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Sunday, June 27, 1999
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Let Army remain apolitical
By Pritam Bhullar

WHAT raised many eye-brows and created a controversy of sorts the other day was the Defence Minister George Fernandes’ unprecedented action in taking a Lt-Gen and an Air Marshal for briefing a meeting at the BJP’s office which was presided over by the party chief Kushabhau Thakre.

That this was an aberration which should not be repeated cannot be denied by any right thinking person. For, in a democratic set-up like India, the armed forces come under the government and not under any political party or parties. These parties, even when they are running the government, do not have any direct access to the armed forces. The argument that the senior military officers were taken to the party office to assist George Fernandes does not wash.

Mercifully, the Indian Army has a well-established reputation of being apolitical ever since the country became independent. This time-tested profile of the defence forces has stood them and the country in good stead. Such a briefing as Fernandes has invented, has never been done in the past even during our wars with Pakistan and China.

If political parties start vying with one another for establishing a nexus with senior defence officers, the result will be the same as we have seen in some neighbouring countries. The senior military officers are not super-human. It would, therefore, be in the interest of the country to keep them insulated from the shoddy game of party politics.

Let there be no mistaking of the well-established fact in future that briefing of the political party that runs the government is not the same as briefing of the government.

Welfare of ex-servicemen

With about 60,000 defence personnel retiring every year, the number of ex-servicemen, their families and dependents is swelling with every passing year and is estimated to be around 1.5 crore now. No single agency can look after the welfare of such a large number of ex-servicemen. The national effort has, therefore, to be geared up to make ex-servicemen, their families and widows feel that the country is indebted to them for their sacrifices. Alas! very little, if anything, has been done for them so far.

What is heartening against this background is that the Army has come to realise over the years that the morale of the serving soldiers largely depends on the morale of the ex-servicemen. Several formations are, therefore, chipping in to render help to the latter in more ways than one.

The Bhootpurva Sainik Sahayata Kendra (BSSK) opened at Mamun Cantonment in the Northern sector in March 1998, is providing all essential facilities to ex-servicemen and widows under one roof by assisting them in getting their revised pensions. Loans from the Army and the state governments, by helping them in their court cases and in getting employment. The BSSK complex has a well run CSD canteen and an MI room for their medi-care.

The record of 5262 ex-servicemen who are registered with the BSSK is maintained on computers. Of the 1362 grievance cases registered with the BSSK, 540 have already been resolved. And until the end of April, 52 wards of ex-servicemen were enrolled in the Army due to the efforts of the BSSK.

Kargil sackings

Little did our troops know that the reinforced concrete bunkers that they were vacating in the forward location of the Kargil sector at the onset of winter in 1998 would be protecting Pakistani intruders from our artillery shelling and air strikes in "Operation Vijay". That this has happened cannot be easily explained away without apportioning blame.The Asian Age reported the other day that a Maj-Gen and a Brigadier posted in the Kargil-Leh sector were being relieved of their duties. Though this action was restrained at that time, the sacking exercise was put into motion in the second week of June when a Brigadier and a Colonel were reportedly relieved of their duties. More sackings seem to be in the offing.

When Pakistan surprised us, as it always does, by launching "Operation Grand Slam" in the Chhamb sector on September 1, 1965, we nervously opened another front to draw Pakistani forces away from Chhamb. This resulted in our suddenly moving formations and units from certain other sector overnight to advance into Lahore sector on September 6. So much so that the unit and formation commanders were ordered to launch attacks without any daylight reconnaissance against all teachings.

In many cases, the commanders failed to accomplish their tasks and met their Waterloo. This shattered the morale of not only the officers but also of the rank and file.

No doubt, some officers will have to be sacked for taking things for granted in the Kargil sector. But this action as far as possible should have been pended until the situation stabilised on the front. Now since the sacking has started, it should not remain restricted to the lower level and must travel upwards also according to the culpability of each higher commander.

Election gimmick

The decision of the Punjab Government to treat all defence personnel as "war heros" has evoked a mixed reaction from both serving and retired militarymen. It would have been hailed unequivocally by all if it was not made effective from January 1, 1999.

The date stipulated in this decision smacks of election gimmickry. Were the soldiers who fell while fighting against the enemy before January 1, not war heroes?

Even the new ex-gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh, irrespective of the rank, against the earlier ones of Rs 25,000, Rs 15,000 and Rs 10,000 for officers, JCOs and jawans respectively and class-II jobs to the next of kin of all those killed instead of class-III and class-IV jobs earlier, remind one of the fact that each vote has the same value in an election.

The other two concessions are: one, allotment of a plot or a house in the Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) colonies on reserved price minus Rs 5 lakh (irrespective of the rank) or grant of Rs 5 lakh for the construction of a house in the village. Two, creation of a "War Heroes Family Welfare Fund" to provide substantial relief to the families of war heroes.

How one wishes that these concessions were granted to all the war heroes of Punjab who sacrificed their lives for the country. For bravery should not be measured by the political yardstick. Back

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