PM Hailed Surgical Strike, But His Speech Had Little For Soldiers

This year’s speech was Modi’s shortest, and obvious for what it did not mention- foreign policy, writes Ashok Mehta.

4 min read
Hindi Female

The buzz, in the corridors of Service Headquarters in South Block, about Prime Minister Modi’s fourth Independence Day speech was that it was more about what he did not say than what he did on defence and national security.

Tradition, protocol and ceremonial customs are sacred for men in uniform and their hallmark. In a major breach of traditions and customs, the GoC Delhi Area, who has led all Republic day parades and escorted Prime Ministers to the dais on Independence days and therefore the man of the match, was missing from his customary place behind the Prime Minister for the first time this year.


Lt Gen Manoj Narvane, GoC Delhi Area, was not present near Prime Minister Modi when he delivered his address. This is seen by the Army as a continuing and deliberate dilution of its persona as part of a systematic erosion of established military traditions, which are the bedrock of its hallowed image.

Also Read: The Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality in PM Modi’s I-Day Speech

  • Long term defence planning, budgeting and streamlined procurement procedures for modernisation could help in terms of national security
  • Modi, Parikkar and the BJP have never shied away from taking credit for the surgical strikes
  • A website for gallantry award winners is nice, but it is a shame that there is no national memorial to honour the bravehearts who fell during the many wars
  • One Rank One Pension is more One Rank Five Pensions under the Seventh Pay Commission

India is Missing a Full-Time Defence Minister

Modi’s assertion that India’s security was the top priority of his government and that soldiers could overcome any challenge, be it at sea, in the air and along the borders and even in cyberspace was emphatically articulated. But as a priority, it has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The many chinks in the armour are periodically exposed in the House by the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Modi said soldiers never fear to make the highest sacrifice – that is true. But they could do with less of it, were they provided with state of the art ammunition and equipment.

What is missing is elementary – long term defence planning and budgeting and streamlined procurement procedures for modernisation.

Men in uniform hope they will soon have a full-time dedicated defence minister to implement pending defence reforms to provide political direction. This will bring about more cohesiveness between the three services, which will subsequently ensure that defence and security becomes a truly politico-military enterprise and state of civil military relations can improve.


When Modi and Parrikar Hogged the Limelight

What Modi never omits from any domestic or international speech is the mention of terrorism and his government’s trademark (and by now, over flogged) surgical strikes against terrorist launchpads in PoK.

Two people have derived maximum political benefit from surgical strikes, as has one institution – PM Modi, former Defence Minister Parrikar, and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In fact, the Parrikar gang in Goa has stolen the credit for the surgical strikes. Modi thanked all the countries – as many as 36 countries big and small – with whom joint working groups on counter-terrorism are operational and with many of whom intelligence sharing is the norm.


A Website is Nice, But Where’s The War Memorial?

Modi announced the unveiling of a new website of gallantry award winners. It is a shame that India Gate, where the Jai Jawan or the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest after the 1971 war, is a lonely landmark of remembrance. On the walls of the arched gateway, only names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War I are etched.

Seventy years after independence, there is no national memorial to honour the valour and sacrifice of the brave hearts who fell during World War II, 1947, 1962, 1965, 1971, Sri Lanka and Kargil. There seems to be no sense of urgency either to construct the nation’s tribute for the forgotten heroes. A website is certainly welcome but a poor substitute for the memorial.


The Aggravating OROP

Like the surgical strikes, Modi constantly speaks about OROP which is a fine achievement because it was formally implemented four decades after it was first mooted.

Critics of OROP, led by Maj Gen Satbir Singh, say what has been given is One Rank Five Pensions. Technically they are correct, and have suggested refinements to the OROP – like an annual review instead of a three-year review, as approved. Along with the 16 anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission, the Seventh Pay Commission – which Modi does not talk about – has left soldiers highly disappointed and aggrieved.


No Mention of Neighbouring Countries

This year’s speech was Modi’s shortest, certainly conspicuous for what it did not mention: foreign policy. A striking omission was any mention of Doklam to convey a pithy message to China.

The PLA neither invited their Indian counterparts at the five traditional meeting points astride the LAC at their 90th anniversary on 1 August, nor accepted an invitation for a Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai get-together on 15 August.

Last year, Modi launched a frontal attack against Pakistan, targeting Islamabad for its grave human rights violations in Balochistan and PoK, including Gilgit Baltistan. There was no finger-wagging this year. There is a method to Modi’s baat cheet. But for some soldiers, it lacked the fire and fury of last year.

(Retd Maj Gen Ashok K Mehta is a founder member of Defence Planning Staff reconstituted as Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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