Letter addressed to Smt Sonia Gandhi
I am writing to you on a matter concerning the career profile of the armed forces. There is a deep sense of disquiet and unease verging on to a visible simmer of discontent and turmoil in the armed forces. This is now becoming a matter of national concern and needs urgent looking into.
Since India’s independence, Yudhisthira (the armed forces), have all along fallen prey to a one sided unethical game of dice wherein they have been denied their rightful entitlements in the matter of pay, position, status or dignity. Both Bhisma and Drona, worthy political masters, have so far acquiesced in these earlier misdemeanors and still appear unconcerned. The Pandava’s after 13 years of banishment finally awoke to ask, plead and eventually fight for their rights but present day Yudhisthira, after six decades, still remains seeped in impotent patience and forbearance.
The Yudhisthira’s have so far found no present day Krsna who can pull them out of this deep dungeon of humiliation and trespass.
It is baffling as to why our leaders both political and bureaucratic are overlooking the gravity of the situation. On the one hand we are spending tens of thousands of crores in the purchase of the latest military weapons and equipment and on the other we have gone out of the way in demotivating the very personnel who are to man these sophisticated machines by preying upon their morale and welfare and making their career prospects so dismal that they cease to attract the kind of military leaders and men the country seeks and needs. One has now started questioning as to the reasons behind this perversity. It is probably due to an unfounded counter productive seed of fear, uppermost in the mind of the politician, of a likely military take over. This idea appears to trigger a continuous psychosis and a perverse response that has spread over the last 60 years. After every military victory, with outside threats having subsided, the internal fears of the politician take deeper root and he unethically pushes the nation’s military deeper into the quagmire of despondency and frustration and makes the career profile equation between the armed forces and their peers in civil central government services, unbearably invidious.
Today a Brig (29 yrs service) stands equated, pay and precedence wise, with a DIG, (IPS – 14 yrs service); Director, (IAS - 14 yrs service); Scientist F, ((DRDO -17 yrs service); DIG BSF (20 yrs service). This ill conceived and illogical equation runs right across the full rank structure. Similarly the promotion profile is as dismal. Against posted strength, the posts of Lt-Gens is 0.16 percent of the officer cadre while in the police DGP/ADGP it is 5.34 percent, Maj Gens is 0.4 percent as against 11.54 percent IGs in the police. The army at the same proportion as the police would be entitled to 2403 posts of Lt Gens as against the sanctioned strength of 63, and 5193 posts of Maj Gens as against the sanctioned strength of 218. Similar perverse equations exist between the other civil services and the armed forces. In matters of pay, at 17 years service an IAS officer gains an edge of 12.9 percent higher emoluments over an army officer with same length of service and at 25 years the gap increases to 17.3 percent and at 31 years, it jumps to 23.6 percent. Then there is proportionate cumulative effect of these differentials of pay, on allowance, pension and other monetary benefits. This when compounded over the full length of service, worked out to over Rs 30 lakhs at the time the Fifth Pay Commission submitted its report to the Government of India. This tantamounts to most central government officers drawing an average of Rs 8000/- per month more in their service span of 30 years, over and above their peer’s in the armed forces. These are startling and regrettable revelations and show how, without any qualms of conscience, the armed forces have been cheated of their rightful pay and position in the nation’s mainstream. The armed forces laudable character trait not to form unions or to take recourse to agitation, in self interest, has been exploited by the system to their total disadvantage. It has now become a noticeable cause of concern within the armed forces leaders as the gross invidiousness between them and the civil services, is liable to seriously affect their rank and file, and bode ill for the nations’ security.
Winston Churchill had this to say “Indian Army is not so much an arm of the executive branch as it is of the Indian people. Military professionals have the duty and obligation to ensure that the people and political leaders are counseled and alerted to the needs and necessities of military life. This cannot be done by adhering to notion of the military profession as silent order of monks isolated from the political realm.” Obviously, the top brass over the last 60 decades must bear full responsibility for forsaking a sacred trust and allowing this deep downward slide. Churchill further went on to say “The Armed forces are not like a limited company to be reconstructed from time to time as the money fluctuates. ------ It is a living thing. If it is bullied, it sulks, if it is unhappy it pines, if harried it gets feverish, if sufficiently disturbed it will wither and dwindle and almost die, and when it comes to this last, serious condition, it is only revived by lots of time and lots of money.” How far are the Indian Armed forces from this last serious condition!
Stephen Peter Rosen, professor at Harvard, in his book, ‘Societies and Military Power; India and her armies’ argues, that even in the case of the British, their successes against armies of India did not lay in their superior technology because Indian guns, muskets and swords were better. Philip Mason, ICS in his book, ‘A Matter of Honour’ lays the blame for this long record of military defeats at the door of politics and the type of governments that had grown up in India. The British addressed this failing, by giving military both honour and emoluments, which in turn drew the right leadership. The Indian army came to be counted amongst the very best and enabled them to expand their Empire and protect it for over a hundred years.
We forget that during the Second World War, the US President had Gen Marshall as his chief confidante and advisor. He was the genius who espoused the ‘Marshall’ plan to revive the economic wealth of America’s erstwhile enemies. Similarly, Churchill had Field Marshal Alexander as his prime confidante and advisor. If India aspires to become a nation to reckon with in the 21 Century then it must build up, train and nurse its future military leaders and not tie a lodestone of suspicion around their necks and push them deeper into the quagmire of despondency.
In 1947, an officer of the rank of Lt Gen was placed above an ICS secretary to Government of India, which was then the highest post for an ICS officer, Maj Gen above Chief Secretary of States and a Brig ranked above an IG of police and drew a higher pension than that of a secretary. This was in spite of the fact the ICS then was accorded a special status because, there were at that time, no elected political leaders. The present day bureaucrat, forgets that in his new role he is primarily and exclusively a civil servant executing policy decisions of the politically elected leaders, he has ingeniously usurped the politicians’ prerogative and has accorded himself a distorted inter-se precedence vis a vis the armed forces. From the preceding paragraphs it is abundantly clear that all this has come about largely because of a ‘You scratch my back I scratch your back’ collusive arrangement.
All this not withstanding, internal political squabbles have kept the politician much too preoccupied to apply his mind and attention to the dark and threatening clouds that have already cast their ominous shadows of the turbulent decades ahead. Our political arena is in the doldrums, cleaving and clawing. To our west, Pakistan is in turmoil and on the verge of a breakup. The terrorists, breeding and sprouting in a cascading pattern there, are menacingly positioned to strike eastwards after finding sanctuaries in J&K and lastly, an emerging unstructured nuclear threat from that country is very much on the cards. This aside, India is unquestionably vulnerable to the numerous termites flourishing within--- the Maos and Naxals spreading from Nepal to Chattisgarh; The ULFA and the other insurgents, weakening our Seven Sisters to the East; The numerous sleeping cells of the Al Qaeda; well dispersed, biding their time; Poverty and corruption seeping deep into our guts; And the law of the jungle pattern of existence competing with ‘organized chaos’ style of governance. Each of these is evolving its own menacingly alarming portrait of Satan.
We have already forgotten that for eleven long centuries our lands were continuously under rapacious foreign rule. No other region in the world with an odd exception perhaps can claim heritage to such a deep destroying humiliation and curse. Within 60 years of gaining independence, our conduct across the board has ripened this region for being plucked once again.
It is laudable to view the 21st Century as India’s century but we must not overlook the fact that at one time in the past, ours was the richest region in the world. Today we stand as vulnerable to our new found ‘Kohinoors’, and ‘Peacock Thrones’, and the ‘Som Nath Temples’ being plundered once again, as happened historically in the past, if we fail once again to sufficiently and adequately nourish and safeguard the intrinsic interests of the prime protectors of our sovereignty. It took the British a couple of hundred years to build a military might with Indian manpower, by virtue of which they expanded their Empire and kept it intact. We need no lessons to tell us as to what should be the State of our Armed Forces and how best we can speedily rectify the earlier harm caused so as to prepare and motivate them sufficiently to tackle the threats that lie ahead.
I am attaching as an appendix to this letter a short note on aspects that merit specific consideration.
With kindest regards,
Maj Gen NC Khanna (Retd)
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