Editorial 1
Editorial 2
On a soldier’s pay
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 
 
 
 
 

Austracized

The common European home is looking battered. The reputation of one architect of European unity, Mr Helmut Kohl, is sinking into a quagmire of bribery charges. There is evidence that the former German chancellor and his French counterpart, Francois Mitterrand, used illegal funds to influence elections they thought endangered European unity. Now Austria, a member of the European Union, has a coalition government that puts an extreme nationalist party in power. Austria’s Freedom Party is known to be anti-European and anti-immigrant. Its leader, Mr Joerg Haider, has earned notoriety for admiring Adolf Hitler’s economic policies. As the EU expands eastward and struggles with stubborn unemployment, Brussels has begun to fret about rising ethnic nationalism and rightwing extremism. It was this paranoia that led the EU to urge the United States to put out the ethnic fires burning in the former Yugoslavia. It also led the West to bomb Europe’s first post-Cold War ethnic demagogue, Mr Slobodan Milosevic, into submission. Brussels has also armtwisted prospective EU members like Slovakia and Romania to end petty discrimination against minorities. Hence the chagrin in Brussels that a xenophobic party should now rule in the capital of one of its 15 members. European leaders have stressed the EU is a “union of values” as they bring down diplomatic sanctions against Austria.

Yet the EU’s actions against Austria seem tinged with hypocrisy and hysteria. First, Brussels said little or nothing when the neo-fascist National Alliance joined the Italian government in 1994. This is not even the first time the Freedom Party has been in power. It was part of a socialist led ruling coalition in Vienna in the mid-Eighties. Second, Brussels suffers a curious lack of faith in that most European value — a belief in democracy. Mr Haider’s party is in power because it has the support of one third of Austria’s voters. To believe in democracy is also to recognize its ability to dilute radical political positions. Once elected, extreme nationalist parties have either become moderate and responsible or been subsequently discredited by the electorate. This has been true whether it has been Italy’s National Alliance, the Islamic Welfare party of Turkey or even the Bharatiya Janata Party. There is no reason to believe the Freedom Party’s experience will be any different. Austria’s government has been declared guilty before it has committed a crime.

The EU may have to become more flexible about parties of the far right. Brussels also needs to understand the role its own policies have played in pushing these parties into prominence. The entire drive for European political and monetary union during the past decade has been a top down affair. The common European’s opinion regarding the necessity or even the pace of such a development has rarely been consulted. When it has, it is notable how lukewarm has been his or her support. The European ideal lacks a foundation of popular sovereignty. It is a foundation further eroded by the EU’s faulty economic policies — an absurd system of agricultural subsidies, a welter of trade barriers and nonsensically inflexible labour markets. These have ensured slow growth and high unemployment. Unsurprisingly, Europeans on the economic and social margins have associated their plight with Brussels. It is these people who turn to the likes of Mr Haider. Brussels has reason to keep a wary eye on the new Austrian government. But it also needs to take a more critical look at itself.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2 
 
 
 
 

Pointed question

The president of India seems to have decided to go full steam ahead. And on a path no president is really welcome. Mr K.R. Narayanan has asked for clarifications from the Centre on specific points regarding the Gujarat government’s withdrawal of the ban on its employees who wish to join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It is the president’s reported list of queries that is so out of the way. Apparently, Mr Narayanan sometimes forwards memoranda sent to him to the government. This time, however, he has not only sent on the memoranda submitted to him on the subject by the Congress and other parties but has followed it up with his own queries. There is a deal of scope and good reason for debate over the lifting of the ban. There are some technical points to be made, with reference to the June 1993 pronouncements of the unlawful activity prevention tribunal. More important in the troubled context, however, are the political points. The Babri Masjid demolition was seen as a turning point in the RSS’s history. Membership of that organization, of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and of the Jamaat-e-Islami disqualified people from government jobs. The bans have either lapsed or are being lifted or not being reiterated. This may or may not be a good thing. What is needed is a fresh debate in an open house on the issue.

The president cannot be seen to intervene in a matter that has to be fought out thus openly. Besides, it is the Gujarat government that is directly responsible, not the Centre. It is strange that political parties like the Congress should run to Mr Narayanan about the lifting of the ban in Gujarat. This can only achieve one or both of two things, both detrimental to the functioning of the democracy. One, it gives the idea that the president will act as problem solver in this kind of a situation, when it is not within his office to do so. Two, that he is willing to speak up when the Hindutva bogey is raised, which suggests unbecoming bias. It does not seem as if the president is unaware of these dangers. He must know that his questions, speeches and comments carry unmistakeable weight. This itself is likely to skew the functioning of the democracy.    


 
 
ON A SOLDIER’S PAY 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
Few will remember 1997, when — in the aftermath of the fifth pay commission recommendations — there was open discontent in the three armed forces. In one force, events went far enough to be labelled as mutinous. The typical bureaucratic answer to such a grave turn of events was to form a committee with the then defence secretary as chairman and the three vice-chiefs as members.

Recent media reports have indicated that this committee’s report was submitted in April 1998, and a committee of secretaries mandated to study its financial implications. It is now revealed that the armed forces have expressed dissatisfaction at the COS’s suggestions and the prime minister has constituted a group of ministers.

The group will reportedly look at the existing anomalies, identify and recommend those allowances that could be given to the forces without disturbing their relation to the civilian set up. If true, this means a few crumbs for the armed forces and no more. This is bad news, because as long as the criteria of parity with the civil services remains, the armed forces will continue to be discriminated against. It needs recalling that government promises, preceding even the fifth pay commission, of granting “one rank one pension” to ex-servicemen, have steadfastly been negated on the ground of its wider civil service ramifications

So after two years, one war and some thousand dead, the armed forces will be back to square one. One is reminded of a day during the Kargil conflict when 20 bodies of our soldiers had been received at the army parade ground in Delhi. Lieutenant Vijayant Thapar was one of the dead. On being questioned by a television reporter, his father, Colonel Thapar, himself a serving soldier, attempted to describe the fury of battle and the heroism under which his son had sacrificed himself.

Midway, he realized the futility of his effort and his voice faded with “Aap log to samajh nahin sakte” (you people cannot understand). Those poignant words spoken from the heart of a grieving soldier sum up the schism in this country between those in uniform and the rest. While such photo opportunities were exploited by many for their own ends, in the eyes of the armed forces, India does not value its living soldiers, serving or retired. Homilies over the dead are mere crocodile tears.

One reason the fifth pay commission raised expectations within the armed forces was that its scope covered the wider charter of administrative reforms and conditions of service for the first time. The forces felt let down as the fifth pay commission did little in this area. Instead, even their genuine needs were tempered by the principle of relativity with the civil services.

The fifth pay commission recommendations resulted in inter- and intra-service turf battles. While such actions have brought dishonour to the armed forces, successive governments of free India cannot avoid blame. After four wars, countless insurgencies, the Indian peacekeeping force fiasco and many thousand soldiers, sailors and airmen dead and maimed for life, if the government still cannot look beyond equating the armed forces with the civil services, then the future for national security is indeed bleak.

One is confident that the armed forces will accept the decisions of the group of ministers in the true spirit of their honourable profession. Being human, however, it is unrealistic to believe that deep-festering wounds will heal. National conscience, however, must not desert those who do India proud by donning its military uniform.

Why are things going so horribly wrong at a juncture when our national security is under direct threat from both nuclear Pakistan and China? Why can’t we see what is so patently obvious to the other democratic governments with professional militaries? Does not the COS feel ashamed when in furtherance of their case, our forces are compelled to quote even Pakistani armed force pays?

It is worth recalling what makes the profession of arms different from other government services. Armed force personnel come under the purview of their respective service acts that supersede their rights as ordinary citizens. Under certain field conditions, a court martial with an ultimate death penalty can try them. The soldier’s ethos is duty, honour and country for which he is expected to lay down his life. None of these are part and parcel of the civil services. What the forces need in return for their sacrifice is izzat (dignity) and iqbal (honour).

Justice is denied to them when comparisons are made with civil services. A highly decorated World War II general had said, “The soldier who is called upon to offer and give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.” He will turn in his grave to find that in India, babudom is nobler.

Over the years, there has been a steady decline in the forces’ ranks in the warrant of precedence. Today a joint secretary with 16 years of pen-pushing is considered higher in the pecking order than a brigadier with 32 years of service, most of it in the field. A jawan is equated to an unskilled worker. The only living field marshal of India features under article 12 of the warrant of precedence below two former civil servants. Had the fifth pay commission seen officers and jawans marching off with dignity towards certain death to capture Tiger Hill in the Kargil war, the futility of making comparisons with the civil services may have dawned on it.

It needs the combined will of the armed forces, the wisdom of the bureaucracy and vision of the political leadership to recognize that armed forces’ service conditions cannot be handled by a general pay commission. Laying down one’s life does not figure in any civil services condition and make no mistake, no union is going on strike to demand it.

A special commission needs to look into the administrative reforms, conditions of service, pay and perks of the armed forces. This must consist of professionals who understand the ethos and morals of the profession of arms. While giving an interim decision, the group of ministers may give this serious consideration.

It is also time to scrap the system of correlating service ranks with civilian grades. Comparisons are irrelevant when conditions of service are incomparable. When the long overdue and much promised integration of the services headquarters with the ministry of defence emerges, the relevance of the equation will naturally lose much of its meaning. The president is the supreme commander of the armed forces. On all state occasions, the service chiefs must find place next only to their supreme commander. The forces have no need to be perennially downgraded with a bureaucracy-driven warrant of precedence. Their badges of rank and war medals speak for them.

For various reasons today, there are thousands of armed forces’ personnel who have been compelled to knock at the judiciary’s door for justice. Since most appeals relate to matters like promotions and postings, and considering that the judiciary is overworked, justice delayed is justice denied. There is also a strong case for a separate tribunal to look at grievances of armed force personnel.It will be ironic if the izzat and iqbal of the armed forces are dented under a government that came to power with national security as a poll plank.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Model marriage

Sir — Indian cricket has become so enveloped by glamour that it no longer takes a cricketer to prove his abilities on the field in order to retain the image of a star (“Bowled-over maiden hits Dravid”, Feb 4). Rahul Dravid has performed miserably in the recently concluded tour in Australia, scoring 35 and six, nine and 14, 29 and zero in the three test matches respectively. But no sooner does he return from the tour Down Under than a crazy fan asks his hand in marriage. Commercialization, which has fuelled cricket hysteria in India, has brought the game itself to such a sorry pass that a glossy “image” is all it takes for a cricketer to be the recipient of adulation. Indeed, despite everything there will still be no dearth of modelling assignments for Dravid. And cricketers like Dravid are content to make the very best of their so called good looks, even if their talents fail them. By the way, what was Rahul Dravid “small talking” with the lady (who allegedly gate-crashed into his house) about?

Yours faithfully,
Rita Banerjee, Calcutta

Strike at the rootr

Sir — The Uttar Pradesh government’s stand with regard to the power strike was entirely justified. The power employees were not fighting for trade union rights, but were dictating terms to the government on policy matters. Had the strike achieved its end, it would have harmed the economy of the state. Any government worth its salt would have squarely refused such demands. Even though the organized labour class is the most pampered and most overpaid, it does not care a hoot for the real problems facing the country. The exchequer needs huge amounts of money to tackle these problems but these employees act as if they have the right to the entire profits made by their department. If they succeed in browbeating the government into submission, others of their ilk will soon follow suit while the masses will have to bear the burden. When will the masses stop paying for the whims of public sector employees?

Yours faithfully,
F. Varghese, Malda

Sir — Contrary to what the editorial “The insider” (Jan 13) says, no trade union of industrial workers has ever been formed without help from political parties in India or anywhere else. A legitimate child of the French Revolution, the union owes its origins to parliamentary democracy where workers were allowed the right to form unions. As most of the workers were either illiterate or semi-literate, such unions flourished under some political umbrella. The first Indian trade union, the All India Trade Union Congress, came up in the early Twenties with specific political patronage. The history of other trade unions is similar. But long before left politics made its presence felt in the trade union movement, the eastern industrial zone was treated unfavourably by the Centre. This was because the government’s wrath was directed towards the foreign ownership of industries. Although the foreign owners closed shop and Indians took over, the Centre did not relent. There can be no reasonable explanation of the malady in the industrial sector of West Bengal if this point is missed.

Yours faithfully,
Sunil Baran Chakraborty, Calcutta

Class by themselves

Sir — The students of the Persian department in the University of Calcutta are being neglected over a considerable period of time. There are 25 seats allotted to the students. But the classrooms in the department are devoid of benches, chairs and blackboards. The conditions of the department have deteriorated because of the authorities’ negligence and indifference. The university severely penalizes those who fail to attend 65 per cent of the classes. How do the authorities expect students of the Persian department to attend classes in the given conditions?

Yours faithfully,
Moumita Kar, Hooghly

Sir — Education in West Bengal has become a marketable commodity. Only those who are able to bid high can afford to educate their wards in wellknown institutions. Private tuitions have also become a menace to the education system. Reputed institutions are no longer interested in imparting education to the students. Teachers prefer coaching students from their own schools and colleges “privately”, as it is economical both in terms of time and money. It is also rumoured that they provide useful “suggestions” to the “private pupils”. The so called educationists and guardians concerned make the students “cram” their lessons with the sole objective of making them perform well in examinations. Knowledge or excellence is not the objective here, only jobs. The education system in the state is leading on to a mere cul de sac.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakrabarti, Calcutta

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