NEW DELHI: Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has done it again. Even as he left even serving officers aghast with his remarks that he was inspired by the RSS and so could now inspire the Army in a similar fashion, he has given approval to a circular last week further bringing down the status of military officers in comparison to civil service officials.

The circular has found its way into the public domain, and details have been carried in sections of the national media.This ‘equivalence’ that has always been a sore point with military officers now further downgrades the men-in-uniform with a Major General in the Indian Army (Rear Admiral in the Navy, Air Vice Marshal in the Air Force) now under the new “equivalence” placed at the level of a principal director in the Armed Forces Head Quarters civil service. A Brigadier (Commodore in the Navy, Air Commodore in the Air Force) has been made equal to a director, and a Colonel (Captain in the Navy, and Group Captain in the Air Force) is at par with just a joint director.

Till date a Colonel and a Director were at par in an equivalence that the military has always had reservations about. But this has been further downgraded even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Parrikar and other Ministers in government have been singing paeans for the Army for the ‘surgical strikes’ and embracing the dead soldiers as ‘martyrs’.

Equivalence has always been a sore point with the military, as the equations are drawn arbitrarily by the bureaucrats and approved by the politicians. Military officers have pointed out on several occasions that a Director in the civil service is not even in included in the process of decision making, whereas a Major General in the Army is amongst the top hierarchy of decision makers.

The circular, news of which has just broken hours before, is already elicting a strong response from the veterans. This comes after a prolonged, and as yet unsettled, protest from ex-servicemen about glaring disparities in the 7th Pay Commission. The 3 defence chiefs had decided not to implement the pay commission, but gave in after the government assured them of favourable action by Parrikar. Mire recently, the government substantially reduced the disabilities pension but again after widespread reaction the government has referred this to an anomalies committee.

And now this equivalence circular that has reduced the parity, and actually brought a Major General to the level of a principal director. Sources said that was humiliating, and regretted that the government was caving in to the bureaucrats on “all that makes a difference to the morale of the military.”

It is not clear why this has been done at this stage, and is being circulated with spreading resentment. The army senior veterans had intervened to end a prolonged protest by the ex-servicemen over the 7th Pay Commission following assurances that these would be looked into positively. “Instead we have this circular that brings us down to the level fo Group B officers,” a retired Army senior officer said. Ashe pointed out, “we have always been at the receiving end of the bureaucracy that keeps whittling down our pay, our pensions, and our ranks with absurd equivalence structures.”

The distance between the bureaucracy and the military has been growing at a fairly rapid pace. More so as the government has made promises but not intervened effectively to reduce the growing anomalies in the pay and rank structures. The statements made over the surgical strikes has created unease within the Army, with officers deeply worried about what they view as efforts to politicise the force. And use a military operation for consolidating constituencies, and as a retired veteran said, garnering votes.

This new circular that is now being splashed across the media is being met with quiet resentment and while there were several officers who had not seen it, others were vocal in denouncing yet another “mischievous move” by the civil services to whittle down the military ranks further. “What puzzles me,” a retired officer said, “is how did the Defence Minister even approve of this.”