The recently proclaimed second Gupkar Declaration by an exclusive ‘Kashmir Valley’ composition of politicians mirrors the crowd participation in the recently concluded IPL, which was played to empty stadiums but delivered and telecast to audiences with pre-recorded cheering. By and large, the declaration’s lame attempt to synecdoche Kashmir separatism appears to be a dying echo in the backdrop of the vanishing Hurriyat legacy.
A glance at the Valley’s political smorgasbord, introspective of the changing times, it is indeed a comedown from the erstwhile “Hurriyat” that vied for secession from the Indian State or for independence, depending on which side of the Pir Panjal controlled the sway. For the Kashmir watchers, however, the declaration seems to be a step for moderation, another rung lower in the opposition to the ultimate and complete amalgamation. As the hues of the terrestrial surface evolve with each changing season, in geopolitical terms, a generation begins to see a change in the militant stance in the valley leadership. Historically speaking, in the 14th century, where it all began, even Shah Mir Alias Sultan Sham ud Din patiently took twenty years to morph a generation and turn the people away from Maharaj Suhadeva and Kota Rani’s Lohara dynasty’s rule. The progress orientation of a state is likewise bound to take time. But the Middle Ages were dark all across the globe, and while the Shah Mir dynasty was wiping out the pristine heritage of Kashmiri society and religion, halfway across the globe, the ‘Black Death’ was wiping out a third of the European population.
Kashmir has Indian heritage stamped all over it; the pristine heritage is still there to see. As a relic of the past, across the Razdan pass, lies the Sharada Peeth on the banks of the Neelam valley, known in the 6th century as ‘Kashmira Vaasini Sharada Devi’. It is well known that, cradled in the ranges, the avowed shrine of the Sharada Peeth is now in ruins. The connection to mainland India lies deep enough, renewed yet again by the Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE from atop the hill overlooking the Dal Lake.
Back in August 1947, when the two nations were born, little was prophesied of the distant future. The accession of Kashmir and the battles valiantly fought, retaining the Valley and Ladakh. Kashmir was a chessboard of military precision; Colonel Manekshaw, then in the Military Operations Branch at Army HQ, clearly remembered the crisp orders that were delivered by Sardar Patel on the mobilization of troops, and rest is history. Within a day from when the Instrument of Accession was delivered at New Delhi and presented to the Governor General, Lord Mountbatten, the Indian Army landed at Srinagar with two Indian Army Battalions, namely, 1 Sikh and 4 Kumaon. The Raiders were driven back from the gates of Shalateng near Srinagar all the way back to Uri.
Down till December 1948, a year and a half of battles and skirmishes followed, with gains in the Valley and to the south of Haji Pir pass, and less success in Gilgit and Baltistan. On Pt Nehru’s insistence, Sheikh Abdullah was taken on board for the complete accession of Kashmir. Time was running out and ‘The Sheikh’ was not interested in the Baltis. Jinnah’s dislike for the Sheikh paid off as the National Conference remained in favour of the accession, by and large. Subsequently, Indian Union Legislations were passed to govern Kashmir. A Sadr E Riyasat and a Wazir E Alam (PM) were appointed.
The Sheikh, after being self-appointed as the Prime Minister, tried to abolish the post of the Sadr E Riyasat, but Dr Karan Singh and mainland India objected. The Sheikh was imprisoned in 1953. Article 370 was accordingly introduced in 1954 as a constitutional mechanism. In and out of power for a decade, Sheikh Abdullah realized the futility of an anti-India stance with the defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 war. With many changes, finally a regular governance returned to the Valley with the Indira-Sheikh Accord in 1974, where he returned as the chief minister of J&K.
Till the late 1980s, the Valley settled down to a peaceful existence. It was the time when, for the Kashmiri residents of Srinagar, it was a matter of pride to have the honoured Army or IAS officer as a respected tenant in their bungalows.
THE INCEPTION OF EXTREMISM
The Pakistani Army has a line of infamous dictators who are known for their loss of face in confrontations with the Indian Army. Gen Zia Ul Haq, a Machiavellian dictator who lost the Siachen Glacier battlefield to India, was a man who went about not only radicalizing the Pakistan Army but also the youth of Kashmir, routing weapons into renegade hands in the Valley, much to the chagrin of India. For about a decade after General Zia eliminated the Pakistan PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, he put into effect the operation TOPAC, which slowly changed the Kashmiri youth. In 1989, after the kidnapping and murder of two IAF officers in broad daylight in Srinagar, with slanderous slogans suddenly appearing across the valley, JKLF came to the fore. Terrorism ran its course for three decades after that.
After those three decades of turmoil in Kashmir, the rise and fall of various Tanzeems, the machinations of the Hurriyat, it is a long haul now back to a clear amalgamation of the Valley with mainland India.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE NEW LEGALITIES
On 5 August 2019, in a constitutional move, Article 370 was abrogated and 35A was abolished. The most controversial part was that Article 35A prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the state. Also, non-permanent residents of J & K could not buy immovable property, acquire land, apply for government jobs or any kind of scholarships and aids as well as other public welfare projects, which were exclusively reserved for Kashmiri people. Now, Indians from other states can own property in the Valley as in other parts of the country.
Secondly, the people of J&K will lose their permanent resident certificate and become a general citizen of India. However, the Permanent Residents Law had many restrictions, including the barring of a Kashmiri woman from having any rights to property if she married a person from outside the state. This restriction was extended to her children to have any succession rights over the property. With such restrictions gone, women in the Valley will have greater empowerment.
Thirdly, the state of Jammu and Kashmir will no longer have a separate constitution but shall abide by the Indian Constitution, much like any other state. All Indian laws will be automatically applied to Kashmiris and people from outside the state living in the region.
A separate Union Territory for Jammu and Kashmir is created that will function directly under the central government. Thus, the central government can have better control over the internal security situation in the region that was subject to cross-border terrorism. The Ladakh region, now a full-fledged UT, is on its way to clear the air and focus on local administration without diktats from Srinagar.
There will also be a change in legislative powers. In the future, the J & K Assembly cannot clear any bill on its own as it will require the central government’s nod to do so. In the absence of an elected government in the state, the state governor shall exercise the powers of the elected government. This clause was introduced in February 2019 and the same was exercised to remove Article 370 in August 2019.
Moreover, an agricultural orientation will be encouraged in the region. In 2006, Ganderbal, a small town of North Kashmir, became a district headquarters, as did three other small towns. There was a flurry of construction and urbanization was seen progressing at a fast clip, eroding farmlands. In the past six years alone, the farmlands lost to other purposes stood at 20%. According to the Jammu and Kashmir Economic Survey report for 2014-15, the estimated contribution of agriculture to the State Gross Domestic Product has fallen from 28% in 2004-05 to 17%. While 70% of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture, the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture has declined from 85% in 1961, to 28% today, as per a Kashmir Observer article. Farmers have not found other work in J&K, due to the absence of a viable industrial and service sector.
Related to this, the shortfall in food grains, which was 32% in 1950-51, is now at 82% in the region. Almost all the food grains are brought in from Punjab and beyond. Cross-border trade is not only limited but economically unviable as the cost of food grains is much higher in Pakistan-occupied areas across the border where the PDS system is woefully short of its objectives. Self-sufficiency is not a virtue with the state of Kashmir, and amalgamation seemed to be the logical direction in such a scenario, as political responsibility has to rest on provision and productivity. The Kashmiri leaders know this well, and so does the public.
ASPECTS OF POLITY, ECONOMIC INFLUENCE AND MILITARY POWER
There are 10 districts in the Kashmir division with a population of nearly 70 lakhs, while the Jammu division has 54 lakhs in population. Together, the total is nearly equal to that of Uttarakhand. In a country of nearly 1.4 billion people, the population percentage share of the Valley is considerably small but it does have a distinct nature.
They also have been bereft of development or the awareness of economic ability, especially for improving the living conditions of its citizens. The people of Kashmir are in an estrangement of sorts. But with the amalgamation with Indian side, when the polity is introduced to better amenities, the outcomes will evolve differently.
While the highly subsidized treatment of the state is at the cost of other states, the Kashmiris would also know the conditions across the Line of Control where the public distribution system is woefully short of any decent standards of living. The PDS in the entire nation of Pakistan is in total disarray.
The economic influence of the amalgamation will also be significant. Most Indian states have their signature products with an international reputation, for instance, spices from Kerala, basmati from Punjab, jute from Bengal, and many more. The situation in Kashmir thus far has not allowed the commercial production of the cash-rich products of saffron and cashmere over the decades due to a lack of capital and the connected issues of acquiring larger equipment for farming.
Surprisingly, Iran and China figure as leading producers of saffron products too. Hopefully, the change of conditions in Kashmir would see Kashmiris stretch out on the infusion of capital from the mainland. Large saffron fields can change the economic profile of the place and Kashmiri farmers can take the full support of the national resources and financial institutions which are open to all.
Finally, there will be changes with the exercising of Indian military power too. The Indian forces wrested Kashmir from the clutches of the tribals in 1947-48. They then took back the Valley and Kargil by the end of 1948. The forces also denied any success to the Pakistani Army in 1965 by making a graveyard of Patton Tanks, and in 1971 as well, by creating an independent Bangladesh out of East Pakistan. The Pakistani Army could not achieve any military gains in Kashmir that they could hold on to. In 1984, they secured the Siachen Glacier and Saltoro ridge too, thus denying hold of the Nubra Valley. Yet again, in 1999, the Pakistan Army was thrown back from encroaching upon Kargil.
Throughout the years since 1990, the Indian forces have adopted a counter-terrorist posture. And over a period of time, right from the onset of the instigated unrest by Pakistan in the valley, our forces inside Kashmir have exercised restraint in the use of force against militancy.
Unlike this, the Pakistani government, in its OP Al Mizan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has bombed its Pakhtoon population using the PAF. That the Pakistan government took hasty decisions is clear, keeping in mind that the Pakistan forces have 20% Pashtoon troops, and it is a slow disaster unfolding now with the construction of a two-tier fence along the 2430 km long Durand Line with Afghanistan.
Such is the intransigence of the confused state, that the top leaders of Pakistan now even go to the desperate extent of blaming Indian agencies of operating terror outfits from Afghanistan and causing terror attacks inside Pakistan.
CHALLENGING THE CHARGE OF ANNEXATION
Anne Woods Patterson, an American diplomat and career Foreign Service Officer, served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2013 to 2017. The esteemed diplomat served as the United States Ambassador to Egypt until 2013 and as the United States Ambassador to Pakistan from July 2007 to October 2010. On the controversial John Fredericks Show on August 9, 2019, while she did comment on Modi’s brilliant chess move in boxing in Trump on Kashmir, she stressed upon the term ‘annexation’. One can attribute this largely to her affinity to Pakistan as diplomats are likely to have a sympathetic attitude towards the country they served in abroad.
This latent issue has now been set alight before the world comity by the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. Constitutionally speaking, though not in the prime segment, being in the XIIIth schedule, Article 370 was to be a temporary measure. However, the article held back the amalgamation and nationalization of Jammu and Kashmir – a stage curtain for the nation of Pakistan to avoid state action.
In granting special status to J&K, Article 370 had, for the past seventy years, lent a get-away for a financially disabled nation like Pakistan, which fed the Kashmir rhetoric to all and sundry. The slogan was catchy – ‘Kashmir Banega Pakistan’ – and the unwitting masses lapped it up while it served the purpose of the ruling quasi-civilian government, its super rich elite and, last but not the least, the largest conglomerate of the Pakistani nation, the ubiquitous Pakistan Army.
A sense of disillusionment is rife in Pakistan. For the Pakistani leadership, the writing is on the wall. Going by what Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party observed recently in his article post the abrogation of Article 370, Pakistan (and Imran Khan) should be worried about defending Muzaffarabad rather than taking Srinagar.
WELCOMING THE SUNRISE IN KASHMIR
Needless to say, the state of Kashmir had been bereft of any serious development for many decades largely as a result of exclusive politics and policies. The regional parties avoiding mainstream politics had been acting to the economic detriment of the state. They were kept out by vested interests which discouraged the spread of awareness about the Indian industrial potential in the Valley. The nation has come a long way in introducing the railways in the Valley and that has been spontaneously targeted by the separatists. The infusion of mainland Indian labour, capital and infrastructure and being subject to the Indian Penal Code, rather than an archaic system, will see a different tomorrow and be a harbinger of progress and prosperity in times to come. Till then, it is imperative for the political will of the mainstream to convince the polity to believe in the strength of this nation and be aware of the economic and social precipice of the adversary across the Shamshabari.
The author is a veteran of the armed forces having served four tenures in Jammu and Kashmir including the 1999 Kargil conflict. He has also served in Ladakh and in the Siachen Glacier. He is now pursuing research in defence and strategic studies.
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INDIAN NAVAL SHIPS SAHYADRI, KADMATT VISIT SINGAPORE
Indian Naval Ships Sahyadri and Kadmatt, under the Command of Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, visited Singapore from 1 to 3 July as part of the deployment to South East Asia. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Indian Navy personnel engaged in social and informal exchanges as part of a cross-visit to improve mutual cooperation. The visit was aimed at consolidating ties and enhancing mutual understanding.The visit of Indian ships helped enhance maritime co-operation and bolster India’s strong bonds of friendship with Singapore that would further contribute towards security and stability in the region. The ships’ visit coincided with Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day on 1 July. “Indian Navy’s South East Asia deployment INS Sahyadri and INS Kadmatt under Command of Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, FOCEF in Singapore from 1 to 3 July. Professional and social interactions with Singapore Navy to enhance mutual cooperation and understanding and consolidate interoperability” read a tweet shared by the Indian Navy. It added, “Coinciding with Singapore Armed Forces SAF Day, 01 Jul 22, the ships’ visit strengthens maritime cooperation, bolstering India-Singapore bonds of friendship – contributing towards security and stability in the region.”
INS Sahyadri is an indigenously built multi-role stealth Frigate and INS Kadmatt is an indigenously built Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvette. The Indo-Pacific vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based region as articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018 is the driving force behind India’s engagement in the region continued to be directed by the Indo-Pacific vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based region as articulated by PM Modi at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018.In 2021, Singapore Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen participated in the inaugural India Ocean Region Defence Ministers’ Conclave (DMC), wherein he conveyed Singapore’s support to India’s leadership to foster a rules-based maritime order in the Indian Ocean region. This was followed by the annual Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX), conducted by Singapore Navy and Indian Navy. The exercise involved a virtual planning phase followed by a ‘contactless’ sea phase in the southern reaches of the South China Sea within international waters.During the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore’s position as a logistic hub enabled both the public and private sector to source emergency relief supplies such as oxygen- tanks, cylinders, concentrators, ventilators etc. from Singapore to India.
26 Indian Air Force sorties and four Indian Navy Ships transported substantial quantities of these items from Singapore to India till the end of June 2021.
This was followed by the 5th India-Singapore Defence Minister’s dialogue, which was held via virtual conference on 20 January 2021. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh discussed furthering cooperation and engagement with Singapore’s Defence Minister.
200 TERRORISTS WAITING TO CROSS, SECURITY FORCES IN J&K ON HIGH ALERT
The BSF and Army have increased patrolling along the LoC to foil infiltration bids.
Amid intelligence reports suggesting 200 terrorists waiting to cross the border into the Valley, security forces have been put on high alert in Jammu and Kashmir in order to foil infiltration bids. Speaking to The Daily Guardian Review, top sources in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) told that over a dozen launching pads across the Line of Control (LoC) have been found activate by the agency, even as 200 terrorists are waiting to infiltrate from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
After receiving the intelligence input, the Border Security Force and the Army have increased patrolling along the LoC to foil infiltration bids.
According to the IB report accessed by The Daily Guardian Review, terrorists, affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM),
may use “tunnel and riverine” routes to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir.
The IB report has also identified more than a dozen terrorist launch pads across the LoC. These include three in Sonar, Taubat and Losar areas in Gurez sector, four in Machil sector and three in Mandakuli, Jamua and Kharhajna areas in Tangdhar sector. In addition, four–five launch pads in Gabdoni, Lipa and Bandi areas in Uri and Navgaon sectors have been identified.
Terrorists are also trying to infiltrate through Rajouri–Poonch routes, areas south of Pir Panjal. “The focus of infiltration has largely now shifted to the south of Pir Panjal,” said intelligence sources.
The intelligence input assumes significance in view of the 43-day-long Amarnath Yatra. The annual pilgrimage began on June 30 after a gap of two years.
Though there have been few successful infiltration bids this year, a downward trend is noticeable in comparison to previous years. According to top security officials, there were 130 infiltration bids in 2019.
The number came down to 36 bids in 2020 and 31 in 2021. Security forces have killed 121 terrorists, linked to LeT, JeM and HM, this year till June 28.
CENTRE MAKES INTENT CLEAR, NO ROLL BACK OF AGNIPATH
The Union Home Ministry bans 35 WhatsApp group for spreading fake news. At least ten people have been arrested for organising protests.
The Central government on Sunday made it clear that Agnipath, the newly unveiled policy of recruitment to all three armed forces “will not be rolled back”. “Coming to the rollback of the scheme, no. Why should it be rolled back? It is the only progressive step to making the country young.” Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence announced here in a joint press conference. The announcement came after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with all three services chiefs for the second consecutive day.
Explaining the rationale behind the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, Lt Gen Puri told the media persons that there were many casualties in high-altitude battle fields owing to health reasons. “Do you know how many casualties are reported just for health purposes from high-altitude areas? Do read about it, then you would come to know why young is important,” Puri said. Officers from Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy were also present in the joint briefing.
With the announcement made in the briefing it is clear that the contractual recruitment policy for armed forces is here to say notwithstanding the widespread protests against it. In view of the mounting protests, which have left Railways property worth Rs. 200 crore damaged and led to the cancellation of 300 trains, the government has, though, reached out the protesting youth to mollify them. In a slew of measures, the Centre first announced 2-year relaxation in age for 2022 and then extended 10 per cent reservation in Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles to Agniveers whose contract would come to an end after a 4-year stint. The government also extended age relaxation of 5 years to Agniveers in government jobs.
Lt Gen Puri further told
the media persons that initially 46,000 Army aspirants would be recruited in order to ‘analyse’ the scheme “and to build up infra capacity”. Unveiling the numbers the government intends to hire, Puri said, “In the next 4–5 years, our intake (of recruits) will be 50,000–60,000 and will increase to 90,000–1 lakh subsequently.” The number of ‘Agniveers’ would go up to 1.25 lakh eventually, he added.
However, the recruitment to armed forces comes with a caveat. Every Agniveer aspirant would have to furnish a certificate, duly verified by the police, declaring that they were not part of the protests or vandalism. Emphasizing that Indian Army’s foundation was discipline and there was no space for arson or vandalism, Lt Gen Puri said, “Every individual will give a certificate that they were not part of the protest or vandalism. Police verification is 100 per cent, no one can join without that.” Individuals against whom FIRs have been lodged would not be allowed to join the forces.
The Centre also banned 35 WhatsApp groups for spreading fake news on Agnipath scheme and Agniveers, the ministry of home affairs said. At least ten people have been arrested on charges of rumour-mongering and organising protests.
Around 17,600 people take premature retirement from the armed forces, he told the reporters. “No one ever tried to ask them what they will do after retirement?” said Lt Gen Puri. Agniveers would get the same allowance in areas like Siachen and other areas which are applicable to the regular soldiers serving at present, he informed the reporters. The Additional Secretary also said that an Agniveer would get a compensation of Rs 1 crore if he sacrifices his life in service of the nation.
The centre had on June 14 announced the new recruitment policy which seeks to casualise jobs in the armed forces causing huge resentment among army aspirants. Barely two days after the ‘Agnipath’ scheme was unveiled, youth hit the streets across several states leading to violence, arson and vandalism.
In the meanwhile, opposition parties continued slam the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, demanding its withdrawal. Giving a call to the youth of the country to topple the BJP-led government at the Centre, “through democratic, peaceful and non-violent means”, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday said, “I urge you to protest peacefully, but don’t stop. These are your rights, this is your country and it is your duty to protect it. Every leader and worker of the Congress is with you.” Priyanka was addressing a ‘Satyagrah’ protest against the schemed held by the Congress Party at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Among the top leaders, who took part in the protest, were Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Shukla, Sachin Pilot, Salman Khurshid and Alka Lamba.
Her brother Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who turned 52 on Sunday, asked his party workers to refrain from organizing celebrations on his birthday. “We are concerned with the situation in the country. Crores of youths are anguished. We should share the pain of the youth and their families and stand with them,” Rahul said in a statement.
Slamming the Centre, BSP leader Mayawati on Sunday said that the scheme had left the country’s youth “disappointed and frustrated”.
In a related development, the Rajasthan Cabinet passed a resolution on Sunday demanding the Centre to withdraw the scheme keeping in mind the “larger public interest and the sentiments of the youths”.
‘Agnipath’ a trial by fire or an opportunity?
The scheme has possibly been launched with an aim to reduce the ballooning financial burden on the government and also to make the Armed Forces more competitive. However, the plan has its own pitfalls.
The Ministry of Defence finally announced Agnipath (Tour of Duty), the new scheme of recruitment to Armed Forces. Arguably a more suitable name may have been considered, because of the insinuation – is it a trial by fire or an opportunity? As expected, the scheme has been met with widespread criticism, especially from the veterans and armed forces aspirants. It is not surprising because the new scheme which has been in news since 2020 did not generate enough public debate at the time, which left people only with a vague idea about what it entails. Many did not take it seriously given that the armed forces already have a time-tested recruitment method. But now that the scheme details have been made clear, at least a part of it, it seems the criticism was justified.
The new recruitment scheme is not just radical, in that over a period it will change the composition of the Army, but that once in force it will release three-fourth of the recruits back to civilian life, albeit with some uncertainty about their future. In a country where government jobs are considered attractive, not just because of salary but also for hefty pension, a career in armed forces is preferred especially by youths from rural India. It is only likely that the recruits released after four years of service will knock the door of courts for better benefits.
This is not to say that there were no problems with the existing system. This scheme perhaps has envisaged by the government as a way of reducing the ballooning pay and pension bills. The nature of conflict is also changing, so the maintenance of a large standing army itself has been questioned. But despite expectation of stiff opposition to the new scheme, the government had not made adequate preparation for taking the youth – the primary stakeholder – into confidence. The resultant surprise announcement, after virtually no recruitments in two years, has backfired. Will it solve the problem for which it is being touted as the solution? Are the armed forces leadership completely on board? There are no clear answers as yet.
Therefore, before getting into the pros and cons of the scheme, it is important to understand why government has felt the need to bring this radical reform, when it is strongly being argued that the existing system is working fine. Specifically, it is pertinent to explore the issues government is attempting to resolve with this move.
The Problem – what is it trying to solve
It is argued, rhetorically, that no price is too high to be paid for the safety and security of the state. It may be true when the state is at war, but during peacetime it is a whole another issue. A developing country, like India, has limited resources and financial capacity. The government has to look after the needs of the humongous population and carry out the economic development through these limited resources. Excessive spending on any particular sector means diversion of funds from other sectors, even if it’s done for the state’s defence. The USSR eventually ended up getting disintegrated because, among other reasons, the government prioritised competing in arms race with the U.S., over providing basic needs to its population. Pakistan is another good example of this lopsided budgeting. The Army’s share in national budget is much more than what the state can afford. Pakistan’s defence budget accounts for 4 percent of GDP, compared to 2.9 percent of India’s. But since the Army is the ultimate authority in Pakistan, all governments are forced to keep the Army in good humour by approving their budgetary requisition. Result is that Pakistani economy is in doldrums and people are being asked to give up drinking tea.
Specific to India, the problem that the government is facing is meeting its obligations towards pay and pensions of soldiers and at the same time also undertaking the modernisation of the armed forces. Given the size of the armed forces, especially the Army, the pays and pensions take out a significant chunk out of the overall defence budget, leaving inadequate amount for force modernisation. Salaries and pensions account for nearly 60 percent of total defence budget, leaving a meagre 27 percent for capital acquisition. There is no separate budget for meeting payments obligations and acquiring weapons for modernization. The inflationary factors make capital acquisition (weapons & other materiel) more expensive every passing year. Similarly, the size of pays and pensions is also rising with more retirements every year. This is simply unsustainable and has been raised several times. The pensioners outnumber those in service by significant margin. That is why government has felt it necessary to reform the system that will bring down its commitments on pension.
However, it is easier said than done. Pension is an emotive issue in the country. It is seen as the guarantee of a secure retired life. Already several organisations are pressing for reinstatement of the old pension system which was replaced by the contributory National Pension System (NPS). For most, this is their only source of income in post-retirement civilian life. Only a few manage to obtain well-paying jobs.
The other issue is that of trimming the size of the Army. The Army leadership has time and again emphasised about the need to create a lean and mean fighting force which is more suitable for theatre battle groups. In fact, the proposal for reduction in size of the Army came from their leadership and studies. This means that the recruitment to the armed forces was set to be reduced regardless. However, it is the manner in which the new scheme of recruitment has been announced, as a complete surprise, to the aspirants that has created much discontent.
The Solution – how it is trying to solve it
As per the details released by the government, the old system of recruitment has been abolished. The new recruits will be selected solely through all-India merit Tour of Duty scheme. The scheme seems to be modelled closely to the recruitment system of the U.S. The hope is that since the system has worked well for the U.S., it should work fine for Indian security needs too. But the battle requirements of the U.S., primarily an expeditionary force, are much different than India.
Anyway, back to the solution offered. Only about 25 percent would be offered ranks and made permanent by the armed forces. The competition to be among the one-fourth being retained would be very stiff. Those retained would not only get the full salary and benefits but also the pension, the most lucrative part. Talking to people in rural parts of the country would make it clear that assured pension is what makes a government job most sought after. Other factors come later. The in-hand salary offered to the recruits in the new scheme is quite low. Perhaps government feels that school pass outs deserve only a meagre amount as their salary. Most these recruits have a family to support. Would the salary be enough to do that?
The released 75 percent, the numbers could vary depending upon how many are recruited in a year, would have 11 lakh rupees and a degree. That would get them a job is doubtful. Most logical step would be to go for further studies, which means they’ll end up spending their savings. It is not easy to go back into studies after being in a job.
The assurances provided by the Home Ministry and several state governments that these “retirees” would be prioritised in the state police force & central police force is not very exciting. Governments cannot shut the door for those to join police force who do not come out of the Tour of Duty scheme.
From the government’s perspective, the scheme is perhaps a solution to the challenges it is facing. However, it is clear that its announcement and implementation has not been thought through as well as it should have.
First and foremost, it is a decision by the government, so government has to own it completely and take the necessary steps to douse the fire of resentment as the top priority. The government perhaps blundered by announcing the new recruitment scheme as a complete surprise. No thought was spared about the candidates who had been working hard for past few years to qualify. Undoubtedly, the scheme could have been announced well in advance, thus giving future aspirants knowledge of what lays ahead and the time to prepare and adjust.
People may argue that it is not the job of the armed forces to cater to employment generation in the country. However, that is not how people perceive it. A career in armed forces is seen by those coming from rural parts as lifetime employment. Social status is one thing, the pay and perks ensure that their families lead a comfortable life with opportunities for upward mobility. It will not be easy for government to convince this aspirational population about the benefits of the new scheme.
Still, a middle ground must be found. The life for the Agniveers after release from armed forces is not going to be easy. For those unfortunates who get disabled during service, there’s no guarantee that they will be given the benefits government has announced. Ministry of Defence has the infamous track record of fighting almost every soldier’s disability pension claim in court. There’s no reason to believe this attitude will change for Agniveers.
Government needs to deal with the issue with required compassion. For many armed forces aspirants, joining army is their passion. It’s all they dream about. A better deal needs to offered to them. The aspirants must cease the arson and destruction of precious public property. There are ways to protests, arson and rioting is not among them. If anything, it reflects poorly on those seeking to be part of a highly disciplined organisation.
The author is a Research Scholar with the School of National Security Studies in Central University of Gujarat
SOLDIERS’ SUPREME SACRIFICE WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN: RAJNATH SINGH
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday paid homage to the Indian Army soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash two years ago in 2020.Taking to Twitter, Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, posted, “Remembering the heroes of Galwan who fought valiantly for the honour of the country and laid down their lives on June 15-16, 2020. Their courage, bravery and supreme sacrifice will never be forgotten. I pay homage to those bravehearts.” For the first time in nearly 45 years, a violent skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020, resulting in losses on both sides and marking a new sour turn in China-India relations. The violent clashes, which mostly took place in and around Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake, claimed lives on both sides and strained the bilateral relationship.
Even though two years have passed since the deadliest clash in 45 years between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, the two countries are still engaged in talks for the disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). But an early resolution to the standoff is nowhere in sight.
So far, the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 14 rounds of talks since the Galwan clashes and one before June 15, 2020, to resolve the standoff but no concrete solution has been arrived at yet.Defence Minister Rajnath Singh today arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit to the Union Territory. He will be visiting forward areas and interacting with troops during his visit.
VIOLENCE OVER AGNIPATH, DEMANDS GROW OF SCRAPPING THE SCHEME
As thousands of youth are up in arms, the government finds itself in a tight spot.
Barely two days after the Central government unveiled its recruitment policy for all three arms of Indian armed forces, massive protests against contractual employment erupted across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, with thousands of youth hitting the streets and vandalising state property on Thursday. Eponymously called ‘Agnipath’, the new recruitment policy offers employment with armed forces for a period of 4 years on a contractual basis. Only 25 per cent of the recruited will be regularised in military service.
However, the policy has not gone down well with the youth who have erupted in protests demanding a roll back. Bihar has seen the largest number of protests across the state, with irate youth turning violent damaging public and private property. Violent protests have been reported from 17 districts of Bihar leaving half a dozen trains torched and several properties damaged in arson. Indian Railways has cancelled 34 trains, 5 Mail/Express and 29 Passenger in view of the ongoing violent protests. The protesting youth also damaged the BJP office in and attacked houses of 2 MLAs in the state.
Thousands of irate youth were seen protesting in Nawada, Siwan, Chhapra, Kaimur, Gopalganj, Ara and Rohtas in Bikramganj, torching trains, even looting shops in Ara. Protesters torched three passenger trains in Chhapra and Kaimur, vandalized around 12 trains at Chhapra Junction. A passenger train was set on fire in Gopalganj.
Demanding a roll back of the recruitment policy, which seeks to contractualize jobs in the military, the aspirants said they were unhappy over the changes introduced under the new recruitment scheme, particularly the length of service, no pension provisions for those released early, and the 17.5 to 21 age restriction that now makes many of them ineligible. “We demand that the recruitment be done as it used to be done earlier. Tour of Duty (ToD) be rolled back and exams be held as earlier. Nobody will go to Army just for four years,” a protestor in Munger was quoted as saying by ANI.
As the protests turned violent in Haryana, local authorities suspended Internet and SMS services for some time. It was withdrawn later. To keep the situation under control, Section 144 has been imposed in Palwal, where police vehicles were set ablaze and several roadways buses were damaged. National Highway 19 was also blocked was blocked by the protesters, while some policemen were injured due stone pelting.
Taken aback at the widespread violent protests, the Centre issued a statement clarifying that only 3% of the armed forces will be recruited as Agniveers in the first year and the scheme will no effect on the regimental system.
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