- Mar 12, 2013
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India's civil-military ties worsening? - The Times of IndiaNEW DELHI: When Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, the country's most senior military leader, recently wrote to defence minister AK Antony to demand "full representation" for the armed forces in the new central pay commission, it was couched in extremely polite language.
But the underlying message was crystal clear: the forces do not have faith in the civilian dispensation - largely the bureaucracy — to "fully grasp the unique challenges" of military service. And, hence, address long-standing, deep concerns over their eroding "status, parity and equivalence" as compared to their civilian counterparts.
The letter was a small but significant pointer to the larger malaise of the mounting dysfunctional relationship between the civilian leadership and military. The ongoing internecine warfare between the government and former Army chief General VK Singh, with "well-calculated and timed leaks", is just the ugliest manifestation of the plummeting equation. "There seems to be little concern, on either side, for the institutions being wrecked in the process," says an insider.
The civil-military divide in the sprawling — and monkey-infested — corridors of South Block is nothing new. But it has got accentuated like never before in recent years. "Civilian primacy over the military has, unfortunately, morphed into bureaucratic control... the political leadership just twiddles its thumbs in masterly inaction. Ex-servicemen, for instance, have been returning their hard-won medals for the last five years but to no avail," says a top general.
Responds a senior bureaucrat, "Demands of the armed forces, which live in their own fiefdoms, have become highly unrealistic. The government, for instance, has hiked ex-servicemen pensions at least three times since the 6th Pay Commission, including a Rs 2,300 crore package last year."
But pay and pensions is just one of the issues. The armed forces complain of being systematically downgraded over the years, which extends to being kept at an arm's length from policy formulation and decision-making.
Experts say the huge politico-bureaucratic resistance to critical reforms in the country's higher defence management — suggested by the K Subramanyam-led Kargil Review Committee and the 2001 group of ministers' report on 'reforming the national security system' as well as the Naresh Chandra Taskforce last year - is one of the main reasons for the failure to bridge the divide.
Just a few months ago, as was then reported by TOI, the defence ministry quietly rejected most of the key recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Taskforce. Pointing to lack of consensus in the armed forces as well as the need to consult political parties, it shot down the proposal to create the post of a permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC).
This General No. 1, a four-star officer like the three Service chiefs with a fixed two-year tenure, would have been the principal military advisor to the government and an "invitee" to the Cabinet Committee on Security. He would have also helped usher in some desperately-needed synergy among the Army, Navy and IAF in planning, procurement, operational and doctrinal issues.
Similarly, another key recommendation that was junked was "cross-staffing" — posting of military officers to MoD. Over a decade ago, in his report, the late strategic doyen Subramanyam had held, "India is perhaps the only major democracy where the armed forces HQs are outside the apex governmental structure."
The situation remains somewhat similar till this day. The three Service HQs, once merely "attached offices", have been rechristened "integrated HQs of ministry of defence" with some delegation of financial powers. But the nomenclature change is perceived to be "largely cosmetic". Till the armed forces get some concrete institutional role in policy-making, along with effective cross-staffing, the divide and the drift will probably continue.