ur Indian Army, since freedom, has played an astral role in defending our country from both the internal and external threats. Unlike our neighbours, our army never had political ambitions. They have carried out their tasks with a professional dignity — silently and assiduously. The sacrifices made by the unknown Jawans ensure that we enjoy the freedom which we take for granted. We need to remember their sacrifices by remembering them in every single opportunity. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very much vocal about the justice and dignity to Jawans, I really had high hopes from his government but sooner than later I realised that the soldiers were merely the election tools for BJP. The 15 lakh strong armed forces continue to lose over 100 personnel in stress-related deaths in the form of suicides and fragging or fratricide (to kill a fellow-soldier or superior) every year.
There have been 44 suicides and a fratricide case in the Army alone this year.
As many as 310 Army soldiers, including nine officers and 19 junior commissioned officers, have committed suicide since 2014, while 11 cases of fratricide were also reported during the period. 84 soldiers had committed suicide in 2014, the numbers in 2015 and 2016 stood at 78 and 104 respectively. As for the solitary fratricide incident last year, an Army jawan had shot dead Major Shikhar Thapa in a forward post in the Uri sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir on July 17, 2017. Naik Kathiresan had fired two bursts from his AK-47 assault rifle at the young officer after being scolded for using a mobile phone during the guard duty.
There are many Jawans who are troubled by the government while receiving their pensions after retirement. They’re angry and in unrest, as this government has miserably failed to address their issues. Stress among the Indian Armed Forces has been a topic of discussion in the lay press. Claim increases in the rates of suicide, fratricide, stress-related physical disorders, psychiatric illnesses, and substance use have been quoted in the lay press and these figures were viewed with concern by the lawmakers.
The general public viewed military responses that some of these figures could be exaggerated or misrepresented with skepticism. Various social measures to deal with the stress of the soldiers have been implemented and efforts to improve the psychological health of troops have been undertaken in recent times. Both Army chief General Bipin Rawat and the Vice Chief of the Army General Sarath Chand through various platforms have expressed their frustration over the money allocated in the Union Budget to the defense sector. The Army Generals have complained that the allocation hardly leaves anything for the modernisation and upkeep of the forces. In fact, it fails to account for even inflationary pressures.
It took the government seven years to buy the most basic safety equipment for the infantry soldiers – the bulletproof jacket. Seven years! Comparatively, a government’s term is only five years. In November 2016, the army received the first batch of the 50,000 bulletproof jackets. A few years back it was found that the rations and gear meant for the soldiers serving in Siachen glacier were being sold in the open market. Everything from parachutes to jackets and trousers, meant for high altitude, were being sold. The soldiers, meanwhile, serve in harsh terrain without complaining. When the government picked Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat to lead the Indian Army, a controversy followed. Traditionally, the senior-most officer takes over from the retiring Chief. In picking Lt. Gen. Rawat, the government ignored two officers senior to him – Lt. Gen. Praveen Bakshi and Lt. Gen. PM Hariz. The Army is built on traditions and customs, but by politicising this appointment, the government has only managed to hurt the morale of the third largest standing army in the world. Since 2010, the Indian Army has no carbines – required for close quarter battles in modern-day urban warfare. Trials were held in 2013, but that resulted in a single vendor situation. The homemade INSAS assault rifles have been below par too. Attempts to find a replacement haven’t been successful with a multi calibre weapon not being selected. A re-tender for both the weapons types is on the cards, but the soldier is without a suitable weapon. Approximately 35 per cent of the defense Budget goes in the nation-building process, aiming to prove that the armed forces are not “white elephants”. Indian Army has not kept pace with the modernisation adopted by Chinese Army, while the neighbouring country has made economic progress it has also modernised its army. India is focused on economic growth; it has failed to think in terms of defense growth. The state of affairs is particularly surprising because our Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has until sometimes back been the defense minister too. For him to ignore the defense forces are worrying. The budget allocation for 2018-19 has “dashed the hopes” of the Army and the marginal increase is barely enough to meet inflation.
The allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation is way below the committed payments of Rs 29,033. Any modern force should have its equipment divided in one-third each covering all categories of vintage, current and state-of-the-art. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime which equates its muscular nationalism with the glorification of the military, it must be a source of satisfaction that dozens of such military hardware have been installed in the educational institutions. Its trusted vice-chancellors have taken up the cry for tanks in campuses, while huge sums are being allocated for new war memorials. Military rhetoric is used to gloss over policy muddles and administrative ineptitude. The tedious refrain that continues to be played out in the public space and on social media is always this: if the Army Jawans can stand for long hours at the border to defend the country, surely Indians could stand — and die as it happened — in bank queues to show their devotion to the country? Some sharp putdowns by the Army officers who had also suffered in the same queues did help to somewhat quell the patriotic fervour of the BJP and its web of organisations that form a vast saffron brigade of right-wing Hindu supremacist ideology. The concerns have deepened after Modi’s handpicked man Bipin Rawat was made the Chief of Army Staff. The General has shown no hesitation in shedding the apolitical image of the Army, frequently taking political stances that no Indian Army chief has dared to so far. The government has ignored provocative statements such as his bring-them-on challenge to the young stone pelters of Kashmir.
One of the biggest conceits and strengths of India is its ability to manage the military while juntas periodically took charge of neighbouring countries and have provided its citizens with a comforting sense of security that the Army remains safe for the world’s largest democracy.
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