Over the following decades, while the nation’s military capability went through cycles of rise and fall depending upon the degree of the Government’s geo-strategic naivety, denigration of the soldiery proceeded unhindered, some by contrived default and some by manipulative designs of the defence managers. Blatant tricks in ‘saving’ money against military expenditure and to keep the forces in perpetual state of ‘want’ seemed to have become a cause celebre among the defence bureaucracy – with ready endorsement of their political masters, of course.
“A country that refuses to respect its armed forces will eventually end up getting forces that will not respect the nation’s aspirations”.
An Institution Exclusive
The tradition of celebrating the soldiery is a profitable lesson that the state-societies have learnt over the millennia of their existence…
Nation-states raise military institutions to protect their sovereign interests in a compellingly predatory world and when more agreeable methods of dispute resolution fail to deliver. They do so at excruciatingly heavy economic, but more than that societal, costs because irrespective of the outcomes, military ventures tend to leave permanent marks on a nation’s mind.
As the ultimate recourse open to the preservation of national interests against forces inimical, members of the military institution are ‘commissioned’ – civilian employees of the state are but ‘appointed’ – by the state-society to perform such assignments which demand extreme means and methods extra-ordinary. To do so, the military personnel must be prepared to suffer exactions which run contrary to the innate human instincts of finding stability, safety and freedom. War, after all, gives no quarter and leaves no sufferings avoidable.
The State-Society-Soldier Covenant
To undertake that kind of demanding mission, the state musters from among its citizens, persons ingrained with extraordinary spirit and motivation, psychological robustness and physical endurance, and while divesting them of many of the rights of citizenship, invests on their elaborate training, healthy upkeep and provision of best weaponry and equipment, for them to shoulder their duty with the best chances of success and survival. That indeed, is a hoary – and holy – covenant between the state-society, the supreme organiser of the nation, and its soldiers, sailors and airmen, its ultimate saviours.
Neither is soldiering a part time play-act nor is war a forgiving calling…
The most sanctified covenant between the state-society and its military institution, however, is manifested by former’s celebration of the ‘calling’ of the military profession and the reverence that it reserves for its soldiery, both being aimed at keeping the nation’s saviours in high state of motivation. The tradition of celebrating the soldiery is a profitable lesson that the state-societies have learnt over the millennia of their existence: high morale among the soldiery brings better dividends on the state’s investment on its military power. Accordingly, the state sanctions to its soldiery, out-of-ordinary constitutional, legal and administrative dispensations and undertakes to attend to the latter’s domestic wellbeing, thus leaving them free of private anxieties to dedicate wholeheartedly to their tedious responsibilities.
More notably, the state undertakes to shield the soldiery from having to canvass for their causes and concerns, taking upon itself that responsibility on their behalf. This is an old established practice that saves the soldiery from exposure to crafty machinations of the system and allows them to revel in their sublime character. That indeed had been the practice followed by all the great Indian Empires of the past – Maurya, Gupta, Mughal and British.
The Soldier’s Vow
In response, the soldiery undertakes to fight and win the wars which the state’s rulers are compelled to wage. Since war-fighting, for all its suffering and destructiveness, requires the strength of spiritual invocation to undertake, it makes it obligatory for the military personnel to observe the highest standards of courage, fortitude and probity. It is the strength of these sublime characteristics that drives the soldiery to engage in battles known to be hopeless or to close-in with terrorists when no one would know if they let go.
Nation-states raise military institutions to protect their sovereign interests in a compellingly predatory world…
Conversely, it is to the purpose of upholding those standards of conduct that the soldier must be called to order, notably by his own colleagues, for misdemeanours minor and major – even suffer the capital punishment for letting the cause down – while graver culpabilities of the members of political, administrative and police establishments may escape arraignment. Truly, it is in response to that pristine state-society-soldier covenant that the soldiery bears with its circumstances in fortitude, and recusing from public discourse, leave the matter of protection of their temporal interests for the state-apparatus to address.
This is the universally recognised covenant on which stands the state-society-soldiery trust; indeed, this covenant is fundamental to the state-society-military bonding.
As a corollary to the fulfilment of its excruciating mandate that no ordinary citizen would, or could, be expected to perform, the military institution is obliged to nurture an exclusive culture of its own. Cultivated with the state-society’s due encouragement that distinct culture must merge into the core character of the military rank and file, permanently, for neither is soldiering a part time play-act nor is war a forgiving calling. Thus when having fulfilled their vow to the state-society, the soldiers are allowed to turn into veterans and repair to the civil street, they cannot but continue to adhere, proudly and demonstratively, to the military culture.
More significantly, culture, being a life-long affinity, continues to bind the serving soldiery and the veterans into one monolith fraternity. Indeed, in-service soldiers and veterans bond with each other so closely that one answers for the other; it is difficult to segregate the two into distinct entities. Notably, the beneficiary of that spiritual bondage happens to be the state-society, for it fosters irresistible motivation for the soldier to uphold, even against fearful odds, the glory earned by the veteran.
How well the state shoulders that burden determines the level of motivation among its soldiery…
On the flipside, the noble military culture tends to render vulnerable its personnel to the barbs of the usual societal machinations and mischiefs. When it comes to the veterans, they being bereft of institutional protection, that vulnerability is further exacerbated. And herein comes the state’s responsibility in protecting its soldier-citizens’ interests. As political philosophers through the ages have averred, just as the ideology of the ‘state’ devolves upon the promises of security, welfare and rule of law for its citizens, similarly, when it comes to the soldiers and veterans, the spirit of that promise extends to underwriting their well-being.
As to how well the state shoulders that burden, determines the level of motivation among its soldiery. Creation of an exclusive department of veterans’ welfare within the state-apparatus is a recourse to that end – an unique instance of the state remaining committed to the wellbeing of its erstwhile employees. Obviously, there is a life-long relationship between the state and its constituency of the venerated veterans.
There is another aspect of state-veteran interdependency. Rather than sequestering the veterans to hibernate under a sort of one-way ‘pay-back’ for their past service, most countries uphold the wisdom of coupling the state-veteran relationship into a mutually beneficial intercourse. Thus there is the practice of reserving second employment for the veterans – most of whom are actually in their middle age – and inducting them into the civil sector, the purpose being to harness their characteristic nobility and skills in managing hard challenges. If the covenant discussed above is upheld universally, let us then see as to how has it worked in the Indian state.
Blatant tricks to ‘save’ money against military expenditure and keep the forces in a perpetual state of ‘want’ seem to have become a cause celebre among the defence bureaucracy…
The Covenant in Indian Context
Truly, through the times ancient, the Indian state and society had favoured the covenant; the soldiery and the society continue to do that. The sacred trust manifests when apart from war, people in trouble – in riots, calamities and even to pull out a child from a bore well – seek confidence in military presence. But then, when after centuries of exclusion from statecraft, Independence brought to it the inheritance of a world-celebrated military machine in the form of the Indian Armed Forces, a deliberate affliction for self-subversion gripped the Indian state. With the political class finding military values in divergence from theirs and the cabal of civilian bureaucracy finding an opportunity to satiate the pen-pushers’ age-old complex against smart, bold, efficient and gallant men military, undermining the military institution through contrived insinuations, canards and excommunication grew into a term of reference in the state-apparatus.
It was obvious that the newly anointed state-apparatus of the post-independence era did not understand the spirit behind the state-soldier-veteran covenant and viewed the service headquarters as any other entity of sundry consequence – except when needed to bail itself out from the consequences of war, insurgencies, natural calamities and mayhem – all of its own doing.
Similarly, the department of ex-servicemen welfare, a red-tape bound entity to park surplus civil servants, seemed to be intent on capping rather than promoting their purpose. The concocted view of the military institution starkly manifested in the state’s indifference to equipping its military forces with the requisite war wherewithal to fulfil its mandate specified and surreptitious undermining of the soldiery’s sanctified bestowals in the form of emoluments, pension and land allocation.
More damage was inflicted when, on the one hand, the purely military-dedicated service providers – defence research, estates, engineering and industrial establishments, for example – were set free form accountability towards the military institution, while on the other hand, somersaulting over its sanctified responsibilities, the state compelled the military establishment to shoulder the veterans’ health scheme, and burdened the fighting forces with retention of medically wasted personnel rather than rehabilitating them in civil sector. Instances of the civil administration, and even lower judiciary, failing to shield the domestic interests of military personnel against crass machinations of crooks, and nonchalant sitting over accumulated welfare funds in the government treasury rather than committing these to the right purpose, are some more manifestations of the state’s failure in upholding its part of the covenant.
Thus over the following decades, while the nation’s military capability went through cycles of rise and fall depending upon the degree of the Government’s geo-strategic naivety, denigration of the soldiery proceeded unhindered, some by contrived default and some by manipulative designs of the defence managers. Blatant tricks to ‘save’ money against military expenditure and keep the forces in perpetual state of ‘want’ seem to have become a cause celebre among the defence bureaucracy – with ready endorsement of their political masters, of course.
Under a ludicrous policy, civil servants entitled themselves – but not the military personnel – to jump over to higher pay scales…
In effect, the defence allocation was turned into a handy source to cover fiscal deficit, support inefficient public sector undertakings, perpetuate structural obsolescence and shield incompetency, turf-grab and graft of the favoured parties. It was a system that was unilateral in its policy of the defence bureaucracy, defence scientists and defence financiers enjoying a ‘superior station’ vis-a-vis the military professionals, in which bureaucracy decided upon the force-structure, scientists decided the weapons that the soldier must fight with and auditors decided as how much of it was sufficient! Thus far went the state to deny itself the services of a war-worthy military institution!!
The most debilitating failure of the Indian state however, has been in wasting its best motivated human talent that is released from military service. Indeed, it is a national loss of mind boggling proportions when thousands of fit, trained and disciplined veterans are reduced to guarding hotels and banks while anti-national elements hollow out the nation from within, thumbing their nose to the majesty of the Indian state. Besides, unlike in most countries and even in most departments of the Indian state, the wisdom of keeping institutional experiences alive through formal consultative mechanisms with their veteran counterparts does not seem to have visited India’s defence managers’ consciousness – military or civil. These deviations are a direct consequence of the state-apparatus being dismissive in nurturing its military institution. Indeed, the Indian state – the first and foremost party to the covenant – has failed to fulfil its own part of the hoary responsibility while unabashedly enjoying the soldiery’s commitment to their part of the bargain.
The second party to the covenant, actually an abstract one – the society – has stood by its soldiery to the extent it can; so much so that any characterisation of valour, commitment and probity turns acceptable only when it comes from their soldiers! The trust and confidence that the soldier enjoys in the people’s hearts and minds is truly remarkable. In fact, it is that bondage – apart from the excellence of junior military leadership, of course – that continues to inspire the soldiery to perform extraordinarily in spite of the abject failure of the state-apparatus in upholding its part of the covenant.
Military personnel have been steadily relegated in terms of their status and emoluments in comparison to civilian employees…
Lastly, there is the third party to the covenant that has held fast regardless: the soldiers, sailors and the airmen. This party has fought under depredating conditions ‘with what it had’ as General Malik put it during the Kargil War, braved sufferings incessantly to preserve India’s integrity and earned political mileage for the nation through its acclaimed peace-keeping. It continues to do so.
A State of Malevolence?
Viewed shorn of clever orchestrations of the state-apparatus against the traditionally reticent soldiery, the situation came to such a pass in recent times that the organisational strength, war-waging capability, modernisation and back-up services for the military institution on the one end, and status, emoluments and motivational privileges of the military personnel on the other, stood surreptitiously but systematically diluted. To be fair, even if there might not have been consciously inimical acts on the part of the state-apparatus to debilitate the military institution, there indeed had been the callous acts of omissions and discriminations against it, thus keeping it marginalised and stagnant while the rest of the state institutions went ahead with modern developments.
Since the core debilities and operational hollowness of the military institution remain obscured from public scrutiny, unless the nation is visited by a debacle, the measure of bureaucratic malevolence towards the military institution, endorsed by an insensitive political leadership, is better appreciated by the manner in which the military personnel were treated; any comparison with other civilised countries in the manner they treat their military brings utter despondency.
In brazen repugnance of rights and reasons, defence civilian bureaucrats and technocrats were allowed higher emoluments as against military officers and men performing similar jobs, and then under more difficult conditions. To top it all, under a ludicrous policy, civil servants entitled themselves – but not the military personnel – to jump over to higher pay scales even if they continued with the same job, the justification being that there were not enough higher vacancies to promote them all – and that in a virtually flat-top hierarchy! Indeed, they took advantage of the politicians’ abject dependency on them to garner fat aggrandisements for themselves. No corresponding uplift was contended for the military fraternity thus skewing the civil-military equation.
In the wake of dilution of their trust on the state-apparatus, some among the military brass allowed themselves to debase the military code of conduct…
As for the military veterans, they were granted proportionately lesser pension as compared to civilian employees, their quota of re-employment in the civil sector was manipulatively suppressed, funds meant for their welfare were rotated as ‘surety’ for state expenditure, and instead of protecting their domestic interests, the state administration remained either unresponsive or at worse, connived with criminals to torment the veterans – with impunity. The list of assaults upon the soldiery was long indeed.
Finally, having overplayed its hand, malevolence of the state-apparatus was exposed in the recent times. Evidence of deliberately concocted interpretations of policy-awards to deny due emoluments and entitled welfare to its serving as well as veteran soldiery, and thus driving military veterans to seek judicial and even presidential intervention, were some more glaring cases of failure of the state-apparatus in fulfilling its part of the state-soldier covenant.
Thus while the military institution, with serious voids in its war-fighting capabilities, remained unable to modernise its organisational structure, weaponry, equipment and personnel management system in spite of defence allocations running into over two and a half lakh crore, military personnel have been steadily relegated in terms of their status and emoluments in comparison to such civilian employees who had ever been slotted lower in their station till just a few years ago. As a consequence, the openly expressed veteran’s anguish has started to inject despondency among the serving troops. That is a dangerous development against the national good. There can be no worse instance of a state hammering at its own pillar of survival – the one which it had created at its huge costs.
Public support of the military institution’s cause has turned into solidarity of the media…
… And Self-debasing Backlash?
But while apportioning the onus, it would be justified to repudiate the notion that ascribes the derailment of the covenant solely to the unholy political-bureaucratic nexus. Indeed, there may be a case to arraign the top military hierarchy too in this context. Bluntly stated, the military leadership in independent India, for all their formidable reputation and tough demeanour, could not be absolved from their failure to either stand up to uphold the ‘honour and welfare’ of their officers and men – admittedly against severe and unsavoury prejudices of the rulers of the realm – or to quit, for someone else to carry the burden. Resultantly, the officer corps remained bound to the convention of maintaining stoicism against deficiencies of weapons, equipments and personnel, and the downgrade of their status and entitlements.
In the event, the bureaucratic sleighs in subverting the soldier’s organisational as well as personal entitlements took over two decades to be noticed – not the top brass but by a gusty Major! That the typical military officer class had been brought up under a culture of blind trust upon a supposedly ‘fair and benevolent’ state and taboo against indulgence of petty ‘coin-counting’, and that they had been out-smarted by a clever politician-bureaucrat combine and their quislings, could not be any excuse for allowing themselves to be led up the garden path.
Arguably, in the wake of dilution of their trust on the state-apparatus, some among the military brass, possibly in irrepressible reaction, allowed themselves to debase the military code of conduct. Thus the past decade was witness to many serious misdemeanours among them, acts which had been and must remain unthinkable ever. So far these misdeeds have been confined to only a few among those who had occupied positions where they enjoyed some loose discretion in an otherwise tradition-bound military culture.
While celebrating their sublime culture, the military men have to rise above past prejudices to think high…
But subject to the indifference of political-bureaucratic establishments to the cause of the military institution, many others among the rest of the hierarchy, who had so far remained underpinned by a conservative and strict honour code, found opportunity to adopt morally and financially corrupt practices to enforce arbitrary policies, turn espirit de corps into crass nepotism, create schools of the aggrieved and drive them to the courts, submit to sycophancy of the powers that be, and indulge in graft – to mar the fair image of the venerated military institution. Ironically, this was a classical case of beneficiaries subverting the prospects of their benefactor institution! Many of these turncoats also joined in unprecedented scales of inter-service, inter-arm and inter-cadre mutual-bashing in order to grab what resources or opportunities had been reachable for them to grab at.
But then, how long may a state which flaunts indifference towards one institution, expect the members of that institution to uphold their hoary sense of gallantry and probity in service? Indeed, the proud and professional institution of the military could be on the verge of being severely scarred thus.
Towards Systemic Purification
That the soldiery has been adversely affected by the unilateral repudiation of the covenant; that this effect might tell upon their fortitude in face of their tryst with death and deprivations; and that the nation might have to suffer in consequence, must be a disquieting prospect for all Indian citizens. In the interests of the nationhood therefore, serious introspection is called for in the state-apparatus – civil and military – for the restitution of the hoary state-soldier-veteran covenant. The soldier’s pride, that is contingent upon his war-worthiness and societal honour, must be restored – and quickly.
…a campaign must start within the military fraternity to triumph upon the dangers of the nation being saddled with a hollowed, incompetent, unscrupulous and pliable military institution.
Evidently, there are hints of the coming of a better dispensation. Public support of the military institution’s cause has turned into solidarity of the media, empathy of the judiciary and fear of ‘vote-drift’ among the political class. The state-apparatus seems to be energised thus, if tentatively yet, to redress the systemic indifference towards its military institution and so prove its nationalist bonafide. Initiatives to redress malpractices in defence acquisitions, monopoly of defence public sector undertakings, pedantic defence research and inertia against force-modernisation are some of the welcome indicators in this regard.
On the personnel related matters, there is shift, though reluctant, from ‘cover-up’ to ‘clean-up’ the cases of soldiery’s emoluments and veterans’ pension, honouring local martyrs has become a standard practice, and the decades old demand for a National War Memorial is near fruition. Hopefully, the long list of pending anomalies would also be addressed in all fairness. But military debilities, whether structural or human, take long years to be restored – and only if continued with consistent alacrity.
Correction is best commenced from within. Therefore, a campaign must start within the military fraternity to triumph upon the dangers of the nation being saddled with a hollowed, incompetent, unscrupulous and pliable military institution. While celebrating their sublime culture, the military men have to rise above past prejudices to think high, modernise and restructure – and find ways to do so with the resources afforded to them by the nation; they have to train to fight the nation’s enemies at the front while grappling with subversion, if in innocence, from its own.