J & K – At the End of the Tether


The Kannada saying “murthi chikkadaadaru keerthi doddadu” (meaning that even if the physical form is diminutive, the virtue is great), applies to Lal Bahadur Shastri who, as prime minister, led India with remarkable initiative and verve in the 1965 war against Pakistan. It was he who coined the slogan “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, in the full understanding that the Jawan provides border security (since then he has also been providing internal security due to failure of governance) and the Kisan provides food security. But since then, over subsequent decades, both Jawan and Kisan (J & K, if you wish) have been neglected, marginalised and degraded. Matters appear to have come to a head at this time of writing, concerning both J & K.

India’s military (meaning the Armed Forces or Defence Forces or Defence Services) has always been under civilian control as it should be. But rather than being under control of the elected union Executive, the military has been made subordinate to the bureaucracy. The reason for this primary degradation is a combination of apathy, lack of understanding and lack of vision of successive generations of politicians being made use of, by a self-serving bureaucracy. The effect of “Ji Huzoor” by successive chiefs of the three services (with honourable exceptions) who had an eye on post-retirement benefits must not be discounted in this degradation.

While previous governments did injustice to the Jawan (here meaning all ranks of the army, navy and air force) by neglect and acts of omission, the current union government appears to have done injustice by acts of commission. In recent times, there have been multiple slights and insults heaped on the Jawan, affecting his izzat adversely. The serving Jawan cannot – and rightly so – protest because of the constraints of his service under military law, and his military superiors who have contact with government are apparently not doing much about it.

Noting that every surviving Jawan becomes a Veteran, it must be understood that every slight on military Veterans reflects on the morale of the serving Jawan. After decades of holding back and restricting themselves to petitioning successive governments, Veterans formed the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM) in 2008 to demand their rightful pension dues. They have petitioned the President of India and the Prime Minister but have not been heard. They have protested peacefully in a dignified manner at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, now for over 1,000 days, and were slighted by being manhandled by police acting under instructions of the union home ministry. Government has raised the status of the CAPF above that of the military, and bureaucrats serving in Guwahati earn more hardship allowance than the Jawan on the border. The Jawan has had to lay yoga mats and clean garbage left by tourists, tasks which rightly should be done by other government agencies. To add insult to injury, the defence ministry’s Department of Ex-Servicemen’s Welfare challenged court or AFT orders favourable to Veterans in the Supreme Court, apparently as a matter of policy. And there have been slights, perhaps unintentional, by the prime minister himself and by a defence minister, but they are slights nevertheless. The list can go on, and the Jawan is non-plussed why the military top brass appears not to have summoned up the courage to speak plainly to their civilian masters about the insults to the profession of arms.

But matters came to a head when the defence minister abruptly opened cantonment roads to the public, causing a security threat to families of Jawans. The fact that in Pune, BJP workers distributed sweets and took out a “vijay yatra” procession celebrating the defence minister’s action, is a blow to the dignity of the Jawan. The silence at top levels of BJP to this anti-Jawan celebration is understood as implicit agreement to civilian victory over the Jawan. Incensed wives of serving Jawans protested the opening of cantonment roads and went to meet the defence minister, who reportedly withdrew the order. But the damage to the relationship between Jawan and government has been done and, in the larger interest of our country, one only hopes that it is not irreversible. The Jawan suffers from a sense that his discipline and his service in risky and difficult conditions are being exploited by the government. That much for the “J”.

The Kisan, for his part, is finally fed up with decades of neglect, especially beginning with India’s new economic policy (NEP-1991) a la Dr.Manmohan Singh, then union finance minister. The NEP gave precedence to industry over agriculture and the Kisan was neglected and seriously degraded, actually subjected to economic violence. This resulted in a country-wide and on-going spate of farmer suicides due to unsuccessful farming (non-availability of credit, unremunerative produce, crop failure, unmanageable debt, faulty state and central government agriculture policies, etc). Fundamentally, their needs are to obtain fair and assured good prices for farm produce, and to have assurance of freedom from debt.

Matters have come to a head as Kisan organizations numbering over 100 across 22 states have come together under the banner of Rashtra Kisan Mahasangh, and announced 10 days of halla-bol starting 01 June, during which they will ensure that farm produce is not delivered in urban areas. One farmer leader said that this is not targeted against urban dwellers and it is not a one-off strike, but it will be repeated until their demands are met. It is learned that they have four main demands, namely, farm loan waivers, MSP of 50% over cost, fixed MSP for milk and vegetables, and pension for farmers.

One articulate Kisan complained that when we have bumper crop of sugarcane in India and sugarcane farmers are being paid prices lower than production cost and that too delayed by months, government importing of sugar is criminal. Another Kisan asked, “When lakhs of crores are given to industrialists by exemption of taxes (revenue foregone) and corporates’ NPAs of more lakhs of crores are written off, why is government not waiving farmers’ loans?” Today’s Kisan may not have formal education but he is clearly well informed. He is no fool, having learned in the hard school of years of personal suffering and being treated as inferior. He is objecting to being taken for granted, for being neglected, for being exploited.

PM Shastri’s rousing slogan of “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan”, giving primacy to the soldier and the farmer in the interest of the security of our nation, is long forgotten. On the other hand these very Jawans and Kisans are disgusted with the attitude of government to their sacrifices.

That both J & K have come to the end of their tether at this time is certainly coincidental. But it is precisely such coincidences which are the writing on the wall for the politicians and bureaucrats who run our country. It may be the sign of a turning tide in an electoral sense and also in a social context.

The country should beware if J & K have moved from hardship borne with patience and gentleness to anger and agitation.

A verse in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam reads:

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on
Nor all thy piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere, VSM, retired as Additional DG Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ AG’s Branch. His area of interest is strategic and development-related issues.


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