The Real Salute

The armed forces of any country are the pillars of its stature. We have a great tradition of the Armed Forces, who have served us in times of War and Peace. We have always fallen back on our defence services when nothing works. They have never failed to deliver. They shall never back down. They live for a challenge. I remember the words of a soldier I met during the stand-off between India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the parliament attack. He said to me, “How dare they touch our Parliament?” They were keener to fight for this nation than our government was.

They have always, in return of their services, got uncalled for humiliation and flak from our various organisations. Whether the Human Rights Organisations or the Bureaucracy, they never fail to admonish the Armed Forces. It’s as though conveying a crude philosophy: We want the army to do what the Para-military is supposed to do, but we want their heads on the chopping board in any eventuality. And yet, this force has never said no to any challenge. They are known to be among the fiercest fighters in the world. We have had a tradition of producing brave hearts like Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, who led us to one of the finest victories the world had ever seen. This army went to Sri Lanka even if their better sense told them not to, because the country’s honour was in question. But, where is the honour that is to be accorded to these men?

We might be one of the largest Armies, but we are also one of the worst equipped and nothing is done to improve the state of affairs. Still, they never say they are not ready. They will, as always, roar back and show their readiness. That somehow has been their bane it seems. They have said yes all too often for their comfort. They have done so, and everybody has wronged them in return. They have shown this resolve in difficult conditions like Siachen and Kargil among other tough times and places.

The bureaucracy has downgraded the Army in the rank structure in comparison to themselves and Para-military. This country must realise how dangerous it can be for the command structure of the defence of the nation. Today, an equally ranked officer of BSF will override the authority of a Lt. Col. without a blink as he is graded higher in the pay band. The chiefs have rightly said that the defence forces have never begged for pay parity, but the bureaucracy has systematically downgraded them in service and they should not take this sort of ignorance from them. I am sure, it is only this country which treats a premiere fighting force like dirt, but still people come to do service. The fight is of the forces’ Izzat; and nothing should stop them from having it.

Sadly we have done grave injustice to our finest force. Instead of instantly showing their readiness, the chiefs were admonished for their action. What was their ‘faulty’ action? That they stood by the demands of their men! They stood for their standing in public life. They stood for the morale of the force, responsible for a billion lives in any eventuality. They did not do what everybody else does, they have shown great restraint and civility in their behaviour, which the country doesn’t seem to deserve! It is shocking to hear that retired army officers were arrested for protesting against the pay panel recommendations at the India Gate. I have not seen the same done to any trade union in our country.

The army is still paid its wages as per the old time scale pay grades. A colonel if has not completed 20 years of service is paid the salary of an Lt.col. Is this anywhere near being fair? The people must realise that 70% of the officers retire by the age of 54, which is 6 years less than the age of retirement of other government services. 90% of the Other Ranks retire by 40-45! The government wants too cut their pensions further. They further want to take away the military service pay if the officer is in a peace station. What message does the finance Ministry want to give out to our soldiers? An IAS becomes a Joint Secretary in 13 years, while the same equivalent in the army reaches the same rank in about 30 years of service. Besides, only about 5 in 100 will make it to that rank. Should the ministers even bat an eyelid before granting such a basic demand, realising that the bulk of the fighting force has been hurt by the recommendations.

The government must realise the simmering discontent amongst the ranks of the Army. It is not too late to make amends. Give our soldiers their rightful place in the hierarchy. Tell them they are not forgotten. I don’t think anybody except our Bureaucracy would oppose the right treatment of the Army. Give them their due.

Abhik Sen
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