valour is rewarded with the highest esteem and admiration by the King and his ministers.”
In the post Kargil period, however, the military morale has been sadly on a downhill slide as is manifestly evident from the increasing cases of soldiers committing suicides, fratricides, insubordination and defiance. Sporadic cases of mutiny in the last decade or so have raised many serious questions on the military management. What is even more shocking is that such incidents are not confined to units deployed in operational areas alone. Angst against exploitation and injustice to their families back home has been driving soldiers to suicide and fragging even in peace locations. Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha on 22 Jul 2014, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that suicides among security personnel of the armed forces were a serious issue. He informed the House that the Armed Forces had lost 597 personnel to suicide in the last five years (that is, at a rate of 10 soldiers every month or 120 every year). He also revealed that 1,349 officers quit the Army during the same period. And while the Army bears the brunt, this dangerous trend is shared by all three wings of the Armed Forces.
Causes for this onset of decay are many. For decades, a perception of ‘raw deal’ by the successive pay commissions has been allowed to grow in the Armed Forces by governmental neglect. Denial of growth opportunities, unfair salary and pension fixation, erosion of status, dilution of military privileges and isolation of military from decision-making process even in matters of national defence, security and welfare of military personnel are some of the sores that have festered over the years. Provisions such as preferential hearing of soldiers’ cases by civil administration and courts exist only on papers now and many district magistrates, police officers and judges are either not aware or remain deliberately callous in attending to genuine problems of soldiers and their families. Subsidised canteen facilities, medical facilities, military quota, field allowances and numerous other privileges that were once unique to military have been systematically usurped and multiplied by the civil services and politicians. Compare stocks and prices in Parliament House canteen or any other departmental canteen in Government offices and military canteens to know the difference. Today, AC suites in the state guesthouses and Bhavans in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri are available to politicians at Rs 45 per day with sumptuous non-veg dinner for Rs 130 per diner whereas Army officers passing through Delhi are gratified after paying Rs 500 or more for a room in a Delhi Cantt officers mess – if they get one at all!
Persistent representation on pay commission anomalies by the Services Headquarters to the MoD and Prime Minister yielded no positive result from the UPA Government even as hordes of anguished Ex-servicemen staged protests returning their service medals over non-grant of one-rank-one-pension (OROP). What is even more frustrating is that while both the Governments – UPA and NDA – had declared their approval and decision to implement OROP, no tangible gain has fructified yet.  
The need to maintain a youthful profile of the Armed Forces implies that a large number of JCOs and other ranks retire from the service at an early age of 35-48 years. Likewise, a majority of commissioned officers also retire between 52-54 years of age. This period is the most crucial phase in the life of the retiring personnel since the burden of family and social responsibilities is heaviest on a man at such a juncture. Increasing expenses on ailing parents, education and marriage of children, separation from family and a host of other responsibilities suddenly surround the retiring soldier. There are no second-career opportunities, no assured lateral absorption in government services nor is there any satisfactory rehabilitation scheme for hordes of youthful retiring service personnel. 
Unlike Civil Services, career progression in military narrows sharply as one advances in the service. With each successive promotion the pyramid becomes narrower because in a unit of 800 personnel there can be only one Subedar Major who will occupy this position for 3-4 years. Likewise, there can be only one Chief and seven Army Commanders at the top who shall serve 2-3 years, implying thereby that only eight out of every set of 3000 officers can aspire to reach these levels no matter how competent the remaining are. Whereas nearly 90 per cent IAS officers make it to secretary/additional secretary level, only 0.003 per cent officers in the armed forces reach that level.   The reason for mass screening out, unfortunately, is not incompetence or disqualification on grounds of merit but the scarce vacancies at the top. On the contrary, no civil servant retires without reaching the top pay scale in his stream, no matter how incompetent one might be. In such a situation, no cadre deserved a service compensation like ‘non-functional upgrade’ (NFU) more than the Armed Forces. Here ironically again, only civil service officers are granted NFU. There is no reason why such compensatory dispensation should be selectively granted to the civil services and denied to the soldiery.  
The long awaited and direly needed modernisation programme of the Armed Forces has remained mired in the complex procurement processes and bureaucratic red tape at the MoD and departments. Instances of corruption in some cases have vitiated the processes even further. As per a report tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Army’s modernisation programme has been declining steadily and ominously. A mere 27 paisa out of every rupee was being spent on capital expenditure (CAPEX) during 2008-09. It slid to 18 paisa per rupee by 2013-14. Narendra Modi’s arrival as India’s Prime Minister did boost aspirations of strategists and thinkers within and outside the Armed Forces. For once, it appeared that in its quest for a global role India could now embark upon a ‘transformation programme’ repositioning the military from its defensive and counter-offensive posturing to the level of a potent fearsome war waging Force capable of enforcing peace and deterring hegemonic adventures in South Asia and neighbourhood. Even as Arun Jaitley might seem overburdened as a Minister with two major portfolios – Defence and Finance, he is also the most suited man with acumen and understanding of both vis-à-vis the India’s strategic interests and military requirements. He will need to start streamlining the systems within the MoD itself.
Today the situation is dismal. The armour and the mechanised infantry remain equipped with obsolete or no night fighting capabilities. Only a small number of units have adequate night fighting capability. Deficiencies in armour ammunition including war wastage reserve have already reached critical levels. With no gun inducted ever since Bofors, artillery is ageing fast too. With no spares available, requirements are being met by ‘cannibalising’ – an emergency recourse that has reduced effectiveness by half. The state of army air defence is even worse. A major part of the main AD equipment is obsolete and inferior to what is being acquired by our adversaries.  L-70, Zu23-2B and ZSU23-4B (Schilka) guns are from 1960s vintage. AD missile units are equipped with Igla 1M, Strela 10M, OSA AK and Kvadrat missiles – all obsolescent in the wake of more advanced and effective systems like Spider (Israel), S-400 (Russia) and Patriot (US) available in the international market. Army Aviation is similarly carrying on with obsolete Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. New acquisition of 197 helicopters is stuck even four years after trials and re-valuation of Russian Kamov 226 and Eurocopter AS 550 models.      
For the infantry soldier, the indigenously designed INSAS rifle has proved to be inferior to the modern assault rifles being acquired by our adversaries. Critical deficiencies hampering infantry soldier’s combat potential include carbines, GPMG, anti-material rifles, anti-mine boots, lightweight bulletproof jackets, bulletproof helmets, third gen NVDs, anti-mine vehicles, snow scooters and new generation grenades.
One major reason why the situation is so dismal is the procurement procedure itself. In the high-tech high-speed digital age today, it takes as much as 3-4 years to have a procurement proposal approved because such proposals have to pass through a maze of tortuous processes involving more than 15 departments and agencies. “Expeditious processing also will take at least 48 months for a project to be approved,” says a senior IAS officer who retired early this year from MoD.  How this bureaucratic lethargy is taking toll of life and equipment is evident from the increasing loss of combat aircraft, war ships and submarines. Official callousness has become so frustrating that a meritorious Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral DK Joshi resigned in anger owning responsibility that lay at someone else’s desk for the repeated mishaps in submarines and ships. Ill-equipped men pushed into operations are either committing suicide, killing their colleagues or seniors in sheer frustration.

Perhaps for the first time in post-independence India, political parties realised the value of military personnel and ex-servicemen but only during the few months preceding general elections. All parties attempted to placate soldiers and ex-servicemen with a view to winning their support and vote during the recent Lok Sabha elections. Utterances from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi himself, however, seemed more reassuring. They indicated evidence of strategic vision and understanding of military requirements and the plight of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen. In his maiden budget speech, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley eloquently declared in Lok Sabha, “There can be no compromise with the defence of our country. I therefore propose to allocate an amount of 2,29,000 crore for the current financial year for Defence.... Modernization of the Armed Forces is critical to enable them to play their role effectively in the Defence of India’s strategic interests.” Thus, it would be fair to assume that the present Government is sincerely sensitive and alive to military requirements and the country’s strategic needs. In the initiation of defence reforms, it would be prudent to start from revamping the MoD so as to weave military expertise in the policy-decision mechanism at all levels of defence, security and strategic planning and coordination. Besides a positively inclined political leadership, India now has some seasoned bureaucrats with proven credentials of professional integrity and wisdom to grasp vital necessities of national defence. In Ajit Doval, we have a man of proven excellence who has vast experience in varied fields that fit him perfectly in his present position as National Security Advisor and Foreign Policy Advisor. Results of his ‘advice’ are already visible. Joining in this strategy-synergy blending with the Government is the new Army Chief, Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, whose crisp and sharp warning to Pakistan against any future misadventure across the Line of Control eloquently echoed Prime Minister Modi’s stand on national security and mutually respected neighbourliness. Gen Suhag’s credentials as a war hero, Special Forces Commander and an enviable performance record of prestigious instructional and staff appointments set him apart as a man who shall live up to the Government’s trust to deliver results. Together, the Team ‘Modi-Jaitley-Doval-Suhag’ exudes vision and confidence. India was perhaps never poised better to refurbish and lubricate its military might for bigger global roles.

The setting is perfect for much needed transformation of the Armed Forces by revamping MoD and by making soldiery an attractive, prestigious career for the youth of the country. 

[Acknowledgement: Courtesy Geopolitics magazine (Oct 2014)]