The ‘blame-game’ that reared its ugly head in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks instantly reminded me of the fervent appeals of three successive chiefs of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) to the Naval Headquarters to loan them naval officers for analysis of maritime intelligence. They were seriously concerned that they did not have the necessary expertise available to draw the right conclusions from the mass of information the agency collected from open, human and technical sources. And very correctly they approached the Navy.
Lack of maritime intelligence has also been the Navy’s bane for years. So we understood the handicap the R&AW worked with and felt that it was the Navy’s duty to help. As the Chief of Personnel, I recalled having personally selected some officers for deputation to the R&AW. But to my consternation, I learnt within a few months that most wanted to return to the Navy.
The naval officers deputed to the R&AW did not wish to continue with their deputation because when they were assigned their desks in the Cabinet Secretariat they found to their dismay that they had been placed under officers who were many years their junior in terms of service. Having taken this stoically, they then found that they were deprived of things like telephones, stenographers and transport because the ‘status’ assigned to them did not entitle them to these utilities. The R&AW authorities were sympathetic, but pleaded that they were not in a position to alter the equivalences apparently ‘laid down’ by a Kafkaesque Department of Personnel.
This is symptomatic of a larger malaise: the lack of coordination between organs of the Government of India, that also contributed to the recent Mumbai fiasco. This should not come as a surprise. The GoI is so laissez faire in its approach that it won’t intervene to eliminate inter-agency inequity that can result in crippling dysfunctionality. If you progressively marginalise, downgrade and degrade your own armed forces, you are undermining the security of the State. At the risk of exaggerating, I would venture to state that this is exactly what the Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) seems to have achieved.
Today, there is a distinct impression that the CPC has erred grievously on many issues relating to the armed forces. They were not represented in the Commission and its recommendations have spread confusion and consternation. One of the most serious consequences is the sudden and arbitrary alteration of relativities between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts, to the detriment of the former. The resulting change in relationships between the armed forces and para-militaries has grave operational implications that do not seem to have been understood at all at the political level.
Ex-Servicemen, too, are confounded to see the number of anomalies thrown up by the CPC. Take one example: no one understands by what logic a lieutenant-general, a major-general and a brigadier are going to be paid exactly the same pension, while a colonel (with half the service) will receive just Rs 100 less. The government has again rejected the ‘one rank one pension’ demand. But not even a feeble attempt has been made to bridge the gap between today’s and yesterday’s pensioners of the same rank. There is also a distinct impression that the CPC recommendations have been changed by the bureaucracy without due authorisation from the political level.
The most logical way to avoid this confusion and the sense of grievance among the armed forces and ex-servicemen would have been to place a service representative, if not in the CPC, in the review committee. This would have avoided controversy, speculation and unhappiness. A few retired service chiefs, including myself, had written to the Prime Minister to accord this concession. But the appeal remains unanswered.
Spreading unhappiness among the nation’s armed forces or demoralising them and the 2-3 million-strong ex-servicemen community does not serve anyone’s interest. Should someone in authority not sit up and take notice?
(Arun Prakash is former Chief, Indian Navy)