Speaking at IIM-Ahmedabad on November 17, 2018 former President Pranab Mukherjee stated, “Bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle of our development, and we must rectify it…. the world is changing very fast and we shall have to keep abreast of this change; adjust ourselves, adapt ourselves, make it flexible so that we can formulate and articulate our policy. No system in the world can function without the appropriate institutional mechanism…Bureaucracy, political bureaucracy also has the capacity of creating its hierarchy… therefore there has to be a massive decentralization.” But in his political career spanning five decades Mukherjee did little to rectify this.

Incredibly the IAS comprising 4,926-members (including 1,415 promoted from state civil services) can stymie India’s growth and hold governments to ransom. Present government has been directing 45 government bodies and ministries to forward names of corrupt officers but action thereafter remains unknown. One can make millions and if caught go home prematurely, which is not bad with fast promotions and multiple scopes for individual riches. Action gets restricted where bureaucrats in concert intelligence agencies are privy to skeletons and politicians bank on them for functioning in addition to shared booty and political party considerations.

In British-India, the Defence Secretary who was also Defence Minister was responsible for India’s defence but this responsibility continued with Defence Secretary post Independence. Government has recently amended the ‘Rules of Business’ but Defence Secretary still is responsible for India’s defence as also defence policy including during war, giving him the aura of America’ Secretary of Defence. No defence minister has shown guts to tell the Prime Minister that he, not a bureaucrat under him should be tasked for the country’s defence. The excuse by government will be that defence is with Defence Minister but this hardly covers the abject surrender to bureaucracy.

A Naval HQ handout ‘The Soldier and The State’ issued October 1998 stated, “In India, it is the civilian bureaucracy that controls the military by using the office (of politicians), rather than control by political authority. Nations which fail to develop a balanced pattern of civil-military relations squander their resources and run uncalculated risks.” In 1947, bulk of the ICS cadre not reverting to England stayed back in MoD, changing to IAS. Hatred against Armed Forces continued, some examples being:

A Brigadier from TA appointed MoS (Defence) was advised by the defence secretary to forget his uniform because forces must be kept divided. A service officer who converted to IAS was briefed on joining MoD to forget everything, just concentrate on what is in pipeline (acquisitions) and how much money can be made out of it.

A veteran in politics was told not to rake up particular defence scam since it spanned many governments and complicity of his own political party would emerge.

The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) which should have replaced the Department of Defence (DoD) in MoD has been kept separate and swamped with a battery of 38 bureaucrats. The Defence Secretary heading DoD reigns supreme holding the key to power and finances including capital acquisitions. How much freedom of action CDS has will emerge in times to come.

Carnegie Foundation describes ‘Military Affairs’ comprising a range of topics that include military personnel and veterans. But in India the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DESW) in MoD is separate from DMA and is exclusively manned by IAS. DESW opposed OROP since 2011, oppose grant of full OROP and has blocked 5-yearly review of OROP due in 2019 (through CGDA) though promised by the BJP-led government.

Veteran voices also represent the serving since latter can’t speak up due service norms. This is anathema to the ‘deep state’ even as the paid media avoids covering many issues or twist facts. An annual Veterans Day is held but there is no explanation of why the 5-yearly review of OROP due in 2019 is blocked, why anomalies of 7th CPC as also earlier CPCs remain unaddressed, why Armed Forces are being put below police forces, why military is not part of Group ‘A’ services, amongst other issues.

Media is used to portray above are officer-related problems, which is complete lie. Officers are small percentage of some 60,000 soldiers retiring annually from Army alone. Of the living veterans, about 86 percent are widows, JCOs, NCO’s and below with large number of disabled among them. Circumstances under which IT exemption of disabled veterans who continued to serve has ceased is already in public domain, even though this was authorised since 1922 for valid reasons. This is a shame. But the important issue missed out is that at soldier-veteran and widow level, even denial of small increment of a thousand or two in pension makes living that much more difficult.

Public revere Armed Forces but the ‘deep state’ manages to keep military’s stock as low as possible notwithstanding a word of praise when it suits politically. The new Army Chief has rightly stated that the Army’s loyalty is to the Constitution. As importantly, he has said that the individual behind the gun is the most important component in the overall structure of a battle-winning machine like the Army.

Service Chiefs do hold the key to uplift THE armed forces in eyes of politicians. The Election Commission of India (ECI) authorizes serving soldiers to cast their votes at the place of posting. Political response to the Mathura-based Strike Corps participating in the 2007 UP State elections was positively electric. ECI set up polling booths in army cantonments where soldiers voted showing their service identity cards, as per eligible voter list provided by the Army. So why don’t everyone of the 1.4 million not votes?

The ‘deep state’ has made the military submit to Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), which is applicable to those posted abroad. The discrepancies and frauds of so called postal ballot are well known. Politicians don’t like military voting because soldiers don’t vote en-bloc for any party, which upsets their calculations. But as mentioned by the Army Chief, military owes its allegiance to the Constitution. Hence, can the Service Chiefs make voting compulsory for all ranks at the place of postings, starting with Delhi Elections on February 8? In doing so, they will be doing great service to the nation and the Armed Forces.

The author is veteran Indian Army. Views are personal.