Tuesday, January 15, 2013

India: Neglect of Welfare and Honour of Ex-Servicemen


The barbaric Pakistani attack on Indian soldiers in the Jammu area on January 8,2013, and the brutal killing and mutilation of two soldiers with one of them beheaded called for a three-pronged response:

· An exercise to express the solidarity of the nation with the families of the martyred soldiers and to initiate action to maintain their honour and dignity. This should have been the responsibility of the Prime Minister’s Office which should have taken a series of gestures like the PM visiting the families of the martyred soldiers, asking one of his senior officers to represent him at their cremation, a televised address to the armed forces to assure them of the solidarity of the nation and working for an all-party consensus on the subject to prevent partisan exploitation of the issue. One has an impression that these important aspects were totally neglected by the PM and his entourage.

· A second exercise to determine how the Pakistanis were able to carry out this barbaric attack well inside Indian territory without resistance from the Indian troops posted in the area and to tighten up the prevention of trans-LOC violations. This was the total tactical responsibility of the Army. In his media briefing on January 14, Gen.Bikram Singh the Chief of the Army Staff, firmly and lucidly explained the action taken by the Army in this regard. He clearly explained that trans-LOC aggressions will be dealt with aggressively and offensively with appropriate retaliation not ruled out as an option. The Army, which has been entrusted by the Government with the responsibility for protecting the LOC, is empowered to take whatever measures are necessary and the COAS made it clear that it will do so.

· The third exercise was to ensure that the Pakistan Army’s tactical barbarity across the LOC did not seriously disrupt the strategic dialogue between the political leaderships of the two countries. This has been competently handled by the Foreign Office.

2. In my view, the serious deficiency has been with regard to the first exercise due to lack of appropriate leadership initiatives from the Ministry of Defence and the PMO. In cases like this, taking initiatives for reassuring the forces of national solidarity and for building up a national consensus is the responsibility of the head of the Government. In the US, whenever the Armed Forces suffer a serious set-back, it is the President who steps forward and exercises leadership in dealing with the situation instead of leaving it to his Defence Secretary. So too in other Western countries.

3.Dr.Manmohan Singh, who prefers to operate from the background instead of from the forefront, chose to let the Defence Minister handle the first exercise. He failed to handle it himself. As a result, there was no leadership either from the Defece Minister or the PM. This created an unfortunate impression of neglect and indifference in the minds of the relatives of the martyred soldiers and possibly in the minds of other soldiers too.

4. The inept handling of the first exercise has again drawn attention to the insensitivity, indifference and casualness with which successive Governments have been handling matters relating to the welfare and honour of our ex-servicemen, whether retired or martyred. This needs urgent corrective steps. The over-all responsibility in this matter should be transferred to the PMO and the PM should set up a standing Task Force to deal with the welfare and honour of our ex-servicemen, retired or martyred. ( 15-1-13)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.