As China continues to make incursions across the LAC, India needs to face reality – we are surrounded by hostile neighbours, of whom at least one is frighteningly aggressive.
While there are territorial disputes with most of our neighbours – enclaves with Bangladesh, Katchatheevu island with Sri Lanka, Kalapani with Nepal, and of course, parts of Kashmir with Pakistan – our main concessions have been to China. The country continues to illegally occupy Aksai Chin, and Indians are required to obtain passes to travel to Arunachal Pradesh.
For decades, we have been speaking about how we are not militarily equipped to take China on, but as that country gets increasingly belligerent and increasingly manipulative, it seems inevitable that we must be prepared to take it on someday.
The incursions along the LAC are regular occurrences, and do eventually get sorted out, though not always to India’s satisfaction.
But one of the most worrying aspects of our country’s defence is the constant shortage of officers and soldiers. Among those who do join the Army, more lose their lives to the cruel weather, in regions such as the Siachen, than lose their lives in border skirmishes.
Our Army men are paid poorly, not only compared to those working in the private sector, but also those in other departments of government service. Worse, their families have to put up a struggle to get such basic relief as disability insurance and compensation in case of death.
The argument put forward to persuade young men to join the Army is that it’s not about the money, but about the prestige; that’s it’s about one’s sense of pride in protecting one’s nation. However, patriotism is a hard sentiment to shore up in the disillusionment surrounding the idea of nation – after all, ‘nation’ has come to be associated with governments, rather than territories.
Since independence, our central government has always been high-handed with its decisions, pushing through agreements and Acts in the social, economic, as well as political sphere. But the UPA-II government has been particularly so. On August 27, 2010, our MPS unanimously gave themselves an overnight salary hike of 200 percent. Essentially, this means their basic went up from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50,000; their constituency and office expense allowances were doubled to Rs 40,000 each, along with other perks such as lower interest rates on vehicle loans.
With the pension for former MPs going up from Rs 8,000 to Rs 20,000, this would cost the exchequer close to Rs 150 crore a year. All this on top of a tax-free, all-expenses paid life, and Rs 1000 as incentive to attend Parliament – as if this were an additional duty.
In contrast, it was only after the Sixth Pay Commission that the salaries of Army men were hiked, and by a much smaller percentage than the bonanza that the MPs chose to give themselves.
In such a scenario, one wonders how many people would encourage their sons to join the Army, even at the level of officers. A 25-year-old working in an MNC could easily make more money than some of the highest-ranking officers in the Army.
More importantly, our government’s inability to sort out its border disputes puts thousands of jawans in danger every day, either from our many enemies’ knives and bullets, or from the vagaries of the weather.
Perhaps the time has come for us to focus on fortifying our defence establishments, and increasing the budgets allocated to the Armed Forces. This naturally means increasing salaries and benefits, and regulating postings in such a manner that no one is exposed to extreme climate for too long.
While the Indian government has been pleading for restraint on the issue of incursions, for fear of damaging diplomatic ties, China appears to have no such concerns. If the past is anything to go by, they won’t be daunted by this either. Our eastern neighbour was able to overcome a PR disaster ahead of the Beijing Olympics, putting down Tibetan protests ruthlessly.
In this context, we need to put forward a more aggressive stance, before we lose any more territory to China. But we can’t afford to take that stance without being adequately prepared in terms of military might. A start to that would be to increase the benefits given to the Army, especially the soldiers who patrol our borders. What price would we place on our sovereignty?
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The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com and tweets at @k_nandini