There has been a dramatic shift in the BJP’s stance towards our forces post its electoral victory. After using them during campaigns, it hardly has them in the heart, mind or Budget
It is no secret that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the darling of many media and news organisations, who treat every step and sneeze of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an occasion for a prime-time special. Even cricket, India’s beloved sport, was a victim of this worrying obsession. Prior to India’s hard-fought loss to New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals, a popular Hindi news channel hosted a show which asked: “Can Prime Minister Modi win us the World Cup?” Like many of us, I worry about such obsession (coupled with an unhealthy dose of compliance) manifesting itself as mainstream acceptability, certainly not good for the country. But this is a conversation (an article) for another day.
For now, let us talk about something that flashed across our television screens during the election season and was a topic of hot debate and discussion: India’s armed forces. Although hardly much time has passed since the election summer of 2019, there has been a dramatic shift in the stance the BJP has adopted towards the men in uniform. During the election season, we were often treated to the party’s dramatics, which was often obscene. For example, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath insulted our armed forces by calling them “Modiji ki sena”, thus implying that they worked at the beck and call of only one man and not in furtherance of their duty to the entire nation. As a former police officer, who tried to serve the people of the country and whose only master was the rule of law, I found such statements appalling, especially from a Chief Minister of a BJP-ruled State.
Sometimes, the drama was nauseating: Like when BJP leader Manoj Tiwari attempted to cash in on the Pulwama attack by wearing military clothing during a political rally. I am pretty certain that such antics make a mockery of what it means to be a soldier and belittles a hallowed uniform. Prime Minister Modi, too, often piggybacked on the armed forces. For instance, in some of his rallies, there were photographs of the security forces personnel killed in the February 14 suicide bombing in Pulwama. While these were absolutely crass, there was at least enthusiasm from the BJP about the armed forces. But how do we determine if this Government actually cares about the country’s armed forces? Or does it merely aim to rely on them for political points?
One way to do so is to look at the way it has dealt with one of the most shocking tragedies on Indian soil: The Pulwama terror attack. It is obvious that the Government will make sure that no such attack happens on Indian soil in the future but why have we been kept in the dark about the intelligence failures that eventually led to such a deadly attack? In order to ensure that the lives of our soldiers are not in jeopardy, we must understand how these attacks occurred and how do we plan to avert them in the future? On this aspect, however, there have been no questions from the media and no answers from the Government.
Another relevant barometer is the number of terrorist attacks that have taken place in India since 2014. In a written reply by Minister of State for Home Affairs, it was stated that the number of terrorist incidents in Jammu & Kashmir alone jumped 177 per cent in the past five years. This is a frightening number.
I may be trolled and many may say that this proves that the armed forces need more backing and focus from our Government, which Modiji has done. To this, I say that I wholeheartedly agree with the first part but disagree with the second. While there is a need for India to focus more on its defence forces by upgrading its machinery and ensuring a better life for its soldiers, I disagree that the BJP has any intention to actually do something to change the current scenario.
A clear indication of this and of where the Government’s priorities do not lie was when Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the first Union Budget for the new term of the BJP-led Government. While the entire session was extremely underwhelming, as evidenced by the 1,000 point fall in the Sensex, the Defence Budget was especially disconcerting. This because as part of the latest allocation, only 1.45 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, was given to defence expenditure, which may be the lowest since the 1962 war.
This is especially distressing because in the previous fiscal year (2018-19), a shortfall of close toRs 1.12 lakh crore was projected by the three wings of the armed forces (excluding the Defence Research and Development Organisation).
When asked about the inadequate funds, the Ministry of Defence stated: “This Ministry is bound by the budgetary ceilings conveyed by the Ministry of Finance. The reduced allocations were passed on uniformly to all the services.” As wonderfully put by my colleague, Shashi Tharoor, with this Government, “defence is favoured when it comes to rhetoric, and treated as badly as other ministries when cost-cutting is done.”
For all its rhetoric, the BJP would do well to remember that India has fought four wars since independence (comprehensively winning three), but no political leader has previously attempted to take advantage of the victories until it changed the way politicians view and deal with our forces.
All of this posturing would still be okay if the BJP actually showed some action. However, as is evident from the party’s actions, the relationship between it and the armed forces is: Out of sight and out of mind. When elections are out of sight, our armed forces, unfortunately, do not find any place in their hearts or minds.
(The author is president of Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee)
Writer: Ajoy Kumar
Courtesy: The Pioneer