Punjab: Amarinder milks Uri attack outrage, pay disparity to canvass military personnel
Amarinder Singh is reaching out to the sizable community of ex-servicemen and defence personnel in Punjab in the run up to the assembly election early next year.
As an ex-army man himself, the Punjab Congress president is well versed with the political temperament of the defence personnel when it comes to voting, and is trying to address their concerns in an all-out effort. Amarinder joined the army in June 1963 after graduating from the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. He was as a captain during the 1965 India-Pakistan War.
Of late, he has been the most vocal of Punjab's leaders in taking up issues of defence personnel. The attack on an army garrison in Uri, Kashmir, has given him yet another opportunity to take on the central government while playing to the gallery of defence personnel.
Punjab is home to nearly 3,00,000 ex-servicemen and about 2,00,000 serving defence personnel. Political observers say ex-servicemen traditionally voted Congress, but have lately been moving towards the BJP, particularly in the 23 constituencies where the BJP has been putting up candidates in alliance with the Akali Dal. Now, the Congress led by Amarinder is going all out to woo them back.
Condemning the attack in Uri, Amarinder said, "Perhaps the time has come when we need to make it clear to Pakistan that in 1971 you survived by half and in 2017 you may cease to survive altogether. We have really given a long rope to Pakistan and now is the time to take a decisive action as the time for restraint is long past."
Taking a hard stance, Amarinder described the attack as an "outrageous and provocative act" by Pakistan which must be responded to in equal measure. "Brutal provocations demand equally brutal reprisals. We must not hesitate. Let us stop seeking excuse and justification for non-action in the name of restraint and maintaining peace," he said.
Questioning the policy of "appeasement" adopted by the Narendra Modi regime both towards Pakistan and in dealing with the militancy in Kashmir, he said, "We as a nation need to tell it to Pakistan in simple and straight terms that enough is enough and we are not going to take it any more." At the same time, he added, the same policy needs to be implemented in Kashmir, where the army must be given a free hand to make everyone realise that peace is the only option.
This statement comes barely days after Amarinder joined in a march by military veterans to submit a memorandum to Punjab Governor VP Singh Badnore, supporting the stand taken by the three services chiefs on the "bias" against defence personnel in the Seventh Pay Commission.
The march was led by retired Lt Gen SS Brar and included several lieutenant generals, major generals, brigadiers, colonels and JCOs. Besides Amarinder, senior Congress leaders Ambika Soni, Asha Kumari and Harish Chaudhary had joined the event.
Amarinder has blamed the disparity in pay scales on the "bias" of bureaucrats against the armed forces and the "blind eye turned by political parties running the government". "We constitute the largest share of employees and pensioners and we have no say in the decisions made by a handful of bureaucrats which are imposed on the armed forces," he said.
The chief minister hopeful said such "repeated wrong steps" on part of the government can demoralise the defence forces, which India cannot afford in the face of a belligerent China and a mischievous Pakistan. "Just because our soldiers belong to a disciplined force does not mean their rights get trampled upon," he said.
"No bureaucrat knows about the hostile conditions in which our soldiers are made to work and that is the reason there is such a bias against the defence forces," he added, pointing out that according to the recommendations while a soldier posted at Siachen Glacier will get Rs 38,000 extra salary, an IAS officer posted in Assam will get Rs 58,000 more.
Amarinder has launched a direct attack on Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for asking the services chiefs to implement the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations despite their objections. He has asked Parrikar to stand by the defence services and not the babus who not only know nothing about the defence services but also seem to be "congenitally hostile" towards them.
Claiming Parrikar has no right or authority to order the services chiefs to accept what is not acceptable to them, Amarinder said Parrikar has again shown his inability to understand the services. "You can order them in operational matters and they will do as ordered, but on what grounds can you order them to accept the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations when these are biased against them? Is this Nazi Germany and are you Hitler to issue such a dictatorial order?"
"You have a highly disciplined force, perhaps the only pillar in our democracy that works without ever commenting or objecting. Do you want a disgruntled service? If the services are to lose their standing by placing them below the babus and the police, that is exactly what you will have, and then God help our country with a belligerent China and Pakistan around. Will you then lead your babus into the battle?" he questioned Parrikar.
Amarinder sought Modi's personal intervention in the matter, urging him to look beyond those who lack foresight. "This is a matter of national security and beyond the comprehension of the babus. The three chiefs are absolutely correct in their stand. Their officers and men expect nothing less from them. They have complete admiration and total support of the nation," he asserted.
Addressing the defence personnel, Amarinder said,"I have been seriously suggesting to the defence minister that the bureaucrats who have habitually been creating hurdles and hindrances in providing better pay to the defence personnel should be made to serve in Siachen for at least a day so that they realise what a soldier goes through."
He said this is not only an issue of the defence personnel's salary but of their status vis-à-vis other civilian services, including police and the bureaucracy as well.
In his campaign, Amarinder has been promising to restore the honour and dignity of the serving defence personnel and ex-servicemen if the Congress forms the government in Punjab. He has been reminding voters how, in his previous regime, he had ensured that ex-servicemen and defence personnel were accorded due respect in state offices and police stations. He is now promising due representation to ex-servicemen in the government as well.
Amarinder recently met with Balbir Singh, an ex-soldier of the army's 2 Sikh Regiment who he had served with in 1963, after 53 years. The Congress duly played it up. It was at a "Halke Vich Captain" event, where Amarinder called Balbir on to the stage and sat alongside him. "Every serving and former serviceman wants you to win because in your victory each one of us will feel like having become the chief minister himself," Balbir told Amarinder.
The Congress' rival AAP, too, has started raising the issues of the armed personnel, although in a subdued voice. The convener of its ex-servicemen wing Bikramajit Singh Pahuwadia recently said the "contempt" in which the politico-bureaucratic combine holds the fauj has been ascertained time and again, and most recently in the pay commission anomalies. He attacked both the Congress and the BJP for letting down the defence forces on issues like One Rank One Pension and salary structure.
Pahuwadia said, "I hope the Modi government understands that it is not only the availability of machines but the man behind the machine that would make the difference when the chips are down. I wish somebody had advised him about the necessity of ensuring high troop morale before airing lofty visions about PoK and Balochistan from the ramparts of the Red Fort."
He even quoted Kautilya, "The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be king!"