'Our political leadership needs to grasp that there is a difference between a soldier, policeman, trained private security guard and a chowkidar, though all of them provide security.'
'The cross border raids by the army could not be taken by the CRPF for sure!,' says Brigadier S K Chatterji (retd).
After almost a decade-long drift the Indian armed forces are apparently headed firmly into the process of force modernisation.
Every other day there is news of progress in procurement for all three services along with a very deliberate emphasis on indigenisation.
However, there is considerable disquiet in the rank and file when it comes to another critical aspect and that's the status of the Indian soldier among his peers in other government services and especially a new equation that seems to be taking roots: Equating the armed forces with the central police forces and the paramilitary forces.
There are two critical requirements for the armed forces.
Modern equipment and technology absorption, of course, remains a huge big factor, but beyond that is the quality of manpower that the forces will field to man these machines.
These two critical components, equipment and manpower, are to be moulded together and judiciously utilised by the military leadership; essentially the officers cadre starting with a lieutenant at the tactical level to a general at the strategic level.
The political leadership's responsibility does not end with the focus solely on force modernisation; it goes beyond to ensure that the right incentives are provided to attract bright young men, especially in the officer's cadre.
Such incentives are of two kinds. The more tangible one among them is the compensation package offered.
The other incentive is the social status of officers and men in our society, and the equation of the forces vis-a-vis other government services.
For those who understand the forces that play to shape a soldier's commitment, it need not be reiterated that status is the bigger issue.
Recounting the tale of progressive downgrading of the status of military leadership in comparison to the other civil services needs no elaboration.
However, the current discourse of bringing the forces at par with paramilitary forces that the pay commission recommended and has since been deleted, is perhaps that last straw which will break the camel's back.
The fact that the three services had asked the government to hold in abeyance the implementation of the 7th Pay Commission is a matter of concern for us as a nation.
The argument often advanced is that the central armed police forces face similar hardships, risks and belong to the same genre -- perhaps what is implied is that they also wear a uniform and carry a weapon.
As far as being the same genre is concerned, a comparison with cricket players maybe in order. Some cricketers play the Ranji Trophy, while a few go with the national team, and some are bought in an auction by IPL teams.
These various grades, though cricketers all, are paid very differently.
Our political leadership needs to grasp that there is a difference between a soldier, policeman, trained private security guard and a chowkidar, though all of them provide security.
The cross border raids by the army could not be taken by the Central Reserve Police Force, for sure!
If our politico-bureaucratic leadership starts equating a soldier with the police forces, we will very soon have an army as good as the central police forces we have.
At stake, would be our quest for being a regional power, a stabilising force in the Indian sub-continent and the Indian Ocean region; for that matter our Look East or Act East policy.
It may also be prudent to look for alliances with the US or other powers to defend our land and sea borders.
It definitely would not be advisable to expect our armed forces turned at par with the central armed police forces to ably withstand a thrust by China or Pakistan, leave alone their combined two front threat.
To make the argument simpler, don't expect surgical strikes across the border like we staged recently, either.
It is essential for our military prowess to grow in tune with our geopolitical objectives. While the current surge in defence equipment contracting is more than obvious, major deals remain in a state of suspended animation.
The M777 howitzers are still not in the pipeline.
The DNS leak about the Scorpene submarines may just lead to Mazagaon Docks getting an extension for an already ambitious timeline.
Our aging fleet of helicopters is yet to be replaced.
But more important is a military officers corps that is becoming listless. They are no longer as proud to wear their uniforms because of the new equation of the olive green with the khaki.
As far as freshers opting for the armed forces, the contribution from the best schools/colleges is dwindling.
The 7th Pay Commission report has glaring anomalies that the three chiefs have already communicated to the prime minister. Not approving 'non functional upgrade' for the armed forces, as is applicable to other services, does not merit reference to another commission.
Anomalies in the disability pension, equating JCOs and other ranks in the same bracket for military service pay and other glaring disparities can be decided upon without reference to a succession of committees.
It is so outrageous as to be easily decided upon by less than an erudite leadership. In any case, the tale of all such committees to look into anomalies in the past has been singularly dubious.
The anomalies of the 5th and 6th Pay Commissions remain largely unattended.
What is more important is to restore the status of the armed forces.
A service officer of the rank of colonel was at one stage equivalent to an ICS/IAS officer with 23 years standing. Today, we have brigadiers with over 30 years of service being less than a joint secretary.
The anomaly affects pay and allowances, morale and intake quality into the armed forces. There is an immediate requirement to equate a selection grade colonel with a joint secretary.
In fact, service officers and IAS officers, both in selection grades, should be at par in status and pay, based on parity in terms of years of service post commissioning/training.
Our geopolitical aspirations require a very responsive foreign policy that has enough military muscle.
Equipment upgradation of the forces is only a part of the endeavour. For the political leadership it is important to understand the value that an old adage propounds: An army is only as good as its officers are.