Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar may be the darling of the hyper-nationalist supporters of the BJP line of thought on escalating tensions with Pakistan, but of late he has become the target of Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh.
Amarinder, who has been aggressively campaigning in poll-bound Punjab, has positioned himself to take on Parrikar on all defence-related issues.
Making his stand
Over the last couple of months, Amarinder, an ex-serviceman, has targeted the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre for generating war hysteria and politicising not only the surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC), but other issues related to service officials as well.
According to observers, Amarinder is the only senior Congress leader both at the central as well as the state level who can counter the BJP's nationalistic campaign as he has in-depth knowledge on defence matters. He has alleged that the BJP's campaign is an attempt to reap electoral benefits in poll bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab where there are a sizable number of families with members in the defence forces or even ex-servicemen.
The Captain was also able to call off the bluff over vacation of border villages in Punjab after the surgical strikes.
Of late, he has been gunning for Parrikar on issues like violation of Order of Precedence to downgrade army ranks and also the One Rank One Pension (OROP).
Amarinder, besides having penned a book on Sikh history, has also come out with authoritative accounts on wars that the Indian forces have fought - Honour and Fidelity: India's Military Contribution to the Great War 1914 to 1918 and The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce - 1965 India-Pakistan War. It is his understanding of service matters that puts him in a position to challenge the decisions of the Modi government and he has been doing it consistently.
The attack on Parrikar
He has been asking Modi to sack Parrikar for being incompetent. He went to the extent of calling Parrikar a 'stupid nincompoop and an intellectually deprived man' for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) decision to stick to its controversial Army rank structure that has triggered huge resentment in the armed forces owing to the disparity created between military and civilian grades.
Pointing out that the decision of the MoD headed by Parrikar has once again exposed the duplicity of the two-timing defence minister, Amarinder said: "Enough is enough. He has been playing games with the armed forces and has done everything in his power to chip at their morale, without realising the implications this can have for the nation's security and integrity. If he is so brainless that he cannot see what he is doing to the armed forces, he cannot be allowed to remain the defence minister."
Questioning the mute spectators
Amarinder has also expressed shock that the three BJP MPs hailing from the Indian Army, including former Army Chief General VK Singh, and Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, both ministers, and Colonel Sona Ram are mute spectators to this injustice.
Amarinder has targeted VK Singh saying, "He has commanded the Indian Army and should surely have his loyalties with them. But it seems that after becoming a MP and a minister he doesn't have the guts to stand up to his political masters and speak up against this anti patriotic and absurd decision."
He said that while on one hand the government is playing up the armed forces' recent handling of the border escalation with Pakistan and the subsequent surgical strikes, on the other the MoD is systematically and deliberately destroying the Army's morale.
Amarinder said that equating a civilian principal director with a major general (in place of the earlier rank of brigadier), a director-ranked officer to a brigadier and a joint director to a colonel is tantamount to putting the army officers below par with the civilian officials.
"When I was in the Army I used to write to the civilian officers like deputy commissioners and police chiefs on various issues in my capacity as Company Commander and invariably got a response from them. This is no longer the case," he said. He has been saying that if the government wants to give sops to the bureaucrats it can find some other way it instead of demeaning and demoralising the armed forces.
He has warned that if the current resentment in the forces over the new ranking goes out of control, even Modi will not be able to reverse the tide.
A forced war zone
Amarinder has also been taking on the Modi government for transforming the country's borders into a 'war zone'. He has dismissed the tall claims made by BJP's chief Amit Shah that the country's borders are more secure today than earlier as totally contemptuous.
This came in reaction to Shah's statement at the Punjabi Suba celebrations in Amritsar earlier this week where Shah had said the biggest achievement of the Modi government is that it has secured the boundary of the country, whereas under the UPA rule the situation was that anyone could come, do chhedkhani (tampering) with the boundary of the country and cause great insult.
Amarinder has been reminding Shah that that the latter is totally and comfortably oblivious of the fact that the border areas are being subjected to unwarranted and unprovoked assault from across the LoC every day, leaving both soldiers and civilians dead or injured.
He has pointed that the entire Jammu border area has become a war zone, thanks to the thoughtless and weak defence policies of the Modi government.
All about political mileage
Amarinder has been pointing out that all the Modi government, through Parrikar, is interested in is to take political mileage from the surgical strikes.
He has been advocating that New Delhi needs to engage diplomatically with Islamabad to resolve the border issues and restore peace, in the interest of the nation's security and the safety of its people. Residents of border villages are being subjected to cross-border shelling and violence, making them hapless victims of the Modi government's failure to protect and safeguard them, he has been saying.
This has helped him strike a chord with the civilian population residing along the International Border (IB) in Punjab as well as Jammu sectors.
He pointed out that there have been as many as 60 instances of truce violation by Pakistan since the surgical strikes just over a month ago. Instead of engaging with opposition parties to find a meaningful solution to the festering border issue, the Modi government is going all out to seize political advantage from the situation, which it is deliberately allowing to aggravate, he added.
Anger over OROP
Now Amarinder has started playing up the OROP issue along side the suicide of Subedar (Retd) Ram Kishen Grewal of Bhiwani who ended his life in Delhi. The Congress held protests across all the districts in Punjab with Amarinder leading a delegation of senior Congress leaders to the Punjab Governor VP Singh Badanore and handing him a memorandum.
Amarinder said that the suicide over the OROP issue has come as the last straw for the armed forces, whose morale has hit an all-time low as a result of the down gradation of their ranks by the recent defence ministry notification and the discrimination meted out to them by the 7th Pay Commission.
He said that given the gravity of the issue, it is imperative that the prime minister personally intervenes in the matter and orders immediate action against Parrikar for pushing the ex-servicemen to such a state and also against the Delhi police officials who added to the family's woes with their ruthless behaviour.
Amarinder has asserted that the ex-servicemen have been fighting for their legitimate rights and deserve the empathy and support of the central government.
Amarinder has been saying that Parrikar has proved himself to be worst defence minister in India's history.
"Unfortunately, he has now chosen to clown with the Army, which cannot be allowed at any cost. You cannot play around with the Army to further your interests. As an ex-soldier of the Indian Army I know what an army personnel deserves, and a proper ranking is just one of those things," he has said.
Observers say that Amarinder's stand on these issues has been going down well particularly with the ex-servicemen who have been staunch supporters of the BJP. How the BJP wins them back ahead of the forthcoming assembly polls remains to be seen.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu