This December is special to the armed forces and the nation as we commemorate the commencement of the fiftieth year of our victory in the 1971 India-Pakistan war. However, this should not obscure another significant military action in which the three services operated together and brought to a swift closure—the liberation of Goa, Daman and Diu. This year we step into the diamond jubilee or the sixtieth year of that action and that too needs celebration because with that we excised the last vestiges of colonial rule on the Indian subcontinent.
While India became independent in August 1947, the Portuguese enclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu continued as colonial entities. As India had got Independence through non-violent methods and as she had regained territories from the French peacefully, she sought to retrieve Goa, Daman and Diu in a similar manner. Hence, several attempts were made to resolve the issue through negotiations at bilateral and multilateral levels. However, not only was Portugal unyielding but it turned more repressive against freedom fighters and more recalcitrant at international forums. Finally, in 1961, the government decided to use military force as the last option.
On 18-19 December 1961, the Government of India executed Operation Vijay to liberate the Portuguese colonies in India. This was the first time in the history of independent India that all three services operated together, not taking into account the brief ‘Op Peace’ in Junagarh just after Independence. This was also the first time the Navy fired in anger. While the Army action has been extensively written about, that of the Navy has not been given adequate attention. This short article recounts the naval action and contribution during the Operation. Geographical contiguity and the need for boots on ground implied that the major component of the operation would be Army led, with the Navy and Air Force in a support role. Accordingly, by 11 December 1961, Indian forces were placed at Belgaum, Vapi and Una, for attacks on Goa, Daman and Diu, respectively.
The broad tasking for the Navy consisted of control of sea areas off, and seaward approaches to, the three territories, prevention of hostile action by Portuguese warships, shore bombardment using naval guns and search and strike through the Aircraft Carrier Air Wing. In addition, Navy was directed to capture Anjadip Island after the Army conveyed its inability to ‘provide troops trained in amphibious operations’. While the three territories were geographically dispersed, the centre of gravity was Goa given the concentration of force and Portuguese power there. Thus, the Navy’s operations off Goa were intended to secure access to Mormugao Harbour, to neutralise the coastal batteries, sink or immobilise Portuguese Navy ships there and to launch naval landing parties to take Anjadip.
A naval task force was formed with Rear Admiral BS Soman, the then Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet (FOCIF) as the Naval Theatre Commander. The force was divided into four task groups—the Surface Action Group comprising Indian Naval ships Mysore, Trishul, Betwa, Beas and Cauvery; the Carrier Task Group comprising IN ships Vikrant, Delhi, Kuthar, Kirpan, Khukri and Rajput; the Minesweeping Group comprising of minesweepers Karwar, Kakinada, Cannonore and Bimilipatan and finally the Support Group INS Dharini.
While this may seem like overkill, it needs to be noted that this catered for three dispersed sites. The concept of operations needed to cater for all possible threats. Since there was apprehension of the approaches to ports being mined and of possible presence of submarines, naval missions also included aerial surveillance, mine counter measures and anti-submarine measures. Further, initial intelligence indicated that the Portuguese had deployed four frigates. However, when action struck, only one frigate, the Afonso de Albuquerque was available for the naval defence of Goa, the other three having sailed earlier for Portugal.
Earlier, unprovoked firing by the Portuguese from Anjadip on Indian steam ship Sabarmati had injured her Chief Engineer, some fishermen and caused one fatality. To assure the fishermen and as a deterrent, destroyer INS Rajput and frigate INS Kirpan, were deployed off the Karwar coast, as early as 28 November 1961.
By 1 December 1961, foreseeing action, the Naval Headquarters executed surveillance and reconnaissance exercise, Operation Chutney. Two Leopard Class frigates, INS Betwa and INS Beas, commenced patrolling off the coast of Goa. This helped them keep a watchful eye on all ingress and egress – of shipping, aircraft and personnel—and to retaliate with necessary force, if engaged by the Portuguese units in the air or on the surface. The capture of Anjadip Island was entrusted to landing parties from INS Trishul with covering fire from INS Trishul and INS Mysore. The landing party members had been trained in Cochin from early November onwards without compromising on secrecy of the plan. INS Delhi was detached to provide support to the Army in Diu. INS Vikrant with a couple of escorts remained off Mumbai to respond to contingencies either south or north as required.
On the morning of 18 December, the Portuguese frigate Afonso de Albuquerque was anchored off Mormugao harbour. Besides engaging Indian naval units, the ship was also tasked with providing coastal artillery batteries to defend the harbour and providing radio communications with Lisbon as shore radio facilities had been destroyed in airstrikes conducted by the Indian Air Force earlier. Based on a signal by the Navy Chief, VAdm RD Katari which said “Capture me a Portuguese frigate please”, at about 12 noon on 18 December, the three Indian Frigates – Betwa, Beas and Cauvery—steamed into Mormugao harbour and fired on the Afonso with their 4.5 inch guns while transmitting directives to surrender, in Morse code, between shots. In response, the Afonso lifted anchor, headed out while mingling with merchant ships anchored in the harbour and returned fire with its 4.7 inch guns.
A few minutes into the exchange of fire, the Afonso took a direct hit on its gun director position, injuring its weapons officer and killing two sailors. With continuous gunfire from Indian ships the cloudburst of shrapnel exploded directly over the ship, severely injuring many personnel including its Commanding Officer, Captain António da Cunha Aragão, after which First Officer Pinto da Cruz took command of the vessel. The ship was now burning amidships and her propulsion system was badly damaged in this attack. The Afonso swerved 180 degrees, ran aground at Bambolim beach, where the crew abandoned
ship and she hoisted the white flag of surrender. The overall engagement lasted for about fifty minutes. Concurrently, in the early hours of 18 Nov, Anjadip Island was also stormed. In an act of perfidy, the Naval landing party, under the leadership of Lieutenant Arun Auditto, was duped by the display of a White flag of surrender by the Portuguese and then fired upon, causing seven deaths and wounding nineteen others. In a first person account Auditto, recollects in the book “Blueprint to Bluewater”, by Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh.
“I took charge of the first wave of the assault party and we went peacefully towards the beach and I began to believe that ‘surrender business’ was indeed true. We landed, took position and the boats were sent back to bring the second wave. Fifteen minute later, the second wave, under the command of Senior Commissioned Gunner N. Kelman, approached the beach at about 0745 hours. Suddenly all hell broke loose as sprays of machinegun bullets opened up on the boat from Portuguese gun-post on the south hill top. Kelman, with great presence of mind, continued towards the beach, zigzagging the boat to counter the gun fire. A few minutes later, by the time the boat beached, it had been riddled with bullets. Kelman had been wounded on both his thighs – fortunately only flesh wounds but all the same, seriously. However, owing to Auditto’s leadership and the courage shown by others, the landing operations were successfully carried out. Trishul used her gunfire to telling effect while Mysore provided an additional landing party. The first phase of the operation was completed on the early afternoon of 18 December 1961, while mopping up operations continued. Auditto, Kelman and others involved in the action were, subsequently, conferred gallantry awards. A memorial was later erected on Anjadip Island, to commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice.
Meanwhile off Diu, INS Delhi was deployed to provide ‘distant support’ to the Indian Army and directed to be ten miles clear of coast, keeping in mind ‘shore batteries, hostile aircraft, motor torpedo boats and possible submarine threat’. Capt N. Krishnan, its Commanding Officer, was not the sort who could be kept out of the fray in this manner. Early on the morning of 11 Dec 1961, after sinking two5 small enemy ships off the harbour, Delhi learnt that the Army troops were under very heavy and well directed fire from the Diu fortress and were unable to make progress. Krishnan quickly closed the ship to one mile from shore and undertook heavy bombardment—11 broadsides and 66 shells—of the fortress with the formidable 6 inch guns of INS Delhi.
Within 15 minutes of unleashing the devastating fire that destroyed the lighthouse within the fortress and other fortifications, the white flag of surrender had been hoisted and it was the Delhi’s boat with a young Sub Lieutenant Suresh Bandoola that hoisted our national colours in Diu for the first time. Krishnan’s action came in for huge praise from Lt Gen JN Choudhuri, the GOC-in-C Southern Army Command and overall in charge of Operation Vijay, who wrote to him later “I would particularly like to thank you for the help you gave while commanding INS Delhi. You really saved the situation”. In fact, since the Army did not move in until 19 Dec, Delhi patrolled the area and sustained the situation.
Following the indisposition of the Albuquerque, the Indian Navy continued patrolling till 19 December 1961 and thereafter ships were ordered to return to Bombay. All operations in Goa came to an end at 6:00 p.m. on 19 December 1961. The documents of surrender were signed by Portuguese Governor General, Vassalo De Silva at 8:30 p.m. and Major General (later Lieutenant General) K.P. Candeth was appointed as the Military Governor of Goa. Thus, within 40 hours of the start of the military operations, the centuriesold foreign domination in Goa came to an end, and the Indian Navy emerged victorious in its first action.
The overall ease and smoothness with which the Goa liberation operation was conducted, in part due to the tactical brilliance of Brig Sagat Singh on land, has led many to conclude that it was not much more than a police action and, therefore, this operation has not been given the attention it deserves in the annals of Indian military literature. Further, some scholars, like Prof G.V.C. Naidu, have concluded that the Navy’s role in this endeavour was minimal. However, there are many reasons why the operation in itself and the naval participation had much symbolic and substantive significance.
First, the first tri-service operation saw reasonably close coordination between all three services. Not only were the Force and Theatre Commanders on the same grid but other service representatives were embedded in sister service Tactical Headquarters for better coordination.
Second, India was taking on an erstwhile colonial power. While this resort to violence was deemed ‘uncharacteristic or hypocritical’ by many western commentators, it also sent a message of resolve in a situation where our nation was pushed to the wall. This was just a few years into a post-World War global order where winds of change were blowing but had still not completely displaced the colonial powers as a global elite. Portugal then had the support of the US, Britain and NATO.
Third, Portugal was the earliest colonial power in India and the Indian Ocean Region, having set up their enclave in Goa in 1510. Thus, their displacement 450 years later had a special historical significance.
Fourth, India had lost her independence due to its neglect of the oceans and a long phase of ‘sea-blindness’ which allowed colonial powers with superior maritime prowess to impose their will on land. Independent India using her Navy to exert force, even modestly, against the earliest colonial power, was a new paradigm, a sign of new dawn. The fact that the Portuguese ship which surrendered, Afonso de Albuquerque, was named after the very Governor who established Portuguese rule in India needs to be underscored for its very symbolic implication. Similarly, it was the naval Battle of Diu in 1509 which proved seminal in ushering Portuguese colonialism; thus, to use our navy there to write its epitaph with withering gunfire was deeply symbolic.
Fifth, it taught the Navy valuable lessons. The perfidy at Anjadip resulted in loss of lives and injury. While the men on ground showed great courage in land-fighting (which is not Navy’s domain) the need for focused strategizing, better communication, better intelligence, more preparation and lesser naiveté were hoisted and embedded in the naval psyche. The actions elsewhere, the baptism by fire, exposure to violence and the smell of cordite were necessary to ‘groom the Navy’ for future contingencies.
Sixth, it once again highlighted the importance of the maritime dimension, even where wars are continental in nature. By ensuring blockade of the three ports, the Navy ensured uninterrupted Army activity. If Portugal had brought in reinforcements or deployed more maritime forces, the Indian Navy was well placed to prevent that. The bombardment at Diu and the quick neutralising of Afonso, indicate the usefulness and flexibility provided by the maritime domain.
Seventh, the operation also showcased India’s softer, benign side. Rules of engagement were drawn to minimise casualties, captured prisoners were treated with courtesy and high calibre weapons were not used unless first fired upon. Despite this leading to certain tactical disadvantages, they were scrupulously adhered to. This contrasted with the barbaric way that Portugal dealt with Indians during its initial conquests and colonial rule. A telling illustration of this is in the manner that the skipper of Afonso de Albuquerque,Captain António da Cunha Aragão was treated in hospital with much care and visited by Commander RKS Gandhi and Commander T.J. Kunnenkeril. They both wished him well and gifted him chocolates, flowers and a bottle of brandy. These two gentlemen were the Captains of Betwa and Beas that had damaged Afonso.
Eighth, an anecdote that brings out, possibly, another lasting significance. Two years ago, we met at an official navy function, the Angolan Permanent Representative (PR) to the United Nations (UN). An Army General turned diplomat, this lady had also taken part in their liberation struggle. She said some of their liberation fighters had been in Goa, in December 1961, fighting on the Portuguese side. Their defeat then, ironically, led them to believe that their Colonial masters could indeed be overthrown. This provided inspiration for their Colonial struggle and freedom movement.
Ninth, the liberation realised the dream of all Indians, especially Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the great integrator of states, who in the Defence Committee of Cabinet meeting sought to know if the Fleet could push the Portuguese out. Further, when he embarked Delhi in April 1950 and sailed down the western coast, he wistfully wished that the Indian Navy would steam into Goa and take it.
Finally, the liberation of Goa provided the template and takeaways for future triservice operations. A decade later, many of those involved in Goa, were the heroes of 1971 war—Sagat Singh, Krishnan, R.K.S. Gandhi. Goa was like a trailer to the grand finale that was 1971. It took us just 40 hours to end 450 years of Portugal’s Asian empire. Dec 1961 was the dawn of a new era.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur and Lt Cdr Ankush Banerjee are serving naval officers, associated with the Naval History Project. Views expressed in this article are personal in nature.
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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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