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Army gets austere

Editorial |

Since the orders slashing the frills in the Army’s lifestyle emanated from the Chief’s office and not the defence ministry, there is likely to be little of the open resentment provoked by the waiving of most of the restrictions on civilian traffic in the Cantonments.

Yet the pique of many of the “uniforms” ~ the officer community in particular ~ is sure to be punctured. And yet again will the lament will be raised of being downgraded in comparison with civilians who never even sniff exploded gunpowder.

For long accustomed to the flaunting of a lavish culture, the officers will once again begin to draw comparisons with the corporate sector and insist that limited compensation works to the detriment of the Army becoming a preferred career option among the “cream” of Indian youth.

Yet many corporates openly envy the perks and privileges associated with an officer’s uniform. Though austerity has seldom been a welcome concept, to be fair the recently-issued orders actually seek to usher in a sense of realism in military minds ~ for far too long has the colonial hangover persisted that the nation is duty-bound to pander to military whims.

The revised rules are projected as a bid to curb inessential revenue expenditure to make more funds available for modenisation and upgrade of weapons and equipment. It is however a moot point if cutting back on fancy parties, less expensive travel and greater use of a dedicated communication network, limited use of the “canteen” and so on will really make a dent in the balance sheet. Retired officers will be particularly irked at the withdrawal of certain facilities and contend they were part of a promised package.

It would be worthwhile if when the next budget is presented a ballpark estimate is made available of the savings generated, else the Chief will invite criticism of bowing to political objectives, in the manner in which army engineers were drafted to build a pedestrian over-bridge on Mumbai’s suburban railway, or clean up trash left behind by trekkers in the hills.

In theory, an exercise is underway to right-size the Army. But operational experience would suggest that is only possible when the government takes revolutionary measures to address the roots of militancy in J&K and the North-east and resolves the issues with Pakistan and China. Only that will make possible a substantial reduction in manpower and free up funds for capital expenditure.

To translate into reality the talk of a “leaner, meaner Army” or a “bigger bang per buck” requires comprehensive planning and intensive programming. In their absence any in-house austerity drive equates with political slogans that sound catchy but achieve little. As is evident from ‘sabka saath sabka vikas’, ‘achche din’ ~ or ‘garibi hatao’ that won Indira Gandhi an election but left millions submerged below the poverty line.