Earlier this month, a controversy broke out involving the usually apolitical Armed Forces of India. Over 150 veterans including 8 ex-Chiefs wrote to the President of India expressing their concern about the politicisation of the Armed Forces. The letter said, ” We hereby respectfully urge you to take all necessary steps to urgently direct all political parties that they must forthwith desist from using the military, military uniforms or symbols, and any actions by military formations or personnel, for political purposes or to further their political agendas.”
Specific mention was made of political parties taking credit for cross-border strikes. Though the BJP was not mentioned in specific in this regard, there is no doubt that these veterans were objecting to Prime Minister Modi taking credit for the unprecedented air strike on Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps in Balakot in Pakistan. This was in retaliation for the terror attack that killed 40 Indian CRPF personnel at Pulwama in February 2019.
In my view, this letter does more damage than good. It shows that some among the veterans are taking political sides and claiming to speak on behalf of the forces ( serving and retired). General Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal N C Suri disassociated themselves from this petition, thereby creating more confusion. To counter this, the main signatories tried to prove that these gentlemen had actually agreed to the contents of the letter. In short, washing a lot of unwanted dirty linen in public.
Not everyone supported this move by the veterans. Seasoned defence analyst and strategic affairs expert, Bharat Karnad went so far as to call it “alarmist nonsense!”.
I see nothing wrong in the Prime Minster taking credit for the Balakot air strike. Did he fly the Mirages that hit the targets as his detractors asked? No, of course not. But neither did Smt Indira Gandhi para drop over Dacca in the ’71 War. Yet, history credits her for being the liberator of the erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. These leaders did not, as is painfully obvious, actually take part in the fighting, but they had the political will and courage to take decisions which fashioned these military successes.
Franklin D. Roosevelt ” FDR” the legendary three-time President of the United States is widely credited for winning the Second World War for the Allies against the Nazis. He took decisions in 1940 to move the United States from its strong isolationist stand to supporting Britain even before the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941. He wasn’t there in the many battles fought by the US troops in the 6 year War. Indeed he was a heroic figure in his wheel chair, being partially disabled.
As regards wearing uniforms, many political leaders have done this in the past, even in Western democracies. Churchill, as the British Prime Minister during the Second World War prided himself on strutting around in military uniforms. No one objected to that, then or later.
The main difference between Prime Minister Modi and his predecessors, Prime Minister Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh was that he showed the political courage to order a cross- border strike using aircraft to bomb terror outfits. Even horrendous events like the Terror attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 which left 9 people killed or the Terror Attack in Mumbai known as 26/11 in 2008 which left over 170 people dead did not result in any reprisals by the Prime Ministers of that time.
I wish the honourable veterans had shown such alacrity in submitting petitions to the President when Lt Gen Biji Kaul actively politicised the Army before the ’62 debacle splitting the officer corps into pro-Kaul and anti-Kaul; when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi returned 93,000 Pakistani POWs in ’71 without getting back the 54 Indian POW s (who we are not sure even to this day whether they are dead or alive). Or more recently when Lt Kalia’s body was found mutilated in the Kargil War.