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Mandatory voting in army: With military facing disparaging assaults, why every soldier must vote

A missive issued by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar asking the service chiefs to immediately implement the Seventh Central Pay Commission, thus bringing the military under the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF), amounted to what in military parlance is termed as an ‘unlawful command’.

The initial response of the chiefs was that the military will wait for the anomalies in the Seventh CPC to be addressed first. But kudos to the one particular chief who convinced the other two to submit to Parrikar’s dictum; posterity will never forgive them.

The bigger question, however is, what compelled the defence minister to issue such an unlawful command? It was certainly not a soft corner for Islamabad or Beijing. So, was it because of the "mafia" that transcends all governments?

A reference to the "mafia" was made in an earlier Firstpost article, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Its real face is contained in the Vohra Committee Report of 1993.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. PTI

This committee, headed by NN Vohra, the then home secretary (now governor of Jammu and Kashmir), aimed to take stock of all available information about the activities of crime syndicates/mafia organisations in the country which had developed links with and were being protected by government functionaries and political personalities.

A few of the findings of the exhaustive Vohra Committee were:

• That money power was used to develop a network of muscle-power, which was also used by the politicians during elections.

• It established mafia linkages to various institutions in the electoral, political, economic, law and order, and administrative apparatus.

• That the cost of contesting elections had thrown the politician into the lap of these elements, and had led to grave compromises by officials of the preventive/detective systems.

• It also identified the utter inadequacy of the criminal justice system.

• It showed the rapid spread and growth of mafias and economic lobbies which have, over the years, developed extensive network with bureaucrats/government functionaries, politicians, media persons and strategically located individuals in the non-state sector; with some also having international linkages, including with foreign intelligence agencies.

• It established that any leakage about the linkages of crime syndicate with senior government functionaries or political leaders in the states or at the Centre could have a destabilising effect on the functioning of the government.

Naturally, the above report has remained buried somewhere because it poses the threat of "destabilising" the functioning of any government. India is not like Singapore, a country where 150 politicians and bureaucrats were jailed overnight when their equivalent of the Lokpal Bill came into being.

No wonder then that former Defense Minister AK Antony couldn’t sleep after discovering the capabilities of the army’s Technical Support Division (TSD). As a result, the TSD was killed off pronto, on trumped up charges, because it "could" have been intercepted by the "mafia".

Never mind the fact that the mobile interceptors in question were actually imported by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which functions directly under the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and not the army.

China is known to extract value in strategic terms for financial gain. Similarly, the mafia can extract value by attracting foreign funding. As a result, the military is continuously put down and many of the defence-industrial complexes remain out-dated.

The prime minister may push hard for "ease of business" but the mafia gets massive foreign funding, and which country wants to see a strong India? The inability to act against the mafia makes it bolder. Remember the efforts under the previous government to hollow the system by pitting the IB against the CBI?

But then the realisation dawned that the IPS manning the intelligence agencies were also privy to the mafia dealings. So now, the mafia is going full blast against the military; even trying to pitch the CAPF against the military (remember the police baton charging military veterans at Jantar Mantar).

In terms of ranking and emoluments, the bureaucracy and civilian defence employees should be left aside. Of course, unlike any other country in the world, the same ranks and uniforms of the military, were quietly introduced into the police forces.

When some military veterans first gave a call for a protest at Jantar Mantar in 2015, an organisation called "Patriots Front" wrote a letter to the prime minister, warning him of a military coup and recommended that “anti-coup measures be put in place”.

Even today, the so called "patriots" dismiss the soldiers' demands as just “whining”. The soldiers just want their status to be respected, as given in the Constitution and they want the serious imbalances and disparities between soldiers and other government civil employees be rectified, taking into account the average career earnings including pension benefits.

For example, the non-functional upgradation (NFU) demand of the armed forces was reportedly turned down on the pretext that it was applicable only to class ‘A’ officers, like IAS, IFS, IPS, IRS, etc. That begs the question: What is the class of the military officers who are commissioned by the President of India?

Does the government have an explanation for this? Why should 45 percent of the defence pension outlay be consumed by 22 percent civilians under the MoD?

In such an environment, what should the military do? There is no need for the service chiefs to bow down to such "unlawful commands", even as the mafia appears to be hell-bent upon demolishing the military.

But aside from representing the hierarchy on specific issues, the least the service chiefs must do is to ensure that soldiers must not be denied their right to cast their vote, especially since many of their fundamental rights are already severely curbed as part of their service.

The manner in which caste, creed, and religion are played in our country clearly indicate that anything and everything goes, and anything can be sold for votes. Even US President Barrack Obama celebrated Diwali in the White House and so did the United Nations (perhaps on the behest of the US) with an eye on the Indian origin voters going into next week’s Presidential election.

Fortunately, the Election Commission of India has authorised every military soldier to vote during the elections (both state and local) at the station they are posted in — thanks to the efforts of Rajeev Chandrashekhar, former member of parliament.

Legislative Assembly elections are due in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Manipur next year, and the battle lines are tightly drawn; especially in UP, where every vote will count.

When the army formations voted during the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election, the change in the political attitude towards the army was electric. Interestingly, on discovering that army division at Allahabad would also participate in the 2007 election, a recent Congress defectee from Allahabad to BJP, had executed a summersault at par with perhaps Dipa Karmakar; from complaining against the army to becoming all sugar and honey, in all but a few seconds.

It is true that no political party wants the military to vote as the soldiers vote without a consideration for caste, creed, religion, in the true spirit of "India first". This often upsets the political calculations. Not only will there be hints for the military to abstain, spanners will be put out like — first get your voter identity cards made; and that voting is impossible where soldiers with even one day of service are authorised to vote.

But, there is precedence to overcome this. In the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly Election, serving soldiers were permitted to vote showing their service identity cards, and the list of eligible military voters was submitted to both the UP and the Election Commission well in advance. In fact, special voting booths were established within military cantonments, where soldiers voted under the supervision of Election Commission representatives.

With Gujarat passing a law to make voting mandatory, this approach should be adopted as dictum even in the military. With the military facing disparaging assaults, every soldier must at least get to vote. This should be the resolve of the service chiefs.

There should be no need for one chief to convince the other two. The three service chiefs actually owe this to their command. The routine instructions for getting soldiers voting cards fooled no one. The only question that remains is, do the chairman chiefs of Staff Committee and the service chiefs have it in them?

The author is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.

Updated Date: Nov 02, 2016 16:44 PM

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