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He needs a life after the Army

Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away. The most vivid enactment of wilting was that of Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck of Morocco, i...

Written by Ashok K Mehta |
March 24, 1998

Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away. The most vivid enactment of wilting was that of Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck of Morocco, in his last years the familiar symbol of Marrakesh. He was the last supreme commander of the undivided Indian Army. On his birthday the sovereign used to send him a bouquet of roses. The last of these arrived on his 95th birthday. Our own Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, nestled in the Coonoor hills, does not get any roses from the President. He grows his own and refuses to fade away.

What do most soldiers, sailors and airmen do when they retire still young and some in the prime of life? From the minuscule who became service chiefs and army commanders a smaller minuscule makes it as ambassadors and governors. The countries they’re normally entrusted are at least three notches lower than their rank, the Denmark class, tenable by joint secretary-level officers.

They become governors of politically misgoverned, insurgency-ridden states. Except Meghalaya in the northeast,every state in the region and Sikkim outside it has at one or other time had a military governor. It is a different matter that most had to quit because they refused to be manipulated.

In most countries, they are picked up for their talent and experience by industry, government and the corporate world, never allowed to waste. In the US Army they are reassigned to top jobs and empanenlled on various committees.

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In India most routine retirees end up reliving the last war, playing golf, watering roses and frequenting watering holes. Here are some statistics. Every year, 60,000 soldiers and 2500 officers retire from the three services. Sixty per cent of them are below 40. And 25 per cent below 35. Of these a mere 10 per cent find jobs including self-employment. Nearly 2400 of the officers are Colonel and below, including about 200 short service commissioned officers.

The government of India commits grave human rights violations by retiring nearly 50,000 young citizens and soldiers who have staked theirlives for the honour and integrity of the country without ensuring an alternative vocation. According to an amendment to government notification by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms dated December 15, 1979, at least 10 per cent of vacancies in Group C and D in all Central services including public sector undertakings and posts of assistant commandant in all paramilitary forces will be reserved for ex-servicemen. All state governments have also given similar undertakings.

These quarantees as time has revealed are essentially on paper. Reasons? There is `no sincerity in central and state governments on implementation, no monitoring and enforcement mechanism.’ Further, local rules and reservations disqualify the ex-servicemen. In some states only ex-servicemen within the scheduled caste and OBC category and within the 49 percent quota are eligible.

For ex-servicemen, the promises of government are just deceitful. Here is a recent example. The defence secretary’sletter to service headquarters seeking names of Brigadier level officers — age 45 to 56 — for the post of chairman and managing director of Pawan Hans by 23rd January 1998, dated 16th December 1997, was received by the Resettlement Directorate on February 11, 1998. This is a typical case of the bureaucracy’s deviousness.

Evidently, the government is not serious about its scheme to prepare and provide servicemen for reoccupation when the attitude seems to be one of use-and-discard.

The armed forces have to take a leaf out of Pakistani and Chinese books: privatise their logistics and support base with the help of ex-servicemen and their regimental funds. Pakistan runs very gainful Fauji Foundations in all the three services. These ensure a solider is not left high and dry after retirement. The least the government can do is demonstrate its sincerity by implementing the limited promises in resettlement. At least, after retirement, a soldier can be given a fair deal.

The writer is a retiredMajor-General

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