It is regretful that a section of the media has been trying to propagate the false impression that the three armed forces chiefs have defied the government on the pay commission and that they have been admonished for it. Spreading such disinformation is unethical, damaging to the armed forces and harmful for national security.
On April 12 2006, when the Sixth Central Pay Commission (CPC) was constituted, as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), I wrote to the then Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, seeking his intervention for the “appointment of a service officer as a constituted member of the 6th CPC… since the lack of a service representative was one of the main reasons for the dissatisfaction amongst the armed forces post the 5th CPC award”.
Responding positively, Mukherjee assured the chiefs that despite oppos-ition from his Cabinet colleagues, he would still try to ‘embed’ a services element in the commission. A few weeks later, he became Foreign Minister and the fate of the armed forces was left to the mercy of the bureaucracy-dominated commission.
As expected, the Sixth CPC report contained glaring anomalies vis-à-vis the armed forces, and at the persistent urging of the CoSC, the government was constrained to constitute a review committee. Inexplicably, the committee again excluded any armed forces representation, following which ex-servicemen began to show signs of discontent. Alarmed at this, a few retired service chiefs wrote to the PM expressing concern at these developments, which boded ill for the services. He was urged to include a services representative in the committee. Obviously, contrary advice from other quarters prevailed, with predictable results.
Today, the services are disturbed at the loss of certain parities in pay that existed before the Sixth CPC, between service officers and employees of other central services, for which no rationale has been offered. Also, this was done surreptitiously. Even more disturbing is the manner in which the pension of jawans was sought to be depressed by 20 per cent.
As a consequence, the three chiefs have been placed in an awkward position. They know from past experiences that once the CPC award is implemented, there will be no redressal. It’s perhaps poetic justice that Mukherjee should now have been appointed to preside over the Group of Ministers constituted to re-examine the grievances of the armed forces as a ‘last ditch’ measure by the government to unravel the mess created by the Sixth CPC and compounded by the committee.
Democracies like the US, Britain and France have learnt from experience that the best way of retaining ‘civilian control’ over their militaries is to designate the head of the armed forces as the Principal Military Advisor to the head of government, a Chief of Defence Staff (or equivalent). For reasons that are not clear, India’s politicians seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to deal directly with the leadership of the armed forces, having surrendered this responsibility to the bureaucracy.
So when the Minister needs advice, he seeks it from the Secretary and not the service chiefs. By the same token, the CPC and the committee did not deem it appropriate to consult the chiefs or their representatives on the services’ remuneration issues.
Those who feel that the services are mixing up grievances related to ‘pay and allowances’ with issues of ‘command and control’ overlook the fact that the services are being increasingly called upon to assist in civilian emergencies. In such contingencies, they have to work in close co-ordination with the civil administration and police. When the CPC arbitrarily changes pay scales overnight, the existing relativities with these authorities automatically get altered, placing the armed forces in an extremely difficult situation and directly impacting operations.
With a general election round the corner, the time has now come for the polity to make national security a poll issue and leave it to the people to decide if this is the way they want the nation’s security to be managed.
The author is a former Chief of Naval Staff. He was also Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC)