Civil-Military Relations — Widening Gap
The military-people relationship in most liberal democracies reflects a commitment in the former and pride, faith and trust in the latter, for each other
The military-people relationship in most liberal democracies reflects a commitment in the former and pride, faith and trust in the latter, for each other.
Brigadier S.K. Chatterji (Retd)
IN THE EARLY HOURS of September 18, 2016, Pakistani militants staged an attack on an Indian Army camp at Uri in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The attackers used incendiary grenades to light up tentage housing soldiers leading to 17 deaths instantaneously and two more thereafter. All four terrorists were also killed. A pall of gloom descended on the nation. Every Indian was also itching for an appropriate response. The riposte, 10/11 days later, surprised both the Indian citizen and the Pakistani establishment. Seven terrorist launch pads located across the line of control (LoC) that divides J&K and Pakistan occupied Kashmir, spread over a 250-km frontage, were near simultaneously assaulted by India’s Special Forces. The burning trail left behind by the forces as they executed a clean extrication was approximately 30 dead terrorists and Pakistani military personnel.
The Indian political establishment forever at each other’s throat in a country perennially in the election mode, fortunately unified behind the government’s decision. When the roots of such unusual cohesion are analysed, the conclusions again point to a sharp eye that politicians have on their vote banks. There would barely be a voter on the electoral lists who would have voted for a political party critical of the Indian armed forces at this juncture. Such is the linkage between the Indian people and the armed forces.
The military-people relationship in most liberal democracies reflects a commitment in the former and pride, faith and trust in the latter, for each other. It’s the people giving their military a very special social standing that have armed our young officers and soldiers to brave the risks of being constantly in operations (wars and insurgencies) since independence. This includes the operations along the LoC to fight the terrorists trying to infiltrate from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) an intensive ongoing operation since 1989 when Pakistan decide to follow the strategy of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts”. While induction of modern technology and equipment upgradation of the armed forces are extremely important for achieving operational capabilities, the morale of the men who man the equipment is the ultimate battle-winning factor; an old adage that is as good as an axiomatic truth. In the words of Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese scholar, “He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.”
Having established the relationship between the people and the military briefly, it’s time to shift the focus to the government; both the political leadership and its executive machinery — the bureaucracy. In the Indian context, the armed forces are quite divorced from policy formulation. The intimate interaction of the national leadership with the armed forces so prevalent in the functional models of developed countries, is not followed in our context. The meetings of the three Service Chiefs with the Prime Minister are occasional at best. The chasm that it creates allows greater manoeuvre space to the bureaucracy whose penchant at creating mischief and going against its own military is well known. While all ministries generally support their own departments, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is famous for taking decisions to the detriment of the military. A recent case in point is the letter number A/24577/CAO/CP Cell dated October 18 issued by MoD which further downgrades military ranks and has raised a huge controversy as reported by the Hindustan Times on October 25, 2016. The letter has, it seems, been issued with the sanction of the Defence Minister. Whom should the military approach in the instant case?
The fallout of such distancing was also laid bare by the report of the Seventh Central Pay Commission which has been unfair to the military and has put the military on par with the Central Armed Police Forces. The effort at down-gradation commenced in the Third Pay Commission and has continued downwards since then. Most citizens wouldn’t be aware of the existence of such disparities as they are never informed about the background because the media too reports from the Pay Commissions Report which itself is faulty because the armed forces views are never taken seriously in bureaucracy controlled committees. It must be equally difficult for our citizens to comprehend that a civilian bureaucrat’s allowances in Shillong can be twice that of a service officer in Siachen! The equation is so grossly mismatched as to require an orchestrated campaign to educate the common citizen of such stark anomalies that have been gradually introduced into the system by the civilian bureaucracy. Needless to say that the political leadership and some chiefs of the armed forces at the helm have also uncaring through the years!
The Third Pay Commission reduced the pension of jawans to 50 per cent from 70 per cent prevalent then. The Fifth Pay Commission fixed the pay of Deputy Inspector General of the police forces between a Lt Colonel and a Colonel. The Fourth Pay Commission brought the DIG at par with a Brigadier. The Seventh Pay Commission recommends higher scales for a DIG as compared to a Brigadier. Where are we headed? Can we put together the quality of armed forces that will be able to drive our geopolitical aspirations with such degradation in status and payoff its officers and men?
The Seventh Pay Commission has introduced wide and unusual anomalies as far as the armed forces are concerned. Non-Functional Scale Upgradation has not been granted to the armed forces unlike the other cadres. Military Service Pay for Junior Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks on the same scales is a joke. Disability pensions have been tampered with to a pronounced disadvantage for deserving cases. When viewed in the context that such benefits are given to those wounded or aggravated due to operational reasons, the recommendations seem preposterous. A comparison with what a bureaucrat will be given for disability, the whole exercise looks like a big farce.
The Defence Minister has appointed a committee to go into the various aspects, however most of these anomalies are so blatant as not to require another commission to study and provide the answers. An erudite Defence Minister and non-partisan bureaucracy can take a decision by themselves. Most such committees in the past have languished without any substantial contribution.
Professional Military Advice
In the current context the methods of waging wars have changed. Today we talk about conventional wars, fourth-generation wars, asymmetric, hybrid and proxy wars; all of them call for professional militaries to protect their nation’s borders, people, institutions and values. This protection is a complex task and is to be undertaken through deliberate planning and strategy formulation for various types of contingencies. Responsible national leaderships of democratic nations that face complex threats and challenges take steps to protect their interests by obtaining professional military advice at the highest levels. Let us take the example of the Americans. The Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff has direct access to the US President. The Pentagon officials brief the US Senate Committee on armed forces in their hearings regularly. The same holds true for testimonies by commanders in combat zones like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
We have an institutionalised system in place but it does not work. Though the Defence Minister does meet the three Chiefs regularly or whenever required, the Chiefs have hardly any interaction with the Prime Minister. In the bargain, neither are the requirements for operational readiness directly conveyed to the Chief Executive who is the Prime Minister nor are issues that affect morale of men like pay and allowances and status of the armed forces personnel brought to his notice. To expect the Defence Minister to convey it all to the Prime Minister is hardly possible given the wide ranging duties and responsibilities of the Prime Minister, and often, a limited grasp of the issues concerned.
The Supreme Commander of Armed Forces is the President of the nation! The nation still awaits the Supreme Commander ever championing the forces on such crucial issues.
Lack of Military Representation
Deliberately isolating the military from the issues which effect their functional efficiency and their motivation is detrimental to overall military effectiveness and efficiency. It is a fact that the armed forces which represent one of the largest organised body of government employees has not had a single member in the pay commissions since independence, and thus wide disparities have crept into the
In the Indian context, the armed forces are quite divorced from policy formulation. The intimate interaction of the national leadership with the armed forces, so prevalent in the functional models of developed countries, is not followed in our context.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the officers and jawans of the Indian Army at Siachen Base Camp