In a few short months, we are in for what is bound to be one long hot summer, global warming notwithstanding. Our enemies are at our gates and the prospect of conflict well within the realms of possibility. After all, the PLA must be keen to get on with its unfinished business, though what that might be, neither our military nor civil leadership have quite figured out!
If that were not enough, Mr. Modi’s Government has brought upon itself a perfect storm domestically as well. Adding to the challenges of dealing with the ongoing pandemic and a stuttering economy, they have now boxed themselves into a corner with the farmer agitation that refuses to disappear. Delhi, for all intents and purposes, is a city under siege with police barricades and trenches to keep the “heathen” out, that would put our defences on the LOC to shame.
Despite the most unfortunate and shameful shenanigans on Republic Day, for which the Home Minister must also take his fair share of the blame, the agitation only seems to have gained momentum. Especially, as allegations of underhand attempts by the government, aided by a pliable police and media, to discredit and divide the protestors, gains broader currency and acceptance within civil society. In any case, let us not give undue importance to the Red Fort incident, as it would be worth remembering that it was always seen as a symbol of repression, which is why Netaji Subhas Bose gave his clarion call for “Delhi Chalo”. In fact, if it is symbols’ we crave, we would do well to respect Parliament, the temple of our democracy!
It is a no brainer that as the stand-off lengthens the chances of violence only increase, especially if the protestors resort to actions that adversely impact the Capital’s residents. One may recall the water crisis Delhi faced protesters breached the Munak Canal during the Jat Agitation of 2016. This is a larger and more widespread agitation, and the Government will certainly be hard-pressed in countering similar moves. Moreover, it can ill afford to have protests breaking out within the city as well against shortages of food or other essential items.
Off course, true to character, this Government appears to be unfazed by all the challenges it faces, both internally and externally. It seems more concerned with winning the State Elections that are due in the next few months. Especially, the one in Bengal where rats in droves are abandoning a floundering Trinamool in the hopes of greener pastures, or should that be saffron?
In all of this what should be of serious concern to each of us, is the fact that despite a lot of talk, adequate attention is still not being paid to the Armed Forces. At a time when not only is it under pressure to counter Chinese perfidy, it also finds itself facing internal challenges it could do without. Let us not forget that the vast majority of our soldiers are drawn from our villages, especially in Northern India, and are deeply affected by the treatment meted out to their compatriots who are agitating against the Farm Laws. To believe this will not have an adverse impact on soldiers, who may well find themselves in combat in the coming months, would be an egregious act of denial.
Amongst all the hoopla accompanying the presentation of the latest budget, the fact that the defence budget has seen only a marginal increase is hardly helpful. Through a splendid piece of accounting gymnastics, the Finance Minister has increased capital outlay by 18% despite a marginal increase in the defence outlay by 1.4% over the previous year. While additional sums to procure new equipment have already been spent, these were primarily to cover existing shortfalls, and can in no way be considered a part of modernization.
Interestingly, this piece of wizardry was achieved by reducing the outlay for pensions which clearly suggests that the Government intends to go through with some of the rather unreasonable and unviable proposals mooted earlier by General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff. While extension of service, forcible retention of skilled personnel and penalising those opting for premature release, the proposals in question, may temporarily ease the pension burden, they will adversely impact efficacy and cohesion within the Services in the long run. A clear case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Understandably, all governments tend to be inherently autocratic, and having a pliable Police and CAPF that will do its bidding is therefore, of utmost importance. But this should not be at the cost of the military as has been the case ever since Mr. Modi came to power. The talk of doing away with military cantonments to monetise defence land, continued refusal to granting NFFU to service personnel and the OROP stalemate are just examples of this mindset. For that matter, having Police Bands at the forefront of the Beating of the Retreat function, which is essentially a Military Tattoo, amounts to disrespecting military traditions and customs and hurting the sentiments of serving personnel and veterans alike.
Such an attitude is hardly helpful as it not only creates friction between the Police/CAPF and the Military, but also impacts morale within the Services. Not something that is desirable in these perilous times.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
END OF ARTICLE