Neglect of military morale

A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.  The greater the military’s involvement in national security and contribution in the management of national crises, the greater its alienation with the nation’s governing apparatus and those who exercise influence over it. The point is best illustrated by the fallout of the reports of successive pay commissions. The defence services expectations from the Sixth Pay Commission for a change in trend set by the previous pay commissions are again belied. For them one more nail into their coffin of hope.

Despite angry protests and representations the final dispensation promulgated has widened the chasm and brought disaffection within the services to the point of despair. Fervent appeals from the top brass of the three services and considerable lobbying by the retired fraternity of the armed forces evoked little or no sympathy in the quarters that matter. Public support is evidently there but it is of no solace to the armed forces if such adulation does not impact favourably on the outlook of those who decide.

Strangely the media support has also been quite muted and hardly discernible. To some observers it appears as if a ‘gag order’ had been sent out by the powers that be. Whatever the reasons the media support that the armed forces were hoping for has not been forthcoming; no-prime time features — other than the recent burst by one TV channel – or front page headlines espousing the case of the armed forces. To the contrary we have had some esteemed columnists regrettably castigating the service chiefs on the position taken by them — to withhold the new pay implementation orders.

Much has already been said on the subject of the chiefs making public their decision to hold back the dissemination of the government notification on the new pay packages.

However some points merit emphasis.

Firstly, our chiefs in office currently are not flamboyant, iconic personalities in the mould of a few army chiefs of yesteryears.

These gentlemen are reputed to be steady, solid and competent professionals, not the hungry for publicity kind. So it is somewhat ironic that instead of wondering as to why the chiefs have been driven to protest in the manner that they have, we chastise them.

Secondly we should appreciate that that by adopting the position that they have, prospects of their benefiting from the Government’s largesse after retirement have been foreclosed. Sadly their sacrifice of personal interests for the sake of the uniformed family to which they belong has gone quite unacknowledged. Elsewhere such commitment would have been cited as exemplary leadership.

But again curiously if we were to conduct an opinion poll on whether the chiefs were right or wrong across two segments: the bureaucracy and the defence services, my guess is that 90 per cent of the bureaucrats would disapprove while over ninety percent of the service officers would wholeheartedly endorse what the chiefs did. Is there a case for a better understanding of the ethos of the armed forces? Our military may not be perfect but it has served the nation very well. Its role in safeguarding the security and integrity of our country has been invaluable. Contrary to the beliefs and concerns persistently expressed in certain influential quarters it has also remained obsessively apolitical, a strength that has failed to attract the recognition that it deserves. Altogether there is much reason for the nation to be proud of its armed forces.

Right from Independence, our security environment has been far from benign. The future promises to be no better. Even a cursory scan of our security scenario would indicate that the defence services might well be called upon to deal with much bigger and newer challenges. So we must heed their morale. Ignoring the sentiments of the services or turning a blind eye to the simmering discontent which is virtually now out in the open would be unwise. Anger and resentment — are widespread and deep rooted sentiments in the armed forces.

The issues that agitate the defence services go well beyond the scope of the dispensations that a pay commission can award.

Even while remaining strictly within the charter of a pay commission the armed forces are in a way wishing and expecting that all the accumulated injustices heaped on them over the previous pay commissions can now be set right in this instance. This of course is unlikely to happen. So what should be done? For the government the important thing that must first be done is to shed the accountants approach to dealing with the grievances of the services. What is required is empathy and understanding. Let us not grudge the services the little things like the canteen or rum or the sahayaks or the bungalows in Delhi. Instead the focus should be on addressing the many grievances that the men in uniform nurture.

What are the major issues? The most important — a better deal for the soldier who retires in his forties. His pathetic plight remains unchanged. A pension of about 75 per cent of the last pay drawn that the government is likely to concede albeit reluctantly will not be enough. Much more needs to be done. Next for the officer: what he justifiably seeks is some kind of equivalence in status and pay related to the length of service. To tell the officer that the problem lies within the organisational pyramid of the three services and therefore the government is helpless is rank evasion of responsibility and a brazen display of insensitivity.

There are many more concerns not being dwelt on due to space limitations.

In the short term the government should look at getting over the immediate crisis of the Sixth Pay Commission award. After having crossed this bridge it would be unwise to let matters drift. Instead a committee should be constituted to specially look into all the issues that agitate the military. The importance of careful selection of the members of this committee should be obvious.

Equally important would be the formulation of its terms of reference.

Another grave matter is the grievances that the officer community of the three services especially the army has against the bureaucracy. This is a serious issue. Of late the sentiments being expressed against the bureaucracy are bordering on hate and anger.

If the bureaucrats and the armed forces do not work in harmony and in tandem we will not get the best from our national resources.

How has this grave ‘disconnect’ come about? Then there is the bigger issue of the ramifications of this polarisation. Do we blame the country’s inherited military ethos and the national character of its people? There are no clear answers. This underscores the imperative of reflection and introspection especially but the services, the bureaucracy and the political leadership.

As watch dogs the media must also step in; national security could be at stake

About the author:

Vinay Shankar is a former Director General of the artillery

Courtesy – Expressbuzz.com – The New Indian Express Group

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