ARMED FORCES PERSONNEL WERE RICH

The title doesn’t seem to go well with the constant struggle that the armed forces seem to be having for obtaining adequate remuneration for the serving and retired personnel. Curiously,  this intense – and at times, bitter – struggle is not with the government but with another arm under the government (just like the armed forces) called bureaucracy. Bureaucracy or babugiri has relentlessly endeavoured to keep the armed forces on a tight leash and is often seen fighting tooth and nail anything given to the faujis as just job satisfaction.

This article, however, is not about the babus’ penchant for “saving public money” by suggesting re-usable condoms. You can’t get the better of them by writing articles or returning your medals at rallies at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. They know every Jantar and Mantar for keeping the armed forces essaying to get out from the maze they have put them in.

Admiral SM Nanda, the CNS with Mrs Indira Gandhi, the PM (direct access and not through the babus!)
Admiral SM Nanda, the CNS with Mrs Indira Gandhi, the PM (direct access and not through the babus!)

This article, on the other hand, is about how rich the armed forces personnel were. That they were and are rich in commitment, valour, values and patriotism is already an established fact with very few exceptions. This article is about their richness in money terms. I have taken me and family as test case since no officer in the armed forces would be as poor as I was when I served the armed forces of this great country.

Why did I choose to be poor? I had my anakh (Punjabi word meaning Pride or Honour) as a young man born in a Punjabi family wherein they would do anything to keep their anakh. I had seen my father exhibiting it in large measure when he married my mom. He won’t expect and accept a single paisa from anyone that included his parents and her parents. A self-made man, he boasted with loud guffaws that he was a king.

So, unconsciously, I followed his example, but went several steps ahead of him. As the train took me to the Naval Academy in Jun 1973, I decided that there won’t be a single occasion whence I would take anything in money or in kind from my parents. I was on my own and I became fiercely independent.

The Navy looked after all my needs. The highest pay that I got in the Navy was as a Midshipman, Acting Subaltern Lieutenant and then Lieutenant; that is all before the age of thirty. I could eat and drink merrily and have sufficient left over to see movies and buy me shirts from Charagh Din and other clothes from shops in Colaba; the kind I could never afford again during my remaining career in the Navy. What is more, we could afford to dine, once in a while, at restaurants like Delhi Durbar, Khyber, and in restaurants of Taj and Oberoi hotels. And then we had our clubs and messes that gave us a life-style that many were envious of.

We could also go abroad once in a while on ship visits and even whilst staying within the Custom regulations we could buy the latest in two-in-one music systems and cameras. Imported Canteen goods from ship-chandlers too gave us some social edge; imagine a girl being presented with Tosca perfume or Toblerone or Hershey’s chocolates during those days when not many in the civil-street could afford them.

Also, by better and more efficient use of the resources given to them, the armed forces’ messes looked plush, glamorous and could match the fare and atmosphere of five star hotels. The decorum and traditions in these messes would actually put them even beyond these hotels. On the occasions of Mess Nights, one felt like a king with the wives matching the deportment of royal families. I don’t remember many occasions when there was any lengthy and persistent talk about how poorly we were paid.

The average countrymen vied with one another to get a glimpse of the impeccably turned out men and women in uniform on the Republic Day at Rajpath. Those who had the privilege of having attended a naval function, for example, told of their experiences proudly in public fora and media.

A view of the RD Parade of 1951. Countrymen vying with one another to have a glimpse of the smartly turned out men in uniform (Pic courtesy: www.pinterest.com)
A view of the RD Parade of 1951. Countrymen vying with one another to have a glimpse of the smartly turned out men in uniform (Pic courtesy: www.pinterest.com)

On special occasions like Navy Ball, the elite of the city vied with one another to be seen in such functions; Navy was a way of life that was looked up to. An old time video of a Navy Ball shows the best film-stars and personalities in Hindi film industry attending the Navy Ball: Mohammad Rafi, Raj Kapoor, Raj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Vyjayanthimala, Nutan etc.

The first "Navy Day" on December 04 was celebrated in 1972. On this Day when the Navy dedicated itself anew to the service of the nation, the Army Postal Service Corps (56 APO) brought out a Special Cover to commemorate the Navy Day on 4 December 1972.
The first “Navy Day” on December 04 was celebrated in 1972.
On this Day when the Navy dedicated itself anew to the service of the nation, the Army Postal Service Corps (56 APO) brought out a Special Cover to commemorate the Navy Day on 4 December 1972.

The government had intended it to be so; so as to make the difficult, challenging and life-sacrificing profession of armed forces attractive for the youth of the country. It was an acknowledgement of the tough and risky lives that they led. The government voiced this in various fora and documents. No one had reckoned that the wily babu would not envy this life-style in the manner of the common countrymen; but, would like to bring it down to the level wherein armed forces personnel would have to beg and agitate for their rights and privileges.

PM Indira Gandhi with the crew of INS Vikrant, the ship that helped her win the 1971 War (Pic courtesy: Indian Express)
PM Indira Gandhi with the crew of INS Vikrant, the ship that helped her win the 1971 War (Pic courtesy: Indian Express)

Gradually, armed forces men fell down to tenth or beyond choice of eligible women for marriage. The babu laughed smugly. Gradually, everyone wanted to become a babu; leaving the profession of arms for the desperate, third-class, and less than ordinary men and women. The babu  patted himself on the back. Gradually, people seemed to forget that whilst we have the finest armed forces in the world, we also have one of world’s worst bureaucracy. The babu smiled with self-satisfaction. Gradually, the armed forces personnel returned their medals, sat on hunger-strikes, and were reduced to the dishonourable ways of the netas and the babus. The babu guffawed triumphantly and said, “Now, I have got them where I wanted them to be. They are as bad as the rest of us. I got fed up of listening to them being the saviours of the country.”

The babu won. The country lost.

© 2014 – 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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12 Comments

  1. When your soldiers have to ask for their rights you cease to have the right to rule-Channakya.

  2. Written more than a year ago, so very relevant today when the veterans are literally out on the streets agitating and fasting for OROP. Ravi, you have brought out the shenanigans of the babus eloquently and subtly, at the same time. Very well done indeed! I would like to state that in addition, our own top brass failed their men miserably.