Thursday, October 17, 2013
Will they wait for a Tsunami to wake them up?
The Army - What’s gone wrong?
The Indian Army, besides being the world’s third largest, enjoys a unique status of professional excellence. There is no other army in the world that is as battle hardened as the Indian Army that has fought and won in as treacherous terrain and climate as the world’s highest glacial battlefield. Only the Indian troops are shifted across operational theatres as diverse as the sultry forests of the North East, torrid sands of Thar desert, reed infested riverine borderline of Punjab, mountainous J&K and the entire expanse of icy Himalayas from Siachin in north Kashmir to Along in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Besides the LoC/LAC on both fronts – Pakistan and China respectively – being incessantly active, the Indian Army has been fighting terrorists and insurgents to keep the country together.
Also, the Army’s role in relief operations during natural calamities or other emergencies has been universally lauded all through. All this speaks very high of our officers and men at action level.
Sadly, however, the Indian Army has been in the news for wrong reasons in the recent past. The Chinese Army brazenly intruded 19 km deep into the Indian territory, pitched tents and stayed on for days under the nose of the Indian Army even as the world watched us doing no more than complaining as we did in the post Mumbai 26/11 terror strike by Pakistan. Again, the Chinese Army dared to cross into Arunachal Pradesh and physically wrestled and pushed the Indian troops out of their positions on ground. On the western front too, a repeatedly beaten Pakistan Army dared to intrude, behead and kill Indian troops in two different actions. These incidents have shamed us as a Nation.
With the veneer so damaged, the inner decay showed up damaging the high credentials of India’s military might. Chiefs of Army/Navy/Air Force have been reported/indicted for their unseemly role in scams. A growing number of major generals/lt generals have been found involved in scams and other acts of unspeakable misdemeanour. The rising number and frequency of such cases can no longer be brushed aside as ‘odd aberrations.’ As if that was not humiliating enough, there has been a spurt in unsavoury incidents involving officers and men at unit levels. In the profession of arms, leaders lead by personal example to inspire and motivate subordinates. The wrong examples have truly but horribly inspired subordinates – at least so it seems. Each incident raises painful questions. What has gone wrong with the Army that was so adored by public for its high traditions of discipline, chivalry, sacrifice and selfless devotion to the Nation? Here are some answers and more questions.
The Officer Shortage
The net shortage of officers in the Army is said to be about 12000 at present. Surprisingly, all the shortage is at the ‘teeth’ level – the units required to fight and perform. There is no shortage at any Headquarters (from Brigade to Army Headquarters) or Establishments reputed for risk-free career advancing ‘graded’ tenures in peace locations. Infantry units – the ubiquitous performing arm of the Indian Army – are managing with 8-10 officers posted against an authorised scale of 21, which obviously means that the workload on officers is more than twice their legitimate share. As a contrast, the higher headquarters not only have their full scale posted but also commandeer and ‘attach’ officers from the already over-stretched units. One should not be surprised if the number of such ‘attached’ officers at the Army Headquarters is over a hundred today.
Conscious of these crucial deficiencies but unable to convince the Government on crucial military needs, the authorities have devised a quick-fix solution to ‘solve’ the problem of ‘officer shortage’ – post young officers on cross-attachment from the Services like ASC, AOC and so on to the infantry units deployed in field. Resultantly, it is common in units to find raw, untrained and unqualified lieutenants/captains officiating as Company Commanders. Often, more than one company/squadron are placed under command of a youngster even before he is mature and qualified enough to lead a platoon effectively in action.
Grooming Institutions demolished
Not too long ago in this very Army, we had systems to groom young officers under the care of seasoned field officers who would assign responsibilities, guide and educate youngsters to occupy their positions in due course. The luxury of having two officers – a company commander and his company officer – is no longer available to the commanding officers of today. The institution of Senior Subaltern also stands demolished. The youngster these days steps directly into the boots of his boss and flounders like an excited toddler in his father’s shoes flaunting his large acquisition. Who would refute the imminent fall in such a situation?
Officer-men Inter-action gone haywire
Overburdened officers always under pressure to meet deadlines in onerous tasking find little time to train, play or entertain with troops on a regular basis. Such a routine distances officers from the men. Being more educated, aware and conscious of his privileges, the modern jawan is quick to find/create alternative channels in such circumstances to seek remedies to his problems directly from the Commanding Officer who, in most cases, readily obliges – often ignoring/overruling recommendations of the subordinate commanders thereby proving the sub-unit commanders ineffective and unnecessary in the eyes of JCOs and men in the unit. Unwittingly, this practice has evolved into a dangerous trend – hunger for cheap popularity – even as objectivity and sincerity is diminishing in today’s Army. Crisis to crisis they move on, compromise and accomplish somehow.
Need to bridge the Cultural Divide
Unlike the Army of yester years, our jawans and their wives are all educated today, most of them having graduate and post-graduate degrees. Call it ‘ego’ if you must, but the modern jawan is imbued with a strong sense of ‘self-respect’. Of course, he is entitled to preserve this core value of his character – a facet that will only make him a better inspired, motivated and committed soldier willing to be led by superior competence. Times have changed and altered societal equations and individual perceptions. No self-respecting soldier would volunteer for menial work in someone else’s home in today’s environments. It is nice that the Army is already taking steps to remedy this ticklish problem by replacing combatants with non-combatant sahayaks.
Another issue is the disparity in the entitlement of rations. There is no plausible logic to have any variation in this regard especially when officers and men come from the same stock of society and have similar eating habits.
Also, there is a need for deeper introspection by officers to review their outlook and be more approachable in off-parade/office hours shedding their officious aura. Officers wives can help a great deal by readjusting their equations with the equally or more educated wives of other ranks. Any harm if the ‘Mem Sahib’ tag is replaced with ‘Madam’, ‘Didi’ or ‘Mrs…….’?
‘Play-safe’ Attitude and Careerism
Most seniors would not like it; yet I feel this should be Point Number One because this flows straight from the top. Watch any cluster of senior officers at a party, seminar, meeting or even in travel and you will find them discussing nothing other than ACRs, postings, citation for awards, nomination for NDC, HC or their next best obsession – golf, cock-tails, single-malts, sponsored jaunts and sojourns and so on. Serious issues dampen their spirits. Even when they happen to touch upon something serious, they cautiously punctuate their revelation by the cliché clause, “Don’t quote me, but let me tell you……..”.
Two of the most serious problems faced by the Military Secretary’s Branch at the Army Headquarters are inflated ACRs and representations against supersessions and postings, the former being the cause of the latter. Going by the prevalent ACR grading trend, it would appear that the Army never had a more competent lot of so many officers in the top bracket of ‘above average’ and outstanding officers. In the same breath, however, every senior officer also whines, “Army no longer attracts the top cream of the Indian youth.” It is not because the ACR initiating/reviewing officers (IOs/ROs) are more generous. In the days of moral degradation, guilt drives the senior to timidly submit to the aspirations of his junior because the latter is either privy to or a direct source/conduit of his senior’s exploits. Sadly, greed and ambitions are the bane of all that is wrong with the Army today.
Transparency enhances Credibility
In times of see-though communication technology, it is neither feasible nor desirable to hide every military routine under the cover of ‘military security’. Tons of military knowledge and information guarded by the Indian Army as ‘classified’ – secret and confidential – is openly and freely available on the Internet today. Spreading awareness among the masses about military capabilities, limitations and requirements will only buttress the Army’s case and force the reluctant Netas and Babus, who callously ignore serious issues despite judicial directions from the Armed Forces Tribunal and the Supreme Court, to sit up and take note.
Within the Army, there is a need to make all selection boards fully transparent allowing officers free access to their personal records, master data sheets and proceedings of the board. All information about postings and promotions should also be instantly posted on the MS Branch Intra-Net Website. Notings and recommendations on complaints and representations will be eventually brought within the purview of RTI. Therefore, there is a need to review the traditional military idea of defining and keeping ‘secrets’.
The unsavoury incidents of officer-jawan duels are not ‘odd cases of indiscipline’; they are ripples on the surface warning us of a bigger storm building up somewhere deeper. It would be, therefore, fallacious to assume that the problem would be solved through a case-to-case approach like standard procedures of Courts of Inquiry and courts martial. The need of the hour is an overhaul of officers’ traditional mind-set so as to adapt themselves to a realistic modern environment that cannot be wished away. Only the last cynical will wait for a Tsunami to wake him up.