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Snipers, stay away

Pride in the armed forces cannot be based on belittling the police or civil administration. In these difficult times, our military and civilian elites need to sacrifice outdated, self-serving and undemocratic modes of thought that have regrettably been expressed recently, writes Abhinav Kumar.

india Updated: Mar 02, 2009 21:27 IST

In the worst year of terrorist outrages that culminated in Mumbai 26/11, and at a time that al-Qaeda has, for the first time, directly threatened India with further attacks, it was expected that all those charged with securing India, whether in olive greens or khaki, would come together in common purpose. Despite the looming threats, the murmur of protest from retired army officers — questioning the logic to give peacetime bravery decorations to police officers and the pay commission debate — point to a disturbing lack of unity among our soldiers and civilians.

While our soldiers pose uncomfortable questions and make passionate appeals to Indians to preserve their izzat and iqbal they must pause to face a few uncomfortable truths themselves. First of all, how fair and accurate is the comparison with the All-India Services? The 5,400-strong IAS preside over roughly 15 million civil servants who work for the central and state governments, whereas the 3,800-strong IPS manages over 2.3 million central and state police personnel. Entry to the civil services is at four different levels. In contrast, our 1.4 million-strong armed forces have just two levels of entry with a combined sanctioned strength of 67,540 officers — with about 55,000 actually serving.

The annual expenditure on the salaries and allowances of the armed forces is roughly two times the expenditure on police pay and allowances in absolute terms and about three times in per capita terms. This includes a military service pay, free ration, subsidised canteen facilities, and a range of other allowances. Our soldiers love to complain about the feudal lifestyles of the IAS and the IPS but ignore the grand messes and clubs, golf courses, liveried waiters and subsidised alcohol that they get, even post-retirement. Both are colonial relics and our soldiers cannot attack one and defend the other with a clear conscience.

The military obsession with protocol and the exclusion of all other concerns is mystifying. Why should a Lieutenant Colonel, a rank that the army no longer allows to command its basic unit, a battalion, be superior in protocol to a district magistrate or a superintendent of police, officers entrusted with looking after the basic unit of our governance, the district? What is the point of a protocol far removed from our administrative realities? The fact remains that the All-India Services are recruited specifically for the purpose of manning the highest posts in the government, whereas in the armed forces the officers performs the function of leading right from the platoon level to commanding the Indian Army. With such functional differences, is it fair to compare the two and ask for parity?

If, over the past two decades, the nation’s poorly-trained and poorly-equipped police forces are increasingly bearing the brunt of the casualties in securing India, then it stands to reason that they will claim a growing and greater priority over the nation’s resources and public recognition. The Ashok Chakra, to police officers killed in terrorist strikes, was awarded by the President who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and so our soldiers’ complaints are decidedly in bad taste. Hemant Karkare and others may not have climbed up the slopes of Kargil to destroy an enemy hideout, but for any leader of a unit to knowingly put himself in harm’s way is also bravery in every sense of the word.

Our brave soldiers have never shied away from making sacrifices. Nor, as the example of Karkare and MC Sharma shows, do our policemen. Pride in the armed forces cannot be based on belittling the police or civil administration. In these difficult times, our military and civilian elites need to sacrifice outdated, self-serving and undemocratic modes of thought that have regrettably been expressed recently.

Abhinav Kumar is a serving IPS officer. These are his personal views