If Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adiyanath picked up a stick and joined the witches of Macbeth in stirring the pot, he would not have created a more sinister and poisonous brew than what he has by calling the armed forces ‘Modiji ki sena.’
This personalised salutation, the first of its kind since 1947, was registered in the ranks of the forces with dismay and there was a certain faith and expectancy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would censure his minister. When that didn't happen, the ire intensified and the use of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s photograph in election posters further upset the men in uniform. As for taking civilian credit for a military strike, even in the worst of the Gandhi days, Indira sounded best when she remained silent (as she did in military matters).
These issues led directly to a rather unfortunate situation: The purported petition — now the subject of thorough back and forth — to President Ram Nath Kovind over these issues and the 'politicisation' of the armed forces which was signed by various ex-chiefs and officers (so many of whom have stars it could create its own galaxy) did not happen in a vacuum.
Also to be noted: There is a difference between endorsing a train of thought and turning that agreeability into the equivalent of a signature on a petition to the President of India. In short, that's not fair.
Even though a handful of senior officers claimed their names were falsely placed on the list, others have maintained they signed the document willingly after reading the documents. Those that signed the document were obviously convinced by its contents. Further, the rank and file of the armed forces and retired personnel are miffed by the Adityanath comment and do not take kindly to the misuse of the photographs of the IAF wing commander or the political haste to take undue credit for the surgical strikes or the post-Pulwama initiatives.
Also, while the officers who claimed their names were falsely listed are well within their rights to protest, senior officers as a whole are far from as apolitical as they'd undoubtedly like to present themselves. In recent years, not only have retired servicemen entered politics, but also turned up at rallies, protests and political events. The times have changed and ex-servicemen cannot pretend they are simply fading away, like soldiers are meant to do in retirement.
It is possible that Modi's attitude of seeming indifference to the way the armed forces feel they are being treated on various accounts — by what is now known in the ex-servicemen echelons as the unholy trinity of Modi-Jaitley-Sitharaman — is not important vis-à-vis the elections. That they are too few in number to matter. But the government ignores the restlessness and believes it is only former officers making a ruckus at its own peril.
Modi would be well advised to keep a close eye on developments. It is not a question of appeasing those who wore (and still wear the uniform). It is a question of keeping them out of politics.
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Updated Date: Apr 13, 2019 16:03:59 IST