Political parties should give veterans fair share of representation
Lt General K J Singh
The current Lok Sabha election is being dominated by enhanced focus on security issues and leveraging of muscular responses in security domain, particularly by the ruling party. One definite, positive spin-off has been that the main parties have articulated their security strategies in greater detail. Congress hired competent veteran to articulate its national security strategy as vision paper. The ruling party has had the advantage of captive think tanks to put together its ‘Sankalp Patra’. We hope, this trend will graduate to the next level with the opposition, experimenting with nominated ‘shadow defence minister’ for better debate and consultation leading to consensus building on issues of national importance. Seemingly improbable, ideally, we should transit to collegium approach in mega acquisitions. With shadow minister incorporated in pre-purchase phase, hopefully, it could minimise the possibility of controversies like Rafael and Bofors.
Opposition parties are naturally exercised on over politicisation of security debate and Balakot strikes. Ruling party rationalises its approach with the counter-argument that it has taken the high-risk strategy and failure or reverses would have spelt doom for them. Hence, they are entitled to due benefits. It will be relevant to recall an old incident, wherein German Chancellor Hindenburg was asked, whether he or his staff should get credit for victory? His reply was straight, “I don’t know, who should get the credit, but I do know that if the plan had failed, who would have had to carry the can.”
After the din of election settles down, Election Commission should consider promulgating clear guidelines along with stringent punishments for trivialisation of security debate, especially the use of some very questionable phraseology. Considering that there is national consensus for maintaining apolitical character of security forces, Election Commission should go extra mile for enforcing these guidelines, as with nation caught up in ‘perpetually in elections mode’ syndrome, next round of assembly elections in some states is just around the corner.
Notwithstanding the hype on politicisation of forces and OROP agitation, it has not translated into more veterans getting party tickets. There has been a drop in the number of veterans fielded by major parties. In fact, film actors and sports personalities seem to have got a better deal despite significant number of ‘faujis’ joining political parties, specially BJP. Only recently, as many as seven retired lieutenant generals have taken the saffron plunge. Parties, specially cadre-based ones, have their own compulsions. This inference is supported by a detailed survey undertaken by TOI in three states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh with the largest share of veterans and serving soldiers, estimated to be in excess of 12 lakh. According to TOI, only six have got tickets in 27 seats. The overall national figure of serious veteran candidates is likely to be less than 10 and, in the best-case scenario, next parliament may have three to five MPs from this voluble community. It appears that veterans are faring much better in TV studios and WhatsApp.
Several generals like Cariappa, JJ Singh, Raj Kadyan and Satbir Singh have tried their luck through direct election route. The bottom line is, without the support of party cadres, it is indeed a herculean task to even save the deposit. It is also equally difficult to categorise these hopefuls. Possible classification could well be – dynasty-wallah, para-dropped wonders and careerists. The first variety, like generals SK Sinha, BC Khanduri, SPM Tripathi and VK Singh, has connections with political families and inherited support at caste and grass root levels. Most of them would have drawn benefits on this account even during their careers. Those who exit early, like captains Amarinder, Abhimanyu and Ajay Yadav, stand fair chance to transit to careerist category with broad-based support besides stake in veteran community. The most difficult is the transition from para-dropped to careerist role, odd exceptions being Jaswant Singh and Rajyavardhan Rathore. Such insertion is often resorted to for limited purpose of tying down an opponent and invariably has short-term utility. We have an apt, recent example of this and it is good that circumstances have spared general concerned further embarrassment.
Shish Ram Ola, Honorary Captain Ayub Khan and Commando Surinder Singh have broken the glass ceiling of officer dominated polity. Ola and Ayub hail from Jhunjhunu district, former rose to become Union minister and later MP for multiple tenures. Ayub’s USP was, Indian Ayub is better than the Pakistani one, subtle politicisation of another variety. Both are indeed shining examples of careerist leaders, who overcame challenges to rise to top hierarchy. Despite large numbers in many constituencies, jawans are conspicuous by their absence among candidates.
The answer possibly lies in tapping the Rajya Sabha route both through parties and even in nominated members category. There are some shining examples like General Shankar Roychowdhury, Lieutenant General JS Arora and current incumbent, Lieutenant General (Dr) DP Vats. More veterans in the House of Elders are likely to not only enrich deliberations but also improve quorum and discipline to some extent. Having reaped the dividends of ‘josh’ euphoria, hopefully, status in post-election phase should revert to ‘hosh’ – enlightened consciousness – and it should be payback time in terms of capability building and redressing HR issues of security forces, which deserve focussed attention with large heart. It is hoped that parties will give veterans fair share of representation based on their capabilities and experience without politicising them. Food for thought: Can domain competence be merit-based without rigours of party affiliations?
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.