Shashi Tharoor on the Declining Status of the Indian Armed Forces

‘The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.’

5 min read

Recommendations of the 7th Pay Commission got the Cabinet nod on 29 June. This will benefit over one crore government employees and pensioners but reportedly lowered the status and remuneration of the Indian armed forces.

In April, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had written for The Quint making an impassioned case to revise the errors of the pay commission.

For better or worse, force is the guarantor of a nation’s security. It protects the nation from threats extending beyond or within its borders. The Indian armed forces act as the guardian of the legitimacy enjoyed by the government through the spirit of the democratic process. The officers of our armed forces swear “true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution of India upon enrolment in the military. But do we, the political establishment, show the same faith and allegiance towards our uniformed citizens?

I fear not. Petty slights, ranging from deliberately downgrading the military in protocol terms, to persistent actions to lower the status and compensation of our military personnel, have eroded the dignity of the Indian armed forces. The consequences will inevitably be suffered by all.


The armed forces are among those very few citizens of India who, at a moment’s notice, might be summoned to sacrifice their lives in the service of their country.

The 15 lakh servicemen constitute approximately 30% of central government employees.

‘The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.’
A file photo of soldiers of the Indian Army. (Photo: iStockphoto)

However, with each Central Pay Commission (CPC), the seventh of which was released last year, we have proven to be blind to their enduring sacrifice. We have short-changed the remuneration of our armed servicemen. One such change put forward in the CPC is the status of Brigadiers, who, until the 3rd CPC, were granted a higher salary than the deputy inspector general (DIG) of the police.

Today, Brigadiers are equated to the deputy inspector general, and, after the implementation of the 7th CPC, will be relegated to a lower pay scale than DIGs. These changes defy reason: only 2% of defence officers achieve such a rank, which is only received after 12 more years of service than the designation of DIG.

The result is that longer service in the Indian Army is rewarded with less compensation than fewer years of service in the police force. What could possibly justify such a disparity?

7th Central Pay Commission

The 7th CPC also recommends, among other things:
-a separate pay matrix and
-disability pension policy for defence forces, which largely disadvantages the defence personnel in favour of higher allowances for their civilian counterparts.

According to the 7th CPC, disabled junior commission officers in the IAF are given Rs 12,000 as a disability pension while the equivalent civilian with the same level of disability draws over twice that amount (Rs 27,690).

Disabled junior Commission Officers are given Rs 12,000 as pension.
A civilian with the same level of disability is given Rs 27,690.

But remuneration, as delineated in the CPC, is but one facet of a larger trend of diminishing the status of our servicemen. The Order of Precedence is the official hierarchy of the Republic of India. It denotes the rank of government officials in the ceremonial protocol; an important point of pride and status for all government servants. By codifying government’s official rankings, it is a convenient illustration of the inconvenient reality of the lowered status of our military personnel.

‘The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.’
Indian Army servicemen during a ceremony. (Photo: IANS)

Marginalizing Military Officers

Since 1947

Since 1947, subsequent to every Indian military victory (1947-8, 1965, and 1971), our military officers have been marginalized further and further down the Order of Precedence.

Post 1962

After the 1962 Indo-China war, the three Chiefs of Staff were put below the newly created Cabinet Secretary. The Major Generals were equated to a rank below the Director of the Intelligence Bureau.

Post 1965

After the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, the Chiefs of Staff were further downgraded below the Attorney General.


In 1968, Major Generals were placed below the Deputy Controller and Auditor-General.


In 1971, the Service Chiefs came below the Comptroller and Auditor-General (both of whom were previously below Lieutenant General). Similarly, Lieutenant Generals have been placed below the Chief Secretaries, who were previously ranked lower than Major Generals.


With each war came the deaths of countless of our nation’s children, who gave the ultimate measure of devotion in service of their nation.

The changes to the Order of Precedence and the growing disparity in salary suggests that we have commemorated their sacrifice and rewarded their efforts with a harsh and unconscionable gift of declined dignity.
‘The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.’
Armed forces during the counter-terror operation at Pathankot (Photo altered by The Quint)

Protocol, Policy-Making and Peacekeeping

I still recall in my UN peace-keeping days my astonishment at meeting an Indian delegation wherein an experienced and impressive Brigadier had to cede place to a less-informed Director-rank civilian from the MEA, purely on grounds of protocol. It taught me a great deal about what was wrong with our policy-making on peacekeeping.

Issues of status and remuneration might appear trivial, but they augur ill for the future well-being of the country.

The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.
‘The Army is not as attractive a career option for the next generation as it was for their forebears.’
Ex-servicemen of Gujarat protest to demand “One Rank One Pension” in Ahmedabad on Sunday. (Photo: PTI)

The armed forces are already arm-wrestling with the invisible hand of the market to capture the available talent and capacities of the younger generation. But their ability to recruit young citizens is, ironically, undermined by the very economic development that they guarantee though keeping our nation secure.

The armed forces are as critical to guaranteeing the safety of the nation in this century as in the last. Conventional wars over territorial disputes may appear improbable today. But make no mistake, while we are not at war, we are also not at peace.

The 21st century marks the beginning of a protracted era of geopolitical volatility that presents itself as an illusion of peace to the complacent. We have an unresolved border issue with China, continuing hostilities conducted by “non-state actors” from Pakistan, militants in Kashmir and the northeast, and the ever-present threat of terrorism.

The lowering of status and remuneration of the Indian armed forces is an attack on the very insurance that guarantees the liberties endowed to all citizens of India. We must empower our officers and soldiers and grant them the position of prominence they deserve. Revising the errors in the 7th Pay Commission decisions and in the Order of Precedence would be a good place to start.

(Former UN under-secretary-general, Shashi Tharoor is a Congress MP and author)

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