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Give forces their due

Give forces their due

Author: Prafull Goradia
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 9, 2008

The apathy towards defence personnel is unwarranted

The long-declared dissatisfaction in the armed forces with the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission was ignored when the pay slips were being prepared for September. This apathy towards defence, if not also callousness, on the part of the Government is legendary.

An ancient proverb goes : Any king who cannot defend his country has no right to be on the throne. Little wonder that it is difficult to remember an Indian regime having defeated a foreign power since Chandragupta Maurya drove out Nicator Seleucus, the Greek, in 303 BC. Defeating Pakistan would be like winning a civil war. Uncannily, even Muslim conquerors could not win after they had settled down in India. For example, Ibrahim Lodi with one lakh soldiers could not in 1526 defeat Babar with his 13,000 men army. Nor could the Mughal emperor defend Delhi against Nadir Shah in 1739. Emperor Alamgir II could not stave off Ahmed Shah Abdali, the Afghan, 28 years later.

There must be some flaw in our ethos whereby we keep getting defeated at foreign hands for 23 centuries. Perhaps there is a clue in the manner in which the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations have made the soldiers, sailors and airmen unhappy whereas the civilians feel well-paid and happy. Evidently, the priorities of the Government are lopsided. It is well-known that a primary reason for India's slow progress when compared with Japan and China is our enormous, inefficient, if not also counter productive, bureaucracy. Yet the civilians are pampered.

We also know that the Indian Army has 40 per cent fewer officers than what is actually needed. The numbers that join are inadequate and many of them retire prematurely. Evidently, the profession of arms is not attractive to the Indian middle class of today. Yet no attempt was made by the Pay Commission to upgrade the officer ranks to levels equivalent to their civilian counterparts. Nor was the Ministry of Defence sensitive enough to tell the rest of Government to rectify the lacunae left by the Commission. The Defence Minister appears to have behaved like a postmaster, passing on what he had received. Although, TV viewers have watched for weeks the dissatisfaction reflected by the chiefs of all the three wings - Army, Navy and Air Force.

Do we not realise that the soldier's training is longer, tougher and therefore his entry into service more difficult than a civilian's? And then, his promotion is slower except in war time. It takes up to 35 years to rise to be a Major General whereas to become a Joint Secretary can be a matter of only 17 years. Thereafter, the soldier retires early, the Major General four years earlier than a Joint Secretary; a Colonel as early as 52. The soldier has to remain in continual training; the civilian can sit back, take life easy after securing his appointment.
Not to speak of the risk and the roughness of the battlefield.

The root of the discrimination could well be the vantage point captured by the ICS officers who were the representatives of the masters of India, namely the British. The IAS officers inherited the sceptre of authority; their importance grew in inverse proportion to the decline in the quality of the politician. Today, how many Ministers have a true grip over the subject of their portfolios? The disproportionate power and influence that has thus fallen into the lap of the bureaucrat are reflected in what the successive Pay Commissions have been recommending.

During the same British rule, the armed forces were under the Commander-in-Chief and not directly under the Governor-General or Viceroy. In the bargain, the soldier remained on the sidelines of Government and, incidentally, had to tolerate the status of a national chowkidar in the eyes of the bureaucrat. To illustrate the point, look at Pakistan. There, with the advent of Field Marshal Ayub Khan to civilian power, the soldier ceased to be a mulazim and became a malik. The civilian slipped to a subordinate position. This is not to suggest that such an equation is desirable; certainly not. Nor, however, is the situation in India. A balance of importance is the answer.

We must not forget that so much of our territory is in Pakistani and Chinese hands and a great deal more is under claim by Beijing. The Kashmir Valley is a bleeding sore while the Maoists and the Islamists may well provoke military intervention at some stage. Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland did require army help in the course of time. Pakistan may not pose a live danger while the Al Qaeda and Taliban are at the tail of Islamabad but what if these extremists were to cross the Indus? How can the people of India tolerate their armed forces being discounted collectively and disgruntled individually?

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