Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heed the cry of the armed forces

M P Anil Kumar

An interesting article in Rediff News
October 03, 2008

Fighter pilot.' Whenever I introduced myself that way, while in
service and now out of it, I could always espy a sense of awe and

Yet, I have forever regarded the infantry officer more than anyone
else. For, I have been mesmerised by his mettle to command
unquestioned obedience from the men he led into battle when everyone
knew a likely death lurked round the bend.

But the soldier also knew that his officer would do his utmost to
ensure the soldier's safety, and thus reposed unwavering faith in
his leadership and followed him in the charge, hollering the war

Infantry officers are moulded out of an extraordinary metal and they
form a rare breed. And warriors like them are the ones who make
soldiering the noble profession that it is. Where else will you find
subordinates ready to live and die for you?

Unlike this sod, the Union government does not apparently think in
such mushy terms about the image of its soldiers, sailors and
airmen. Otherwise, it would not have compelled the three services
chiefs to petition the defence minister to restore the existing
parity with those from other central services, with respect to the
Sixth Central Pay Commission (SCPC) awards. (A section of the media
regrettably painted this as whinging and blackmail by the defence
forces. Far from the truth. More than pay, what they are actually
pleading is for the restoration of status and honour trampled
hitherto by successive governments. )

In response, the government has constituted a panel of three top
cabinet ministers to address the discordant subjects (upgrade
lieutenant colonel to pay band 4, place lieutenant general in higher
administrative grade plus and restore pensionary benefits of
personnel below officer rank) highlighted by the chiefs.

The sitrep

The forces had earlier raised several disquieting anomalies in the
SCPC recommendations, and sought equitable remuneration for the kind
of toil they do day in, day out. The government tasked a committee
of secretaries to fix it. Given the composition of IAS officers in
the committee, only a nincompoop would have expected justice for the

The committee should have conjured up adequate pecuniary
compensation for the posts in which the officers have to serve long,
and also where the deficit of officers was most grave. But instead
of smoothening ruffled feathers, its prescription made more hackles
to rise. The fear of antagonists sabotaging the hope for obtaining a
fair deal had come true.

Worse, the government twisted the knife in at a time when the three
services were fighting a rearguard battle to attract talented
candidates and to stem the exit of middle-rung officers. Not a soul
in the government, evidently, has grasped the acuteness of crisis
hobbling the armed forces. Nor has anyone attempted to fathom the
depth of their discontentment nor estimate the fallout of the
peacetime attrition.

Small wonder then that the services, which lumped the humiliation of
its systematic downgrading all these years, were forced to tell the
nation that they have had enough. The high and mighty clearly had
not heard of the idiom even a worm will turn.

Military vis-a-vis civil service: two universes

Forget the primary role of defending our national territory, waters
and air space. Forget fighting the armed inimical elements in Jammu
& Kashmir, the Northeast and elsewhere. Now the services are
requisitioned to do the salvage job, every day.

When the deluge ravaged Bihar, Assam, UP and Orissa recently, the
army, navy and air force had to be marshalled to mount rescue
missions. The civil administration was conspicuous by its truancy,
making one wonder why crores are spent on such slothful and corrupt
bodies, as the army will be SOSed ultimately. Mind you, these bodies
are headed by IAS officers, the lot mainly responsible for the
rotten state of governance in this country.

Not just natural disasters; they are summoned when the police bungle
too. When a party of the anti-Naxal force Greyhounds was ambushed at
Chitrakonda in the hills of Malkangiri district of Orissa on June
29, while boating in a reservoir, as the escape routes were heavily
mined, the rescue operations had to be supported by air in marginal
weather. The air effort and the team of 30 divers were provided by
Eastern Naval Command headquartered at Visakhapatnam [Images].

Let me recall a recent newsbrief in a mainstream English daily as a
primer to give you a peek into the contrastive ethos of the military
and civilian universes. The vice chief of naval staff lamented that
when the navy was called in for rescue and relief in inundated parts
of Bihar, formal orders did not come in immediately from the
government, and the financial head of the ministry of defence
refused to release funds, forcing the navy to use its non-public
funds to rush relief teams.

For the babu, the written order dripping officialese is gospel, does
not matter if such devotion leads to the drowning of hundreds of

The serviceman could be excused if he thought that he was being used
by the politicians and bureaucrats to conceal their incompetence and
to clean up the accumulated mess excreted by their rank misrule.

The army, given the emasculation of the state police, will continue
to be employed for internal security -- counter-terrorism, and
before long it will be tasked to crush the subnationalist forces and
insurrectionists like the Maoists. With body bags set to become an
everyday sight, how many parents will be willing to send their sons
to this death trap?

Since the very idea of India is at stake, both the polity and policy
mavens need to put heads together to pre-empt the portent. But who,
ensconced in ivory towers, cares?

The holy warrant of precedence

Why is the State unconscionably shoving its boots on the face of the
military? What explains its downhill journey in the warrant of

Lately, in an article, retired Lt Gen Harwant Singh cited why the
defence officers were being hard-bone-by. The bureaucracy, taking
advantage of the Congress party's detestation of the military, kept
the pot stirred by raising the odds of a military coup, and worked
up this fear to emasculate the status of the top echelon, at the
cost of the nation's overall strategic disadvantage.

A committee of secretaries revises the warrant of precedence
periodically. Gen Harwant Singh writes that as the chief of defence
staff in 1981, Gen O P Malhotra raised the issue of downgrading of
service officers in the warrant of precedence (this has direct
bearing on the pay).

In response, the committee of secretaries recorded, 'Military
officers were placed unduly high in the old warrant of precedence,
presumably as it was considered essential for officers of an army of
occupation to be given special status and authority.' Mind you, it
is not Mirwaiz Umar Farooq but the bureaucrats that called the
Indian Army [Images] as an army of occupation!

Of course, Gen Malhotra riposted that the pliant colonial
bureaucracy (civil servants and police) was the tool of oppression
wielded by the Raj to quell the freedom movement, not the army. In
fact, the strike of naval ratings in Bombay on February 18, 1946,
that spread to major cities was what signalled to the British that
it was time to pack their bags and decamp.

Gen Harwant Singh rightly concluded that it was highly malicious for
anyone to decry the Indian Army as an army of occupation.

Once the political class colluded with the bureaucracy, there was no
stopping the descent down the warrant of precedence. Perhaps the
mandarins still see the military as an army of occupation, which
should explain why they are pulling out all the stops to belittle
it. Hence their effort to further throttle the services through the

Course of action

When I was commissioned into the IAF in 1984, the air force pilot
had the highest starting pay among the central government Class I
officers. (That is history; the Book has been overwritten several

Smitten by aircraft, bewitched by flying, fascinated by the frisson
of foiling gravity, I joined the IAF. The smell of adventure in the
air, the prestige associated with the uniform and the decent quality
of life it offered were simply inciting appetisers. Oddly, till I
was handed my first pay packet, after prevailing three rigorous
years at the National Defence Academy and another exacting year at
the Air Force Academy, I did not know what my starting pay would be!

Will I embrace the IAF again? I doubt. Gone are those days of
chasing quixotic idealism to quench an inner itch. Now lads want to
know how much their sweat will swell the bank account. Unless
military service is made attractive, few will want to join it.

A decade back, an IAS officer of Maharashtra cadre, a friend, told
me he had brought out a paper on the need for officers both military
and civilian to bury the hatchet, complement each other, and work
together for the larger cause of nation-building instead of cutting
the other down to size. Although his supremacist brethren laughed
his treatise out of court, I ditto his standpoint.

Though carved out of the same governmental womb, the professions of
arms and file-pushing are as different, alas as cold to each other,
as the Ambani brothers. So, in the long run, the answer lies in
delinking both the pay and stature of the armed forces from their
civilian counterparts.

As the nature of jobs, career prospects, hierarchy, attributes,
hardships and workplaces are poles apart, the very precept of inter
se parity sounds disjointed. Actually it is preposterous to liken a
major general with 33 years of service to a joint secretary having
17 years under his belt.

The pyramidal promotion-prospects of the forces and everyone-makes-
it framework of the civil services are beyond comparison. Therefore,
prudence suggests that instead of indulging in structural tinkering
through pay commissions, it makes sense to have a separate pay
commission for the defence forces. That is the only durable solution.

As for now, the recently convened ministerial panel must heed the
cry of the armed forces and reinstate its stolen status and
benefits. It is their due. High morale is the best known force

A nation neglects its soldiers at its peril.

M P Anil Kumar is a former fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force.

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