Nov 03 2016 : The Times of India (Hyderabad)
Diwali 2016 is past us, but has raised important issues of civil-military relations which are a challenging task for the political leadership of any democracy . They require that respect be exercised for the professional expertise of both sectors and finesse be the guiding principle in tackling divergence of views and contradictions in ambitions of individuals as well as uniformed and nonuniformed entities. The Indian environment is delicately balanced, with the military being in the news due to the challenging prevalent security milieu.In a very laudable move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the `Sandesh to Soldiers' campaign to convey the nation's love and greetings to our men and women in uniform, in a campaign planned to coincide with Diwali. Unfortunately , one more `sandesh' has gone out of downgrading the equivalence of uniformed personnel vis-à-vis bureaucrats.
So, a Major General, who returns from the field after commanding a front line division, would have to first deal with a Principal Director, violating the official warrant of precedence laid down by the government. Whatever be the final decision, the unfortunate message that has gone out, whether true or not, is that the powers that be do not care much for the standing of the military; the outpouring of angst on the social media is proof of the strong sentiments that have been generated.
That there is an unhealthy civil-military divide in India is a reality. The Kargil Review Committee was perhaps the first body that acknowledged the expertise and professionalism that uniformed personnel could bring to the workings of the ministry of defence (MoD).Among the major recommendations was one asking for integration of service headquarters in the MoD, thereby making uniformed personnel integral members of the ministry. The outcome has been a perfunctory renaming of service headquarters to a convoluted sounding Integrated Headquarters of MoD (Army Navy Air Force), which too is just in name with no lateral placement of service or civilian personnel having been effected. In fact, bureaucrats are loath to serve under uniformed people as seen by no IAS or IFS officer coming to the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), even though vacancies exist for them.
Post-Independence, a change had to occur in the civil-military relationship in a democracy.That political control has to be exercised over the military is a given. But it is also a requirement that there be political oversight over a healthy interaction between the bureaucracy and the military; unfortunately, civilian control has come about to mean bureaucratic control due to the lack of this vital political involvement.
Thus, the deep sense of selfesteem that is ingrained in the Forces, and is the basis for the esprit de corps that motivates a soldier to lay his life on the line, has become a casualty; this is a no go area for a fauji and something very difficult for a bureaucrat to understand, unless he has spent time in uniform, or been exposed to the unique military environment for some time. This can be brought about by taking three basic steps.
First, true integration at MoD must be effected, with uniformed personnel tenanting important appointments. Thus, a proposal being mooted by a young Colonel working in the Space Cell of IDS could be routed to a Joint Secretary IAS officer who in turn reports to an Air Marshal or a Vice Admiral working as an Additional Secretary in MoD the Kargil Review Committee recommends just that.
Second, within the civilian bureaucracy, a pool of officers specialising in defence matters must be created, so that we do not have the case of first exposure to the military being at the level of defence secretary! And third, the political leadership should consider a more hands-on approach to the running of the defence ministry so that true democratic control is exercised.
It is time the government catches the proverbial bull by the horn and applies itself to smoothen civil-military relations. Anomalies lingering from the 6th Pay Commission of 2006 (not to mention the 7th CPC) do not convey a good feeling and there is bad blood about reduction of disability pension.Messages sent on Diwali have a welcome sweetness in them but are transitory; the permanence of professional empathy is the need of the hour.
The writer is a retired Air Vice Marshal. Views are personal