Now that our Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister), Shri AK Antony, has, like all politicians before him and probably after him, shown aversion to talk to his service chiefs we need to examine why is it so. Even our bureaucrats are used to putting the uniformed personnel in their place. We have reached a situation in our country when the collective neglect, indifference and aversion of the government, administration and police towards the armed forces has made this honourable profession one of the least attractive of all professions in India for the youth of the country. One would think that the countrymen, at large, would hold the armed forces personnel, resplendent in their uniforms, in awe and esteem. Yes they do. But, eligible men don’t want to join the forces and eligible women don’t want to marry faujis. When I was in the school, there was a popular Punjabi song whose words were: “O, fauji nu bayaah de babula, chaahe boot sanhe lat maare.” (O Father, I want to get married to a soldier even if he kicks me with his boots). In contrast, a decade back, a survey done amongst eligible brides showed that they ranked armed forces personnel as the tenth choice for marriage.
It is really not understandable because Indian Armed Forces rank amongst the finest in the world in achievements, training, caliber and efficiency of their personnel. In comparison, the Indian politicians, bureaucrats and police personnel, who might just have begun from the same stock in schools and villages, are ranked amongst the worst in the world. And yet, an Indian Police Officer, for example, reaches the rank of a DIG in about 12 to 14 years of service but his armed forces equivalent requires twice as much service.
Could it be that in India that is increasingly become materialistic and dumbed down, money, power and status, together with stability of posting near one’s home place, are considered more important than honour and dignity that comes with having a President’s Commission? Also, since the levels of commitment, rectitude and training in the armed forces viz-a-viz their civilian counterparts are extremely high, the latter feel that the former and their impractical fauji ways should be kept at several arms’ lengths.
The awe is obvious when civilians – used to their environment of filth, chaos, casual dresses and chalta hai (couldn’t care less) attitude – are suddenly exposed to order, discipline, efficiency, shining uniforms and professionalism of the armed forces.
A Raksha Mantri, many years ago, was visiting the Indian Flagship Vikrant (an aircraft carrier; now a museum ship). After the forenoon’s intense flying operations, as he came to the wardroom for drinks and lunch, he had the Master Chief Petty Officer Steward, looking smart in his tunic and pants (worn for the ceremonial occasion) serving him small-eats from a tray. The RM looked at the MCPO Steward and decided that he must be a very senior officer (most of them have no idea of ranks in the armed forces, let alone in the Navy). So he took the tray from the nonplussed MCPO and offered to him the delicacies in return by saying, “Pehle aap” (You first). The senior sailor nearly died of mortification.
I am also reminded of two boys who grew up in the same town and studied in the same school. The politician’s son hated the other who wanted to join the navy. Their hatred and aversion continued till well after they finished their schooling.
Many years later, the politician’s son had himself become a politician of some fame – nay notoriety; whereas, the other had become an Admiral. One day the Netaji (politician) or Mantriji (Minister) saw the Admiral, resplendent in his uniform in the lobby of a hotel. Mantriji recognised the latter straightway when the latter wasn’t looking and with the power that came with his post, wanted to show down the Admiral. So he called him thus, “Bell boy, please get me a taxi.”
The Admiral turned around and confronted his boyhood bête noire, saw the shabby attire and the belly that many Indian politicians have, which looked like that of a pregnant lady, and responded, “Certainly ma’am; but, in your condition should you be traveling?”
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