#ArmedForcesFlagDay | Shadow or substance? Modiji’s love for the jawans
When we strip the ‘national’ narrative on military of Modi government’s disguises and a media blitz, all that we are left with is muffled laments of soldiers and their bereaved families.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rarely conceals his aversion for the first Prime Minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru. But ‘military charities’ is one such Nehruvian tradition that he doesn’t find objectionable or outdated.
In the latest edition of his radio programme, Mann Ki Baat, PM Modi ritually asked the nation to contribute to the Armed Forces Flag Day (AFFD) Fund on December 7. “Only paying respect wouldn’t do, partnership is also necessary.”
Ironically, PM Modi’s appeal debunks a song that he had released at a gala event, ‘Ek Nayi Subah’ (A New Dawn) to mark the second anniversary of his government in 2016, ‘Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai, Aage Badh Raha Hai’ (my country is changing, moving forward). The charter of Kendriya Sainik Board Secretariat—which is headed by the Defence Minister—has remained the same since 1949 when the first AFFD was observed. It screams: “Government measures at the centre and the state level alone are inadequate to provide support to the disabled (soldiers), non-pensioner, old and infirm ESM (Ex-Serviceman), their families, war widows and orphaned children.”
“Our admiration for the martyrs should not mean that we have little time for the living heroes who were wounded while doing their duty towards their motherland or their widows and children whom they left behind to fend for themselves,” it reads, and continues, “Those of our men who are disabled require care and rehabilitation so that they do not become a burden on their family and can instead lead a life of dignity. Furthermore, there are ex-servicemen who suffer from serious diseases… cannot afford the high cost of treatment.”
“Every year about 60,000 defence personnel are compulsorily retired. Caring for these ex-soldiers and their families is, therefore, a national responsibility,” it informs, impressing upon the readers to “Pay Online” for the Fund.
Amplifying PM Modi’s call for charity, Goa Governor Satya Pal Malik recently told a packed audience at the 50th International Film Festival, “there are people who own 14-floor house…one floor is dedicated for dogs, another for drivers…but they wouldn’t pay a single paisa on charity for our soldiers.”
Maintaining that common people had generously contributed to Bharat Ke Veer—a website and mobile application launched in April 2017—Defence Minister Rajnath Singh expressed hope at AFFD-Corporate Social Responsibility Conclave on December 2 in the national capital, that “the corporate sector and wealth creators in the country will contribute to the corpus of the Department of Ex-servicemen Welfare.”
But Nalin Talwar, national spokesperson of the Saabka Sainik Sangharsh Committee—an organisation working for the rights of the soldiers—finds the idea of “charity for armed forces” problematic on several counts.
“A maze of organisations with overlapping objectives, exist in the armed forces charity sector. Still our core issues such as Sahayak (buddy or batman) System, service pay, discriminatory pay scales, military service (risk) pay, disability pension, One Rank One Pension scheme, widow pension, awards or appreciations and army group insurance policy, remain unaddressed,” he points out and goes on to add, “There should be a proper mechanism with potential budget provisions to look after the disabled soldiers, war widows, orphans and bereaved families. Government’s reliance on public donations is denial of dignity to all of them.”
When the Modi government was observing 2018 as ‘Year of Disabled Soldiers in the Line of Duty’, Talwar complains, “the disabled jawans were given permission to observe a hunger strike at Ramlila Ground, New Delhi only after some of them threatened to kill themselves.”
On being prompted by PM Modi’s slogan ‘Na Khaunga, Na Khane Dunga’ (would not take bribes, nor let anyone do so), many jawans had taken to social media and raised their voices against alleged corruption in the armed forces. They were punished and sacked by the forces. One such deeply disillusioned ex-Border Security Force jawan, Tej Bahadur Yadav, had filed his nomination papers against PM Modi from Varanasi constituency in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, to lodge his protest against the Prime Minister’s “double talk”. His nomination, however, was rejected by the Election Commission.
While the banks have silently written off trillions worth of bad loans since 2014 and the Modi government magnanimously reduced the corporate tax this year, the previously tax-free disability pensions of soldiers were recently made taxable with some exceptions. Despite repeated assurances to minimize appeals against Armed Forces Tribunal verdicts, the government spends crores fighting its disabled soldiers over pension claims in the courts every year.
Paradoxically, the BJP—which claims to be a party with a difference—had sought donations in the name of soldiers as part of its high-voltage 2019 Lok Sabha poll campaign, designed by marketing guru Sam Balsara-led Madison World. It used the pictures of the Prime Minister clad in an Army jacket and surrounded by jawans, claiming that “He Works For Them”.
The party had also made a massive political capital out of the 2016 surgical strike. Since it was riding a money wave, it also remained the biggest spender on the elections.
Narendra Modi was under attack from all sides in February 2014 when as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate he had claimed that “traders are more risk-taking than the soldiers guarding the border.” Since then he has never missed an opportunity to send out his rhetorical message as to how much he cares for the jawans. Soon after changing the name of Race Course Road to Lok Kalyan Marg, he had celebrated his first Diwali as a Prime Minister with the army at Siachen glacier base camp. This Diwali, again, he was with the soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir. Visuals showing PM Modi engaged in PDA (public display of affection) with jawans were all over the media and social media.
Celebrated #Diwali with the brave soldiers of the Indian Army in Rajouri, Jammu and Kashmir.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 27, 2019
It is always a matter of great joy to be able to interact with these courageous personnel. pic.twitter.com/e9th01wwiy
During the Kargil War in 1999, I had the opportunity to go to Kargil and show solidarity with our brave soldiers.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 26, 2019
This was the time when I was working for my Party in J&K as well as Himachal Pradesh.
The visit to Kargil and interactions with soldiers are unforgettable. pic.twitter.com/E5QUgHlTDS
In fact, in the true spirit of ‘Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi’ (Everyone Is Modi, Modi In Every House), from the film industry to academics, sportspersons to media practitioners, corporate houses to commercial advertisement makers, aspiring politicians to government functionaries, PM Modi has inspired “love” for military in everyone.
Armed forces are shamelessly dragged into controversies to weigh the nationalism of dissidents against that of the soldiers for skirting attention from real issues. The ruling party’s obsession with the military has grown to such an extent that even Rajya Sabha marshals traded their ethnic wear for a new uniform resembling the military, last month.
As Jawaharlal Nehru University vice-chancellor, Jagadesh Kumar, waits for a decommissioned tank to be stationed on his campus, a proud PM Modi was seen riding a K-9 Vajra Self Propelled Howitzer earlier this year.
TV media debates have become militarised. The Prime Minister and his party colleagues’ penchant for military jargon peddled by Bollywood war movies—which ooze chest-thumping patriotism and testosterone-adrenaline-driven machismo—is no longer a secret.
On a day when over 40 Central Reserve Police Force jawans were killed in the Pulwama attack, PM Modi had continued shooting for the Discovery channel’s ‘Man Vs Wild’ show in the Corbett National Park. Thereafter, he had addressed a political rally in Rudrapur through telephone. And it took him almost three hours to react to the incident.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night… I stayed awake,” PM Modi told a gathering at New Delhi’s Palam airport on September 28, recalling the 2016 surgical strikes. He had said similar things in TV interviews ahead of the general elections earlier this year.
“Today, New India is growing in stature globally, and this is due in large measure to its Armed Forces,” he stated in his keynote address at the inaugural function of the National War Memorial in February this year.
Since 2014, we have been witnessing a blizzard of Indian war movies. The lines that separate patriotism and propaganda are getting blurred in society as well. Even solemn functions held for honouring war widows are being relegated to occasions for entertainment. On November 24, a veteran who is associated with the ruling party, TC Rao, held a function at Delhi Cantt. To pep up the ceremony, the organiser had a Haryanvi dancer and a BJP member, Sapna Choudhary, performing raunchy dance numbers on the stage.
As 2019 comes to a close, PM Modi asking the film fraternity “How’s the josh?” at the inaugural event of the National Museum of Indian Cinema in Mumbai— 24 days before the deadly Pulwama attack—remains one of the major highlights of the year. Responding to the “High Sir!” response, he had remarked, “for building New India, your josh means a lot.”
The terror attack—which was followed by a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani air forces—had film producers scrambling to register movie titles like ‘Abhinandan’, ‘Balakot’, ‘Pulwama’ and ‘Surgical Strike 2.0’.
“That’s how it goes. Everybody knows!”