Monday, September 29, 2008


India has been blessed with an apolitical, all volunteer, and professional military establishment. This is the biggest boon that any country can ask for. The Defence forces also happen to be the last relatively untouched domain in our country, where our politicians have not been able to practice their scientifically perfected art of divide and rule. Defence forces stand out as a model of 'unity in diversity', and as a disciplined force that, unquestioningly, takes its task of protecting the Indian nation state, and its core values, very seriously. In return these men in uniform expect the nation and its people to understand what it takes to pledge one's life for the country, and as a sign of respect for this ultimate pledge they expect that their fellow countrymen would ensure that their genuine demands are considered, and accommodated, at the appropriate level.

Instead, there has been a slow but sure attempt to marginalise the defence forces by the bureaucracy with the help of political bosses who are too busy trying to hold onto their seats in the new India that is emerging - an India where national political parties have taken back stage to regional political parties. These so called national parties are in disarray and are being propped up by groupings of regional parties. In return for their support, these regional parties thereafter demand their pound of flesh. In such a political situation, the politicians donot have time to devote to national issues or to think about national priorities and institutions. The Indian Defence establishment is one such institution that is facing the neglect by the people of India, and their duly elected representatives.

The VI pay commission has been a watershed event, and will be long remembered, because this is the first time that all three service chiefs defacto questioned the actions of the government, by apprising the government that they want their grievances looked at by the political establishment rather than the bureaucracy, and that is how it should always have been. The defence forces need to be controlled by the civilian establishment. This is well understood by the defence forces, and implies controlled by the people of India through their duly elected representatives, and not the bureaucrats. The services have been cutup that they had no representation on the Pay commission, despite the fact that this was brought to the notice of the government and was also a long standing demand of the defence. In addition, the defence forces comprise a large chunk of the Central Government employees and it is thus appropriate to have a representative from their ilk too - some one who understands their needs.

The government did not consider it necessary to have a member from the armed forces. This was considered grossly unfair. The service chiefs brought up some genuine grievances with the Defence Minister. A committee of secretaries was appointed to look into the grievances, and as expected, this committee did not do justice to the representation made by the three service chiefs. The service chiefs then had no option but to go back to the government and seek resolution from the political establishment and not the bureaucracy, which has a very personal agenda in lowering the status of the armed forces. The chiefs personally had nothing to gain from this. They had already been looked after by the Pay Commission. By representing to the government they were only trying to serve the interests of the people placed below them, as the men in uniform have no other means of representation, unlike their civilian counterparts. They cannot form unions, cannot protest or indulge in any other activity. With so many restrictions, it was only fair that their highest commanders speak up for them, which they did. For this, it is being felt that they may loose their chance of getting a plum post after retirement. However, their stand has been to the highest traditions of the armed forces where one's self interest always comes last after country,which is always first, followed by the men placed below you. So what? What's the big deal in all this?

The big deal is that there is an acute shortage of officers in the defence forces and young people are not joining, as the defence is not seen to be an attractive career when compared to other avenues available to the younger generation. The defence forces have a number of serving officers who are ready to quit, but are not being permitted to quit due to 'service exigencies', an all encompassing term that can mean anything and everything. It may be pertinent to mention that once you join the defence, you serve and leave only at the pleasure of the President of India. These officers are demoralised and likely to spread this disease to others around, and below them. This is not a healthy situation. We have a shortage of officers and we have serving officers who are not being allowed to leave, as there is no one to fill their vacancies. The morale is likely to be affected under such circumstances. This will definitely have an impact on the hands-on leadership of the military. Without good leadership how will these forces provide the requisite security to the nation, to its strategic interests, and to its core values?

We have not had a war for a long time now and this may be a reason for the present state of affairs, where it is being felt that we could do with a smaller military and the money saved could be better utilised for development and other social schemes. One thing that we need to learn from history is that no nation can prosper if it does not have the capability, and the will, to protect its interests. A professional defence force may never have to fight anyone, but the mere fact that it is capable and the nation has the will is enough to deter any other nation from imposing its will. Can't we do with a smaller military force?

With the economic growth that we are experiencing, and with the expansion of our overseas trade, it is vital that we have a larger, and improved military capability to cater for our strategic interests beyond geographical boundaries too. The defence forces are like an life insurance policy - you need it for that one eventuality and you cannot take it after the event. A professional defence force cannot be recruited and trained when the need arises. Therefore you have to maintain this institution as an insurance policy against foreign designs.

There is a need to settle all the issues post haste, although a lot of damage has already been done. In case the issues are not amicably resolved soon we may not be able to boast of an apolitical, professional and all volunteer military force. In such an eventuality we may have to legislate to conscript our citizens, whether willing or unwilling, to provide security to our national interests and that will be a very sad day for our nation of 110 crore people. Hope the people of India realise the importance of not letting this institution down at this critical juncture. A wise government would also uphold the actions of the three chiefs as in the best interests of the country and this only relatively corruption free institution. JAI HIND.


Usha Pisharody said...

I have heard much of the Sixth Pay Commission, as my father follows it keenly too. But this post really helps to simplify a lot of the technicalities that he spoke of.

Thanks again. Have linked this one to my post too.

J P Joshi said...

Usha Pisharody: Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read this post.