Re­store sta­tus to armed forces

The politi­cobu­reau­cratic lead­er­ship has so far suc­ceeded in keep­ing the armed forces out of pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing at the na­tional level, quite iron­i­cally even in mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity.


Over the years, the sta­tus of armed forces per­son­nel in In­dia has suf­fered pro­gres­sive down­grade vis-à-vis their civil­ian coun­ter­parts. Since the days of the Bri­tish Raj when the Com­man­der-in-Chief resided in the man­sion in New Delhi called Teen Murti, the then Flagstaff House that later be­came the of­fi­cial res­i­dence of the first Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia Jawa­har­lal Nehru, there has been sig­nif­i­cant ero­sion of his sta­tus in the war­rant of prece­dence. To­day, the Chief of Army Staff along with his equiv­a­lent in the In­dian Navy and the In­dian Air Force, is placed in the 12th slot in the com­bined civil-mil­i­tary war­rant of prece­dence. They are ranked be­low the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of In­dia, the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary and Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nors. The war­rant of prece­dence de­fines the rel­a­tive sta­tus of the var­i­ous posts in the dif­fer­ent de­part­ments of the Govern­ment of In­dia.

But what is of greater con­cern is the low­er­ing the sta­tus across the com­plete cadre struc­ture of the armed forces not only in the of­fi­cer ranks but also down to the low­est rung. Per­son­nel serv­ing in the armed forces have gen­er­ally been ex­ist­ing in the pro­tec­tive com­fort of an en­vi­ron­ment that of­fers lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for di­rect or fre­quent in­ter­ac­tion with the civil­ian coun­ter­parts. In fact, many would not even be aware of their own sta­tus vis-à-vis their coun­ter­parts in the civil­ian es­tab­lish­ment. This as­pect also does not form a part of their nor­mal train­ing rou­tine.

Nor­mally the aver­age ser­vice­man would re­main some­what in­dif­fer­ent to the is­sue of civil-mil­i­tary equa­tion. The ig­no­rance of this im­por­tant as­pect of­ten un­der­mines the dig­nity of the armed forces per­son­nel in civil­ian so­ci­ety. How­ever, suc­ces­sive pay com­mis­sions have low­ered pay scales of ser­vice­men as com­pared to their civil­ian coun­ter­parts thus in ef­fect low­er­ing their sta­tus as par­ity with the civil­ian cadre is fixed on the ba­sis of pay scales. Ser­vice­men are now be­gin­ning to be­come aware of the anom­alies and the ran­cour is grow­ing both amongst the serv­ing and re­tired armed forces per­son­nel.

Al­though the Sixth Pay Com­mis­sion in 2006 re­vised up­wards the salary of armed forces per­son­nel and did not lower the sta­tus of the three Ser­vice Chiefs hav­ing re­tained them next to the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary, the pro­pos­als for­warded to the Cen­tral Govern­ment ac­tu­ally down­graded the sta­tus of all other ranks, plac­ing them one grade lower than the ex­ist­ing equa­tion with their civil­ian coun­ter­parts. Also, the edge en­joyed by de­fence of­fi­cers of higher start­ing salary at each grade as rec­om­mended by the Fifth Pay Com­mis­sion was also done away with.

The pro­gres­sive ero­sion in the sta­tus of the armed forces in so­ci­ety has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions. Apart from low­er­ing their morale, armed forces per­son­nel are rapidly los­ing faith in the civil­ian bu­reau­cracy who they feel are not pre­pared to ap­pre­ci­ate the unique chal­lenges of mil­i­tary ser­vice. The politico-bu­reau­cratic lead­er­ship has so far suc­ceeded in keep­ing the armed forces out of pol­icy for­mu­la­tion and de­ci­sion-mak­ing at the na­tional level, quite iron­i­cally even in mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity. On the other hand, the civil­ian bu­reau­cracy is of the view that “ex­pec­ta­tions and de­mands of the armed forces that live in their own fief­doms, have be­come highly un­re­al­is­tic”. This is likely to fur­ther vi­ti­ate the al­ready ten­u­ous civil–mil­i­tary re­la­tions. The im­pact of the chang­ing par­a­digms that is more im­me­di­ate and dis­con­cert­ing, is that it is mak­ing the armed forces some­what unattrac­tive as a ca­reer op­tion. Con­se­quently, the youth of this na­tion with the right at­tributes, would no longer be in­ter­ested in serv­ing the moth­er­land through the armed forces. This in the long term will only ag­gra­vate the al­ready alarm­ing short­age of of­fi­cers es­pe­cially in the In­dian Army.

In view of the dele­te­ri­ous im­pact this phe­nom­e­non can have on na­tional se­cu­rity, it is in­cum­bent on the new govern­ment to ex­am­ine this is­sue de novo and in­sti­tute mea­sures to not only re­store the sta­tus and dig­nity of the armed forces per­son­nel in so­ci­ety but also to in­sti­tute safe­guards such that the sys­tem is not vul­ner­a­ble to dis­tor­tion in the fu­ture by vested in­ter­ests.

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