A worrisome slide in Army’s status
During the British regime, military officers were given their rightful place in the warrant of precedence in accordance with their length of service. This was primarily in recognition of the responsibility that they shouldered and for their innate accountability as also to inject pride into their profession.
The perpetual fall in the status of the Army started after Partition in 1947 in Nehru era and was impregnated by the unreasonable fears of the Army staging a coup. The Army continues to be a victim of this inborn phobia.
At the time of Partition, the Commander-in-Chief was number two in the order of precedence; number one being the Viceroy. After the 1947-1948 war, service chiefs were made junior to judges of the Supreme Court. They were made junior to cabinet secretary after the 1962 war and junior to Attorney-General after the 1965 war.
After the 1971 war, they were made junior to Comptroller and Auditor General. Though the decorative rank of Field Marshal was created after the 1971 war, no special status was conferred on it. It is often said in the services that after every war, the status of the defence forces has plummeted to a new low. Today, the service chiefs are shown at 13th position in the warrant of precedence.
The fall in the status has affected all ranks in the services. In many states, a deputy commissioner with seven to eight years of service is equated with a brigadier who gets this rank after 25 years of service. While the IAS and IPS officers keep going up in status, the armed forces officers’ status keeps ebbing.
As for the IPS, an SP who used to wear the badges of rank of a Captain during the British time, started wearing the rank of a lieutenant colonel long ago. In the Central Warrant of Precedence, 1937, an IG police is equated with a brigadier. Similarly, an ICS officer holding a deputy commissioner’s appointment in a district with a fairly long service was equated to a lieutenant colonel but now an IAS officer has climbed up to equate himself with a brigadier. In certain states, IAS and IPS officers with five to six years of service have been given a status higher than colonels and brigadiers. Almost all IAS and IPS officers after 15 to 20 years of service reach a level that only a microscopic minority in the defence forces can reach, that too, after a stiff selection and not with less than 25 to 30 years of service. Lowering of military officers’ status has been adversely affecting their morale. This pinch riles them more when they have to work side by side with the civilian officers.
STATUS HIGHER IN WEST
In western democracies, the status of armed forces is much higher than what we have in India. For they have a firm conviction that those who safeguard the very existence and territorial integrity of the country deserve a much higher status than most others. Another belief prevailing there is that the military men should come from among the best human material.
In communist countries, the defence services rank next to the party. The party and the armed forces are closely integrated. They encourage military personnel to become party members and many senior posts in the services are reserved for the party members. Thus the services are considered to be a privileged body. Besides, the defence ministers there mostly come from the armed forces.
In India, the armed forces are not given their due recognition because of the fear psychosis among our politicians that a strong army will not augur well for them, thanks to the repeated military coups in our neighbourhood. The fear is totally unfounded. No sinister meanings should be read into giving a higher status to the defence forces, for they being multi-religious and multi-ethnic can never take a cue from our neighbour. About 68 years of our post-Independence era has proved this beyond any doubt.
While dealing with the services, the political leadership in this country wholly depends on the bureaucracy. This is why, unlike in the olden days, the military top brass is kept out of the decision-making loop these days. The fate of the defence forces entirely lies in the hands of the bureaucrats who have taken full advantage of the political hierarchy’s bias towards the Army. Being in effective control of the levers of governance, they have used their power to systematically downgrade the military and erode its status.
It must be understood that the Army has a vital role to play in safeguarding the integrity and security of the country. Besides, when all other organisations, including the police and paramilitary forces, fail to measure up to their tasks, it is the Army that becomes the last resort of the government. It is, therefore, imperative to remove the unhealthy equation between the Army and the civil services by restoring the former its lost status.
(The writer, a retired colonel, is a Chandigarh-based commentator on defence matters. The views expressed are personal)