On March 7, an e-mail sent out internally by a military veterans welfare organisation to its members called for support in raising funds for a large veterans protest rally planned on March 14 at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. The e-mail listed out the various elements of the rally that required funds. The usual things: tents, lunch, loudspeakers, that sort of thing. But one of the items was new: disposable syringes, anti-coagulant chemicals
. In case you haven't already figured it out, the group plans to get some of its senior members to write a memorandum in their blood to the President of India. A memorandum they hope will finally convince the establishment of just how angry they are. I don't really know that the government will be moved by any of this. If it hasn't been moved by hundreds of veterans returning their service medals on seven different occasions, what good will a blood-spattered piece of paper do?
The protests by Indian veterans have been going on for so long, and with such a staunch refusal to become less intense, that a terrible pathos now clings to everything. To the veterans, it's not just that the government won't address their central lament -- deep-rooted pension anomalies -- but that the government hasn't had the decency to even acknowledge the protests, and engage the veterans in a discourse. Defence Minister AK Antony is a compassionate man, but how does he feel about one of the country's most unhealthy mutinies taking place on his watch? Without any engagement, India's veterans -- at least the ones who plan to congregate at Jantar Mantar four days from now, including a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff -- have been dehumanised, demasculated and, worst of all, isolated.
The scary part is the government doesn't appear to be in the least concerned about what a public relations nightmare the protests constitute for its image. We look more like Pakistan, though of course ex-Servicemen are the cream of society across the line of control. There are those who believe that sleeping over such a large community of disenchanted trained military personnel is sleeping over a strategic disaster waiting to happen, whatever it may be. Loyalty is a complicated thing when you're this pissed off.
From the way things look, it's an intermittent riot of voices through a megaphone from the veterans bouncing off an impenetrable wall that is the government. When things are this bad with your military veterans, you treat them, you deal with them, you address them, you engage them. No matter what anyone says, military veterans aren't just anybody. You invite them over for a cup of tea. If you have to, you tell them why you can't help them. You let them down easy, explain to them why the government cannot do what it cannot do, whatever the reasons are. Get them on board. That's the key. And that's where the government has spectacularly failed. Every time there's been a protest, there are megaphones and banners and television stories with sad music tracks.
So what good is blood?