One had occasion to meet the legendary J R D Tata just once, in the late 1970s at a social occasion in Delhi. In his characteristically gracious yet witty manner, he regaled the dinner-table with snippets from his interaction with the capital's babudom, of having to wait all day in a stuffy outer room, in vain, to meet with an exalted joint secretary in the industry ministry. "The powers that be in Delhi have neither the time nor respect for the honest industrialist" he said and wondered when this attitude would ever change.
The attitude of Delhi changed, but only after the jolt of the BOP (balance of payment) crisis of 1991. India was fortunate that it had an astute prime minister in Narasimha Rao, assisted by an able finance minister, Manmohan Singh, and his team of hard-core economic and finance professionals. As always, the Indian elephant revealed its innate resilience and responded when pushed to the wall. The stifling licence-permit raj was dismantled and the business sector was given the support and acknowledgement it deserved. Thus the picture in 2008 is of robust economic growth and a steadily increasing foreign exchange reserve.
However, the moot question that the country is ducking is, have we reached the equivalent of a BOP crisis as far as national security is concerned? And are the drivers the same as identified by the late JRD in his time? The answer, alas, is yes. The apex of the politico-bureaucratic structure in the capital appears to be indifferent to the complexity and the scale of the security challenges that the country has to address. And the frustration of the uniformed community — military, paramilitary and police — that is entrusted with the actual operational responsibility is growing. The forces feel as slighted and ill-treated as the business community of old. There has been much heartburn within the rank and file of the security forces against the iniquitous recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission and the manner in which the ‘fauj' as an institution has been neglected. This is the first time in the history of independent India that the retired ‘fauji' community has reacted in this manner and many of the anomalies that have been highlighted in relation to the IAS and IPS merit serious attention. It is a compounded irony that within the undoubted triumph of Indian democracy, the military as an institution remains the equivalent of the pariah. The latest pay commission only seeks to widen this gap — whether it is by way of pay and allowances or career prospects — and much of this disparity has been detailed in the public domain.
The fauj has many internal imbalances to rectify but what should cause concern at the highest political level, across party lines, is that the entire spectrum of the uniformed constituency in India resents the treatment being meted out to it and the callousness with which its grievances are addressed. The intrinsic discipline and service rules prevent the serving fraternity from venting their frustration in public but the dissatisfaction is empirically irrefutable. At a time when the country faces a host of internal security challenges spanning from religious radicalism to left-wing extremism and large parts of the country are afflicted by violence, the armed capability of the state is becoming hollow from within. Officer shortage within the army alone is in excess of 11,000 and this is about a quarter of its sanctioned strength of 46,615. Many of these gaps are at the rank of captain and major. Can an army that has low-intensity conflict as its primary task maintain the operational profile it is renowned for over the next decade? The police force faces a similar internal crisis and its inter-se status with the IAS while being better than that of the military, leaves room for redress. Serving IPS officers have given vent to their anguish in public and there is reference to "a feeling of sullen resentment among the officers in khaki".
Perspicacity would suggest that calibrated pre-emptive action is imperative to ensure that there is no crisis in the Indian security domain.