The world is living in transformed times of great flux and rebalancing of traditional relationships, with multiple friction points and security threats. The emerging world order will remain one where the military and economic resilience will continue to dominate the global system and in which nation-building will become ever more relevant. In such a world order while security, justice, economic development and a democratic secular polity will be the pillars of nation building; security will be foundational for the other three to prosper. The rationale for existence of the military thus lies in the concept of a nation state where there is harmony and balance between security and growth for all its citizens in a secular fibre bonding the nation. This underlines the importance of a motivated, modern and relevant military to a nation state and nationhood.
In today’s security paradigm, as India gains respect and finds its rightful trajectory in the comity of nations, the Indian Army’s role and capacity would be central to the nations stature, projection of the national will, and act as a vital mechanism in preservation of our national interests, thereby building a strong, modern and resurgent India. *Thus the nation will derive its strength from its Armed Forces and its ethos of “Nation Above All”; conversely too, Armed Forces will in turn seek and derive their strength, pride and motivation from the nation with ethos of “Respect and Care for the Soldier”.* What remains critical in this mutual bonding is the faith, respect, trust, and confidence in the system backed by demonstrated will of the Government.
Indian Army : A Saga of Valour, Sacrifice and “Nation Above All
The roots of the modern Indian army can be traced to the forces employed by the English (later British) East India Company, chartered in 1600. The uprising of the Indian soldier against foreign rule was one of the most inspirational events which bore the stamp of evolution of nationalism and the birth of the idea of India. As a new nation was carved out on 15 Aug 47 with inherited fault lines, partition holocaust cast a challenge to a coherent national identity. The nation had only its Army to look unto in these defining moments of its history, who ensured safety of its countrymen and communal harmony. The idea of India was thus ingrained through the secular, democratic, professional and moral fibre of Indian Army, with the sole ethos of “Nation Above All” as the foundation of nationhood.
Post-independence, the Army has repeatedly found itself at the forefront of some of the gravest challenges to our sovereignty that have threatened the very core of the Indian nationhood. Soon after independence in 1947-48, the territorial integrity of India was challenged. The Indian soldier rose and stopped the plunder of Baramulla by Pakistani forces and saved the fall of Srinagar. He took tanks to the unimaginable 11,575 feet high Zoji La pass to push back Pakistani invaders and saved Leh and Ladakh. As part of nation building, the Indian Army also launched a series of successful operations at Junagadh (1947), Hyderabad (Operation Polo, 1948), Goa (Operation Vijay, 1961) and Sikkim (1975) to integrate into “One India”.
In 1962 Indian Army most courageously fought the Chinese ,despite being ill-clad and equipped for winters in high altitude and nation’s neglect on matters military. Battle of Rezang La is a testimony of the ‘last man last round’ resolve to uphold national integrity.
Later in 1965 when challenged by Pakistani aggression, our brave soldiers created a tank graveyard of Pakistan’s Patton tanks (Patton Nagar) at Asal Uttar, with more than a hundred tanks either destroyed or captured. In the same war they also captured the invincible Haji Pir pass through gut and valour. The evil design of Pakistan was once again shattered.
In 1971, Indian Army created history to liberate Bangladesh and give Pakistan their most crushing and humiliating defeat on both fronts. Pakistan was cut to size and a new nation was born. The resultant surrender of 90,000 Pakistani soldiers was largest since World War II.
The high level of op preparedness was yet again on display in 1984 at the highest battlefield, over 19000 ft high in the area of Siachen glacier. The brave Indian soldier occupied the Saltoro Ridge defying the harsh and often cruel vagaries of nature which surprised Pakistan and left them dumbstruck. This has today provided us major strategic advantage, reducing the threat to an already sensitive J&K.
In 1999, in yet another misadventure, Pakistan’s regular soldiers entrenched themselves on mountain tops of the LoC in Kargil. As the world watched in veneration, the Indian Braveheart fought the well-entrenched enemy in hand to hand fights in perilous rugged high altitude terrain and inclement weather, displaying exemplary courage and valour to throw the enemy back, paying a heavy price but underlining the will and resolve of an entire nation.
While external threats have kept us engaged on the borders, it is the threats to internal security that has posed the greatest challenge to the nation. The proxy war and insurgencies that the Indian Army along with RR and AR is combatting on a daily basis in J&K and the North East, in conditions most demanding and adverse, are often unfortunately reduced to a passing mention by the media. Let it not be forgotten that for the soldiers deployed in these sensitive areas, it is an ongoing battle of life and death day after day, 24X7. The existence of these states as part of the nation is at the cost of exacting price that many a brave soldiers have paid through blood and guts embracing martyrdom.
The role and responsibility of the Indian Army is not limited to the national borders. While being operationally committed, the Army continues to be the ultimate responder in times of natural calamities, a sheet anchor during national crisis when all other organs of the nation appear helpless. Intervention operations in the Maldives and Sri Lanka at the behest of their governments and evacuation of beleaguered Indian citizens from the war zones are examples of out of area contingencies. To support India’s efforts for world peace as a responsible member of the global community, the Indian Army is one of the largest troop contributing Nation to United Nations peacekeeping. Defence diplomacy and military to military cooperation between India and other friendly countries is another facet that has helped in strengthening bilateral cooperation enhancing international image. In addition, the other organs manned by Indian Army like the BRO, NCC and DGQA have done yeoman service to the nation.
Indian Soldier Ethos , Aspirations and Challenges
The Indian soldier goes to the battlefield in honour of the tricolour flag, fully conscious of the fact that it may well be that he returns home wrapped up in it, and yet serves with pride for his motherland. For him, duty is the most supreme religion – the only one he professes (Seva Parmo Dharma). The culture and ethos of “Unity in Diversity”, acts as a shining example of the true idea of India. He prays in a “Sarv Dharam Sthal” and greets with a “Jai Hind”. He preferred to be a symbol of patriotism and not scoured nationalism whose vocabulary is increasingly being tarnished by political flavours and non-secular musings. He is apolitical, secular and beyond partisan intentions of political parties. For him Naam, Namak and Nishan defines his DNA of Wafadari, Imandari and Bhaichara. Our flag thus does not flutter because of the wind, it flutters with the last breath of each martyr who sacrificed his life protecting it.
However, some political outlook and associated challenges, impacting the soldier has given rise to a few questions. *“ Does the nation value the life of its soldiers and arm them to fight to win , live to fight yet another day?”*, “*Does the nation realise and respect the soldiers and the veterans for their travails, hardships **and sacrifice?”* *“How many of our politicians and bureaucrats who decide policies pertaining to the army and its soldiers, have any idea of vagaries of soldering or have their kith and kin in Army or possess any ground level understanding, beyond fleeting image projection border area visits?”, “Do we as a nation honour our soldiers and care for their widows, for their innumerable sacrifices and braving all adversities beyond lip service, and do we as a nation give them the rightful place and respect in our society”?* *“Is there an graduated attempt to erode the apolitical character of the Defence Services”?* The answer lies within the heart of each Indian who is witness to this change. As the final and now possibly the only bastion of the Idea of India and nationhood, and as an instrument of last resort, any policies which aims at diluting the organisation stature and welfare of the soldier / next of kin or the image of this great institution, must be ruthlessly curbed, less it be detrimental to the morale, operational capability, character and apolitical nature of this great institution, its soldiers and nation at large. It’s time to adhere to the sane advice which Chanakya gave to Chandragupta Maurya, *“The day a soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha . From then on you have lost all moral sanctions to be king”. *
So, what does a Fauji really aspire from the nation and its democratic governance? It’s all about the displaying the right intent, taking small but strong decisions to empower him and imbibing the spirit of compassion for this warrior, by those voted into power. He thus seeks the following:-
1. Arm him to Fight ,Win and Live to Fight yet Again.
2. Ensure his Status and Dignity in the Society.
3. Keep the Institution Apolitical and Curb its Unprofessional Exploitation.
4. Defence Reforms to be Ready and Relevant for the Future.
5. Respect, Care and Wellbeing of Veterans and Families of our Martyrs / Fallen Soldiers / Disabled Warriors.
Arm to Fight, Win and Live to Fight yet Again
While the spirit to fight of a soldier is infinite, inadequate budgeting and frustrating procurement procedures have failed to arm him for the assigned tasks. Inadequate budgetary support, bureaucratic decision paralysis, lack of accountability and responsibility, frustrating procurement cycles and weak defence industrial base are only some of the ills. The key remedy is that the trajectory of defence budget be gradually reversed to match desired capabilities to prevail in today’s wars and fight to win future wars. The defence budget needs to dovetail a three five-year assured financial perspective with complete harmony between the MoD and the MoF with inbuilt non-lapsabilty. Major time critical procurements identified on value, vulnerability analysis and priority, based on threat assessment, must be followed up at highest level by a high power operational readiness committee under PMO with full responsibility, accountability and authority vested with the newly formed Department of Military Affairs.
Another concern is to reverse the import orientation. “Make in India” remains an inspiring slogan with some good policy initiatives but lacks major outcomes and needs to be accompanied by matching de-novo look at MoD procurement processes, culture and structures.
Ensure the Status and Dignity of Soldier
The systemic erosion of status by successive dispensations has adversely affected civil-military equivalence and dignity of the uniformed fraternity. The effect is a deleterious for the morale and prestige of a soldier. To add to the concerns, the bureaucracy has successively downgraded the status and financial equivalence of the Armed Forces with every Pay Commission report. The NFU debate and the sheer lack of concern for the legitimate entitlement and equivalence is indeed a matter of concern. Even the warrant of precedence is repeatedly tweaked to suit the convenience of the bureaucrats and widen disparities. Why should the soldier in or out of uniform be fighting court cases for Disability Pensions, OROP, NFU, prosecution for doing his duty in counter insurgency environment and several other legitimates demands? The need is to reflect upon the governments outlook to this most respected national icon and arrest policies which dilute and tarnish the image of defence services resulting in a sense of victimhood.
Keep the Institution Apolitical & Curb its Unprofessional Exploitation
The systemic attempts to politicise the uniform and its progressive unprofessional exploitation has eroded the morale and image of a soldier. The recent trend of
deriving political mileage from military operations and creating divides by encouraging debate on matters military and populistic appeasing policies over matters
military, is indeed a cause of concern. This could adversely influence the apolitical character of the serving soldiers who cannot be isolated from the extended family
of veterans or would play to the galleries in his last few years to seek political patronage. Thus, the danger of political creepage and its avoidable fallouts in an
otherwise apolitical organisation is real. The government thus needs to ensure that the services irrespective of all new found challenges, retain their apolitical
character, as also are employed only in tasks for which they have donned the uniform.
Defence Reforms to be Ready and Relevant for the Future
The creation of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and Department of Military Affairs even though with diluted empowerment, is a step in the right direction. Similarly, the recent approval of Space, Cyber and Special Forces joint organisations is a welcome step, though too late and too little. However, other critical issues like restructuring of MoD, raising of Integrated Theatre Commands, National Defence University, formulation of a National Security Strategy and enactment of Armed Forces Covenant Act must also find a time bound implementation focus.
Respect, Care and Wellbeing of Veterans and Families of our Martyrs / Fallen Soldiers / Disabled Warriors
Fauj is a family, with veterans and our widows a part of the extended family. Today’s serving soldier is tomorrows veteran and our brave widows / Veer Nari’s an emotive connection to our fallen brave hearts. Thus their care and wellbeing is a reflection of a soldiers tomorrow which impacts his morale and status in uniform. A veteran’s greatest desire is the respect and status in society due to him for all his sacrifices in uniform. It’s payback time for a grateful nation whose compassion and actions are reflective in the care and welfare of veterans and families of fallen soldiers. Not enough is being done in this regard. Protests and rallies by veterans for their legitimate rights and seeking legal recourse, does not auger well for the nation. More importantly is the issue of our moral responsibility for the care and wellbeing of the families of our fallen comrade in arms. There is a need for a better outreach model with greater compassion, respect, empowerment and assured lifetime connectivity to address all concerns expeditiously, than just release of monetary dues. The mantra should be to connect, show compassion, take care, and empower our veterans and the families of our fallen soldiers.
As India emerges to find its rightful place in the world, the Indian Army will continue to reflect the idea of India and the concept of a strong nationhood. Its defining character built upon the 5 C’s ; Character, Competence, Courage, Commitment and Compassion; and ethos of a secular, motivated, apolitical and professional force devoted to the unity and integrity of the country, would remain the defining fundamentals of the nation’s growth and prosperity. The respect, dignity, wellbeing and stature of its soldier in turn must be preserved and garnered by the nation, for its their “Fauji”, who will continue to stand tall in the line of duty and never fail the nation.