The latest rusty nail in the coffin of good feeling and goodwill by ex-servicemen for the BJP comes with the utterly pointless and sycophantic label given to the Indian Army as ‘Modiji ki sena’ by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
For one, the Indian Army belongs to no individual; it falls the ambit of the President of India and this tactless remark compelled former Navy chief L Ramdas to file a petition with the Election Commission objecting to the politicalisation of the Indian Army. While one cannot blame Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the absurdities of his frontline generals, the prime minister must take some responsibility for their mindset and their outbursts.
Truth be told, if it wasn’t for a litany of heartbreaking complaints against ex-servicemen and the chasm which exists between these former soldiers and officers and their counterparts in 26 other gazetted government police and paramilitary setups, perhaps Adityanath’s remark would have slipped past as just another political snafu.
The fact that 68 other civil services all get non-functional upgradation allowances which the Indian Army does not makes this exception rankle. Therefore, if you are injured or handicapped on duty you do not get the same benefits as the police, those in the Border Roads Organisation and the others. But the bitterness is intense and the angst palpable. Social media platforms are thick with intent if not a flat diktat not to vote for the BJP.
One cause for anger is that the next of kin of a CRPF soldier killed in the line of duty can retain accommodation till the date of that soldier’s natural superannuation. An Indian Army soldier losing his life only calls for his family to get three years’ housing after his death. This is one of dozens of examples brought up online with much outrage — much of it targetting Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, whose decisions have been deemed hostile — as an example of an insult to the Indian Army. Others range from opening up cantonments to giving access to civilians at already stretched-thin military hospitals to the discrepancies in pensions whereby junior officers get more than their seniors.
The fiscal discrepancies are seen as the Machiavellian machinations of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Every day, retired generals and others pen furious and indignant letters to the Ministry of Defence and put up the copies on social media. Even General Satbir, the chief of the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement (ESM) believes they have been fobbed off with false promises. The rancour builds up and even if one discounts much of it as the venting of these commanders now consigned to the retirement farm where they can flail away on networks and talk shows, there is no denying that the collective fury impacts the numbers game.
Do the math: There are 25 lakh ex-servicemen. Being the seniors in their families, they are capable of influencing on average at least five relatives and another five others (friends, neighbours and staff). Another 5,000 retire each month. The ESM sees these figures as conservative and believe they also have the moral support of over a million serving personnel who are marching closer to retirement with each passing day, who do not like what they see (at least that’s what these personnel say off the record). Add another 1.6 lakh war widows, and according to the league, you have a dollop of emotional cream on top of this sundae.
Colonel Dhiren Bahl, who is also in the forefront of the fight for military justice offers a comparison: Actually, they don’t want their junior officers to get the same pay they get, irrespective of the fact that it is affecting civil-military equations, like a Brigadier zonal chief engineer getting less pay than his subordinates who are superintending engineers. In some cases, they have stopped attending his meetings and letting him inspect their work; while travelling to conferences, junior civilian subordinates travel business class, in better cars, have a higher Travelling Allowance, Dearness Allowance, higher allowance for meals on Temporary Duty, etc. His question: How does this help the morale of the Indian Army?
Satbir, a tireless fighter for the rights of equality in the forces first came into the limelight in the battle for One Rank One Pension. Now, the list of grievances has grown. He said his meeting with the Sitharaman and the briefing he gave her on salient issues 18 months ago have borne no fruit. Although no one ready to be quoted on saying that the ex-servicemen are upset with the government, the attitude is as unambiguous as the message: Vote for those who respect you.
Maybe the numbers are insignificant, but it boggles the mind. Why doesn’t the BJP government give the Indian Army parity with other uniformed entities? No more, no less.