For the discipline-obsessed Indian Army, it has come as a shock. Thirty-six soldiers have banded together and taken it to court for dropping them from a United Nations peacekeeping assignment in the Congo.
“We can do without such collapse of discipline,” said a senior army officer.
These soldiers were left out because they had already been part of a previous UN peacekeeping mission. Army rules debar a second UN posting.
But the litigious soldiers have a different take. They have cited another rule which says a soldier can be denied a UN posting only for two reasons: a poor service record, or having already been on a UN assignment in the past five years.
“This rule was amended two years back,” said Jyoti Singh, the army’s lawyer. “Now all those who have served on a UN peace mission even once are excluded.” The matter will be heard this week.
The soldiers belong to 5 JAKLI (Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry).
5 JAKLI is headed for the Democratic Republic of Congo to serve in the UN’s costliest ever peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MONUC.
“The soldiers were part of another JAKLI battalion that has served the UN,” said an army source, on condition of anonymity. “They were apparently co-opted, as that battalion didn’t have an adequate number of troops. Now that their own battalion is going, the soldiers are feeling left out.”
UN peace missions are much sought after by armymen, both for their prestige as well as for the tax-free dollar salaries they provide. Soldiers earn almost four times their Indian salary.
Over 4,250 Indian soldiers form part of the Congo mission, making it the army’s largest deployment on foreign soil.
With over 8,600 troops deployed in peace missions, India is the third-largest contributor of troops to the UN after Bangladesh and Pakistan. Indian peacekeepers were dispatched to serve in the Congo mission in January 2005.