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.