Spare the Indian soldier these condescending references and political appropriations

 CHANDIGARH: With the nation bitterly polarised over the Shaheen Bagh protests, the dispensation remains stoically unmoved. Inelegant and wholly unwarranted allusions are invoked by both sides to posture their own sensitivities and positions, but the essential deadlock continues unabated.

In recent times the fundamental democratic tenet and tradition of protest itself has been slammed as a traitorous or “anti-national” act – which then lazily, indefensibly and dangerously justifies golis, gaddars, Pakistanis etc. as a convenient “natural reaction”.

In today’s fractured environment, such extreme and outrageous reactions are willy-nilly encouraged and afforded the colour of over-enthusiastic “nationalism”. In the hierarchy of wrongs, the misplaced enthusiasm of these “nationalists” is held to be emanating from a genuine concern for the nation and a good heart!

Amongst the favourite invocations of these “nationalists” is to publicly contrast the fate of the “Indian Soldier” with the intent and motivation of the protestors. Nothing could be, and should be, more unconnected and separate.

The Indian soldier needs to be spared these condescending references and political appropriations. The supposed “nationalists” are oblivious of the deliberately apolitical ethos, essentialities and expectations of the Indian Armed Forces, which shun any form of societal “divides”, explicitly, contextually and subliminally.

The cultural moorings of the Indian Soldier are such as to celebrate diversity and to wear the uniform bearing those diversities with pride and aplomb – a unique spirit of wearing the uniform of the ‘other’, with identity marks distinct from those into which the individual was biologically born.

In this spirit, one’s genealogical religious, casteist or regional denomination is not superior to another’s. The born-Parsi Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw is a ‘die-hard Gorkha’ and the born-Coorgi Field Marshal KM Cariappa, a ‘fearless Rajput’. This integrative spirit celebrates diversity and not the lowest denominations of bigotry, superiority-inferiority complexes or puritanism.

A Sikh commanding officer of a Qaim Khani Muslim tank squadron, who trusts his soldiers with his own life, will never truly comprehend the loaded metaphor in “biryani”, as employed by so many self-anointed “nationalists”.

If there is one reality to be borne in mind concerning the Indian Armed Forces, it is the fact that all political dispensations (without favour or discrimination) have been insincere and transactional in their concern for the welfare of the “Indian Soldier”. Parties have differed only in the levels of false promises, sophistry and volubility in milking the Indian Soldier towards their own electoral ends.

Beyond the thundering rhetoric and political one-upmanship of competitive nationalism in the name of the “Indian Soldier”, the cold numbers for Defence in the annual budgets paint a starkly different reality and intent. The numbers committed simply do not add up to the publicly postured picture of assured modernisation and welfare.

For instance, a crippling cut in Rafale orders from 118 to 36 remains a secondary issue for the politicos as they go about chest thumping on the peripherals.

It’s not just that budgetary allocations for defence remain way beyond the 40% capital investment levels. The shocking CAG report on the inadequacies of high-altitude special rations, extreme cold clothing and equipment, and special clothing and mountaineering equipment ought to wake up any supposed nationalist from delusions of the nirvanic combat wherewithal of the “Indian Soldier”.

The Goebbelsian marketing of the “Indian Soldier” has even led to some newsroom warriors from the Armed Forces Veteran community to brazenly don political positions on matters pertaining to the “Indian Soldier” and offer covering fire.

It would be extremely naïve to think that the political leadership today is any more sensitive towards the “Indian Soldier” than the indifference and disdain that characterised the V.K.Menon–Nehru era.

The Delhi Police’s harrowing and unprecedented manhandling of war heroes during their peaceful One Rank One Pension protest at Jantar Mantar would shame any nation. It is important to ask, whom does the Delhi Police report to? Did they act on someone’s orders, and was any violence committed by these aged Veterans at Jantar Mantar, to warrant such belligerence?

Today, that peaceful OROP protest continues well past 1,700 days in the same dignified and disciplined manner – unsung, unheard and completely forgotten by the citizenry, most notably by the so-called nationalists.

They need only shake the wrinkled-but-still-firm-hands of geriatric, nonagenarian Veterans (nameless, casteless and certainly of multi-religious denominations) to know if their protest is tantamount to “anti-nationalism”.

No political leader of the ruling parties thought it befitting their worth to assuage these Veterans, ever. Even if there were some fiscal-economic concerns at play, an honest outreach and genuine sincerity with these folks would have led to their withdrawing their protests temporarily in a dignified manner, for they have always put the nation first.

These simple soldiers, who have served under hauntingly moving, nobel and majestic mottos like Sarvatra Izzat-o-Iqbal (Regiment of Artillery, which literally means ‘Everywhere with Honour & Glory’) – to expect them to comprehend the ingenuity of jumlas was unfair.

But if the hubris of the political classes was too much for the Veterans to expect any better, the hope for Shaheen Bagh protestors is indeed very long a shot.

The “Indian Soldier” does not, should not, and will hopefully never belong to a BJP, Congress, AAP, Left or any other party – he or she will solely belong to “India” and its citizens, without any denomination or affiliation.

All the parties will always make condescending sounds, but the onus is on ascertaining the hard facts – for this the union budget, CAG report and confirmed orders for military wares ought to be the only reference books.

Till then the “Indian Soldier” cannot be contexualised for demonetisation, GST or Shaheen Bagh – as these are unrelated political decisions where the politicos themselves have a lot to answer for, when it comes to adhering to the moral spirit of the Indian Constitution, and to their own conscience as self-respecting human beings.

Every soldier, serving or Veteran, should speak about these unrelated events in his or her individual capacity and not on behalf of the institution of the Indian Armed Forces, as that ought to remain politics-agnostic.

The sad fate of selfless Veterans protesting (for nearly five years) for their fraternity and institution, is a wake-up call not to trust politicians who only divide societies and institutions.