In his column in the Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta makes the same points that have been drummed over at this blog continuously. He has got it right on the implications of these actions on the services for the future.
But now, for the first time, these incumbents have stood in defiance of civil authority as no military chiefs have ever done in India’s history. And howsoever genuine their grievances over the pay commission — as they seem to be — they have set a precedent that future generations of Indians, and even their own successors in years to come, will come to regret. Their decision to not notify the cabinet order on the pay commission was unprecedented and shocking. True, they were cheered along by the increasingly vocal community of ex-servicemen, many of whom harbour long-standing, deep and justified suspicion of the bureaucracy, and who were in turn egged on by one campaigning TV channel, Times Now. They saw this pay commission as one more too-clever-by-half effort by the babus to push the military a peg or two lower in terms of both money and protocol. They weren’t entirely wrong. But was this — the three chiefs turning themselves into a group of defiant trade union heads — the only way to handle it?
The brass may now think they have won a famous victory, with a very weak Government conceding most of their demands. But today they do not see the damage they have done in the process to their own fantastic tradition and institutions. The soldier’s usual contempt for the political and bureaucratic classes is not entirely misplaced. They are all the terrible things the soldiers believe them to be: cynical, scheming, vindictive and so on. And by this incredible public show of defiance they have exposed more than their flanks to future assaults from those two classes the moment a stronger government, a half-way effective raksha mantri step in. Soon enough, there will be a civilian riposte, and unfortunately it could take away from the armed forces and their future chiefs some of the autonomy in decision-making, even small purchasing powers, that they have won in tiny parcels in a six-decade war of attrition. This pay commission episode will now be invoked by stronger governments, and certainly better defence ministers — as almost anybody would be after Antony — to “cut the brass to size” with the argument, “remember how they behaved over that pay commission? And it wasn’t even Thimayya, Manekshaw, Sundarji, P.C. Lal or Tahiliani.” The curse of this pay commission will hang over South Block for a very long time, until the emergence of some inspirational trinity of chiefs and, even more importantly, a visionary, strong defence minister, who can somehow signal a new beginning.
…A.K. Antony’s handling of the pay commission issue has been pusillanimous to say the least. As defence minister, he should have fought for his armed forces and got them their due from the pay commission in the first place. But, having failed to do so, he absent-mindedly countenanced trade union-like activity within his brass. He agreed to accept a memorandum from the three chiefs together, and somebody even invited TV cameras while he did so. Some platitudes were spoken, and the entire country got the impression that the soldiers had been done in by the pay commission and now the three chiefs and their minister were all fighting for them. This, I am afraid, smacked of some kind of “industrial action” rather than the subtle, skilled management that our higher defence establishment demands. Its consequences will be far-reaching and long-lasting and could leave the institution of our apolitical military seriously dented.
And at LiveFist, Shiv highlights the damage done by the infighting among the various ex-servicemen groups. The temptation to head the proposed ex-servicemen welfare board of the government is too strong to resist for these retired generals, air marshals and admirals.