Military and governing class at war
by B S Raghavan,
Hindu Businessline, May 17, 2012
Much of what I am going to write in this column about the alarming alienation between the Defence Forces and the civilian hierarchy is based on what I have heard from reliable sources and the contents of various websites during the last one year or more.
At the basic level, the alienation has its origin in the supposedly shabby treatment received by the officers of the Defence Forces who risk their lives for the country at the hands of the bureaucrats in the Defence Ministry, and the political and governing classes, in general, who lead a cushy and pampered existence.
Still rankling in the minds of both retired and serving military personnel, and frequently mentioned as an example of callousness and insult to the honour of armed forces, is what they construe to be the virtual boycott of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw’s funeral by the entire top civilian political and bureaucratic echelons without any explanation or excuse.
In a published article, a retired Air Marshal and former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff, writes caustically on “the widening chasm and lack of harmony” between the Defence Forces and civilian establishment, the marginalisation of the armed forces resulting from their exclusion from “the decision-making loop”, and the “tremendous harm” to national interest being done by “the cavalier attitude of the political hierarchy … allowing the bureaucratic hold on them to tighten.”
The phenomenon is not confined to Delhi. The messes of Defence forces in which different grades of officers and ranks mingle and discuss freely among themselves and which, therefore, are usually the barometers of prevalent opinion down the line, are abuzz with highly vitriolic commentaries about the depths to which the civilian governing class, comprising bureaucrats and politicians, and existing institutions in general, has sunk, while the Defence Forces alone are required to adhere, on pain of harshest retribution, to the most stringent standards of sacrifice, rectitude, discipline and loyalty.
There is widespread resentment that while the Defence Forces deal ruthlessly with misconduct and dereliction of duty, there is no accountability and regard for scruples on the civilian side. Those accused of grave crimes and misdemeanours in the governing class not only go scot free but even come to occupy highest pedestals of power and authority.
The case against Bangaru Laxman, former President of the BJP, caught red-handed taking a bribe of a lakh of rupees in the Tehelka sting, dragged on for ten years, whereas the military brass implicated in the same sting were court-martialed and punished within a few short months. Many implicated in various heinous crimes and multi-crore scams are on bail and comporting themselves and being hailed as heroes.
The increasing discontent in the Defence Forces on these counts has come to such a pass that even serving officers are circulating the view that it is not worth fighting for a country which is in the grip of such shady characters.
One such write-up says that, in the Indian context, the soldiers are called upon to die “for the corrupt, ungrateful and unconcerned” made up of bureaucrats and politicians, followed by the bulk of unscrupulous businessmen. It goes on to make the point-blank statement: “Soldiers, today, must learn that they no more fight a nation's wars but the conflicts started by inept, inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy of India, in league with self-centered, greedy and corrupt politicians.”
These are more than straws in the wind signifying the rising anger within the Defence Forces at the double standards to which they are subjected. Constant buffeting by malignant influences also takes a heavy toll of morale within the Forces themselves, as witnessed in the recent shocking incident of a clash between the officers and jawans in Leh.
The sum and substance of it all is that relations between the Defence forces and their civilian colleagues, especially in the Ministry of Defence, are marked by a pervasive sense of bitterness and animosity. A prominent and highly respected Constitutional lawyer who visits Delhi frequently and has a wide circle of fiends there told me a couple of days ago that the situation has worsened in recent months to an unprecedented degree. Indeed, if allowed to continue with the same intensity, national security itself is bound to be imperilled.