Indian soldiers on alert near the Line of Control in Jammu. Photo: PTI
Indian soldiers on alert near the Line of Control in Jammu. Photo: PTI

In 1993, a government committee established how a “mafia” runs parallel government in India. It cited significant muscle-money power (also used by politicians for elections) and linkages with senior governmental functionaries, political leaders and others, operating with impunity and compromising preventive-detective systems as the key ills plaguing India.

The report was buried as it included details that could lead to collapse of governments – at state level and even at the center.

Now, 25 years later, criminality and corruption stand institutionalized.

The “mafia” anchors the political-bureaucratic-police nexus, with police officers manning intelligence agencies, who are privy to all wrongdoings.

The recent spat among top officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) forced the national security adviser (NSA) to wake up Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 2 o’clock in the morning. But as the crisis in the CBI widens and drags in senior officials from other security agencies, chances are that the institution will continue to remain unaccountable to the citizens it serves. This “mafia” ensures mutual protection; no bureaucrat or politician has been questioned despite scores of defense scams. Organizations of all types are under attack by the “mafia.”

The systematic downgrading and denigration of the Indian armed forces is weakening an institution that has stood the test of time. The seventh Central Pay Commission (CPC) gave the police better financial emoluments over armed forces, as acknowledged by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament) from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

When service chiefs refused to implement the seventh CPC until anomalies were removed, the government waited until they retired and then forced its implementation without addressing the anomalies. Instead of awarding one rank, one pension (OROP) as approved by two sessions of Parliament, a one-time allotment in lieu was made.

The media have been virtually discouraged from reporting on hundreds of veterans who had been protesting for OROP in New Delhi for 1,252 days as of last Saturday. The government even used the police to baton-charge the peaceful protest by the military veterans.

But OROP is just one issue affecting soldiers.

The military is also discriminated against as the Modi government refuses to grant the Non-Functional Upgrade (NFU) allowance. The defense minister has to employ a battery of lawyers to fight cases of denied pension to widows and disabled soldiers. This is happening despite the Supreme Court rapping the government for such actions and even imposing fines.

There are numerous cases that substantiate the lack of sensitivity while dealing with military veterans. In one case, it took 10 years after a serving lieutenant-colonel passed away before his widow was awarded a pension. A government official had even asked her to “show” her husband’s body, which had been swept away in a river close to the border, in order to claim the pension. In another case, the solicitor general of India himself is fighting an appeal for a disability pension by an air force pilot who suffered spinal injuries ejecting from a fighter aircraft.

The Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) was established to ensure justice to the forces, but the government wants to put it under bureaucratic control to dilute its effectiveness. Further, for the sake of votes there is little action taken against stone-throwers in the insurgency-hit state of Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere.

With the government indicating that police suffice to manage security, the “mafia” spares no effort to strike at the military.

Defense land is a prime target of the “mafia.” Encroachments in 62 military cantonments include more than 52.6 square kilometers of land, more than 2,500 illegally occupied defense bungalows and hundreds of illegal commercial properties.

Despite Supreme Court orders for the removal of encroachments and reclaiming of bungalows, no steps have been taken. The corruption is so deep in the Defense Estates Service (part of the Ministry of Defense) that the erstwhile government even had to consider disbanding the organization in 2010.

But Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unilaterally opened all 62 cantonments to civilian access after chairing a meeting with select members of Parliament. It was telling that none of the MPs were from Parliament’s Standing Committee for Defense. A few other civilian officials were in the loop, and the security implications of the move were overridden by political gains.

The corrupt Defense Estates Service has been empowered over local military authorities. An intense media campaign followed, which helped to propagate that the sale of defense land would provide 1 trillion rupees (US$14.05 billion) for defense modernization, until the defense minister announced not even a penny from this would benefit or even be allocated to the forces for the welfare of the military.

Plans to usurp defense land are growing by the day. The Ministry of Defense has now set up a panel under a former bureaucrat (no serving personnel are on the panel) to examine use of the defense land.

Apparently, the aim is to cash in on this gold mine with land leases up for renewal. It is feared that they may not be extended and huge chunks of land may be “gifted” at throwaway prices.

It is likely that politicians and bureaucrats will grab the land, as has happened in cities including Mumbai in the past. None of these monies will come to the defense establishment under the pretext that they are going to the consolidated fund of India. The security of cantonments will be further jeopardized, as we have seen terror attacks specifically targeting families of serving military personnel in the past.

In its latest move, military hospitals have been made available to 500 million civilians under “Modicare,” a health insurance scheme launched recently. This move ignores the fact that these hospitals are unable to cater even to serving soldiers and veterans in terms of bed capacity, medicines, staff and funds.

Unfortunately, the current military leadership is a mute spectator in all this, some even playing the role of yes-man. Thought the army is reducing its manpower by about 150,000, the government has continued to keep defense allocations to 1.8% of gross domestic product – the lowest ever since the 1962 war with China when the Indian Army was defeated comprehensively.

There is no defined national-security strategy and there is no move to bridge strategic asymmetry in terms of sub-conventional warfare vis-a-vis China and Pakistan. Against the 1.45 million armed forces, there are 400,000 civilian defense employees, who cost five times as much as their uniformed counterparts; yet there is no move to reduce or combat them.

There appears to be a belief that “economic engagement” and “soft power” are enough to ward off threats, so the men behind the machines are unimportant and expendable. Former military chiefs have voiced that the armed forces are no longer the preferred choice of employment among India’s youth. Perhaps the worst is yet to come.

The author retired as lieutenant general from the Indian Army's Special Forces.

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