IN the nine years that UPA has been in power, the number of defence deals India has signed with various countries for arms procurement has been phenomenal. And yet, the entire defence structure in the country is in a state of disquiet.
The government has successfully kept the senior officers and chiefs of the three forces out of the process of planning and execution of policies that directly affect not just the forces but the very sovereignty of the nation. Whether it is regarding the Armed Forces Special Act or the deployment of army in Kashmir, the UPA government has made it a political decision rather than strategic. So much so that the Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah uses the army presence in the state a favourite punching bag whenever he is in political trouble.
During the course of a TV debate the other day, former Army Chief Gen. V P Malik explained how the defence forces of India are being kept out of India-Pakistan talks. He said earlier such flagrant violations of ceasefire as happened recently—when two Lance Naiks were killed and one of them decapitated—would have been taken up by the combined defence forces. The powers of the senior commanders of the three wings, especially the army have been restrained by the civilian government for political reasons. So much so that they have to wait for a nod from Delhi to act even in an on-the-spot case. For four days now analysts on news channels and papers have been discussing how Pakistan should be punished for its latest brutality. This is not the first time. Only a few days ago, the father of Captain Kalia who was tortured to death by the Pakistani soldiers during Kargil, had decided to approach the international forum because the government of India had done precious little to make Pakistan apologise for its inhuman treatment of a soldier.
The UPA government has taken a cavalier attitude towards the defence of the borders of the nation, the same disdain it has shown to several other issues concerning the people. According to reports, the government has proposed a five per cent cut in the defence allocation this budget year amounting to Rs 10,000 crore. Since huge sums have already been pledged to various deals, this reduction is bound to affect the operations. It has been pointed out in several reports that at the top level all the three forces are suffering from lack of trained personnel. Several issues regarding the pay parity and pension have been pending for years, which the government is in no mood to solve.
The Indian Air Force planes are used generously by the political leadership for travelling for party work. According to a reply filed on an RTI from Ramesh Verma from Hissar (Haryana), Sonia Gandhi travelled in IAF aircraft 49 times in seven years while her son Rahul Gandhi used them eight times in three years. Both are not entitled to use the IAF planes.
The Congress-led government stooped so low as to withdraw the security cover of former Army Chief Gen VK Singh. It is riled about the fact that he acted as a whistle blower on several misdeeds in the defence set-up in the country and continued his fight for honesty, joining hands with Anna Hazare. (Singh is not the only senior army officer to join politics. Gen SK Sinha, Gen KP Candeth and Gen JFR Jacob have all taken active part in politics. Gen Joginder Jaswant Singh was appointed governor of Arunachal Pradesh by the UPA government). So why this ham-handed approach unless it is a vendetta?
In India, the civil and the military relationship is well-defined. And yet, over the years, the say of the bureaucrats and political appointees has been increasing in matters that are purely strategic and should be dealt with by battle-scarred soldiers. This is one aspect that almost all the retired officers mentioned repeatedly in TV discussions. Unlike in most other countries it is not required in India for a defence minister or defence secretary to have any knowledge, even cursory, of the subject. They may not be able to distinguish between a rifle and an AK-47. And yet, they would decide how many should be procured and who should use it.
George Fernandes, when he was the Defence Minister, was appalled to find that snow scooters, required by the Army had been denied for years by the bureaucrats in Sena Bhawan because they failed to grasp the purpose of this. And now, the UPA government has handed out the worst of insults. It is refusing to give a befitting reply to those who are daring to kill and maim our soldiers. The Congress party and the UPA have no use for anyone who cannot deliver them their ‘hafta’, the weekly dole that is snatched by goons in urban market centres. Defence is as good as the cut it entails.