While addressing the annual Combined Commanders, Conference in November 2013, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had listed some serious challenges facing not just the armed forces but the entire national security structure of the country. He then, before concluding, spoke about civil-military relations. He said: ÒThere have been concerns that have been raised in recent times about the nature of civil-military relations in our country. Let me assert, clearly and unequivocally, that the political leadership of India has the highest faith in its military and its institutional rectitude within the democratic framework. The apolitical nature of our military and its proven professionalism are the envy of the world and have also nurtured the Indian democratic experience. Our democracy and institutions have proven their ability to deal with any issues or doubts that may arise.Ó
He was obviously referring to the ugly age related spat that had occurred between the government and General V.K. Singh, the former Chief of the Army Staff. The readers will recollect that one national newspaper had even alluded to a coup attempt. This news raised the heckles of all serving and retired service personnel of the armed forces as to them it seemed that the bureaucracy was once again at work to tarnish the image of the armed forces. One of the publications reported: On top of all this, members of the armed forces are furious about what they see as eroding pay, pension, and status in comparison to their civilian counterparts. However, with the retirement of the former Chief the matter went into the background.
With the election of the NDA government with an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha, that achhe din would arrive and that the long-delayed modernisation completely put off the rails by the UPA Defence Minister A.K. Antony would now see adequate progress and the other longpending issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) demand would also fructify. This was a strong belief in the ex-servicemen community in view of the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally prior to the elections. But as usual they were not aware of the forces at play.
The modernisation of the armed forces is moving forward, if we can say that, at a snailÕs pace. ÔMake in IndiaÕ seems to have caught the fancy of all without any clarity about what it means. Till date there is no implementable policy that has emerged in this regard. As far as the armed forces are concerned they are still going by the Make Procedure in vogue since 2008 in the Defence Procurement Procedure. This procedure allows a minimum indigenous content of 30 per cent with an imported content of 70 per cent in the manufacture of any system within the country.
Out of the three Services, the Army is the worst affected service with literally no modernisation in any arm of the service and nothing in the pipeline, at least not in the next few years. Apart from the nonchalant approach in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Army has to be apportioned a certain percentage of the blame because equipment and related of understanding modern tech- nology of army related systems. They should be capable of taking/ recommending decisions related to modernisation of all equipment used in the army and pushing the cases forward with competence and vigour. A pedestrian approach in this regard will invariably lead to inaction and delays which is what is happening.
As regards the OROP, the government, after protracted discussions with all concerned, made the much awaited announcement on the implementation OROP on September 5, 2015. However, as usual some - cial announcement made by the Defence Minister which led the United Front of Ex-Servicemen (UFESM) to point out seven serious shortcomings of the formal announcement made by the Defence Minister which are on the Internet. Thereafter despite many other letters including the one signed by 155 all ranks (including 80 retired Generals) addressed to the Prime Minister have not been acknowledged by the government. We have also learnt that the earlier letters written by the former Chiefs of the Army, Navy and the Air Force to the President have also not been acknowledged. The mentality and the disposition of the powers that be towards to the uniformed community are there for all to see.
On October 26, 2015, the Defence Minister Manohar Parri will be issued soon after the Bihar elections, and possibly before Diwali. It remains unclear whether the shortcomings pointed out by the ex-servicemen will be taken into account.
We would not be doing justice to the matters related to OROP if we do not highlight the part played by the media. In the initial days of the relay hunger strike of the ex-servicemen from July through September 2015, the media was very active and supportive of the ex-servicemen, however this stopped suddenly from end September onwards because the relay hunger strikes are still being undertaken with the same gusto as before. Many are of the view that unwritten instructions from the government are responsible for this media blackout. If this be touted press freedom and the bravado of our media men.
Lt General (Retd) V.K. Kapoor