When it comes to being a democracy, there are very few like our Indian, whether in terms of size or quality. The same can be said for our defence and security forces. There are few armed forces in the world which are as technologically advanced as that of our nation’s. We as a nation, have always been proud and have celebrated our armed forces.
Of collation of armed forces and politics
There are three major incidents which come into the mind when one collates armed forces and politics.
The first incident
In a press conference in Canberra, Australia, a press member directed a question to the defence minister. As the minister answered the political question, the military officers, including the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, stepped off the stage. The problem? The press conference in question was not a political one. It was one where the military was made to take a back seat to politics in its own event.
The second incident
The second incident is a video of British soldiers in the midst of shooting practice, using a political party leader as the target.
The third incident
The third incident is closer to us, right here in our backyard. For the Lok Sabha Elections, the defence forces seemed to have become an integral part of the campaigning. The political parties use defence personnel and their equipment on party posters. A state Chief Minister refers to the Indian Army as “Modi Ji Ki Sena” (PM Modi’s Army). Another Union minister uses similar phraseology. And both of them get away with this. The third incident that I talk about, is the blatant use of the armed forces as an election campaigning element. If I was a little (sarcasm) wiser, I’d even say election campaigning “pawn”.
Armed forces on Party Posters
Let’s be a little honest. Most of this campaigning has been a move of the ruling party. Defence personnel like Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman feature on the party posters in election rallies. There are party posters with images featuring soldiers, aircraft and explosions. Yet another poster that goes as far as to describe the Airstrike at Balakot conducted by the IAF as ‘Revenge for Pulwama’. When one looks at the ruling party’s election manifesto, the significant focus can be seen on national security.
Election Commission’s action
When the existence of such posters came into the knowledge of the Election Commission, action was taken. The Election Commission cited an older letter where they had “called upon all political parties to advise their candidates and leaders to desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs functions involving defence personnel in advertisements”.
I’d like to state a few facts
- Following the Kargil war, the General Elections that took place thereafter saw soldiers and the defence forces being used thus. A book by the then Army Chief General VP Malik notes the officer saying, “The armed forces were anguished because they were getting sucked into electoral politics as a result of the blatant effort to politicise the war for immediate electoral advantage. At one stage, in desperation, I had to send across a strong message through the media: ‘Leave us alone; we are apolitical’.” These were also the works of a struggling BJP 20 years ago.
- While the ruling party has gone on and on about the importance of national security, it cannot be ignored that these last 5 years have seen some of the most grievous attacks. Pathankot, Nagrota, Pulwama, Uri, Manipur, and so many more. These have been attacks on the armed forces that shook the nation.
- Under this government, only 1.44% of the GDP has been devoted to the defence. To put it in simpler words, the armed forces have been starved of funds. The extent is such that they face a severe shortage of funds to pay for present and past acquisition of crucial equipment. Under the previous government, the number had been 2.5% (2012 & 2013) at its lowest, going up to 2.9% (2009 & 2010) at the highest.
- The government has shown poor initiative in the reorganization of the armed forces for strengthening it. Looking at close neighbours, China is one nation that has made some serious reforms to modernize itself to be able to face adversaries. Have the Indian armed forces been given the same liberty? No.
- Paramilitary forces like the CRPF have significantly lower standards. Similarly, they do not have any provisions for pension and they are the first to be deployed in any violent civil emergency situation like clashes and riots. Yet, the safeguards and facilities provided to them are poor, to say the least.
I’d also like to refer to rumours of a letter to the President of India, written and signed by more than 150 military veterans. The said letter urges the President to take action against the politicization that can be seen happening this election season. It must be noted that sources in the Rashtrapati Bhawan have informed The Hindu that no such letter has been received. However, Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd.) has told The Hindu, “The letter was sent by email and endorsement was also given over email.”
The fact remains, that the ruling party has repeatedly used the armed forces for their political gain. The fact also remains, that this isn’t limited to just the current elections.
But the question is, are we okay with these facts? Are we, as a nation that is proud of it’s armed forces, okay with letting a political party thus misuse the armed forces? Is this what the soldiers deserve? To be used and ignored, whenever is convenient.