-Brig (retd) Anil Gupta-
Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the ongoing
agitation by a group of veterans ex-servicemen at Jantar Mantar in Lyuten’s Delhi, the treatment meted out to them at the hands of Delhi Police on October 30 will be recorded as the darkest day of Indian democracy. Armed Forces are the last bastion of the nation and have been mandated by the Constitution to not only safeguard the nation but the Constitution as well. Armed Forces’ veterans form a pool of trained and disciplined manpower engrained with nationalism which needs to be treated as an asset by the nation rather than a burden. Armed Forces form an important pillar of national strength and its members willingly forego many of their fundamental rights, basic necessities of a dignified life in order to ensure the safety of the nation’s frontiers. The members of the Indian Armed Forces take an oath of
allegiance to the Constitution, which no other government servant does,
indicating that they are a class apart. They are called Commissioned Officers and their parchment of Commission is signed by the President of India, as their supreme commander. The Constitution also mandates them to carry their ranks with them even after retirement. The Constitution recognises the uniqueness of the Indian Armed Forces and its members both serving and retired. Alas! the organs of the government do not recognise the same. Otherwise, how dare Delhi police treat the veterans, ladies and veer naris in the manner they did in front of beaming cameras! The same police are the first to disappear whenever a serious law and order
problem occurs and at the drop of hat, Army is called in to rescue them and handle the adversity. But against the peaceful veterans, they came out with vengeance. At whose behest is the question agitating the mind of those who saw a sheer display of arrogance, rudeness, disrespect and brutality?
The veterans have dedicated the best years of their life for the service of the nation and expect nothing else but respect and dignity when they return home having risked their lives almost on a daily basis when in service. Their courage, discipline, sense of sacrifice and love for the nation need to be imbibed in every citizen of this Nation if we desire to become a superpower. At the same time their ill-treatment can have long-term implications on National Security.
Their ill-treatment can be ignored at its own peril by the government. One should not lose sight of history. What happened in the USA after the World Wars, is a matter of study regarding the treatment of veterans by a nation however mighty it may be. Bonus Army was the name given to a group of World War 1 veterans who marched on Washington DC during the summer of 1932 demanding immediate
payment of cash bonuses promised to them by the Congress eight years
earlier vide World War Adjusted Compensation Act-1924.
The then US President Calvin Coolidge had vetoed the bill providing for the bonuses stating, “Patriotism, bought and paid for, is not patriotism.” Congress, however, overruled the veto. The bonuses were to be paid in 1945 on the respective birthdays of the veterans. On June 15, 1932 the lower house passed a Bill to move up the payment date of veteran’s
bonuses which was defeated by the Senate. Veterans protested peacefully but the police reacted violently
resulting in the death of two veterans. Meanwhile, more veterans had moved in with their families and were staying in well laid out camps around
Washington DC. On July 28, 1932 President Hoover ordered the US Army to clear the Bonus Army Camps and disperse the protestors. The US Army crackdown resulted in injuries to 55 veterans and 135 were arrested. In the 1932 elections Hoover was
defeated by a landslide vote
Hoover’s militaristic treatment of the veterans had contributed to his defeat. The sacrifices of the veterans in 1932 contributed towards enactment of GI Bill-1944, which has since assisted thousands of veterans make the often difficult transition to civilian life and in a small way pay back the debt owed to those who risk their lives for their country. There are many similarities in the Bonus Army episode and the ongoing struggle of the veterans. History knows no borders and often repeats itself!!!
The civilian control of the armed forces does not imply the control by those in civvies. In the garb of civilian control, the bureaucracy in India is trying to control the armed forces negating their
uniqueness as enshrined in the Constitution. In fact, Jantar Mantar is the manifestation of growing civil-
military divide in our country which every successive government has contributed towards its widening rather than bridging the gap. The state of affairs is not only saddening but alarming. The bureaucracy is hell bent to down grade the status and financial equivalence of the Armed Forces which becomes obvious with every pay commission report ever since the third pay commission. Armed Forces form 30% of the government’s work force yet they are not represented in any pay commission. It only displays the disdain with which every successive government has treated them. The serving soldiers and veterans are only demanding their due and not looking for any extra ordinary largesse, they are fighting for their izzat and status that has been continuously eroded by the babudom in Delhi. The warrant of precedence is tweaked to suit the convenience of the Babus. A Major General was equated to a joint secretary with 30 years’ service. The 30 year clause has been conveniently removed and today a joint secretary with 18 years of service equates himself with a Major General.
Nowhere in the world is police allowed to wear the badges of ranks of the army except in our country to achieve a false sense of equivalence. The most
ridiculous is an attempt to equate the ranks with the AFHQ services cadre which was raised as a subordinate
support cadre to assist the Armed Forces officers so that the availability of serving officers in active units is not affected. How can commissioned
officers be equated with any other
service let alone a subordinate service? It happens only in India in the garb of civilian supremacy. It goes to the credit of the present government to grant One Rank One Pension (OROP) which
previous governments denied.
There was certain dissatisfaction in some quarters and the government accepted that certain anomalies exist. One man Justice Reddy Commission was appointed in 2016 which submitted its report in November that year. Alas, the contents of the report are yet to be made public. The neglect is hurting the veterans, eroding the credibility of the government and adding to the widening civil-military rift. Ministry of Defence which is supposedly the custodian of the interests of the Armed Forces is the most distrusted organ of the State as far as the serving soldiers and veterans are concerned. The distrust is not ill-founded but is backed with substantial acts
of omission and commission. The
government needs to act post-haste to stop this trend and act as per various reports submitted concerning the revamping of MOD and integration of Armed Forces HQ with it.
(The author is a Jammu-based political
commentator and strategic analyst)