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Baptism of fire

Editorial |

The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The release (eruption?) of long-suppressed grievances in the Services and paramilitary could not have been more inopportune. The new Army Chief would already have had more than enough attention: instead he has had a “baptism of fire” not on the hostile frontier but dealing with internal misgivings.

What began with a BSF jawan using social media to complain about sub-standard food has spread like wildfire through the uniformed community: a CRPF man raised the ticklish question of disparities in pay and allowances between military and the paramilitary, and now a soldier of the Rajput Regiment is being monitored for psychiatric inconsistencies after he raised another thorny issue — the continuance of the colonial practice of officers being provided sahayaks or batmen.

A genuine dilemma presents itself, there is a palpable breakdown of discipline; insubordination cannot be tolerated in any police or armed force. Yet, with the possible exception of the complaint against bad food, the grievances are not just valid, but relate to “issues” that have been swept under the proverbial carpet for far too long. General Bipin Rawat is having to pick up the tab for the laxity of his predecessors: military, civil and political.

That he has spoken on the matter publicly on two occasions is a pointer to the gravity of the situation; particularly, the frustration expressed by the man from the Rajput Regiment.

Over six years ago a parliamentary panel had flayed the abuse of sahayaks. Their listed duties were to assist an officer in professional matters but reality pointed to them having been reduced to domestic aides of the officer and his family — little need to recall the several horror stories that expose the declining standards of the officer cadres. Men who enlisted to defend the motherland being made to work as domestic servants: a national disgrace to be sure.

Gen Rawat has floated a suggestion for non-uniformed sahayaks, but apart from administrative and security complications the question arises about who will pay for them? Surely not the taxpayer. The Chief’s effort to upgrade the grievance-redressing mechanism is commendable, but he must also bite the bullet and get officers to “behave”.

Misuse of sahayaks is part of a larger cultural decline that sees staff cars used for personal travel by officers and their families, the entire khandan shopping at the canteen, etc. There is urgent need for “moral re-armament” across the board: if the Service chiefs and the defence minister do not initiate expeditious action, the defence effort could be compromised. In the ultimate analysis wars are fought by men more than weapons, unhappy “men” do not fight well. Officers require an attitude modernisation.