Ominous and disturbing are reports that the armed forces and the government are close to a stand-off over “anomalies” in the award of the Seventh Central Pay Commission. The defence minister&’s “directive” to implement the award immediately, while differences could be subsequently resolved, is clearly a response to the military&’s asking for the revised scale of pay and allowances to be held in abeyance until all creases are ironed out.

 Such one-upmanship or brinksmanship must be avoided at all costs memories of the still unresolved differences over the manner in which the OROP promise was implemented still hurt. And none who were “in the know” can forget the “air force mutiny” of the mid-1990s when a previous pay commission award was up for implementation. As political tensions with Pakistan get ratcheted up, and the Kashmir Valley and its long-standing militancy come close to boiling point, any disgruntlement in the forces will have an impact on the national security effort. That is a reality that will not disappear despite any overdose of jingoistic rhetoric. Rather than stand on false prestige to sustain the image of a “tough” government, Narendra Modi and Manohar Parrikar must rise above babu practices and ensure that there is no repetition of what has plagued the awards of previous commissions.

It is nothing short of a national disgrace, and a poor reflection of ministerial capabilities, that the bureaucrats and uniformed personnel retain an adversarial posture that ought to have been junked 70 years ago. At the root of the dispute over pay and allowances is the soldiers’ belief that they will always get an unfair deal since the bureaucrats have “the ear” of the political bosses.

A sore point is the sustained rejection of the forces’ demand that one of their experts be included in the pay panel. Yet when the offer was made for a separate panel for the them the faujis  rejected it on the suspicion that regardless of what they were awarded the civil servants would eventually extract more. It is more than a mere money matter: the “uniforms” lament that civilian control has been abused to result in bureaucratic domination.

They also draw attention to the continued downgrading of the military in the “warrant of precedence” and hark back to the days of Independence Rs when the “warrant” was based on a colonial system that had to be dismantled when democracy took root.

It is not easy to discard the baggage and suspicions of history, the track record of Narendra Modi and his ministers inspire little confidence in their ability to effect such drastic changes. Our “friends” across the Radcliffe Line will be thrilled by a controversy that has the potential to snowball.