Recent articulations on the social media by a veteran soldier, who has now donned a political mantle, raise some ethical issues of relevance; as much to our apolitical armed forces as to the aam aadmi.
Fundamental rights of association (political activity) and of speech (communications to the press and the like) guaranteed to all Indian citizens by Article 19 of the Constitution are two freedoms abridged by law for those serving in the armed forces. Their other fundamental rights remain intact. On termination of military service, these abridged rights stand restored and the military veteran is free to indulge in any of such activities, like any other citizen.
Over the years, some military veterans have taken to a career of public service and contributed their mite, with dignity, gravitas and competence - the names of General Shankar Roy Chowdhury, Major General B.C. Khanduri, Major Jaswant Singh (he does not use his rank) and Captain Amarinder Singh readily come to mind from recent years.
It is, however, not compulsory for a veteran to join politics because in most of the cases his civic conscience can rest easy, with a firm conviction of having discharged his obligations to the nation and society by voluntarily undergoing long military service, with all its toil, hardships and hazards. As the adage goes, Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
While many facets of social service are available for veterans who, rather than fading away, feel impelled to contribute something more to common weal, a few of the old war horses think that they can serve the nation only by joining party politics. Factors motivating such an endeavour can vary from individual to individual - a genuine desire to contribute, need for a proactive life style, ego-satisfaction, to bolster diminished self-esteem post-retirement, to fulfil a need for belonging, material gains or a mix of all these.
Whatever be the motivation of such aspiring politicians, they inevitably lean upon their military antecedents, particularly their rank, in trying to find their place in the political hierarchy. This is all very well, except that custom and tradition allows military officers the honour of bearing their military ranks post-retirement for reasons which certainly do not include politicking! Flowing from Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution (equality before law and prohibition on discrimination against any citizen), its Article 18 abolished all titles, with the unique exception of military titles and academic distinctions. As such, it seems incongruous and unethical to use military ranks to boost personal agendas in the murky field of Indian politics.
By all means join politics after leaving the services and use your experience, ingenuity and enterprise to further your political cause, and do it on your personal merit but do not exploit your military rank to further your self-centred political aims because you bear this rank as a matter of honour. And to be deplored, most are the veteran-politicians of the dal badlu (defector) variety, who turn the military virtues of loyalty, fealty and steadfastness into negotiable political commodities by changing their political affiliations frequently to suit their political convenience, as also those who climb on to the bandwagon, at the last moment, when the wind shows which way it is blowing!
To claim that it is all for the benefit of comrades-in-arms (serving or retired) is perhaps a bit hard to swallow!
(16.06.2014 - Maj. Gen. Rajendra Prakash (retd) is a defence analyst. The views expressed are personal.)
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