The action (actually, inaction) of the service chiefs with regards to implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations has drawn flak from several quarters. It is being viewed by the critics as insubordination, indiscipline. Fingers are also being raised on the propriety of sending out signals to all ranks informing them of the delay.
The fact of the matter is that the politicians and the bureaucrats have been caught in flagrante delicto in their attempt to rush through the implementation, warts and all. This, despite that it has been pointed out that the final recommendations have glaring discrepancies as regards the armed forces. The inexplicable down gradation of Lt Cols and Lt Gens, and the reduction in pension of the jawans, defy logic and cannot stand scrutiny. Interestingly, these discrepancies were not part of the original pay commission report, but were introduced by the Committee of Secretaries during review.
Attempts to browbeat the services into accepting the award along with discrepancies, with the unconvincing assurance of looking into the issues post implementation, did not work. The principled stance of the chiefs, uncharacteristic of the incumbents in recent years, took them by surprise. The chiefs probably realized that once implemented, the urgency in rectifying the discrepancies would no longer exist, and the issue would get mired in typical bureaucratic delaying tactics. It is notable that the anomalies of the fourth and fifth pay commissions have still not been removed. The lowered status and pensions of the armed forces would have similarly become fait accompli.
Ethos of the armed forces is centred around loyalty – a concept difficult to understand for outsiders in today’s self serving opportunistic environment. Loyalty in the forces has many dimensions – loyalty towards the country, towards the services, towards one’s unit or ship, your superiors – and most importantly, towards the men under your command. The ‘Chetwoode Motto’ is deeply ingrained in the psyche of every officer :-
"The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time."
The stance taken by the service chiefs is in pursuit of these ideals. Individually, the chiefs have no personal stake in the removal of the anomalies. They have been well compensated in the pay commission report. On the contrary, in taking a strong stance, they have possibly staked their personal self interests such as post retirement appointments. It is only their strong sense of loyalty to their subordinates that prompted this action.
Unlike all other services affected by the pay commission, the armed forces have no unions, no associations. The jawans and officers have absolutely no mechanism of expressing their dissatisfaction with the pay commission discrepancies. They would have no option but to ‘lump it’. Life would carry on, the soldiers and officers would continue to spill their blood securing this nation. But, as the chiefs are well aware, it would be yet another blow to the already beleaguered edifice of the morale of the services, another threat to its basic fabric.
The move to withhold the implementation till a final decision on the anomalies was the only way the import and urgency of the issue could have been highlighted, since all other quarters had only drawn assurances. It also made administrative sense, since it would avoid having to do the salary calculations of more than 15 Lakh people twice in (hopefully) a month or so.
As regards the signal informing their command of the delay in implementation, it was perfectly in order to keep all ranks of the services informed about an issue that every one of them is obviously monitoring closely and is affected by. This is as per the best practices of command, to avoid rumour mongering and ensuring the correct picture is known to all.
The chiefs were sanguine that loyalty to the nation lay in being loyal to their services and their subordinates, and acted accordingly, even at potentially grave personal costs. It is probably for the first time, after the late Field Marshal Manekshaw insisted on delaying the commencement of operations in 1971 till the army was fully ready, that such a principled and selfless stance has been taken by any service chief. They have lived up to the line in the NDA Prayer – “Help me to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”The nation, media and the government must view their actions in this light, and not now go on a witch hunt, lest they cause irreparable damage to the morale of the armed forces.