The image of our armed forces has taken a severe beating lately, and specifically in 2010, following the Adarsh Society scandal that has thrown up the names of a few ex Chiefs. In fact, for the past several years, we’ve had at least one major scandal a year that has involved officers of the highest ranks of the army and even the navy. This has embarrassed the vast majority of very good men and women who have given up lucrative opportunities to devote their life to the services. It must be galling for them to see that in all these scams over the years, there is one constant- serving officers of the highest ranks were also involved, along with JCOs- all party to the crime! In 2006, there was the ‘dry rations scam’; in 2007 the ‘frozen meat scam’; in 2008 CAG indicts then Lt.Gen Deepak Kapoor for questionable ‘purchases’ in Northern Command; in 2009 there was the ‘Sukhna land scam’ when as Chief Gen.
Deepak Kapoor again came out looking pathetic for attempting to protect those involved, specially Lt. Gen Avadesh Prakash. And then in 2010, we’ve had the ‘Adarsh Society’ scandal, that has highlighted a nexus between Mumbai’s land mafia, politicians and service officers, including three ex-service chiefs. And whatever their pleas of innocence, it is highly unlikely that two ex army chiefs (and a navy chief ) will not have known the details of a fancy building, being built on military land in one of the most expensive real estate in the world in Mumbai. Clearly, the question is: has something really changed over the past decade or was this always the case, and only the media is now much more intrusive? One thing is certain: People do not look at a service officer with the same respect as they did in the past. For the deeds of a handful few, the ‘integrity’ of all is now being questioned.
It is perhaps fair to say that the decline in values started many decades ago as more and more officers (not all though, it must be qualified), rose to higher ranks – which in itself became an obsessive barometer of their own self worth – not simply because of their professional capabilities, but also because they’ve played as per the new rules of the game, which required them to pander to the wishes of their seniors to secure a good ACR. Worse still, the ‘cantonment culture’ was abandoned for crass consumerism. Many thus chose instead to enhance their stature not by their deeds, but by acquiring material assets. What they’ve failed to recognise is that, in reality, you simply do not make it to the dinner list of the really well to do in civvy street, by having a flat in Mumbai’s posh Colaba area or a house in the boom town of Gurgaon.
But if you are a man of distinction, whether as a service chief or a sportsman they will be happy to bow before you, even if you lived far from the madding crowd (as Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw did) or in ‘fauji’ accommodation ( as the Olympic medallist, Col. Rathore still does). Perhaps, one way to solve the post retirement insecurity of our servicemen – for a home – would be to allot a plot of land to each retiring officer, in colonies created for them in the vast tracts of cantonment land across the country. (There is ample land and those that claim it is all used for training, aren’t telling the truth). In Pakistan officers get a plot after every 7 years of service, and in Bangladesh they get a plot each and two UN tenures. This keeps them happy. About time our brass hats worked something similar out for our servicemen.
While a UN tenure for every officer is unlikely as our armed forces are bigger and vacancies are few, a post retirement home in a cantonment – since life in the services is all that many can relate to – along with the current pension, could do wonders for the morale of servicemen. It would hopefully also stop a service chief from writing to a Chief Minister, as Admiral S Mehta did, praising his electoral victory – in a clear break from the apolitical tradition of the services – while pleading for a plot of land to settle in Gurgaon!
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