Abolish Free Ration for Military to Fill Corporate Pockets

B Arjun

MODI government only wants to milk the sacrifices of armed forces for political gains. It wants to draw maximum political mileage from the body-bags that come from borders. But when it comes to the wages and entitlements of the armed forces, the central government conveniently forgets its commitment to the men-in-uniform. It did not grant One Rank One Pension (OROP) to soldiers and now it is nibbling at their hard-won rights to free rations.     

The Modi government is not only undermining the secular moorings of the nation but also brazenly politicising and polarising every State institution. All institutions, social, cultural, economic and even military are being subjected to a frontal assault. One would have thought that the neo-liberal agenda of the hidebound government would stop at the doors of the armed forces. However, they have not even spared the armed forces. It is being ruthlessly trampled over with little or no consideration for national security. The government is hell bent on projecting the military leadership as tainted, greedy and exploitative. Almost indicating to the rank and file in the army that officer cadre is redundant and incapable of looking after the interests of the men they command. This approach of publicly humiliating nation’s military leadership – hiding behind the veil of pay commission recommendations – does not portend well for the health of the institution. The latest salvo from the central government against the armed forces is arbitrary withdrawal of the free ration scheme for officers in peace stations. This move of the government, ostensibly based on the 7th Pay Commission recommendation, will affect 80,000 armed forces officers. This effectively means that in field or operational areas officers will be entitled to free rations. Considering that at any given time almost half the army is engaged in operations, the free ration entitlement will be denied to merely 40,000 officers. In a 1.4 million strong military forces the government is targeting the perks of less than 3 per cent personnel. The question obviously is why is such a small percentage of military manpower being singled out.

The reason that government gives for abolishing officer’s entitlement and giving Rs 96 per day as compensation for ration is that this would save tax payers some money and help stop alleged corruption in the Army Supplies Corps. It defies all logic to claim that by procuring 3 per cent less rations the government will grow richer and control malpractices in the army. The other specious argument that the government is advancing to justify its move to curtail entitlement in peace station is that officers’ salaries are handsome enough to buy food and therefore they should not complain. This is almost as specious an argument as the one advanced by British admirals at the time of Royal Indian Navy uprising in February 1946. The British told the media that the striking sailors were greedy and selfish because they were complaining about the quality of food in their messes when the country was experiencing extreme food shortages. The basic purpose behind such spin-doctoring is to malign the protestor and show his fight for his right and just entitlement as morally incorrect.

What the government has actually done is given a modest hike in salary and simultaneously withdrawn a perk, thereby negating the hike. This is common-cunningness often employed by capitalists to hoodwink their employees. But then one can’t really expect any better from a government stuffed with people who have only stood up for the interest of profit-seekers.

Media reports suggest that government’s guile on the ration issue has enraged the military officers. The government has simply snatched their entitlement without batting an eyelid. Top ranking retired officers have severely condemned and criticised the Modi administration for pathetic decision making. One TV channel that conducted a debate on the abolishment of free rations for officers in peace station brought out that one serving colonel has filed a legal notice asking the government to either withdraw its order or face a battle in the court.  “Top retired generals, including a former Army chief, have condemned the move as it humiliates officers and will drive a wedge between them and jawans.” Lt Gen John Ranjan Mukherjee who retired as chief of Eastern Command and once headed 15 Corps in Jammu and Kashmir told Monideepa Banerjee of NDTV, "I will be frank and blunt. I think it is a wrong step by the government. Morally wrong and it contributes to driving a wedge between the officers and the other ranks. The men are beginning to feel the government no longer trusts the officer cadre and is purposely driving a wedge."  Many are now worried that if government can so easily damage the service conditions of military officers then it can act against the rights of civilian employees with impunity. Who knows the manner in which Modi government thinks and acts it may even stop the pension or change the retirement age of central government employees without any debate or consultation.

Sometimes, it seems that the only way to make sense of the Modi government is to imagine that it’s a massive experiment conjured up by schizophrenic political scientists who just want the people to forget and unlearn all that they have imbibed about the working of a modern government. Take for example, the recent statement of NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant where he strongly advocated that the government should exit the social sector and even handover running of jails to the private sector. Modi-Shah combine has completely abandoned the principle of a professional, non-political administration, stuffing all agencies with right wing ideologues and unqualified cronies.

This is exactly what the Modi government is trying to do to the Indian military. He is constantly attacking the pay, perks and the officers’ position in the protocol list, constantly downgrading them in the eyes of their men and the public at large. He is rocking the officer-men relationship. This will directly impinge on cohesion within the military unit. His moves are polarising the officer cadre, some who are ideologically inclined towards right-wing ideology are desperately trying to defend Modi’s anti-armed forces actions. Other officers who can see a concerted attack on the institution are seething with anger. Earlier the government had withdrawn Sahayak, or buddies attached with each officer during their peace postings. The ministry of defence had however, extended the Sahayak arrangement to continue in operational or field areas informing the “parliament that the orderly system enhanced the spirit-de-corps in units and was not expected to have any adverse impact on the morale of the jawan.” Here again, just as in case of rations, distinctions are being drawn between field and operational requirements of the armed forces. One sees this as a government ploy to privatise defence services. They are moving in this direction; privatisation will first be introduced in peace stations followed by award of contracts to corporates to draw operational area funds too.  

Privatisation of war, irrespective of how badly it works – just fits into the privatisation pattern that they have in mind. Modi’s primary aim is to privatise defence, finance and social sector. He is sacrificing the revered Indian institutions at the altar of privatisation. Basically, the India right-wing conservatives are averse to strengthening of the State. 

So strong is the fetish for privatisation that a private think tank in New Delhi now wants India to be the great power that the world is looking for.  A drive is on to give to the world “New Delhi Consensus”. The thinking is that both Washington Consensus and Beijing Consensus with their emphasis on Statehood have failed to deliver to the world.  As Samir Saran of the Observer Research Foundation says, “The history of India is a saga of the progress of society, and of social and community institutions, with or without a strong state and sometimes in spite of the state. We cannot forget that essence while crafting the New Delhi Consensus.”  (http://www.orfonline.org/research/building-a-new-delhi-consensus/)

The selective targeting of military is part of the same privatisation game.  But what Prime Minister Modi is forgetting is that “privatisation of defence and nationalism cannot coexist. You can be a patriot or a profiteer ... But you can’t be both.”

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