22 October 2008

What is it in the psyche of the IAS cadre in this country which makes them want to do down the Armed Forces at every turn? Is it that they suffer from a 'divine right' syndrome, or are they so taken up by their "superiority" that they want to show it all the time or is it that they are so envious of the so called perks that the Armed Forces have that they are extremely jealous and want to take it all away because they cannot have them?

Otherwise how does one explain their conduct or more specifically the conduct of the Committee of Secretaries, who instead of reconciling the anomalies put before them chose to create more anomalies, which they were not mandated to do. It not only prompted outrage by the Service Chiefs but also led them to politely reject what was offered (concocted?) by the bureaucrats -- at the risk of being branded as defiant and questioning a decision of the Cabinet. Thankfully, when the politicians were seized of the mischief done, the PM was constrained to appoint a committee of Ministers, hopefully to undo the damage that the bureaucrats had inflicted. We await their wisdom with bated breath!

In the old days we used to read of the Hawthorne experiments in the context of motivation of groups in organisations. In that experiment, the test group continued to outperform their peer groups although all their perks were taken away -- air-conditioning, less pay and perks, drab working conditions etc. etc. Yet they continued to excel and meet targets merely because they were made to believe that they were a chosen few specially selected to perform a difficult and challenging job. The Armed forces are somewhat like that. They perform a difficult and thankless task because -- so far at least -- they were made to believe they are a chosen few performing a difficult task which no one else will do. Take away that feeling and you have an unwilling group -- they would be no better than say the the para military, police, disaster management organisations, etc. etc. Because when these organisations fail to do the job, you call in the armed forces to do it. You call them in to maintain law and order, provide relief during floods, earthquakes and Tsunamis, organise large national and international events in effect to pull your chestnuts out of the fire -- yet you are quite content to undermine their morale by taking away their feeling of being the chosen few.

After the second cadre review of the armed forces in 1984, a so called "working relationship" was forced on the armed forces. This spelled out that to enable the smooth handling of files at the MoD/Services HQ, the Chiefs would mark files to the Defence Secretary, Lt Gens to the Addl Secy, Maj Gens to the Joint Secy, Brigs to the Director and so on. This "working relationship" devised to ensure smoothness of functioning at MoD level, has now very cleverly transformed itself into an equivalence in pay scales by the sixth pay commission. How else are we to interpret common running pay bands? By what logic are we to accept that Colonels and Lt. Colonels will be in a lower pay band than their counterparts in the paramilitary, coast guard and police forces

Clearly there is a fit case for a separate pay commission for the armed forces which is responsive to their peculiar structure, job content, responsibilities, service conditions and aspirations. Clearly the sixth pay commission has not done justice to the armed forces and the Committee of Secretaries instead of setting this right have been mischievous in introducing more anamolies.

I had written earlier and I repeat it again that the nation and its rulers should be aware that the Armed Forces are their last resort. For God's sake don't strip them of their morale.

In this context I give below some articles which appeared in the media written by my retired collegues, which examine this sixth pay commission fiasco from the armed forces point of view:

  1. A Matter of Confidence by Air Marshal S Y Savur (Former AOC Southern Air Comd.)

  2. Defensible, Not Defiance by V. P. Malik (Former Chief of Army staff)

  3. Military-Civil Ties by VAdm Premvir Das (Former DG, Defence Planning Staff)

  4. Military Civil Ties – The Reality by VDdm P J Jacob (Former Vice Chief of Naval Staff)

  5. In Defence of the Military  by Nitin Gokhale (Senior Editor, NDTV)

  6. The Big Chief

Back to Top

A Matter of Confidence

By Air Marshal Sharad Y Savur (Retd)

Former AOC-in-C Southern Air Command

Perhaps Ms Sushama Nath, the Expenditure Secretary (IAS MP cadre) could not tell the most powerful Committee of Secretaries (CoS) that as the erstwhile Secretary to the 6th Central Pay Commission, they were exceeding their brief. Perhaps our Armed Forces Chiefs must be wondering what they have let loose on themselves to invite a few biting editorials perhaps believing in what Groucho Marx (or was it some one else) wrote – that "military intelligence is a contradiction in terms"?

In the heat of what the IAS sister and brethren believed to be extra-constitutional powers and the Chief Editor propounded on the indiscipline of the three Chiefs, most of us have lost sight of the basic truth. That undeniable truth was that the CoS was tasked to review the recommendations of the 6th CPC not to usurp and overturn those recommendations of the 6th CPC that were unpalatable to the IAS.

It does not help any bystander, biased or otherwise, to understand why the Expenditure Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, who was the erstwhile Secretary of the 6th Pay Commission, did not find the moral courage to tell her fellow-Secretaries that they were exceeding their brief. The Government had neither promulgated nor gazetted the CoS to overturn the recommendations of the 6th CPC, constituted and its constitution was gazetted by the Government.

Now why did the Chiefs behave the way they did? Let us go back a decade, to the 5th CPC. There was a near mutiny in the IAF because the then CAS propounded and got the Govt to approve higher flying pay for fighter pilots, simultaneously downgrading flying pay of the transport and helicopter pilots and navigators. Transport and helicopter pilots refused their flying pay, they off-loaded fighter pilots from their aircraft/helicopters.

The problem was further compounded because the technical officers got only a marginal increase and decided to sue the IAF. They contributed to hire a lawyer.

It took some inhuman treatment of many technical officers in a place called Hasimara to subdue the unrest. Many technical officers were removed from the IAF. Yet more were mentally and physically tortured; their families suffered worse fates, not knowing where their husbands were.

This Chief was in the team that went around the IAF in 1998 that was trying to put out the fires that were burning, simmering and embers flying from places as far apart as Chabua, Agra and Jamnagar.

The present Chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee and the COAS were spectators of that 1998 fire and must have realised the implications of the recommendations of the 6th CPC. Their apprehensions must have turned to reality when the CoS decided, in whatever wisdom any dispassionate bystander would not understand, to bestow their meanness on the Armed Forces. The IAS dominated CoS, in their unhindered vision for establishing supremacy beyond pale, having sudued the IPS and placed the IFS in foreign climes, no pun intended, perhaps forgot, what Hegel said, "We learn from History that we never learn from History."

The Chiefs must have discussed as to what would happen if every soldier, sailor and airman sat down and calculated, using their intelligence much to the horror of Groucho Marx, that the Armed Forces were being given not only a short shrift in status but also a debilitated pay slip and that the lateral transfer remaind on paper, not even considered by the CoS, let alone the Govt.

So they approached the Raksha Mantri, to convince him that the Armed Forces were being denigrated in pay and allowances and status, enough damage having already been done elsewhere, like the Warrant of Precedence, that had no place for a Field Marshal, 35 years after he was appointed.

They must have informed the RM that the IAS dominated CoS introduced differentials in pay and status of the armed forces vis-à-vis- the para-military and Coast Guard. Perhaps the did not expect any substantial protests which had the signs of deteriorating to a crisis, perhaps because the most intelligent public servants forgot the not so distant past 1998.

That is when the Chiefs must have decided to inform the Raksha Mantri that there was something seriously wrong in the CoS mandated offerings. They must have decided that they must take some drastic measures to prevent a fire that would spread to the three services.

The Chiefs had Hobson's choice – implement the CoS recommendations (mark that it is not the 6th CPC recommendations) and face revolts in their respective forces or decline to implement the CoS recommendations accepted by the Govt but neither notified nor Gazetted by the Min of Def.

That is where the situation took a different dimension – the inability of a Chief Editor to correctly interpret two aspects.

The first misinterpretation was that the Chiefs were disobeying the Govt. How could they if MoD had not notified the CoS dictat? What Govt orders were the Chiefs disobeying? A look at the National Portal will prove that there are notifications for the IAS, followed by those for the IPS etc and there are those for civil pensioners. But none for the Armed Forces for the Resolution also stated that orders for Defence Forces would be issued by the Min of Def.

The second misinterpretation was that the Chairman COSC and CNS was stoking/encouraging "disobedience" by asking the rank and file of the Navy to accept with patience that it would take some time for the CoS bestowed 'largesse' to be corrected. He asked them not to pay heed to speculations and rumours. Was such a pre-emptive action (to prevent a 1998 like situation) disobedience?

Now the IAS and the Armed Forces are firing salvos at each other. Leaks to the TV of a vituperative note traveling the corridors of the Armed Forces HQ was aired. The person who leaked that forgot something called "Minor Staff Duties" which makes it mandatory that Armed Forces write their notes in a certain manner.

Flawed logic followed. Some 'Civilian Officer' wrote on another blog that because a person enters the IAS cadre at a later age (say 24 years) and having 11 years of service must be equated with an Armed Forces person who enters the Service at 20 years of age and has 15 years because both are now 35 years of age is laughable if not downright foolish.

The author further argued that candidates for IAS have graduated, have degrees in engineering and medicine and therefore should get seniority invite a riposte – why did they waste the opportunity to serve humanity in remote villages building water harvesting ponds or treating the rural folk? Because, to face the truth, an engineer or a doctor is at the mercy of a bureaucrat in any guise, with the IAS at the top of that heap. So why not have the cake and eat it too?

So where does all this take us? Perhaps it is not too late for the Group/Committee of Ministers to consider the anomalies with an open mind. Have the courage to tell the Armed Forces they are right and punish the CoS or tell the Armed Forces they are wrong and why and punish the Chiefs.

The need today is for the Govt to answer a few fundamental questions –

Will it let the 6th CPC that it appointed be superseded by the CoS thereby hold the 6th CPC to ridicule? Why does the Finance Ministry say that it cannot give 450 crores for the Armed Forces when it gave Rs 71,000 crores to the farmers, Rs 450 crores to rescue the UCO Bank, Rs 30,000 crores to rescue mutual Funds? Now the King of Good Times and Jet Airways want 47,000 crores of the tax payers money to bail them out of the self-created mess. Can the Govt provide as much confidence to soldiers, sailors and airmen that they are shedding blood, sweat and tears by not letting them be ridiculed by a bureacracy that has usurped the powers that the Govt should and must exercise?

That the Govt has as much if not more confidence in the Armed Forces as the Armed Forces have in the Govt when they carry out orders that should have been carried out by the bureaucracy (providing succour in natural calamities), the police (restoring law and order) and the CPMF (attempting to quell insurgencies and terrorism)?

It is not a matter of status or monetary benefits. It is a matter of whether the Govt has confidence in the Armed Forces or whether the Govt has lost confidence in the Armed Forces and therefore agreed with the CoS to lower the status of the Armed Forces and consequently their rightful status and monetary benefits.

(Air Marshal Savur retired in 2006 as AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command. A decorated transport pilot, Air Marshal Savur has flown several VIPs, including former PMs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. He now lives and works near Bangalore.)

Back to Top

Defensible, Not Defiance
V. P. Malik 

There is little wisdom in writing for a newspaper on an issue on which the editorial and the editor in chief have already given a verdict ('Chain of command, demand'). But I am motivated by two factors: "national interest" and the words of The Indian Express founder, "Be forthright, be frank, be fearless, whatever the odds. Never hesitate to take a stand if you believe in it. Never hesitate to speak out boldly against the wrongs."

The issues being debated are:

(a) should the services chiefs have represented to the defence minister on the cabinet decision (before implementation) relating to 6th Central Pay Commission (CPC), and

(b) the manner in which they informed their command about efforts to get the anomalies resolved and advised them to be patient on the enhanced pay package. Does that construe "a dangerous precedent" and crossing the Laxman Rekha? It is unfortunate that no one has investigated why the chiefs were driven to take this step and who gave the spin of "defiance" to their actions.

Besides the blatant discrimination and injustice done in the constitution of the 6th CPC and in processing its report, despite pleas and caution conveyed by servicemen from inside and ex-servicemen from outside, there is no doubt that pent-up frustration from past experiences would have made the chiefs explain and write to the defence minister.

Many older ex-servicemen have written about the frustrations of the 3rd and the 4th CPC. Let me narrate my experience as vice chief and later as chief of army staff in the processing of the 5th CPC. On receipt of this report, the government appointed a group of ministers to resolve the anomalies. Despite many unresolved anomalies, including one that had upset parity between the armed forces and police personnel below officer ranks (PBOR), the defence secretary had signed the financial order. I rang up the defence minister, who was in Calcutta that day, and said that these instructions, if released, would cause serious dissatisfaction amongst the rank and file. The minister stopped release of the financial order, discussed the issues with the chiefs next day, and then wrote a letter to the prime minister strongly recommending the desired changes. The new pay scales were held back for some months till major issues concerning PBOR were resolved.

In November '97, I wrote to the minister again pointing out the remaining unresolved anomalies, including relativity and functional problems due to upgradation of pay scales at additional DGP and DGP level. The government appointed a high-level committee under the defence secretary to resolve all remaining issues of the 5th CPC, which submitted its report in April 1998. This report was processed by yet another committee under the cabinet secretary for the next 18 months but did not resolve (or did not wish to resolve) all issues. Despite several reminders to the defence minister, many anomalies remain unresolved. Many retired officers took recourse to the courts and won their cases.

Three points are to be noted. One, the pay revision of all armed forces personnel was delayed till the defence minister got major issues resolved, quite similar to what is happening in the present case. Two, no one told us that we had set a bad precedent or crossed a Laxman Rekha. Three, the chiefs would certainly be aware of the frustration and demoralisation caused in the processing of the 5th CPC.

The pressure from the ex-servicemen lobby cannot be denied. Besides the institutional camaraderie, izzat and pensions are closely related to the final 6th CPC award. Ex-servicemen look up to their chiefs for amelioration of all their problems. Another factor is non-implementation of one rank, one pension, a demand that has been publicly accepted by political leaders in the past and present governments.

In processing the present report, I have yet to see any statement by the defence minister or the chiefs that would suggest "defiance", or words remotely close to it. All three chiefs have repudiated any such suggestion. The letter written by the naval chief merely explains the anomalies issue and advises the rank and file to remain patient because its resolve may take time. My guess is that the "defiance" and "pull up" stories are being deliberately aired by babus responsible for distribution of "information" to journalists. Compared to these babus, the chiefs can offer very little newsy information.

It is surprising that my friend Shekhar Gupta, who not long ago said, "In no other major democracy are the armed forces given so insignificant a role in policy making as in India. In no other country do they accept it with the docility they do in India", has opined that this show of "defiance" is bound to result in a civilian riposte to take away some autonomy of the future chiefs. That cannot be ruled out. But does it mean that the chiefs should never raise or question issues that are so obviously wrong, unjust and bound to have serious impact on the morale of their services? If that be the desirable trait amongst senior officers then I will go one step further and state that such armed forces will never be able to win wars.

Sometime ago, former Defence Minister Jaswant Singh wrote in his book Defending India, "A combative mentality has grown between the service headquarters and the ministry. Such an attitude has its own damaging consequences; the defence ministry, in effect, becomes the principal destroyer of the cutting edge of the military's morale; ironic considering that the very reverse of it is their responsibility. The sword arm of the state gets blunted by the state itself. So marked is resistance to change here, and so deep the mutual suspicions, inertia and antipathy, that all efforts at reforming the system have always floundered against a rock of ossified thought."

The problem is that on the pretext of establishing civilian political supremacy over the military, we have developed a system of bureaucratic control, the like of which does not exist in any other country. If the military loses confidence in such a system, or gets isolated from the policy planning and decision-making process, it would affect its psyche, ethos and capability to advise and perform.

Given today's rapidly changing geo-strategic environment, it is imperative that we change our mindsets and attitudes, and look beyond narrow boundaries defined by turf and parochialism. A face-to-face dialogue and military advice are critical for the success of policies concerning military personnel and their missions.

Back to Top

Military-Civil Ties
Both must be nurtured and honoured
by Premvir Das

In no form of government, authoritarian, totalitarian, least of all in democratic dispensations, can the military even think of having a position which is not subordinate to the civilian authority. This was so in the erstwhile Soviet Union, Communist China, and dozens of countries where authoritarian regimes are in place. Only in countries under military rule; Pakistan until recently, and Myanmar, to name two, have the armed forces enjoyed status and importance ahead of the civilians and, thankfully, we are not in that category.

Thus, any discussion on military-civil relationship must be fixated on that fundamental premise. Having said that, the definition of the term 'civilian authority' needs discussion. There are first the political leaders e.g. ministers and the like. They come and go with elections. Then there is the civilian bureaucracy; it has permanence. There is a belief in the military that civilian authority means the political leaders alone.

There is some merit in this assumption; the difficulty is that, right or wrong, this leadership can not function without the advice and support of the bureaucracy i.e. the civil servants. They are a fact of life, a very real and effective one, and they cannot be wished away. They also have a structure and a hierarchy and it is they who manage and run the administration. Their position must be recognised.

Until 1952, the Service Chiefs were placed over the Cabinet Secretary in protocol. They, therefore, only attended meetings chaired by the Ministers. Once this position was altered, they could be called in by this seniormost civil servant to his office.

At around the same time, Brigadiers ranked with Joint Secretaries were effectively demoted as that equivalence was changed to Major Generals. Repeated changes and modifications in the Warrant of Precedence saw military positions degrade continuously as more and more civilian functionaries overtook them. This was not without good reason; the Attorney General of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner and many others of that ilk could hardly be placed in positions below those occupied by Service Chiefs. This erosion in equivalence went down the ranks with the civilian bureaucracy showing an anxiety, not uncommon in turf battles, to put the military in its place, so to speak.

Representations from the Services protesting this degradation were made from time to time but the political leadership, dependent on the advice of their officers, or possibly, for their own reasons, took little notice. This is the background in which the recent protestations should be seen. The thesis of the Sixth Pay Commission that pay equivalence would determine status and the depressed scales recommended by it for the military exacerbated an already festering sore.

It is interesting to see how things function in some other democracies, the USA and the UK, to name only two. In the former, the seniormost military man, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, is part of the National Security Council (NSC) chaired by the President alongside the Vice President, and the Secretaries (Ministers) of State, Defence, Homeland Security and Treasury. George Marshall, Alexander Haig and Colin Powell, all military men, rose to become Secretaries of State.

In the UK, the system is slightly different. There is no NSC; the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) attends meetings on national security chaired by the Prime Minister along with the Ministers; the Permanent Under Secretary (Defence Secretary) in the Ministry of Defence, as and when necessary. Yet, in either system, Service Chiefs routinely attend meetings called by the senior civil servant in the Ministry and the reverse is equally true.

In India, we do not have a Chief of Defence Staff and the Service Chiefs are not members of the National Security Council; nor are they members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, only being 'in attendance' for such meetings as they are invited to. Not having a CDS has another side-effect and one utterly unhealthy; the Defence Secretary assumes that role, whether willingly or not is not material. The situation is tailor made for discord.

The political leadership, with a background of governance in states, is much more comfortable with its civil service advisers than with those from Service Headquarters so, whether they like it or not, those in the military hierarchy have no option but knock at the doors of the officials. This is where lopsided equivalence and consequent heartburn come in.

Where does one go from here, is the question. India is not going to become a military dictatorship anytime soon so any thoughts of dramatically altered equations are clearly sand castles. The bureaucracy is also not going to disappear; the civil servant is as much part of civilian authority as his political master. They are different in form but they are part of the whole.

Wisdom, for the armed forces, lies in recognising this reality. The civilian masters must, on their part, understand the needs and motivations of the military. It cannot be argued, as was done viciously two decades ago, that governance is not the business of those in uniform.

The armed forces are as much a part of it as the civilian machinery. Both must operate in synergy to ensure that the objectives set by the political leadership are met. Both must be conscious of the special position of each and not do anything to degrade the other. The two are powerful weapons of the State; both must be nurtured and honoured, including by each other. If this message is sinking in, the messy brouhaha of the last few months would have been worth it

Back to Top

Military Civil Ties – The Reality

VAdm P J Jacob

While the observations made by VAdm Premvir Das in his article, “Military-Civil ties - Both must be nurtured and honoured”, are unexceptionable, the sense the article conveys as well as the timing is most inopportune. It is one thing for, say, an executive editor of a nationwide newspaper to air his views in an obviously prejudiced article, but a totally different one for an erstwhile naval Commander in Chief to do so. Not only does it smack of being influenced by a bias towards the civilian bureaucracy, but, in doing so, also dilutes the focus on fundamental issues in the perception of the public at large. Statements such as, “The two are powerful weapons of the State; both must be nurtured and honored, including by each other” are mere platitudes. The reality on the ground is very different. Whereas the services may go some distance to achieve this objective, the civilian bureaucracy usually spares no effort to undermine the influence of the armed forces. The present attempt by the Committee of Secretaries injecting three anomalies which were not there in the initial recommendations of the 6th Central Pay Commission, without any discussion or reference to the Chiefs of Staff Committee is a case in point. By this one action, the bureaucracy has forfeited any claim it could make as being an honest broker. This action has also put the political leadership in an awkward position which was totally unnecessary. It is however heartening to note that the political leadership has risen to the occasion as expected and announced the formation of a Committee of Ministers to look into the anomalies. The issue is therefore in good hands and I am sure will be resolved in a just manner.

The article also dismisses the role of the political leadership in one terse line,” There are first the political leaders e.g. ministers and the like. They come and go with elections. Then there is the civilian bureaucracy; it has permanence”. It is just this perception that I would like to challenge as a result of some experience  that I have had in my forty years in the armed forces including three years as Vice Chief of the Naval Staff and Chairman Services Pay Commission Cell in the final stages of the 5th Pay Commission. The anomalies which came up were referred to the Committee of Secretaries who could not resolve the issues that were raised. The Armed Forces therefore referred the matter to the Political Leadership for resolution.

Now to deal with some of the other issues that have been raised. It is not very clear as to what the “good reasons” are that the Attorney General of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner and many others of that ilk can “hardly be placed in positions below those occupied by Service Chiefs”. These are just mere proclamations based more on individual perception than on sustainable logic. If the service chiefs had held a higher precedence till then, what were the pressing circumstances to alter it, were it not for an insecure bureaucracy? It is also worth noting that the Chairman of the U P S C has also been raised to these dizzy heights in the most recent rehash of the Warrant of Precedence in Oct 2007. Note number 10 (c) of the Warrant of Precedence is another insidious ploy used to erode the status of the Services where it states that in all functions held in Delhi, Army Commanders/Vice Chief of the Army Staff or equivalent are to rank below Secretaries to the Government of India even though they are at the head of article 23. When one views this in the context that there are just 3 Vice Chiefs and only 20 Army Commander equivalents spread all over the country as opposed to innumerable Secretaries in Delhi itself, the purport of this note is not very difficult to comprehend. 

The fact that the service chiefs are not a part of any decision making authority, especially with regard to issues of security except to be “in attendance” has also been glossed over. It is unfortunate that “this (political) leadership can not function without the advice and support of the bureaucracy i.e. the civil servants” in many cases, to the complete exclusion of the armed forces. Surely, in matters of security, the functional and advisory hierarchy in this domain should be pre-eminently service oriented so that the political leadership gets the full benefit of this arm of government.  

What has also not been addressed is another issue that rankles the services. If indeed, “It cannot be argued, as was done viciously two decades ago, that governance is not the business of those in uniform. The armed forces are as much a part of it as the civilian machinery”, then, there is no reason why the armed forces cannot find more representation in civilian governance and administration.  A case in point is a major port trust, where the chairman is not even an IAS bureaucrat but an IPS officer. Surely, a naval officer would be more suitably qualified for the same job. Examples abound of such cases where a service officer would have been the logical incumbent for a particular job. There are also a number of instances where people from civil services other than the IAS are appointed to the MOD. If it were not bad enough being told how to run the services by IAS officers, they often have to contend with being told by, say, someone from the Dept of Posts. We are probably the only country in the world where a person can be Secretary Education one day and Secretary Water Resources the next. Is it any surprise that neither our theories nor our dams hold water? Can you therefore really blame the armed forces for being vexed? I believe that we should work towards a permanent solution wherein the Ministry of Defence is manned largely by individuals adequately experienced in the profession of arms. Indeed, why should it be inconceivable for the Defence Secretary to be a service officer?

While military subservience to civilian authority should mean to the politically elected government, the reality is that there is a concerted effort on the part of the bureaucracy to erode and chip away at the legitimate influence that the services need to wield in a vibrant democracy. Unfortunately, narrow political gains and turf wars overshadow the larger interests of the nation. Merely saying that both must operate in synergy is stating the obvious, apart from being wishful thinking.

Back to Top

In Defence of the Military

Nitin Gokhale
Senior Editor, Defence and Strategic Affairs, NDTV

Let me begin this piece by stating emphatically that it is written in defence of the Indian military. I believe that it is an institution worth defending, warts and follies notwithstanding. And that is why this piece.

Criticism for doing what any self-respecting commander-in-chief would do.

In taking up the issue of pay and parity between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts, all that the three chiefs have done is to bring to the notice of the highest political authority in the country the four core issues that affect the services. And they did it in the most dignified manner possible.

But their action has kicked up a furious debate in the media and depending on who you speak with, there are two views on the issue. Most non-military viewpoints are alarmists, to say the least. A few inspired leaks by the stung bureaucracy has led to a spate of articles and opinion pieces alluding to a breach of discipline and a show of "defiance" by the service chiefs. Some commentators have even gone to the extent of saying that the three chiefs have set a dangerous precedent that does not augur well for Indian democracy! Others have said the chiefs were left with no choice. And unlike any other time, I will be a subjective observer in this.

As someone who has been in the thick of reporting on the pay panel recommendations and the subsequent developments, I must point out without reservation: The three chiefs have never ever defied the government. A quarter century interaction with the armed forces has convinced me that the Indian military is not capable of indulging in politics, leave alone usurping anyone's authority as perceived by some. And even in this case, the three chiefs have simply taken recourse to the best possible method that was available to them. And by appointing a three-member ministerial committee to look into what clearly are genuine grievances of the armed forces, the political executive has shown the sagacity of recognising the seriousness of the issue. Unfortunately, the top bureaucracy has not shown the same level of maturity in dealing with the situation.

Allow me to go back in time a little to understand the context in which the three service chiefs have been forced to do what they have done.
After the 6th Pay panel submitted its report, a committee of secretaries was set up to look into various anomalies that were brought to the notice of the government. The service headquarters had reasoned with the ministry that since the armed forces make up for 30 per cent of the government employees, they should have a representative on the committee. But their request was not heeded. Instead, the service chiefs were told their concerns would be addressed without prejudice and with sympathy.

This assurance was taken at face value but when no communication was received from the committee of secretaries, Adm. Sureesh Mehta, in his capacity as chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, asked for the details of the decisions taken in the committee. He wanted to see that the armed forces' concerns were adequately taken care of. But the Committee of Secretaries did not deem it fit to respond to the admiral's plea. So when the cabinet approved the amended sixth pay panel report, it was assumed all the pending issues were taken care of.

But to the great consternation of the service headquarters, not only were their major grievances not addressed, three more anomalies, indeed, glaring discrepancies, were introduced by the committee of secretaries in the final cabinet notification.
For the armed forces, this was the last straw. This was worse than the aftermath of the 5th pay commission a decade ago when 48 anomalies were pointed out by the armed forces but only eight were resolved over a 10 year period till the 6th Pay Commission was notified!
It took some time for the reality to sink in but when the anomalies were noticed, all the three chiefs decided to take up their case with defence minister AK Antony. After the meeting, Antony was convinced of the logic presented by the three chiefs. So he apparently asked his ministry officials to prepare a detailed note in support of the services' demand to resolve the core issues and send that communication to the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office for necessary action.

The core issues, the three service chiefs felt, would affect command and control functions in the field especially between the Army and para-military forces and the navy and the coast guard, to cite just two examples. Having taken their case to the defence minister, the three chiefs felt they would at last get justice. Shockingly however, the finance ministry and the PMO were presented a completely diluted case. Left with no other alternative, the chiefs then took up their case with the Prime Minister himself who too agreed that their concerns were genuine and should be resolved favourably. The only catch was: the MoD had not sent the requisite supporting documents!!

In the meantime, neither the Prime Minister nor the Defence minister could meet because of their pre-scheduled foreign visit. That's when the three service chiefs decided that they would delay the implementation of the flawed 6th Pay panel report. And decided to communicate this decision to their men down the chain of command. The internal communication by all three chiefs in fact spoke about the need for not falling prey to rumours and speculation. For instance, the Naval chief's communication dated September 24, said:

" In recent times there have been several speculative media reports and disinformation on the final outcome of the sixth pay commission recommendations. The service headquarters have maintained continuous interaction with all authorities concerned and our concerns have been highlighted at the highest levels time and again.
Whilst some of our concerns have been addressed we have been constrained to delay payment of arrears and new pay scales to officers and men in view of some serious disparities that have been introduced which disturb the extant parities between defence officers and those from other central services as also adversely affect pensionary benefits of PBOR.

We are in the process of resolving all pending issues and this may take a little longer than we had earlier expected.

Let me assure each one of you that I will spare no effort to bring our genuine concerns to the notice of our country's leadership with the final aim of giving our personnel their rightful due. In the meanwhile I am certain that one and all will display maturity and patience and not be swayed by hearsay or speculative reports from any quarter. Shano Varuna and Jai Hind."
If the above signal, as the communication is called in military parlance, is defiance then no military chief will ever be able to give assurances to and take his men in confidence. Anyone who has dealt with the armed forces will tell you that there is not an iota of truth in the canard that is being spread about the three chiefs "defying" the civil authorities. Yes, they questioned the bureaucracy's attempts to wittingly or unwittingly introduce pay and status disparities between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts. Yes, they took the matter to the Prime Minister but in no way did they defy the government.

The question here is: Does civilian control of the military mean control by civil bureaucrats? Or should it in reality mean that military be subservient to the elected government and by extension to the Parliament and in the larger sense the people of India? This is the question that needs to be debated thoroughly for correct civil-military interaction and cohesiveness in decision-making in spheres of national security in the future.

What the three current chiefs have done is unprecedented in India's short history as an independent nation and therefore a surprise to many. But they have done their uniform proud by standing up for their men, a trait most essential in any leader but an absolute must for a military leader.

Back to Top

The Big Chief

The three incumbent armed force chiefs Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major and General Deepak Kapoor will no longer need to indulge in that one exercise that every Chief probably spends sleepless nights wondering about -- that one deed, that one act that will assure them an enduring place in the narrative of military history.

For, no matter what else the three chiefs are judged on, the last two months will go down as a time when , under the uncannily bold leadership of the Chief of Naval Staff, held the interests of their men and women high, higher than anything else.

Call it circumstance. Call it the opportunity to shine. Call it anything you damn well like. The fact remains that this dark phase of hostility between the armed forces and the political bureaucracy was a time when these three chiefs held their own. And all three are being supremely self-effacing when they say that their actions cannot be described as defiant. Functioning within the system we know so well, one can only empathise with such a view. From the outside -- and indeed from the inside, by almost everyone who puts a uniform on every morning -- these three chiefs are heroes. Make no mistake about that.

Like everything that is great and honourable, there's a delectable irony to how the three chiefs have held up the interests of their ranks. Neither of the three chiefs is especially known for a tough-talking deportment or the sometimes unsettlingly candid manner of, say, a General Paddy or even a Krishnaswamy or Arun Prakash. The three chiefs have unanimously denied all suggestions that their actions were in any way "defiant" of government orders or policy. But even those who advise the Chiefs on every move concede that their deeds exemplify defiance of the most upright, dignified order. The three chiefs' reservations about defining their actions as "defiant" has more to do with a certain indispensable propriety -- obviously they cannot be seen to be basking in the adulation of a media that unanimously considers their act at once defiant, and deeply honourable. That's a dangerous game of perception they knew they couldn't afford to play.

But what the Chiefs say holds good as well. What were they expected to do when faced with an unjust and preposterously lopsided set of pay recommendations? Go ahead and implement them? What other choice did they have than hold out against the government? They made their reservations known to the Defence Minister -- and everything since has been widely and closely reported. But by doing so -- by doing the only thing they knew they could/should -- they also did the only thing that their ranks knew was right, just and honourable. And with that, they have assured themselves an enduring mention in the roll-call of India's military chiefs

Back to Top