Date: 30/04/2014

The Bureaucracy and the Armed Forces - A case of Penis Envy?

If there are any kings in a democracy, it is our bureaucrats. Hope the essence of the mail below also reaches the balanced, patriotic elements in our bureaucracy.
The author, Kishore Asthana, (an IIM A aluminus of 1972 batch), as a man any one would LOVE to interact with.
He just happens to be NCR Mensa head as well...



Imagine two branches of service in the Government of India. The two branches are different in substance and in the perception of the citizens. One branch has its halo effect and is considered both glamorous and praiseworthy in public perception. The other branch is often pejoratively titled “babudom”.

Now consider the following points:

· The armed forces have their uniforms and shiny medals. The bureaucrats have none.
· Generals, Admirals and Air Marhsals sport three stars on their vehicles, and sometimes four stars. Even officers of the rank of Brigadier sport a star. The bureaucrats of similar seniority have to make do with just a red or blue light. Lest you consider this a trivial matter not worthy of the attention of a senior bureaucrat, consider this – when my brother, an Air Commodore, was posted as India’s Air Attache in Washington, he was entitled to put a single star – the US Army’s designated insignia for a brigadier level officer – on his vehicle. This gave him certain parking and other privileges in specified buildings. His administrative superior – an officer belonging to the Indian Foreign Service – actually urged my brother to remove the star from his car since he, the senior officer, was not entitled to it.

· The armed forces, with their bemedalled heroes guarding our boundaries, and their fighter pilots, navy commanders etc. garner favourable publicity in the media and are viewed as services with an air of professionalism and macho. They carry an aura of glamour. The bureaucrats, on the other hand, do not have such an image – in fact, they are widely considered to be working in musty offices, surrounded by files and aided by often sloppy staff, who the average citizen encounters in his or her daily life.

If professions could be said to have sexes, the armed forces would definitely be considered masculine and the bureaucrats, their civilian counterpart, feminine. In saying this I do not mean to slight the feminine aspect. I am just stating the obvious – the aggressive, protective, outgoing principle vis a vis the protected, home-bound civilian bureuacrats.

This dichotomy between the two appears to have affected the bureaucratic wing adversely as far as their attitude towards the defence wing is concerned. The closest we can express this attitude in psychological terms is by saying that they suffer from penis-envy.

Sigmund Freud introduced the concept of a little girl's envy of the penis in his 1908 article "On the Sexual Theories of Children," and developed the idea later in his work “On Narcissism”. Subsequantly, his theory has been overtaken by more accurate theories of female sexuality by psychologists such as Eric Ericson ad Jian Paget. It has also been criticised by feminists and others. However, here we are not dealing with the girl child’s psychological development. We are concerned with a similar emotion amongst India’s bureaucrats vis a vis our Armed Forces where this theory does appear to apply rather closely.

The bureaucrats subconsciously appear to wish that they had more glamour in their profession, that they had smart, uniformed assistants and starred vehicles and be-medalled uniforms. Acquiring these appears as difficult as the girl’s covert wish to acquire a penis. However, unlike the girl child, the bureaucrats can do something about it. They may not be able to acquire a penis for themselves, but they leave no occasion to try and castrate the armed forces.

The recent sixth pay commission controversy is only one factor in the ongoing struggle for supremacy which the bureuacrats have tried this castration. In persuance of this effort, the bureaucrats have not permitted even a single representative of the armed forces – India’s largest employer – in the Pay Commission. An indicative incident of the feeling of animosity can be judged by the incident where the military attache in one of our embassies overheard one of the senior-most bureaucrats visiting that country make a pejorative comment in reference to the noise being made by the armed forces about the Sixth Pay Commission award anomalies. The senior bureaucrats comment was that on his return to India “We will fix the bastards”.

Another indication of this castration is the order of precedence. This is the official order in which dignitaries are seated at formal functions and the ceremonial importance given to each relative to the others. At the time of independence, the senior most general was second in the Order of Precedence. Now the Army Chief is 12th in this list. The Cabinet Secretary is 11th, as is the Attorney General. At the 23rd position are “Officers of the rank of full General or equivalent rank” on par with Secretaries to the Government, Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities , Secretary, Minorities Commission, Secretary, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes , Members, Minorities Commission , Members, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Members, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and a host of others.

There are many other areas where no opportunity is missed by the bureaucrats to show the armed forces down.

The overt reason one hears for maintaining the supremacy of the bureaucrats over the armed forces is that we should adhere to the principle of “the civilian control of the army”. However, civilian control does not mean the Chief of India’s Army, who commands 1.3 million officers and soldiers, apart from 1.4 million reserve and territorial army personnel, waiting at the pleasure of the bureaucrats manning the Ministry of Defense. So long as he obeys the orders of a civilian Minister of Defence, it would ensure the principle of civilian control adequately. However, the bureaucrats will never agree to this because this argument will take away one more tool which facilitates the castration mentioned above.

These attempts at castration of the armed forces by the bureaucracy are resulting in the demoralization of our armed forces at all levels. The retired officers speak about this openly and the serving ones in hushed tones. This complex of the bureaucrats needs to be recognized for what it is and, then, needs to be addressed firmly and fairly by the political masters, Unless this is done, we will continue devaluing the spear and shield of the country to satisfy the castrative instinct of the bureaucrats. If a further devaluation of the tools of India's defence happens, we should not be surprised that, when we need a steely response to danger on our borders, we will get a wooden one. Then, paradoxically, the bureaucrats will get one more reason to castrate the armed forces further and the vicious spiral will continue making holes in our national defence shield.

Kishore Asthana