The armed forces of India are the last bastion of the State, protectors of its sovereignty and upholders of its constitutional values, and, since the nation’s independence in 1947, have always answered the call of the nation admirably, unmindful of the supreme sacrifices they have made in the line of duty. The world over, the Indian armed forces are admired by other militaries for their professionalism and discipline. They are, undoubtedly, the most loved and revered institution in India. Nevertheless, it is also a painfully inexplicable fact that successive governments, specifically the politico-bureaucratic elite, have been hitting at their esteem and pride, for reasons that no other democratic nation in the world will be able to fathom.
It is an established fact that since 1947, the most powerful instrument of the nation has been kept out of macro-level decision-making even in security and strategic matters! In a democracy, civilian supremacy over all other organs is an unquestionable principle but that means the supremacy of the elected government and not of the civilian bureaucracy! However, in India, a self-serving bureaucracy has ensured, through an ill-informed political leadership, to downgrade the status, pay and allowances, pensions and privileges of its armed forces vis-à-vis other central government services. Successive Pay Commissions since 1973, ironically, after India’s glorious military victory in 1971, which led to the creation of Bangladesh, heralded the marginalising of the military in more than a dozen ways.
Coming to the current times, the grave injustices to the armed forces and the Seventh Pay Commission’s anomalies with regard to the three services have been conveyed by the service chiefs to the Prime Minister. Reportedly, the chiefs said that this Pay Commission had “artificially suppressed” the salaries of service officers and, at each rank, service officers have ended up being lower than their civilian counterparts in the pay scale. Further, the non-acceptance of their demand for ‘Non-Functional Upgrade’ has widened the gap with other central government employees. Even ex-servicemen with 100% disabilities have been given short shrift. For example, a warrant officer of the Air Force with a 100% disability will get Rs 12,000 per month whereas his civilian counterpart Rs 27,690! It is also a matter of record that the anomalies of the Sixth Pay Commission, presented to the government more than 10 years ago, still remain uncorrected!
One of the most painful realities in the downgrading of the armed forces has been their decline in the government’s order of precedence (OOP) vis-à-vis their civilian counterparts. The OOP represents the protocol of the official hierarchy of the Republic of India and thus the pride and status of all its government employees. This decline has been going on for decades. A few days ago, a letter supposedly issued by the ministry of defence and that has gone viral in the media is the downgrade of the armed forces officers compared to their civilian counterparts of the armed forces headquarters cadre. This has resulted in much resentment among the services. It appears from media reports that defence minister Manohar Parrikar has assured the armed forces that any wrong orders issued will be rescinded by his ministry with immediate effect. The armed forces want nothing from the government but that well-established and time-honoured equivalence with their civil counterparts must not be disturbed because any breakdown in the arrangement will affect the working relations between them and their civilian counterparts.
Generally high on symbolism, the government would do well to implement the ‘Chanakya Niti’ of having well-equipped and, importantly, highly motivated armed forces. It is a painful fact that not many suitable youngsters today wish to wear the uniform to serve the nation!
The author is a retired lieutenant general and the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency
The views expressed are personal