When you agitate about a cause these days – unlike Mahatma Gandhi in pre-independence India whose strength was always truth and hence he called it satyagraha – you do it from a position of strength. Your position of strength invariably stems from the great harm, inconvenience, and loss that will accrue to people because of disruption of services caused by the agitation. Lets take truckers strike to demand abolition of hike in octroi. The disruption of services initially inconveniences people but eventually, the prices of essential commodities go up, there is all round hue and cry and government is keen to bring the striking truckers on the negotiating table with overt and covert concessions. The brand of democracy that we have perfected is democracy by coercion.
There is no such parallel in the OROP agitation by veterans. As I wrote in ‘Indians And Drawing Room Wars’, this is an agitation in which only the veterans are involved. The media was involved in two ways: one for the political fall-out issue of the leanings of their respective publications and electronic channels; and two, because of their TRPs since nothing sells better than jingoism and any issue of the faujis instantly provokes jingoism. Indeed, the BJP spokesmen, conscious of this jingoism, in panel discussions on the television, tried to gain brownie points by touching the feet of the veterans and making other obsequious noises. The media, however, quickly abandoned the veterans and soon latched on to Indrani Mukherjee shrewdly calculating that murder mysteries and debauchery sell even better than jingoism.
So, the OROP agitation, stays what it was originally – a satyagarha for a just cause, with a difference that no one’s life is affected by it and people at large range from disinterested lot to jingoists.
I am reminded of this scene in Shyam Benegal’s movie Nishant (Night’s End) wherein the idealist village school teacher (Girish Karnad) has his wife (Shabana Azmi) abducted and molested by the the local goons. The school-teacher goes to the town in an attempt to obtain justice from the civil authorities. He meets with no success simply because his wife being raped doesn’t affect their lives or conscience. In any case, my experience of bureaucrats in general and of teaching them in defence orientation courses in particular is that soon after their graduation from Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie, they get rid of their conscience and scruples as no longer necessary for their professional upbringing. So, in an attempt to get over his disgust, anger and frustration, the village school-teacher, on his return journey to the village, throws his weathered black umbrella down and jumps over it and kicks it. The veterans can do similar things unless they can carry the people with them and it starts pinching the indifferent government and the bureaucracy. Even in Nishant, the villagers support is mobilized in the end of the movie though this support turns violent and the oppressors are slaughtered.
The rallying point is, naturally, the incalculable harm being done to the fabric of this nation. There is a beautiful article, for example, by my friend Col Subin Balakrishnan, Retd., titled ‘The Real Cost of OROP‘ and another one by Rohit Agarwal titled ‘Penny foolish, pound foolish’ in which he has worked out that not rewarding pre-mature retirement and keeping oldies in the armed forces not doing any productive would be much costlier than giving them OROP.
But, these are not enough. We, the veterans, have to constantly bring home to them as to what is lost in the din of OROP agitation and continued indifference and machinations by the netas and the babus.
The existential struggles of us Indians, our forever indulging in politics even in matters concerning national security, and our proven preference for short-term gains in comparison to long-term national interests, have made us overlook some of the direct and indirect consequences of the prolonged OROP agitation. These indeed have serious repercussions for us as a nation. In the present mind-set of our people, they would scarcely think of these unless adequate reminders are given:
1. Lack of Strategic Culture. We look at the synergy between various arms of the government in, say, our neighbouring nation China or the most powerful nation United States. The former is widely regarded as our competitor, if not an immediate adversary. The latter is the nation that we secretly want to emulate. There is a long term perspective, a strategic culture, that is clearly understood between various arms of the government. We have always bemoaned the lack of it in India. The result is that even in our immediate neighbourhood no one takes us seriously. Our growth and influence suffer. We were like this in all these years of Congress rule. The BJP promised to be different. However, let alone bringing out and promoting any concert between the three important arms of the government, we now have the biggest chasm ever. This would eventually be detrimental to the interests of the nation in India and abroad.
2. Loss of Trust between Faujis and Politicians. Trust and confidence are built up when you do the right things even if you struggle. It took forty-two years to restore OROP to the services which was withdrawn in 1973 so as to serve the vested interests of the bureaucrats. All along, the faujis felt that they had to reckon with the indifference and animosity of the babus only. It has now come out loud and clear that the politicians, irrespective of the party that they belong to, are wont to dishonour their own promises and clear-cut supreme court rulings. This loss of trust appears to be permanently etched on the psyche of the average fauji now. This would, naturally, have serious consequences for the morale of the armed forces. Our service chiefs have often bemoaned the shortages in equipment and platforms affecting preparedness for war and other eventualities. However, the high levels of commitment, training and the crucial morale used to cover for these shortages. But, now, we have a situation wherein the morale itself is dwindling.
3. Loss of Fascination For Armed Forces amongst the Youth. Who wants to join the services that are treated so shabbily? There are other options available for young men and women. However, what about the armed forces themselves? If the youth of the country make it as one of their last choices, who would defend the country against external aggression and many other prevalent threats? Or is it that these ever increasing threats would vanish like election promises?
4. Loss of Trust Between Jawans and Officers This is such a serious issue that former chiefs brought it out to the government alarmingly. They contended that the jawans feel that not getting their due from the government is actually failure of leadership of the armed forces. When the chips are down, it is this trust in leadership that makes the crucial difference. The loss of this trust has serious consequences, they said. The government brushed it aside as something of little consequence. Indeed, it appears that anything other than vote-bank politics and asserting supremacy of religion is considered inconsequential by the government.
5. Loss of Hope for Countrymen. Narendra Modi provided or promised hope and fair-play as opposed to UPA govt mired in scams and controversy. And then started these machinations by Jaitly and Modi. This and the scams that they themselves have got into has certainly resulted into loss of hope for the countrymen. Many of them are now justifiably asking who should they turn to now that all the fronts have provided the same loss of hope. The country, which had brightened up with Modi’s promise of good governance slowly recedes to despair.
6. Ill Foreboding. This perhaps is the most serious. Modi is a very shrewd, calculating, politically savvy man. I am sure that he is aware of the larger issue involved in the OROP agitation, which is, to set right the balance upset by the systematic degradation of the status of the armed forces personnel at the hands of the babus. And yet, he has openly sided with the babus in approving piece-meal implementation of the OROP at their behest. He has chosen to disregard Supreme Court directives and the sentiments of his armed forces personnel who are traditionally the most loyal servants. Choosing to side with one of the worst bureaucracies in the world can mean only one of the two things. One, that he doesn’t consider himself strong enough to rein in the reckless and largely corrupt bureaucracy. Two, and I hope it is not correct, that he has skeletons in the cupboard and feels compelled to keep the bureaucracy on his right side.
Two of the most damaging images seen by our countrymen in recent times are: One, the police assault on veterans in Jantar Mantar on the eve of independece day; and Two, the government washing its hands off after promise of piece-meal implementation of OROP with an attitude of this far and no further; and then, brow-beating the entire media into submission by asking them not to cover the massive peaceful rallies post the piece-meal announcement. The message that it clearly sends is that the government is fed up of its own armed forces.
I started the article by saying that the veterans don’t appear to be having a position of strength viz-a-viz the government. Perhaps there is one, which is that the tenacity and leadership of the armed forces that made them deliver Bangladesh in 1971 War, in the absence of any clear-cut directives by the government, would hold them in good stead and it is the babu-neta nexus that would eventually lose.
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