June 28, 2022:
The Indian military has long had a problem with pension costs. India has no conscription and has the largest all-volunteer military in the world. India also has a less vibrant economy because from the beginning (1947) Indian politicians had an abiding preference for socialism and a heavily regulated economy. This was popular after World War II but most democracies soon realized (within a decade or less) that socialism doesn’t work and elected politicians who were able to provide economic growth. That didn’t happen for India until the 1990s, when it was noted that even communist China had made the switch to a market economy a decade earlier and were now enjoying unprecedented economic growth which, after about three decades, saw China with the second largest economy (GDP) in the world. Indians could do the historical math and realized that India and China had similar populations and GDP after World War II and the Chinese adoption of communism in 1949 led to economic catastrophe until China realized that change was needed. By the 1990s China was starting to experience labor shortages, something that India did not have to worry about because the regulated Indian economy provided fewer jobs.
China still has conscription but had not had to use it since the 1980s because there were now plenty of volunteers. China has been shrinking its military for decades because it has been modernizing. India never had as many people in the military as China and always emphasized well-trained and well-equipped forces. The training was no problem but getting modern equipment was a problem because the Indian economy is still over-regulated and unable to develop and build competitive (with Western, or even Chinese) designs. The military has another problem; too many career soldiers who can remain in the military long enough (20 years) to qualify for a pension. Politicians resisted military efforts to limit the number of personnel who could automatically reenlist every four years until they qualified for a pension. This was popular with voters and the Indian military, unlike in Pakistan and Burma (also freed from British rule in 1947) made sure elected officials maintained tight control over the military. Over a decade of pressure from the Chinese border over Chinese claims on Indian territory made it clear that the better equipped, younger and equally professional Chinese troops had the edge over their Indian counterparts.
Indian politicians have become more accommodating to requests from the military to fix this and that led to the June 14th announcement of the military “path of fire” plan to change reenlistment policies. No longer will all new recruits have the option to reenlist after their first four-year contract. It used to be that If you had a clean record and were still physically fit, you could automatically reenlist and most troops did and kept doing so until they could leave the military after 20 years with a pension and start a new career. The military needs more recruits and existing personnel with technical skills or the ability to acquire them. That worked for the Americans and Chinese but after the Cold War ended in 1991 most European militaries shrank and many troops adopted a civil service mentality and no need to stay in physical shape for combat. For the last two decades the European forces have been trying to climb out of that hole, especially since the threat of European war returned unambiguously in early 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine.
India has a similar problem with China but the Chinese are not as reckless and obvious as the Russians. Chinese strategy emphasizes pressure and a growing military presence on the Indian border. This has worked and China is gradually taking control of territory they claim on the Indian side of the border.
The result of all this was widespread protests in India when the new reenlistment policy was announced. Indian politicians have not backed down but have tried to placate the young men and many young troops, with a law that would reserve ten percent of new jobs in the police and paramilitary government agencies. Despite those concessions the protests continue. China and Russia had similar protests from the many officers that were forced out of the military in the great down-sizing of the 1980s and 1980s but nothing as violent as the unrest in India where many Indians see a military career as a right not to be trifled with. The Chinese agree with that, but because of a growing worker shortage, have trouble getting enough qualified people to join the military.