There are longstanding and most valid demands by army personnel that have been ignored callously by politicians of all hues who never tire of hypocritically shedding crocodile tears for soldiers who lay down their lives in the line of duty. Since service rules prevent military personnel from public expression of grievances or from union activity it is left to retired soldiers to voice demands on behalf of serving personnel and of themselves.
In the past, retired soldiers have written their demands in blood and many have in protest even returned their medals of honour won for valour. All this was to no avail. There are seven demands that are mainly voiced by retired military personnel. Two of the demands attract immediate attention.
First there is the demand that all retired military personnel should receive for each rank equal pension regardless of the year of retirement. This is a perfectly reasonable demand considering inflationary trends that render pensions earlier sanctioned to be unreasonably meagre. This facility is granted to judges, MPs, MLAs and senior IAS and IFS officers. Why should it be denied to army personnel? The government’s refusal to concede this longstanding reasonable demand, and for no single political party to take it up earnestly, exposes the hypocrisy of the political class.
The second demand relates to diminished status of army personnel compared to their civilian counterparts. There is a demand that the status of armed services related to civil services be restored to what it was in 1950. Today a Major after 18 years of service is junior in rank to an IAS officer having only 4 years of service. This ridiculous situation arose from the principle that in democracy civil rule must be supreme and prevail over the military. But how our dumb politicians and clever bureaucrats succeeded in distorting this perfectly valid democratic principle was by identifying civil rule with the bureaucracy instead of with the elected representatives of the people who are supposed to actually govern the state.
Now in the latest move the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement has repeated its longstanding demands in letters written to the presidents of all political parties and to the highest functionaries of the government in the hope that some redress of grievances is promised to them before the next general election. With all due respect, these retired soldiers are wasting their time. No politician will help them.
They must help themselves. How can they do that?
It is time that they considered the state of the nation, their own untapped strength, and then decide what they can do. There is an alarming political vacuum in the country. There is total collapse of credibility and reputation of politicians in general. There is unprecedented disenchantment among members of the public who desperately yearn for change. In other words the situation calls for a genuine new political alternative that can pull the nation out of the hole it has dug itself into. That is why sections of civil society agitating for reform have entered direct politics. That is why new small political outfits are sprouting everywhere. That is why even professionals in Delhi have banded together to form a new political party. These gallant efforts are not likely to create significant impact. That is where the Ex-Servicemen’s Movement can fill the breach.
Ex-servicemen have access to a unique constituency which if sensibly exploited could change the name of the game.
All serving military personnel can exercise their votes in elections. Only they cannot participate in political activity or campaigning. But ex-servicemen can. Their movement boasts of around 35000 full and associate members spread across the nation. There over 1.5 million registered ex-servicemen in India. There are over 5 million military personnel including ex-servicemen, serving armed forces, reserves and paramilitary forces. That means over 5 million households. On a conservative estimate that would suggest there would be between 20 to 25 million voters. All these voters, as educated, trained and respected members of society, could undoubtedly exert influence on many others. And the core of this constituency would be bound together by a common culture of discipline, efficiency and patriotism. All members would have undergone training that taught them to rise above caste and community. It is a constituency widely respected by ordinary people. Is it not an awesome constituency? So why not put it to good use?
Instead of pleading for redress of grievances before corrupt politicians, why cannot ex-servicemen dictate their terms and get what they deserve? With such a huge potentially powerful constituency to nurture it is their own fault and society’s loss if they do not exploit it. Ex-servicemen are concentrated mostly in nine states -- Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Together these states account for a little less than 400 parliamentary constituencies. As it is if army veterans and sympathizers vote en block they could significantly influence at least 150 parliamentary constituencies and 450 MLAs for state assemblies.
Why, then, do not ex-servicemen bite the bullet and create a genuine national alternative that conforms to 21st century culture? To accomplish this they would have take the following steps.
First, prepare a policy agenda that addresses not only their concerns but also of other large segments of aggrieved citizenry.
Secondly, they must identify one or two most compelling policies of this agenda and based on it launch a nationwide movement from Kashmir to Kanyakumari to propagate the movement and educate people.
Thirdly, during this nationwide movement they must create a network of national, state, district and primary conveners who would provide a solid organizational base.
Finally, after these three steps have been taken they must declare a new political party to contest 543 parliamentary constituencies.
All existing parties and politicians, big or small, should be welcomed into the movement if they are committed to its agenda. All political parties should be welcomed to join the new national party if these are prepared to dissolve their identities to fully and unconditionally merge with it. There is a whole new class of young Indians waiting for such an alternative. There have mushroomed small parties that could be co-opted into this new national alternative.
Ex-servicemen need to decide. They have so far defended the citizens of this country against external enemies. Are they prepared now to protect them from internal enemies?