India was granted Independence by the British in 1947. I use the word ‘granted’ because that is what, in effect, it was. Not withstanding minor pinpricks like the Indian National Army led by Subhas Bose and Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement the British left the country after 200 years of rule of their own accord. The basic problem was the cost involved in keeping India after the devastation of the Second World War.This loaded the dice in favor of their leaving India.
The British retreated from India but left behind a well oiled civil structure and the army in place. The Indian state thus inherited a first class army that had shown its mettle during two world wars. It was an excellent fighting machine with a high morale as can be seen from the fact that in 1897, 21 Sikhs of the British Indian Army faced a horde of 10,000 Moslems for the sake of the queen and the British Empire at Saragrahi now in West Pakistan.
But after independence the Congress led by Nehru had little idea about military power and hard politics which was replaced by idealism and naivety. The result was disastrous as a large area in Ladakh was lost to China. In addition the Pakistani raiders occupied a third of Kashmir just after independence(1948). The Army general staff at that time could not make any impact on Nehru and the Congress party and only played a passive role. Thus a view gained currency, that the army was an unnecessary appendage more to be tolerated than nurtured. This state of affairs was the result of the Indian general staff who with a trained force under them allowed themselves to be dominated and overawed by the civil authority.
The Indian general staff thus abdicated their decision making ability and allowed the army to go to seed. No concerted effort was made in any forceful manner to impress upon the government the need to upgrade the infantry or the armored corps. This had its repercussions and India got a bloody nose from the Chinese in the 1962 India China conflict. This neglect resulted in the Indian soldier facing the well trained and equipped Chinese Army with obsolete.303 bolt action rifles. Worse no winter clothing was available and the army soldier was expected to fight in snow with conventional clothing. Thus defeat was a natural corollary. The situation reached its nadir when Gen Thaper a four star general accepted orders from a joint secretary of the Government of India.
Thus the seeds of subservience were sown in the minds of successive general staff officers including the Air Force and Navy and they abdicated their primary responsibility of equipping and modernizing the army. In addition the welfare of the officers and men under them was neglected. Thus when Indian army faced Pakistan in 1965 the vaunted Patton tanks failed only because of the poor training of the Pakistan army and individual bravery of the Indian soldier though he was handicapped by obsolete tanks like the Sherman tank and the AMX tank.
Over a period of time the lot of the Armed forces officers and soldiers deteriorated further. So much so that in the eighties and nineties becoming a Lt Col became very difficult as only one out of four was promoted. This adversely affected morale and cynicism set in. The government under the then Defense Minister Venkatram proposed that full Colonel Ranks be introduced after 16; 18 years of service. Unfortunately the Indian general staff did not accept these proposals.
The mid eighties was again a period where the Indian general staff allowed matters to drift. The anomaly of pay fixation where in rank pay was to be given in addition to basic pay was not effected. This was contrary to the recommendations of the pay commission. But the general staff did not represent this to Government at all. It was left to Individual officers to file writs in courts, an unheard of proposition.
To make matters worse the Air Chief SK Sareen got a proposal through that enhanced the flying pay of air force pilots without any increase for technical and engineering officers. A severe agitation in the officer ranks followed and the government had to intervene and restore normalcy. The extra flying pay was suspended.
Over the years the chiefs allowed a systematic down gradation of the officer rank vis a vis the civil counter parts in the order of precedence with disastrous result on morale and general status in society. An example will suffice. In 1947 a district police chief was equivalent to a Major but now he is equated to a 2 star general! The chiefs have themselves been downgraded to 14 or 15 in the order of precedence.
The chiefs have allowed matters to drift and at no stage have put any pressure on the Government. The result is that the officers and men have suffered. The recent episode where the government refused to implement a supreme court ruling on rank pay and in turn filed a writ for revision of the judgment is a case in point. The chiefs literally were not consulted nor could they exert their authority. Even the one rank one pension demand of the soldiers and officers is not accepted and is simmering for more than 30 years.This makes sad reading.
The country today is held together only by the armed forces-this is a thought that is anathema to the civil authority. In case the Army is withdrawn from Kashmir and the North East will these parts still remain with the mother country? With the Maoist insurgency also rearing its head the Chiefs of staff have all the aces up their sleeve. But it is a sad commentary that their writ does not run with the Government.However as the general staff has failed, it is incumbent on the government to act swiftly and restore confidence in the troops. Delay could be dangerous.