Capt Shivaji Mahadkar (Retd), a graduate of National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla and the Indian Military Academy Dehradun, was commissioned in 1974 into the 3rd Gorkha Rifles. Penchant for sports and adventure consumed Shivaji too much before he joined NDA as a cadet. Capt Shivaji had represented his University in shooting and other individual team and sports. After his release from Indian Army, Capt Shivaji settled down in Mumbai and made a foray into business. He was appointed General Secretary of Maharashtra State for the Sainik Cell of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee in 1991. In 1998 he quit active politics and started working for the cause of education in India. Capt Shivaji shared his experience about serving the defence forces and providing justice to armed personnel and war widows with our Editor-in-Chief Vaidehi Taman.
How was your overall journey with the defence forces?
My journey with the defence forces started in 1970, the day I joined the National Defence Academy. I was one of the fortunate cadets to be groomed by the legendary Late Admiral Ronnie Pereira, an Institution in himself, the then Deputy Commandant of the NDA, and the inimitable Hon Capt Kanshi Ram, the then Subedar Major of NDA. I was commissioned into one of the finest and celebrated battalions of the Indian Army, the 3rd battalion of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles, with my first posting to the Fazilka sector, which still remained very sensitive post the 1971 experience. Reminiscing my service in the Indian Army at various locations, I can say, despite the rigours of the Army, hardships of the service, desperate situations were the best years of my life!
Are you happy with the current government?
The Defence Services are possibly the only organisation which is totally apolitical in the true sense. The code of conduct is very clear, no politics should be discussed by the Officers or the Men and we follow it to the “T”. The Services are governed by the incumbent government and therefore today’s soldier is much more educated than his predecessors were, has access to information technology and therefore very aware of the political environment around himself. It is important for the soldier to feel wanted, and he and his family cared for. The government has definitely shown its good intentions vis-à-vis the soldier, but lot still needs to be done.
What is your take on OROP?
OROP in its simplistic form is “same pension, for same rank, for same length of service, irrespective of the date of retirement.” It is a longstanding demand of the Indian armed forces and veterans. It is important to understand the spurt of the simmering discontentment within the defence services on the subject. A unilateral decision to decrease armed forces pensions by 20 to 40 per cent, and increase in civilian pensions by 20 per cent, without any consultation whatsoever with Defence Service’s Headquarters, was taken by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government, in 1973, around two years after the historic 1971 victory over Pakistan. The decision to reduce the basic pay of the ranks, implemented without consulting the armed forces created radical asymmetries between Bureaucracy-police-military ranks, and affected the pay, and pension of officers and veterans. It became a lingering cause of distrust between the armed forces veterans and the Ministry of Defence, which was fuelled even further by the Manmohan Singh Government, which in the wake of the Sixth Central Pay Commission, discarded the concept of rank-pay. It was replaced by Grade pay and Pay bands, which instead of resolving the rank, pay, and pension disparities, further aggravated the existing asymmetries. The degrading of armed forces ranks was accompanied by the decision in 2008 to create hundreds of new posts of secretaries, special Secretaries, director general of police (DGP) at the apex grade pay level to ensure that all civilian and police officers, including defence civilian officers, retire at the highest pay grade with the apex pay grade pensions with One Rank One Pay (OROP). The higher bureaucracy in Indian Ministry of Defence (MOD), unlike defence ministries in other countries, is staffed entirely by civil service officers on deputation, who have never served in the armed forces or are familiar with its working or ethos.
In the present scenario armed forces are used as political tools or a publicity material? How do you look at it? What is your comment on the recent surgical strike hype?
The government is formed by the Political Party elected by the people. They have many agencies under them to run the country. The Defence Forces are primarily meant for the defence of the Nation. The government will definitely claim the success of any of its organisations, as its own success, rightly so because it is under the former’s leadership. Therefore, the government in its right shall always use the success for its publicity.
Several army jawans have died in the recent past and earlier too. Do their families receive compensation on time from the government?
The issue of war widows is a very serious matter, which the nation at large, has to introspect. The major share of the compensation received by a war widow is through insurance. Only 20 to 25% of the total compensation received by the war widow is the government’s share of compensation. The premium for the insurance is deducted from the Jawan’s salary and is higher than the regular premium as risks are higher! The matter which is even more serious is that many casualties occur, say, in an accident, in a vehicle driving in treacherous terrain, or say, a Jawan is returning from a week long patrol in the high altitude, in worst possible weather and even worse treacherous terrain and later succumbs to the over taxation of his body by such vagaries of the weather. Though their death should be at par with war causalities, such fatalities are treated as natural or normal death and the widow receives only 30% of the last pay drawn by her husband as pension. We have hardly any schemes for securing jobs for such widows.
Have you ever regretted being part of armed forces?
Never! Given another opportunity, I would join the services again. Next Birth, I pray that I will be given that opportunity again. The question is, how long will this patriotism, passion and drive continue amongst the current serving personnel? I think, it is up to us, as a nation. We need to ensure that they live with this ethos and if they die there shouldn’t be any worry for the family.
What are the challenges that the armed forces undergo while on duty, in other words how much freedom is granted to armed forces to execute their duties?
The challenges exist only when the objectives are not clearly defined. The political and the National objective need to be in sync with the military goals. For instance, if the objective is to destroy the infiltrators, the Army is capable of deep penetration into the enemy territory to destroy such elements at the very root from where they originate, however, if the instructions are not to cross the LoC and not to go behind the enemy lines, that is a challenge!
How do you describe corruption in army?
The personnel recruited and selected to join the Indian Army are not from any sanitised catchment area! They represent the National Character that we have developed into! After a recruit joins the Army he is trained and indoctrinated into a discipline that represents the ethos of the Indian army. However, the same person when he proceeds on leave finds corruption rampant in his village and district, where he may have to pay under the table on many occasions. That is where his thinking gets contaminated again. Despite this the armed services, are possibly the only sector where corruption is almost non-existent other than some stray cases.
If given a chance what amendments or corrections you would like to do pertaining to army?
Well, I think the amendments have to be in the perception of the Nation vis à vis the Army. It is for the country to introspect and give the Defence Services their due for what they contribute to the nation. The soldier is trained to believe in the dictum “Ask not what the Nation can do for you, ask what you can do for the Nation.” It is for the nation to ask itself what we need to do for the defence services.
What is your message to our readers?
It is only in the times of war, calamities, disasters and aid to civil power and administration, that the army is eulogised! Let us, as a nation not forget the constant services and sacrifices being made by the Defence Services day in and day out! Let us vow to look after the kith and the kin of the soldier in all ways possible, in their welfare, especially in getting jobs, admissions etc!