How the BJP lost the soldiers' vote

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 01, 2015 12:37 hrs
Images: Modi marks Diwali with army men

Dale Carnegie wrote 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' in 1936 and the book continues to guide generations to date.

Going by its track record of the last eighteen months, BJP appears to be working overtime to perfect the art of 'losing supporters and alienating people'.

BJP's handling of the issues pertaining to the military community is symptomatic of the brazenness of its duplicitous and hypocritical mindset. En-block support extended by 50 lakh strong military community and their family members was a major factor in BJP's unprecedented victory. Soldiers expected Modi to deliver on his promises – construction of a befitting War Memorial, establishment of a Veterans' Commission and grant of OROP.

However, once in power, it started treating veterans with indifference. Even a chameleon takes longer to change its colours. Although the promises were explicit with no ambiguity of any nature whatsoever, Modi claimed that the promises were made to soldiers without knowing the complexities involved. Worse, veterans were advised to 'lower their expectations' and treated with loathsome homilies like 'election jhumlas'. Some effrontery!

A look at BJP's conduct while in power exposes it as a two-faced party. The War Memorial continues to remain a paper proposal with no work done on ground. Veterans' Commission has been a total non-starter. The government does not even talk about it. Finally, the government has offered a sham-OROP after gracelessly prolonged dithering.

Fulfilment of all the three promises is well within the government's executive powers. Unlike the issue of black money, no foreign country is involved. What is more, no fresh legislation is required as the Parliament has already endorsed them on more than one occasion. Apparently, the government lacks sincerity of purpose. How else can one explain the failure of the Prime Minister (with 56 inches proverbial chest) to fulfil his promises made publically to millions of veterans?

Disdain for the Soldiers

One wonders as to what makes nations great. Why has India succumbed to foreign rule so often? Why is the US an undisputed world power? Why has Britain remained undefeated for centuries? The answer has been provided by a British army veteran, "A grateful nation's recognition of its soldiers' contribution to national security is the key difference".

It is India's gross misfortune that its leadership has failed to appreciate this basic fact. 

While addressing veterans at the Phoenix Convention Center on 17 August 2009, President Obama said, "You have done your duty – to your fallen comrades, to your communities, to your country. You have always fulfilled your responsibilities to America. And so long as I am President of the United States, America will always fulfil its responsibilities to you".

He termed America's commitment to its veterans as sacred bonds and a sacred trust Americans are honour-bound to uphold.

Contrast the above pledge and assurance with the treatment meted out to the ex-servicemen in India. Despite repeated requests, the Prime Minister has not been able to spare a few minutes to meet the veterans during the last 18 months – maybe he considers it to be a waste of time. On the other hand, he appears ready to meet people from all other walks of life, even attend marriage of cricketers.

The way a government cares for its ex-servicemen has a profound effect on the psyche of the serving soldiers. Shabby and apathetic treatment meted out to ex-servicemen by an ungrateful government can never reassure a soldier as he sees himself as an ex-serviceman of the future. He starts entertaining doubts about government's sincerity in fulfilling its commitments to him after superannuation.

Modi has been spending a few hours with the troops on every Diwali, in the mistaken belief that the troops can be impressed by such hollow gestures. Agreed that soldiers are sentimental and trusting humans by nature. But, they are not stupid and it will be a dreadful blunder for BJP to take them for granted. Soldiers regard solemn commitments to be sacrosanct and reneging on them is considered to be an act of betrayal. A leader who goes back on his word is considered unworthy of their trust.

Through its short-sighted approach, BJP has frittered away the goodwill of the entire soldiering community, its staunchest support group. Even the die-hard opponents of BJP had never expected such a short honeymoon. BJP is certainly going to pay for it dearly. Rarely has one seen a ruling party adopt such a ruinous self-destruct mode.

Finally, the Adieu

India will start getting into the election mode after another two years. Voters will need to be wooed. One wonders as to how BJP will muster courage to ask soldiers and ex-soldiers to vote for it. Who will trust such an insincere and arrogant party? That is the time BJP will rue its betrayal of the veterans and the shoddy treatment that it meted out to them.

Pictures of ill-mannered policemen manhandling aged veterans, who had spent their whole life in defending the country, will come to haunt BJP. Soldiers will not forget the appalling sight of an unruly policeman tearing a veteran's shirt that displayed the gallantry medals won by him through sweat and blood.

Modi must realise that hugs from Obama and Hollande may be good for ego and photo-shoots, but for re-election, he will need votes. Through his arrogance and disdain for the soldier community, he has managed to alienate them all – not a single serving or retired soldier is going to vote for BJP in the next election. Why should they vote for a man who considered it to be below his dignity to talk to veterans despite repeated requests?

Farsighted political leaders recognise the fact that they must strive to increase their acceptance across a larger section of the voter population to ensure re-election. To achieve that, they assiduously follow the time-tested mantra – 'consolidate the support base, convince the fence sitters and cultivate the opponents'.

Instead of expanding its base, BJP has been busy alienating its supporters, while the whole opposition has been uniting against it.

More disheartening than Modi's failure to fulfill the commitments is his refusal to interact with the veterans to understand their grievances. Worse, at Faridabad, he derided the military community by asserting that OROP would be at the cost of poor of India.

Some arrogance and disdain for the soldiers! He will never be pardoned for such a snide remark – most unbecoming of a Prime Minister. BJP can write off states that have massive soldiering fraternity like Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.

Finally, borrowing a phrase from India's freedom struggle (lathi-charge on Lala Lajpat Rai in 1928) and at the cost of sounding ominous, it can be stated bluntly that BJP's neglect and contempt for the soldiering community will act as 'the final nail in the coffin' of its aspirations for the second term in power.

And, when the chickens come home to roost, it will have no one to blame except its own supercilious leadership.

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 Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration) he was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.

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