The Indian Armed Forces fraternity has yet again been hit, this time by a politically motivated order. According to a Ministry of Defence order issued in May 2018, all roads in cantonment areas across India are to be reopened with immediate effect. The order came after MP’s of many states sent emotionally loaded appeals to Defence Minister. Reasons cited in their letters, by and large, relate to inconveniences caused to the civilian populations with respect to commuting from one place to the other. According to them, the civilian population faces ‘hardships’ while commuting from one place to the other, spending a lot of ‘time’ and ‘energy’ in travelling. Some of them supported their arguments with personal examples. As a result, there was widespread celebration among the MP’s and their supporters post issuance of the order. However, the move has not been received well by the Armed Forces fraternity. There are many arguments, apart from the security concerns, that can be given to justify their dissent.
First, the issue is dealt emotionally and not strategically. It has been made an issue of convenience of public over security of the personnel’s and their families. On the face of it, the convenience argument works, but deeper insights into the issue indicate other potential motives, including real estate. Hence, it is no surprise that issue of encroachments on defence land came in focus just weeks into the order.
Secondly, it is testimony to the incompetency of the MP’s to fulfil their development commitments in their constituencies for which they get paid by the government. This is mainly due to rampant corruption and lack of motivation to invest time, energy and public money to fulfil their hollow promises. This has led them to choose cantonments roads which are already in place, well maintained and regulated.
Third, it is politically motivated because of the 2019 elections. The issue began with a dispute regarding roads of Secunderabad cantonment. The order came not long after the ruling party at the centre lost the Karnataka elections. It is highly likely that more weightage was given to vote bank politics than the right to privacy and security of the Armed Forces and their families.
Fourth, the fraternity was not, in the real sense of the term, given an opportunity to voice their concerns before the decision was being taken. This is proof to the reactions expressed by the community and initiative by wives of many Army officers to start a campaign and meet the Defence Minister. The voices of the MP’s, on the other hand, were heard. This explains why they celebrated their ‘victory’1 over the Army of their own nation. This is enough to believe that politicians care for nothing but their seats in high offices. It is also an indication towards the temperament of the present day government to issue half – baked orders such as demonetisation.
Concluding, the Ministry should stop for a moment and think of the issue from all fronts. They should approach it rationally and strategically because the order has compromised the security and autonomy of the Armed Forces. Opening of the cantonment roads is not the solution to the problem of inconvenience. However, if the real objectives are different, then the Ministry should recall that the Armed Forces are ‘apolitical’. They should look for other options to solve problems of the public which are a result of ill will and poor development vision of those in power and in no way a problem created by those compromised, the Armed Forces.
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