The defence spokesperson responded to a photograph showing a civilian officer’s car with a flag on the bonnet, pointing out the misuse of privileges. The episode has brought to the fore the simmering civilian-military tension over perks.
ThePrint asks: Civil-military tension over privileges: Bureaucrats pampered or have forces overblown it?
It’s terrible to see Modi govt’s goodwill being destroyed by this type of arrogance
BJP MP, tech entrepreneur, and founder, Flags of Honour
The debate on civil-military relations is a fractious and often an angry one in India. The anger is mostly because of the inexplicable superiority and arrogance demonstrated by MoD bureaucrats, who have little to show by way of experience or record of security service except for proximity to political leaders.
Military leadership are bound by their oath to discipline and do not have a culture of arguing or fighting for their space and respect. And so, successive bureaucrats using their easier access to political leadership over the decades have altered the civil bureaucracy-military balance. They have positioned themselves between political masters and the military, thus creeping above the military.
This recent instance of a typical bureaucrat – who would otherwise be one more among thousands of unremarkable paper pushers with no achievement to speak about except tweeting – replying disrespectfully to one of India’s most distinguished Admirals and naval combat aviator Admiral Arun Prakash – is a reflection of that misplaced, substance-less arrogance. An inexplicable bad behaviour by a nobody who enjoys proximity to a minister. While Admiral Prakash was unruffled and pointed out the need for a discussion to delve into this mindset, my views are far more blunt.
This is unconscionable behaviour for an MoD spokesperson and the person deserves a real sharp putdown. More importantly, the MoD leadership must shut the door on this type of culture of foolish, boorish hubris and arrogance among its bureaucrats. Public may perceive this junior loudmouth’s conduct as reflecting a mindset or a broader culture within the ministry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done a lot, despite financial constraints, for armed forces and veterans and it’s terrible to see the goodwill being destroyed by this type of arrogance. There is a need for a real discussion on civil-military relations. It is imperative that those who represent uniformed men and women are worthy of them.
Arrogant, powerful bureaucracy & sulking military are dangerous for national security
Lt Gen H.S. Panag (Retd)
Former GOC-in-C, Northern & Central commands
The photo of the car of the IFA Western Command with a flag, aping the age-old and codified norm for flag officers (Brigadiers and above) of the armed forces, sparked a social media controversy.
Serving officers ridiculed the flouting of the rules and the childish desire of the bureaucracy to seek equivalency with the armed forces. The bureaucracy led by the spokesperson of the MoD, rather than accepting the deviation, hit back highlighting the abuse of privileges and misuse of soldiers, vehicles and government property by the officers of the armed forces.
Armed forces are the nation’s instrument of last resort and are privileged organisations in all countries and have enjoyed a unique lifestyle over the centuries, which is the envy of civilians.
This lifestyle and the privileges that have become associated with it are codified in rules and regulations, and any breach is punishable under military law.
In a democracy, the armed forces function under political control as laid down in the Constitution. In India, politicians do not take too much interest in the military and have virtually delegated the control to the bureaucracy. This has given the bureaucrats in the MoD an overarching power with a veto over all aspects of the armed forces. Military leadership resents this because it stymies their authority. Rather than establish a healthy relationship to further the national interest, there exists an environment of mutual suspicion, jealousy and antipathy.
The culture and lifestyle of the armed forces is the last frontier the bureaucracy wants to conquer. What we have seen on the social media is only a reflection of the bigger problem. Nothing can be more dangerous for national security than an arrogant and powerful bureaucracy and a sulking military.
Statements and actions of an individual don’t reflect viewpoint of entire community
Former distinguished fellow, IDSA
The statements and actions of an individual, whether serving or retired, do not reflect the viewpoint of the entire community of that individual. Sadly, the tendency to consider every statement and action as an affront to one’s position has become the hallmark of public discourse on civil-military relations, with tempers running high and emotionally provocative statements flying around all the time.
That the armed forces are held in the highest esteem in the country is absolutely undeniable. This is in sharp contrast to the public perception about the bureaucracy. Individual statements or actions do not change this reality.
This is not to deny that there is a strong feeling among the services of being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the civilian bureaucracy in regard to pay parity, perks and privileges. It is equally true that a section of the bureaucracy does not agree with this. This should be seen as healthy dialectics and not an unseemly clash between the services and the civilians over their respective entitlements.
The problem can be resolved only by focusing on its specifics and through a continuous, dispassionate and objective dialogue with the government. Each side must stop treating the other as an adversary. They must also respect, and be tolerant of, differing points of view rather than indulging in polemics.
In this emotionally surcharged atmosphere, the case for parity cannot be bolstered by making self-righteous assertions and through outpourings of anger over stray remarks, often made in one’s personal capacity.
Misuse evident both by civil & military officers, issue is deeper than that
Former civil servant, ministry of Defence
The defence spokesperson is a defence accounts officer and belongs to the Controller General of Defence Accounts’ (CGDA) establishment. The CGDA’s mandate is to exercise internal oversight on defence spending, whether it is entitlements, compensation and benefits, or acquisition of any sort. It is supposed to act as associate finance to the services.
Somewhere down the line, the CGDA has become an agency that interprets rules, sometimes overriding the competent authority from services headquarters, which has resulted in a larger-than-life role for them.
Along with it has come the self-abrogated power since more often than not services do not want to cross swords (metaphorically) with the CGDA. Hence, the use of a flag entitled to a three-star officer has probably been overlooked as people tend to choose their battles.
Officers from all services at certain seniority are provided cars by services headquarters although not entitled to it when posted to MoD as a courtesy. The misuse is evident, both by civil and military officers. The issue is much deeper than that.
Civil-military relations need to be relooked at, particularly in the wake of the cutting back on certain entitlements by the Pay Commission, and the perceived mismatch in the warrant of precedence between civil and military ranks, which currently are not in line with the levels of responsibility being exercised.
The misuse of a flag is a symptom of issues that are flagged above. Rather than looking at it as pampering, there is a need to rationalise on both sides with due respect for each other.
Only freebies a majority of defence services get are enemy’s bullets
Major Navdeep Singh
Advocate, Punjab & Haryana High Court
I’m the last one for treating the military as a holy cow or for hiding its infirmities behind the cloak of ‘national security’ or other exaggerations. Therefore, paradoxically, it was not the text of the tweet that I found highly objectionable but the fact that it came from the official twitter handle of the spokesperson of the ministry of defence, and that it was totally ill-configured with the subject purportedly being replied to.
Former naval chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, had commented upon a flag of the Indian Army’s Western Command being used by a financial adviser of the Defence Accounts Department. Naturally, it was an odd sight. Traditionally and as per precedent, flags are used by appointment holders in various uniformed services, holders of constitutional posts or high administrative appointees, and are governed by some regulations or statutory provisions. However, it seems that the flag today is fast becoming a status symbol and a tacit replacement of beacons atop vehicles, which were first deprecated by the Supreme Court and then recently abolished by the government. Anyway, it can be nobody’s case that each and every government officer should be provided with a flag to be flaunted on his or her car.
The tweet by the spokesperson, even if inadvertent, unfortunately still does reflect the negative inner sentiment harboured by civilian staff against the military (vice versa is true too) and displays the widening wedge between two sets of employees serving the same nation. While the text of the tweet would have been perfectly understandable had it been a part of a drawing-room conversation or even between two citizens or government officers in their respective personal capacities, but it is extremely distasteful coming from an official handle and must be taken note of at the highest level.
Also, as a parting shot, while I will never condone any unauthorised freebies to officers, military or civil, it must never be forgotten that for a vast majority of the defence services and the Central Armed Police Forces, the only freebies that they get are bullets of the enemy.
How many apologies do officers owe for using jawans for menial work?
My father was in the Indian Air Force and he wasn’t an officer (he retired as a Sergeant). As a jawan’s kid (and not defence brat), I had seen the discrimination and misuse of power by the officers.
From their salary package, treatment in hospitals to the ration quota, the line between the officers and non-officers is clearly drawn. Officers eat in a separate mess and the quality of food varies with respect to what non-officers get. While non-officers stand in queue to get their monthly ration, officers get it delivered at their doorstep by making just a phone call.
Even in schools, officers’ children enjoy an advantage over others when it comes to representing the school in debates or other co-curricular activities.
I agree that it takes a lot to be an officer in the armed forces, but is it right to treat jawans as slaves in the 21st century?
I remember once my father was asked to shop for groceries for a squadron leader as he was hosting a party that night. My father rushed to the officer’s residence, but when told about why he was called, he politely refused to do it. The officer got someone else to do it.
Jawans clearly do not join the force to pet officers’ dogs, pick up the golf sticks, pick and drop their children to school, cook meals for them, or take their wives out for shopping. But the power dynamics are such that saying no to these things is accompanied by a constant fear of a transfer to a difficult station, or god knows what.
Admiral Arun Prakash is saying that the bureaucrat be reprimanded for using the defence flag. But, I want to know how many apologies officers owe for ill-treating the jawans.
Compiled by Rama Lakshmi and Kritika Banerjee.