The military battles for retaining status
The seventh pay commission as announced was unacceptable to the military and left them simmering due to lowering of their status as compared to their counterparts from other central services. The absurdity of the pay commission chief, to justify his actions by aiming to create equality in all cadres joining through a common exam (civil services exam), indicated his personal enmity against the military. I wonder if the learned judge was aware, that the military inducts its officer cadre at a much younger age, where the competition is equally severe. Further, he would neither have been briefed (as there was no military representative), that selection to the military is far more stringent than other services. The four- day interview has been known to be a rejection criterion rather than a selection one. It only approves those select few, with qualities of patriotism and leadership. There are no quotas allocated to the selection boards. Hence, it is this specially selected lot, which has sacrificed its life for the nation, countless times.
I wonder which other service can boast of such intense national pride and sacrifice. Yet, since independence the military has been systematically downgraded, which it accepted without a murmur. Even its pensions, which were initially 70% were brought down in the third pay commission (1973) to 50%, with a promise of OROP, which remained ignored for decades. This was an intentional action, as it occurred post India’s biggest victory over Pakistan and the commission for the first time, had no military representative. The final release of OROP was below promised levels, however, the formation of the Reddy commission to look into the anomalies, has presently quelled fires.
While dissent is acceptable in a democracy, the same may not be said for the military. Civilian employees agitated against the pay commission award, to which the government immediately responded positively. A threat of strike by them, makes the government rush to accept demands. However, military discipline and ethos does not permit itto resort to such action. In every case, where it has felt downgraded or affected, it has voiced its concerns and left the decision makers, which comprise the polity and bureaucracy to resolve the issue. Thus over the years, anomalies and disagreements have piled up, with no end in sight. Knowing that a disciplined force would never resort to any undemocratic means, they are heard and subsequently ignored.
Further, the pay commission came immediately after the OROP agitation, which was followedon social media by members of the military, after all every soldier of today is a potential veteran of tomorrow. 93% of the military, retires between the ages of 35 to 45,after having sacrificed their youth for the country and then are ignored and dumped. The agitation was aimed at protecting future retirees. The subsequent anomalies and downgrading the status of the military in the pay commission further impacted the organization. Disgruntlement only increased and became more visible. The committee of secretaries ordered by the government to resolve the differences, had no military member, hence its decision was the final nail in the coffin.
The battle for status involves more than just salary. In fact, salary has never been the issue. The status impact comes to the fore when the military functions with different Government agencies in matters concerning national security and calamities. Its lowered status makes working with bureaucrats and civil police officials more complicated, as it alters the rank structure,hence affects coordination and cooperation. The nation works on status;therefore, a higher status officer would never cooperate or be willing to work jointly with a junior from another service. Simultaneously, within the military are civilian members of other central services. A change in status affects its organization and working structure.
The glaring anomalies left behind over years of down gradation have made members of the military, feel like second class citizens serving the nation. While the head of the pay commission, had clearly shown his anger and hatred for the military, by degrading them, the Government and its so-called mature senior bureaucratic leadership did no better. The words of the Prime Minister praising the military, his spending Diwali with troops and senior lady ministers tying Rakhi to soldiers in remote areas, in reality appear to be actions of publicity, rather than genuine concern.
Never in the history of the country had the service chiefs been compelled, to openly refuse to accept the recommendations of the pay commission, but the writing on the wall of dissent across the rank and file was clear. They realized, that they need to serve whom they command, rather than their political leaders. Had theyrelented, they would have been accused of a sell-out, which would remain a blotch, on their otherwise spectacular career. Hence, such an action was resorted to. It had to indicate to the political leadership, in clear terms,that enough damage had been done and it was time to rectify the same.Taking the silent military for granted and treating them as second class citizens, had to stop. It also conveyed that concerns are genuine and unless immediate action is taken, there would be lack of coordination, when operations are launched jointly. The present is also a challenging time, as the military battles increased terrorism and supports the police in restoring normalcy in the Valley even as it faces severe loss of life as in the recent Uri encounter.
However, a disciplined force always remains one. The message has been conveyed and Government action awaited. The words of service chiefs are gospel down the line (unlike any other Government service), hence though there would remain murmurs, however trust and faith in the system would be restored. The soldier has to look up the organization tree for satisfaction and they cannot let him down. It is now upto the defence and Prime Ministers to prove their genuine concern for the military and restore its rightful status. If they fail to do so, all their actions so far, would be viewed by the nation as a publicity stunts and their promises hollow. The nation is proud of its military and knows it would never be let down. Therefore, in the ultimate analysis, it is for the people of India to observe government action in correcting the wrongs done on the silent and dependable military and decide whether the present political leadership can be trusted to keep their words. If they fail to keep their promise, then the nation can reconsider whom to vote for, in the coming elections.
(The author is retired Major General in Indian Army)
Read at: Daily Excelsior