Response to Mr Nitin Pai’s Opinion on Politicisation of Armed Forces

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by Palepu Ravi Shankar

Dear Mr Nitin Pai,

I read with interest your opinion piece in The Print titled Don’t politicise Indian armed forces. Just look at what it did to our policehttps://theprint.in/opinion/dont-politicise-indian-armed-forces-just-look-at-what-it-did-to-our-police/241965/). I agree with your fundamental idea that the Armed Forces should not be politicized. However, the premise that “Deployment of Armed Forces in Jammu & Kashmir over the past three decades is the single biggest factor in politicization of Armed Forces” is incorrect. Also, the conclusion that politicization of Armed Forces will lead them to a state akin to that of the Police forces is also misplaced. This I due to a few basic reasons. While the Armed Forces have been deployed in Counter Insurgency situations in the NE and J&K for long, the personnel are constantly rotated. As a result, none of them have dropped roots in these areas to become politicized. In fact, an outlook, slightly aloof, insulated and remote from local political nuances due to lack of identity with them has enabled Armed Forces to maintain their balance and remain apolitical. In addition, the Armed Forces do not deal with the public as the Police does. The Armed Forces do not have personal stakes in many outcomes unlike the Police who are local to the situation. Hence the Armed Forces will never end up like our police. I have no worries on that.

The real issue regarding politicization is that it is taking place and unavoidable. It will have an adverse affect  in degrading our op preparedness unless certain issues which have caused politicization are identified and addressed. I wrote on the issue of   politicization in my article  Political crumbling of the Last Bastion. The feedback I got from the environment was revealing. It clearly indicated to me that there are a set of imbalancers which have crept into our system which need rectification. The rectification process must be set in politically. It cannot be done from within the system. The Armed forces cannot be more professional they are and Samuel Huntington’s theories of building expertise, emphasizing responsibility and upholding their corporate responsibility alone won’t help us. I have identified the issues involved in my article  Political Resurrection of the Last Bastion.  Largely, the issues pertain to Procurement, Op Preparedness, Promotions and Postings and Status of Armed Forces. I have also outlined the steps to pull back the system and Rightstream the Armed Forces. these are reproduced for your ready reading

There are two unshakable strengths.  Firstly, Indian democracy.  Secondly the belief within our Armed Forces that democracy should be upheld at all costs. Build on them. The politician faces the hustings and the soldier faces the enemy. In this canvas it is time for them to face the nation together and ‘Rightstream’ the Armed Forces. The rank and file must be totally insulated from politics. Their loyalty and fealty should be only to the tricolor. Promotions and appointments, specially to higher ranks MUST be on merit without any compromise. Able service personnel should man not only MOD but other ministries and departments in the Center and State. Expose them to public dealing. It will do all round good. Voice and representation of the Armed Forces in the political landscape is missing.  If bahubalis, criminals, suspected terrorists, god men, casteists, retired bureaucrats, businessmen can be elected as representatives of their interests, then there should be representation of Armed Forces also. Capable veterans should enter public life as politicians. It can be a combination of elected and nominated MPs, MLAs and even gram Pradhans. I know a case of a cook in my unit who is today a gram Pradhan in his village in HP. He is doing extremely well. All political parties should seriously look at this issue.

The next major reform is how to restore the status of Servicemen who the nation expects to sacrifice their lives and fundamental liberties.  The national “Last Bastion” must be put on a pedestal. If not, that is not our “Last Bastion”. Find another. The fundamental issue is – pay as the equator of status. Break this link and device a system where balance can be restored. The imbalanced system cannot continue.  To improve procurement and operational aspects we must reform the MOD. Appointment of a CDS and increased manning of the MOD  by service personnel is mandatory. Surgical strikes must be carried out on our procurement system. These have been outlined again at the cost of repetition for emphasis.

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I would like to reiterate that I am prepared to take up this issue along with the other issue which you have articulated recently pertaining to how new military bases can seed new cities to create jobs in any forum, any time and place of your choice.

with best wishes and warm regards

Lt Gen P R Shankar (retired)

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