The men and women in uniform identify themselves with their service branches like Army, Navy, and Air Force. But for the common man, it is all the 'military' or the 'army.'
Thus, all discussions in public domain about 'military' or 'army' actually refer to the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
It is widely believed that the Army is apolitical. The Army unequivocally repeats it often.
Allegations of political intervention and influence in selections and placements crop up, but not very often. The veracity of such allegations aside, the beneficiaries of such political patronage rarely command any respect in the forces.
Far removed from polls
Discussions on politics and religion are discouraged at military gatherings. In fact, the men in uniform hardly get to participate in elections.
The very same apolitical nature and the distance from politicians and political parties might have got the forces a raw deal from successive pay commissions. With no political consequence, the men and women in uniform have been considered political discards, at least till 2014.
While the Army may be apolitical, political parties have always drawn mileage from successful Army actions. Mrs Gandhi politically milked the Army victory of 1971 to the hilt. Governments of the day often deploy Army to resolve crises precipitated by other organisations and extract political mileage. One event that the government boasts of is the 'much-talked' 'surgical strikes.'
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The surgical strike was termed 'phenomenal' and billed as 'the first-of-its kind' in the history of the Army.
Countless battalion-level actions by the Army over the past seven decades at the line of control, heroics of the 1971 war, and the steely resolve on the Siachen glacier paled in comparison to the 'surgical strike.'
Some spokespersons even commented that the Army had finally become 'decisively aggressive.'
Some members of the opposition, with no idea of the Army, expressed disbelief at such an operation. Many, including those who felt that an armyman is paid to die, rushed to own the success pie.
While special operations experts vehemently decried the publication of the 'operation videos,' the success rightfully belongs to the government of the day. Amid the raging debate and political wrangling, soldiers and officers continue to carry on with surgical and not-so-surgical operations routinely.
Army as political audience
Though such practices always existed, the Army has never been the political audience till the election rally at 'Rewari,' a village in Haryana. It was for the first time in the history of independent India that a political party directly addressed the community of veterans, their friends, and families and through them the serving men and women of the military as an 'electoral asset.' The party promised to implement OROP and address the much-agonizing 'status degrade' besides introducing non-functional upgrade (NFU).
It also successfully highlighted the 'heartlessness' of the Ministry of Defence contesting genuine claims of widows and disabled soldiers in various courts of law. Induction of a former chief into the political arena ensured credibility, effectively garnering 'fauji' loyalty. Riding on an anti-incumbency wave and fuelled by the huge new political asset that added electoral weight and volumes across states, the party scripted a landslide victory. Rewari transformed the 'military' into a political asset.
Four years since Rewari, things haven't worked out the way 'faujis' thought it would. For the first time in history, veterans took to the streets to press for the things promised. Veterans, men and women, were manhandled at the Jantar Mantar. It was prime-time news which was on air just momentarily.
Various ministers declare successful and full implementation of OROP and other long-pending demands.
The number of cases the MoD is contesting in various courts of law apart, spokespersons continue to glorify the humane touch with which government deals with widows and disabled soldiers. Public proclamations of having done everything promised apart, veterans are a disappointed lot who still agitate peacefully.
Men in uniform are fast learners and can adapt in no time when it comes to survival. It won't be long before veterans realise that volumes in electoral presence is of utmost importance on the negotiating table. It is likely that veterans and by extension, serving soldiers, their families and relatives may become a recognisable political entity. It may not be far-fetched to say that this community may exert significant influence on electoral outcomes.
As of now, they might not subscribe to a single political party but that does not restrict them from supporting en masse, across the nation, a political party that would guarantee their just demands. It would be a sad day for the country when members of an institution that has zealously remained apolitical are forced to exert political influence to get what is rightfully theirs. Only time can tell.
(Jacob Tharakan Chacko is a retired major-general with 36 years of experience at various managerial and directional posts. He is a recipient of the Sena Medal. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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