I joined the Indian Navy in 1973. In a decade or so before that we had fought two bloody wars with Pakistan and one with China. The 1962 War with China resulted in shame and embarrassment thanks to the civilian leadership’s shortsightedness including the decision not to use the Air Force. The 1965 war was indecisive though we tasted many victories. The 1971 War, however, had resulted in a resounding victory; in a 12 days swift war, the Indian armed forces sorted out the problem of East Pakistan and of having the same enemy flanking us from the East and the West. The armed forces leadership covered up for the civil leadership’s indecisiveness and lack of foresight as well
The average Indians, having gone through experiences that tangibly and in many cases substantially touched their lives, were grateful and identified with the faujis. Yes, there were the business communities in Bombay and Gujarat who objected to the blackouts at nights, during the 1965 and 1971 wars, since their businesses and resultant money-making abilities were affected. But, the Indians, which had genuine respect for the armed forces, far outnumbered those that were driven by other interests including political compulsions. The atmosphere was replete with patriotic songs such as Ai mere watan ke logo, Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujwan shaheed ho, and Awaaz do ham ek hain.
Since then, there has been gradual and steady tumble downhill in the collective perceptions of our countrymen about the necessary evil called war and respect for the armed forces. Admittedly, this fall is a global phenomenon. As people become more secure, they start questioning the money being spent on and the brouhaha about security. This finds expression in such reasoning as, “Don’t be under the impression that only the armed forces personnel are patriotic. No national boundaries are going to be redefined now. I, working in my office, am addressing even more significant freedoms than a soldier does, eg, economic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom from moral and social taboos such as homosexuality.” However, the indifference towards the erstwhile saviours of the country, the faujis is more pronounced in India than elsewhere.
These are not the only drawing – room wars that our countrymen fight. The real war against the enemies of the country is as if always elsewhere, and no one other than the faujis is involved. I am reminded of Herman Wouk in The Caine Mutiny: “War is a terrible business in which people get killed and you are damn glad you ain’t one of them.” And mind you, Caine Mutiny was written at a time when the ongoing war affected millions of people.
It is almost like the kids on the net fighting video-game wars. There are planes, guns, missiles, bombs and warships. People do get killed, there is mayhem or massacre. But, there is no real blood, no real danger, no real pain of a mother losing her only son or that of a young, just-married widow. All that the kids are interested in is similar to their interest in cricketing jamborees such as IPL: ‘what’s the score?’ An average Indian today is as close to the image of this video-games kid as you can get.
There is a fierce war going on in Kashmir. There is one going on in the North-East. There is another in the Maoist belt that extends all the way from Nepal to Andhra. There is yet another war of law and order situations in the country getting out of hand due to bad management by those actually being paid and charged with controlling such situations. But, as far as our drawing-room warriors are concerned, the fauji is fighting his own battle or war without the slightest involvement of people. The other so called freedoms interest and fascinate them more; eg, freedom to see pornography in the confines of their bedrooms.
I hope to be proved wrong but I am already proved right to a large extent by the fact that this same fauji is now fighting helplessly against the injustice done to him in case of OROP by successive governments; and no one other than him and his family is involved. Yes, of course, our countrymen pay lip-service to the courage, values and plight of the faujis. But, why is there no general hue and cry about the step-motherly treatment meted out to them? The same countrymen who were up in arms, for example, against the injustice done to Jessica Lal and about waking up the conscience of the political leadership after Nirbhay’s rape in New Delhi, are silent now snd don’t even extend moral support. Possibly, singing paeans of the faujis by the people is just an effort to be counted amongst the patriotic. However, other than this, the people at large, the intelligentsia, and the media steer clear from any expression of support as if it doesn’t concern them. Anna Hazare was able to rally support for his anti-corruption campaign initially and people joined in protest in large numbers across the country and especially in the capital. However, matters of national security don’t seem to concern people. These are fit enough only to be used in run up to elections as handy tools for the vilification campaigns that our political parties indulge in.
The most shameful assault by the police, the henchmen of the political leaders, on aged armed forces veterans and their families, took place on the eve of the 69th Independence Day. However, our countrymen, the drawing-room warriors that they are, left it largely to the veterans to sort this out. The veterans are now forced to sit on fast unto death.
Initially, in the Kargil War, state funerals used to be organised when the body-bags of our soldiers started arriving. Nowadays, such body-bags don’t make much of a dent. It is, more or less, business as usual.
What about the rich industrialists? In my article of three years ago, ‘Armed Forces And the Indian Society’, which I recently circulated again for its relevance today, I had pointed out that the industrialists are the direct beneficiaries of secure environment inside the country and across the seas. Their businesses flourish. However, do you think anyone of them have contributed money or time or support for the OROP agitation? A few of our former services chiefs have gone to the extent of publicly saying that the continued neglect by the political bosses of the veterans and armed forces would eventually have serious consequences for the security of the country. This has ruffled no feathers anywhere.
Never before in the history of a nation the guarantors of the country’s independence have been so slighted. However, so strange is this country that there is nary a public outcry. As one of our political leaders said publicly and haughtily about the faujis: “They are paid to die.”
We, faujis, should be thankful that our countrymen haven’t (yet) asked us to pay for having been given the opportunity to secure their lives and the nation.
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