Downgrading the military: Conspiracy theory or fact

 Nirmala, Sitharaman, Military, Conspiracy, Deepak Sinha, Indian Defence, NathuLa, Upgradation, Armed Forces

Hon'ble Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at NathuLa

Frankly, if what is burning up the wires on social media groups of military veterans has even a little kernel of truth in it, then one can only conclude that this government has a death wish, and what is worse, is bent on creating a constitutional crisis by taking on the military head on. While social media does resonate with rumor- mongering gone berserk, as is often the case, there can be no smoke without fire and for all our sakes, especially the political class I do sincerely hope this issue dies a natural death.

As conspiracy theories go this is certainly not a bad one. In the beginning there were the Armed Forces. Not only did they get the British their Empire, on which ostensibly the Sun never set, but was also the glue that held it together. Thus, more than Civil Servants, the Armed Forces mattered most to the Sovereign and to which all other branches of government reported. The glue came unstuck when the Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose, consisting primarily of members of the British Indian Army, took on the British, leading to their departure just about two years later. After Independence the Armed Forces saw themselves at par with the Civil Services directly accountable to the politician in power, as civilian control of the military in a democracy is supposed to be exercised.

Unfortunately, the politician- bureaucrat combine had a different perception and in the military saw a threat to their own survival, borne out in country after country in the neighbourhood.

 

Thus the Armed Forces found themselves denigrated and downgraded, treated worse than step-children. The Sino Indian Conflict of 1962, and the subsequent defeat forced the bureaucrat-politician nexus to reverse their actions but the scintillating victory of 1971 made Mrs. Indira Gandhi fearful of the very same ghosts that haunted her father. She however went about dealing with the challenge systematically. Actions like putting the Armed Forces under the Central Pay Commission, but without representation, reducing pensions while enhancing those of civil servants and upgrading the Police and other uniformed services, a practice that continues to this day. We have now had the Ministry of Defence unilaterally lower the military rank –civilian officers parity at the Service Headquarters in the name of functional parity, something that it intends to formalize soon through a Committee under an Additional Secretary, which has a Lt General as a member, who is otherwise at par, clearly pointing to its intentions.

Add to this the issue of the Non Functional Financial Upgradation that the bureaucrats gifted themselves in the 6th CPC, munificence from a discredited and scandal-ridden government for services rendered. In essence it was supposedly introduced in order to address the wide disparity in career progression across different Organised Group `A’ Services (Central Services) and to bring about some parity between them and the IAS. It did this by granting a higher pay scale on non-functional (NFFU) basis to the All India and Organised Group `A’ Services till SAG and HAG level after a gap of two years compared to an IAS officer of the same batch who is posted at the Centre at the SAG or HAG level. In effect it ensured that regardless of vacancies or the duties being performed every member of these services received the same pay as his batch mate from the Administrative Service, albeit two years later since they were superior creatures on the firmament.

Ironically, it was not applicable to the military, despite the fact that it was most impacted by stagnation in its ranks due to its pyramidal structure.

 

Surprisingly, senior officers within the military were most welcoming of this state of affairs. Not so much because they were high-minded principled people who understood what a morally reprehensible step it was but primarily due to sheer sense of their own importance and over-inflated egos…… their inability to comprehend or accept how somebody holding a lower rank could get the same pay applicable to them. It was only when they realized that they had been shortchanged, as only a few made it to the HAG+ grade, thereby ensuring OROP in perpetuity, that they woke up to the adverse impact NFFU had on inter-se status and functionality  between military and their civilian counterparts.

The only recourse available to return to the status quo ante at this stage was either to ask for NFFU for the military, which the hierarchy did and was in line with the recommendation of the Chairman of the 7th CPC, or for this obnoxious scheme to have been done away with for all services as the other two members of the 7thCPC suggested. As is often the case in this country, vested interests ensured neither course was adopted by the Government, thereby forcing a serving military officer to approach the Armed Forces Tribunal against a perceived injustice. As was to be expected the Tribunal ruled in his favour and asked the Government to implement NFFU for the military as well. The Government then decided to approach the Supreme Court from which a verdict is expected at the end of the month.

There are whispers now that in a last ditch attempt to stop NFFU from being granted the Government is looking to downgrade the Armed Forces to a Group ‘B’ Service.

 

It is said that this has been done through the report of the Equivalence Committee which has illegally brought down Lieutenants and Captains to Group Band reduced Junior Commissioned Officers to Group C.  One hopes that these rumours are not founded in fact because if such an action were to be taken it would spell doom for the military. Given the manner in which the Service Chiefs have refused to stand up for the rights of their commands over the years, the drama over cleaning of tourist sites being the most recent, it is unlikely that they would do anything if such a step were to be taken.

The same however cannot be said of a very vocal and active veteran community, leaving aside a few with political ambitions, which will certainly refuse to be treated in this shabby manner. That despite two years of Government intransigence it continues to fight peacefully and in a disciplined manner for the full implementation of OROP is a credit to its discipline, resolve and focus. Action to downgrade the services will only give further impetus to this community which in turn will lead to repercussions from within the serving fraternity. This can only end in disaster for our democracy. Given that the present government came to power claiming nationalism as its core value, the fact that it may well end up responsible for the destruction of our Armed Forces is indeed ironic and there should be little doubt that this one act  will reduce Mr. Modi and the BJP to the detritus of history.


This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India.

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Brigadier V Mahalingam
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Brigadier V Mahalingam

Sincerely hope the Government is not contemplating to downgrade the Defence Forces. If that happens, it will ruin the forces beyond any redemption. The country then will be left with yet another police force to handle its security issues.

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