The political environment in the country today can be a bit puzzling for the average soldier. Ever since the ‘surgical strikes’ took place he is being eulogised. His selfless service to the nation is being praised at every forum, political or social. Not since Kargil has this kind of effusive praise been directed at him.
However, on the other hand, there are issues concerning his status, rank, pay and pension which do not match this hero worship. That his services have always been in demand and always praised, be it in war or in peace, has never been in doubt. But the dichotomy between words and the action on ground is remains a mismatch.
Making political gains out of military exploits is not a new phenomenon. However, the sharpness and singularity of purpose with which it is happening ever since the surgical strikes took place is quite interesting to note.
These days everything is attributed to being done for our soldiers at the front. If MNS takes on Bollywood producers over Pakistani actors in their movies, it is for the soldiers. If the producers have to pay a fine of Rs 5 crore, it is for the soldiers and is, of course, meant for ‘Army Welfare Fund’. Politicians and prominent personalities are tripping over each other on national television to speak-up for the soldiers on this issue. So it is not surprising to see posters praising the exploits of the soldiers plastered all over, with the right mix of political personalities being credited for helping them conduct their exploits. Even the RSS has got its share of praise by the defence minister for the surgical strikes.
A news channel has set-up a war room in its studio to give an accurate description of what happens on the border with Pakistan. Not to be left behind, the editor of a television channel dresses up as in BSF uniform while doing his show. Field reporters reach the house of a widow of an Army jawan and ask her to sing a patriotic song. All this is for the soldier. He has done his bit for the country. We must take care of those he left behind.
But does the soldier care if he is being made into a commodity? He definitely likes the attention he is getting –earned with his blood and sweat — but what about the tangibles? A serving soldier knows that the government is yet to give a firm commitment on the anomalies of the 7th Pay Commission, he knows about the fuss being made over the disability pension he gets if he contracts a medical condition in course of his military duties and he knows that those who served before him and retired are still not happy with the definition of One Rank One Pay (OROP) that has been adopted.
A soldier’s trust in the political leadership strengthens when he is given credit for doing his job right. Conversely, it wavers if his rights are not protected. Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, the British Chief of Air Staff during World War II, once famously said about the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Churchill will fight to the last ditch, but not in it”.
Our officers and jawans fight to the last bullet. They deserve more than to be left with just a song and some praise.