Friday, May 15, 2015
Damaging a Great Institution
by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh ( Retd )
During the Second World War, Admiral Cunningham, rejecting his staff recommendation to abandon the British ground forces on Crete, to save Royal Navy ships from attacks by German submarines, then dominating the Atlantic, told them that it takes three hundred years to build a tradition but only three years to build a ship. The Royal Navy has the tradition of never abandoning the army, so we will evacuate the army regardless of the possibility of losing many ships. Equally it takes a long time to build great institutions. Indian Army was one such institution, created over a long period of time: painstakingly and with enormous sacrifices. That is what Indian Army was at the time of independence. In 1947, when called upon to save Kashmir from marauding Tribal hordes, a mere hundred and fifty men from it successfully blocked the path of elements of Pak army and Tribal hordes from reaching the Srinagar airfield and thus saved the valley.
Nehru’s pathological dislike for the army gave the bureaucracy the chance it longed for, to demolish this great institution. The success in undoing this Army was so complete that it took the Chinese little effort to put to flight, this world renowned military with enviable record across two World Wars.
It all started sometimes during the mid fifties and has carried on till this day. To demoralize an army, all you need to do is to strike down its pride. Now defence services, even if one overlooked the travails of service, were given higher pay and pension due to their early retirement and extremely limited promotions. Just, as one example, the pension of superior scale officers in the civil (Accountant General, Secretaries to Government of India etc ) after 25 years service was fixed at Rs 1111/ while that of a Maj-Gen was Rs 1227/ per month. Military officers drew 70% of their pay as pension, while those in the civil services got less than 50 percent of last pay drawn, as pension.
This was reversed, both systematically and in a sustained manner without any rationale and there being no change in related parameters, which in the first place had led to earlier fixations of pay and pensions. This new dispensation brought down the status of army officers. Thus suprintendant of police (SP) who equated with a captain in the army claimed equivalence with a Lt-Col / Colonel. Personnel other than officers, who retire at much younger age, were disadvantaged to much greater extent. The political executive’s silence was bought, by keeping it in awe of a possible military take over.
This new dispensation, led to a situation where less and less suitable material opted for service with the military and shortages in the officer cadre kept mounting. Therefore, a bureaucratic solution had to be found to this discontentment in the military. Ajay Vikram, who had enough experience of working with the MoD, headed the committee (known as AV Committee ) to rework the promotion prospects in the military. He lacked knowledge of the long established systems of ranks, their place in the scheme of things, relation of rank to command structures and the nature of job at hand. So he went about simply increasing vacancies in the higher ranks without any relation to command structures. Field rank, which was once a very respectable rank, was reduced to almost zero.
This merely led to further devaluation and degradation of the military ranks and made functioning at unit level, the cutting edge of any military, somewhat dysfunctional. It further lowered status attached to military ranks and consequently pride. Then to meet its aspirations, bureaucracy gave itself and other All India Group A Services ( more than four dozen in number ) the largesse of what is called Non-Functional Up-gradation (NFU) This assured everyone in these services, promotion upto additional secretary level, regardless of performance parameters and availability of posts. Military was deliberately excluded from this bonanza on the plea that it has, no such aspirations. This has led to further lowering of status of military officers and distorted the working in areas where civilian formed part of military establishments, i.e MES, Border Roads Organisation etc. Military was, presumably required, not to reason why, but merely to do and die! When all this was being meted out to the defense services, their top echelons looked the other way!
It may not be possible to turn the clock back to the nineteen fifties, but this enhancement of vacancies, brought in by the AV Committee, in higher ranks in the military, be done away with and defence services granted NFU from the time of Sixth Pay Commission.
Equally it is time to recast the military's officer cadre into regular and short service in the ratio of 40:60. Short service of fixed period of seven years with assured lateral induction into state police/Central Police Organisations/civil services/reserved vacancies in technical colleges with two years full pay as stipend.
We await, the moment when this government will undo a grave wrong done to, once a great institution.