Rajat Sharma

For God’s sake, keep army away from politics

akbOn Vijay Diwas, December 16, when the entire nation was celebrating 50 years of Indian army’s historic victory over Pakistan, the people of Uttarakhand were witness to a blatant case of misuse of army for politics. Congress party organized a Vijay Samman Diwas rally in Dehradun, which was addressed by Rahul Gandhi. The timing was significant because Uttarakhand will be going to assembly polls early next year.

On a day when millions of Indians were celebrating the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers to the Indian army and were remembering their war martyrs, people in Uttarakhand were watching leaders trying to lure voters by using pictures of war heroes.

The holding of this rally was not surprising, except for the fact that the rally ground was adorned with huge cut outs of the late Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, who hailed from Uttarakhand. These cut outs of Gen Rawat stood along with cut outs of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. It may be recalled, Gen Rawat along with other officers and jawans was martyred recently in a helicopter crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu and the entire nation is still mourning his passing away.

Clearly the Congress party was trying to use the army as a pawn on its political chessboard. It was sad to hear Rahul Gandhi making ridiculous comments about army preparedness. At one point during his speech, he remarked, “tanks, submarines and Rafale jet fighters alone do not make a country strong”.

Senior army officials were shocked to hear a senior leader making such a remark. Moreover, in his speech, while Rahul Gandhi described Indira Gandhi’s and Rahul Gandhi’s assassinations as ‘sacrifice’ (balidan) and martyrdom, he refrained from using the word ‘martyrdom’ for the death of Gen Rawat and other officers in the chopper crash. Look at the sentences that he used in his speech: “The way thousands of families in Uttarakhand lose their kin battling for the country’s honour, my family too has made sacrifices. This is my relationship with Uttarakhand.”

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi pointed out that it was during Congress-led UPA rule that all efforts were made to prevent Gen. Bipin Rawat from being the army chief. “Rahul is an immature, part time politician, he does not know what to say. The nation will never forgive this”, Joshi said.

BJP leaders also pointed out that it was Sandeep Dikshit, Congress leader and son of former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit, who had once compared Gen Rawat to a roadside hooligan (gali ka goonda). They also pointed out how Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar had once alleged that army jawans had raped women in Kashmir. The Congress cannot deny these facts. At a time when Rahul Gandhi was honouring 1971 war heroes of Uttarakhand with shawl and mementos on stage, BJP workers went about town putting up posters of remarks made by Sandeep Dikshit and Kanhaiya Kumar.

Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami pointed out that it was the Congress-led UPA government which starved the defence forces by not providing jet fighters, tanks, rifles and other equipment and did not accept One Rank, One Pension demand of ex-servicemen. “Now that the elections are due, they are honouring these ex-servicemen”, he added.

BJP too is not far behind in trying to woo the votes of ex-servicemen and families of army officers and jawans in Uttarakhand. The state BJP government has decided to set up a Sainik Dham, a memorial for all war heroes hailing from the state. The foundation stone for Sainik Dham was laid by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who announced the main gate of Sainik Dham will be named after Gen. Bipin Rawat. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami took care to point out that this memorial is being set up not in quest of votes but for honouring the martyrs who died in wars.

A soldier does not belong to a political party. A soldier belongs to the nation. To make war martyrs a pawn on the political chessboard is unacceptable. Gen Rawat’s martyrdom took place only eight days ago. Even the terahveen (13th day of death) ceremony has not taken place, but political parties have started using his name for seeking votes. Is this justified? Rahul Gandhi even does not consider Gen Rawat’s death as martyrdom. It is indeed courageous on his part to describe Gen Rawat’s martyrdom as death in the presence of thousands of families, who have sent their sons to fight wars.

A Congress MLA from Rajasthan Virendra Singh from Danta Ramgarh, has gone even a step further. He alleged that Gen Rawat was killed because of what he called “an election conspiracy”. Virendra Singh is on record of having said, “I feel sadness in my heart when a fauji (army man) becomes a martyr because of political conspiracy”. The Congress MLA even linked the Pulwama terror killings to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. He even linked the martyrdom of 20 army jawans in the Galwan Valley battle with Chinese soldiers to the Bihar assembly elections. And then he tried to link Gen. Rawat’s martyrdom to the forthcoming Uttarakhand elections.

Former Union Minister and BJP MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, himself an ex-army officer, reacted to this by saying, “I am not surprised over such remarks from a Congress leader. You cannot expect such a remark from any other party leader except the Congress”, Rathore said.

Two Congress ministers from Rajasthan, Rajendra Gudha and P L Meena, however, said, making such remarks amounts to insulting our martyrs. Such a remark should not have been made, they said. But the Congress MLA, Virendra Singh was unrepentant. He said, “I have not disclosed the full facts. I will disclose the details when the opportunity comes. After all, why such coincidences occur only before elections?”

The Indian armed forces command respect throughout the world for its professionalism, valour and courage. Our army is a professional fighting force and apolitical. It stays aloof from the rough and tumble of politics. Their valour and strategic acumen have made the army invincible. Yet, even our senior army officers agree that a strong political will is required for the defence forces to succeed in its endeavours.

The strong will and leadership provided by the Prime Minister is essential for the success of our armed forces. Indira Gandhi in 1971 and Narendra Modi in 2019 displayed this strong will and leadership.

Defence experts and army officers agree that the armed forces have been modernized to a great extent during Modi’s rule. It was due to Prime Minister Modi’s drive that our armed forces today are being equipped with latest generation of jet fighters, submarines, tanks, rifles, and hi-tech equipment to counter the adversaries. This drive has brought about a manifold increase in the capability of our armed forces. So, when a leader like Rahul Gandhi says that ‘Rafale jet fighters, tanks and submarines alone does not make a country strong’, the remark seems to be childish. Armies the world over yearn for the latest equipment and weapons to fight battles. Even Indira Gandhi used to say this.

During the 1962 India-China war, the morale of our jawans and officers was high and they showed exemplary courage. But our jawans lacked modern weapons and even battle gear. They had outdated rifles and lacked even the basic equipment needed to fight battle on cold frontiers. Learning lessons from our 1962 debacle, our nation went on to modernize our army, air force and navy, and the results were evident during the 1965 and 1971 wars. We won both these wars.

During the last seven years of Prime Minister Modi’s rule, billions of dollars have been spent on acquiring latest jet fighters, submarines, assault rifles, tanks and other hi-tech equipment. The Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) policy in defence sector, followed by Modi government has earned the admiration and respect from senior army officers. Our armed forces are today ready to face any challenge on any terrain under whatsoever circumstances. It is time that our politicians realize this and keep politics away from the armed forces.

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