When Morarji Desai was Prime Minister of India, he had occasion to visit the Northeast where he addressed a public meeting in Hindi. He was reported to be highly pleased with the response he got from the crowd which periodically shouted 'Gumba, gumba', with raised fists, in response to his promises of houses and hospitals and roads.
Disillusionment was swift when a subsequent visit to a diary had an official cautioning him not to put his foot into a spot of shit 'watch out for the gumba, Sir'.
For the Soldier as for the people of the Northeast, Delhi's promises have, over the decades, proved to be nothing but Gumba; in the case of the Sixth Pay commission, Double Gumba, with a committee appointed to go into the recommendations of the Commission itself! Because soldiers have got no forum to put forward their needs, or any avenues to vent their grievances, to express their horror at the pittance allotted to their 24 hour duties in all manner of terrain, come rain, come shine, come hail come high water. Has anyone any recollection of a strike by Defense Personnel? Can you even imagine the chaos that could cause?
The army guards the frontiers of the country so the country can prosper in peace. Soldiers stand guard on all the high altitudes and snow bound areas, where not a blade of grass grows, where nothing can be seen for miles except snow, where a letter may take weeks to reach. Has our Shining New India made any provision for them to date?
The fact of the matter is that all our policy makers and their advisors, the netas, the babus and the lobbies that influence them are totally unaware of the harsh facts of service conditions. This is because not a single one of them has ever sent a son or a daughter into the armed forces.
That is why there is no sympathy for the Armed Forces. In a state like Gujarat, there are those at the top levels in industry and trade, with admiration for America but so little knowledge of its Armyï¿½s track record over the past few decades that they actually question:"Why should we pay them? We do not need such a big army? Just take a few soldiers and give them computers and technology and let them fight like the American army does?"
Unaware of the American fiascos in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq to name a few, these worthies would fight shy of taking any Defense contracts for fear of the exacting standards demanded.
There are many who laud George Fernandes who garnerd himself a lot of publicity as the first defense minister to visit the Siachin glacier. What did he do for the soldiers after that, apart from some orders for which the kick backs went to commodious neta pockets?
Remember this was the same defense minister who insisted on SAFE PASSAGE to the Pakistanis after the Kargil War. Did the flower of our youth lay down their lives to offer safe passage to the enemy? After having been instructed by their seniors to make every bullet count as it had cost the country. Is it any wonder then that the proud and valiant Indian Army which wins kudos around the world, is now running short of manpower at all levels? Which middle class or upper class parents, in their right minds, would want to send up their sons and daughters into a service where they are on duty round the clock, 24 hours to earn a piddling sum with a few perks thrown in, when the same qualifications can earn them five and seven figure salaries in the public sector?
Yes, we do have a core reserve of service minded families, with decades of service to the nation behind them, who still send up their young to hold up the honor of the land. But what happens to them eventually? A few thousand for pay and a prayer, and a paisa for pension, only after a prolonged period of service.
Ahimsa parmo dharma is ok. But you cannot fight the war by holding a gun in one hand, the other held tight by netas and a geeta slung around the neck. The army is supposed to guard the frontiers of the country so that all the country men can live peacefully and can sleep in peace while the lone soldier stands guard to the hostile neighbor.
Once upon a time the late Prime minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru wondered why so much noise was being made over the Chinese taking some land in Ladakh. "Not a blade of grass grows in that area", he had said. To this, the late Mr. Tyagi, then MP, had responded in Parliament, "Panditji, not a single hair grows on your head should I ..(He made a gesture of slitting the throat). That grassless land today hosts the highway between China and Pakistan and is a permanent thorn in our side."
How many Indians can fathom the feelings of a soldier when he is hit by an enemy bullet? A retired officer expounds:
"Listen ye politicians, babus and industrialists pontificating on policies and finances in air-conditioned comfort with nary a sight of any border and its dangers:
Ever seen a BARAF KA GOLA? Yes, that ice candy made of shaved ice, streaked with colorful sherbets which are a common summer delicacy. Just imagine that lonely soldier in the mountains, ill clothed for the minus 60 degree temperature, being hit by a bullet. A fountain of blood oozes onto the snow at his feet in just the patterns of that gola. There is a difference :
That during those few seconds between being hit and actually dying, his whole life flashes before his eyes in a fast rewind : the dilapidated house that needs repairs, the father who needs medical attention, the young wife with a small kid who will have tough time in his absence, the land dispute has to be settled, the mother's denture needs to be replaced, will the pension cover all this and food, shelter, education and security for the young, old and infirm ?
With just about three years of service, there is not much in the PF or the saving account. Perhaps the last words before he breathes his last would be "GOD TAKE CARE OF MY FAMILY".
But God has many more problems to tackle, including hundreds of such unsung soldiers who die day in and day out. It is upto the government of IAS babus and Netas. But do they ?? Rather would they?? Only if there is some mileage to be drawn from it. Another Kargil??
How many of our leaders, political or otherwise, have a son or a daughter in the Forces, that they would ever fathom where the shoe pinches? When one daughter of a neta was kidnapped, the entire government machinery was subverted to release terrorists to get her safe release. When it comes to making provision for the pay and pension of soldiers who are committed to lay down their lives for the country, every paisa is begrudged on the grounds : "Why do we need the Army?"
Leave alone make provision for their pay and pension, no babu or neta has ever moved forward to bring back the prisoners of war who are rotting in Pakistani jails for decades. None of them have a neta or a babu for a relative, you see. At the time of the Kargil war, lakhs of rupees were paid to the next of kin of the soldiers who laid down their lives in the face of the enemy. There are still many survivors and families of the brave of previous wars, struggling for survival in total anonymity, for who will take up their cause?
Meanwhile, while the soldier serves in the most difficult of terrains, in all manner of climes, surrounded by mountains, forests, glaciers or even mines, the babus sit in their air conditioned offices and conferences halls to pontificate on military pay and pensions, how many PCOs or Paan shops may be allotted to those who survive the loss of limbs in the field.
Has anyone ever examined the fortunes of the IAS Babus and those of their offspring; how were those offspring educated and then employed etc. For every babu offspring who gets into the top schools in India, how many offspring of Fauji officers make it? How many hours of work do babus actually put in between their elevenses, chai breaks, gossip session and so called seminars and workshops which have produced a Mighty Little in taking the country forward.
The unfortunate part is that the soldiers have no forum for venting their grievances. If anyone speaks up at the Darbar, believe me, he will never be heard off again. In the case of the Sixth Pay Commission, it was left to retired officers to take up cudgels on behalf of the serving personnel which cannot speak out.
What of the grievances of the retired personnel? In Gujarat, they were promised 16 acres of land each. A handful got that land and the rest ran from pillar to post to emerge empty handed. Neither the babu nor the senior officer wants to touch on this problem. Or the shortages of housing, the impoverishment of the large majority; they get by pointing fingers at the few who have been caught with their hands in the till. How many corrupt Army men have you heard of and how do those compare with the number of corrupt bureaucrats?
How much more do we add before resting our case before the Committee which has been set up to examine the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission.