The Army didn’t like the rough deal handed to it by the sixth pay commission. It protested and petitioned whoever could help. Stonewalled at every stage, it is now ready to fire its most potent weapon yet: the vote.
There are 11.3 lakh men and women in the Indian Army and together with their families and ex-servicemen, they add up to one crore, according to one estimate.
Army chief General Deepak Kapoor has directed all formations across the country to make vigorous efforts to achieve 100 per cent registration of service voters. Soldiers have also been asked to get their families registered as voters.
And the Army headquarters are not leaving it at that — just another order. There is going to be regular follow-up. All units have been directed to send monthly reports on progress made.
“A large number of regiments have achieved complete registration of service voters,” said an army officer, refusing to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Soldiers now have the potential to change political fortunes.”
This may make the UPA a little nervous. The army believes the sixth pay commission handed it a bad deal.
There is sweeping discontent in the military over the government still sitting on a revised proposal to place lieutenant colonels and equivalent posts in the air force and navy in the same pay band as their counterparts in the paramilitary/Group A services and IAS.
There have been more such issues:
The Army had to virtually wage a lonely battle with the government last year to restore the existing pensionary weightages for jawans from 50 per cent to 70 per cent to cater to their truncated careers.
The generals too have felt betrayed by the government with lieutenant generals and equivalent (who are not army commanders) being excluded from the HAG+ (higher administrative grade) pay band. Only army commanders and DGP (director generals of police) figure in this grade. Pay scales have traditionally determined inter-se status among government officials.
The veterans are also unhappy as their demand for one-rank-one-pay has not been accepted. There are over 20 lakh defence pensioners in the country and ex-servicemen groups claim they can influence at least two to three crore votes.
“Rank and pay concerns raised by the armed forces have still not been addressed. As usual, the bureaucrats have walked away with the benefits,” said a senior officer.
Discontent fuelled by the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission had triggered an exodus from the armed forces with officers in the middle rung seeking premature release in large numbers last year.
Now the army is fighting back with their votes.
Documents with Hindustan Times show that Army cantonments and military stations have been asked to make adequate provisions to address requests for canvassing by political parties in cantonment areas.
Citing relevant government rules, the Army headquarters has told all units that there is no need for them to seek prior permission from anyone for hosting public meetings on defence land.
The Army headquarters has instructed all commands including the Andaman and Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command to encourage soldiers to cast their votes at their place of posting in the forthcoming elections.
Official Army identity cards may be accepted as proof of identity at the time of voting. Regiments have also been asked to explain the provisions for proxy voting and postal ballot to soldiers to have the highest ever service voter turn out.