Indian Army: Decay sets in the last Bastion
By Col Danvir Singh
The most important pillar of any nation, The Armed Forces often referred to as the last bastion, under the strength of which rest all others, the temples of democracy, environment of free air and freedom, financial security and progress, fundamental rights, judiciary and many more that we do not realise in our day to day lives. It is this bastion that has set in motion to decay, the reform measures if not instituted will one days result in history repenting and the nation weeping.
The latest horrific disclosures of a former Air Chief under scanner for taking bribe in VVIP Helicopter deal, thus betraying the faith of millions in uniform, if the allegations were proved true. Well the story of corruption is not so new but the magnitude is ever increasing by the day. Over the past five years or so there have been regular reports emerging in the media on suicides, fragging and recently the officers getting beaten up by the very own men they commanded. Why does the situation develops into a ugly scenario so fast and regularly these days where jawans gang up and thrash up the officers flushing down the drain rich traditions , customs and ethos that we have been boasting for more than a century now. It is difficult to even imagine what that these officers must have undergone, a trauma from insult and shame of getting assaulted by their very own men, the country should be forced to think of the larger reasons that have gone wrong. After all these officers were selected and trained into the military ethos which is inscribed in the Chetwood Hall of the IMA and says, “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”. These officers who are supposed to love their men more than their folks, who were motivated to lead them into battle with a smile and these men who considered their officers as gods, since the leaders could do anything for their well-being and honour. Then the question of, what has gone wrong with our Armed Forces should trouble us more? Probably far more than the incident of beheading our soldier by the Pakistani troops on the LOC.
Our PM and the Chief may underplay in the interest of the nation and the organisation by stating ‘that our army is 12 million strong and such small incidents do occur’ a reaction given soon after the incident of 16 CAVALARY in 2012. Is it so normal and common, well by any analysis it is not so. At least I never came across during my 20 years of military service.
We as a nation need to think, introspect and implement changes to stop this down slide in the last bastion of our country. There is an urgent need to understand why the standards of our officers falling, resulting in such incidents. It is their failure that will be responsible for a terrible and an irreparable damage to the fibre of our Army. I sincerely feel that the responsibility is not merely that of the armed forces to keep their house in order but of all Indians to ensure that it is in order. My experience tells that this organisation is chock-a-block with great fire fighters, where the effort of all is to brush up things under the carpet and trivialising incidents and giving a closure by minimally blaming the Commanding Officers.
Our political masters are not bothered and are contented till such time the Army stays in barracks and keeps itself busy internally. The Indian political class, who has virtually no exposure in to the armed forces their routine and functioning other than a few visits to military establishments and Bollywood movies, hence they lack the required knowledge to steer and initiate corrective measures. The senior echelons of the army who are entrusted with the responsibility to maintain internal health suffer from parochialism and exclusivity who appear more bothered about their post retirement employments and false regimental spirits and loyalties rather than the real issues. Armed Forces “The Holy Cow” I don’t know why it is always kept under wraps and discussions not open to a larger intelligencia, inviting the participation of professionals and eminent people. This policy may be correct during the British era for the European masters who wanted to keep the Armed forces out of the influences of Indian Masses and vice a versa.
The reality is totally different today, citizen participation in framing policies that guide our systems has become essential. The beginning of this change has started and clearly visible on our streets, the society is restless and so is our armed forces. People participation in Anna’s movement and citizen protests after Delhi rape case demanding change in the laws and the system, this should shake up the rulers before these tremors trigger a tsunami resulting in chaos and confusion which would not be good for the nation and definitely not if the army men join the chaos. The cases of troops openly showing resentment against it’s officer should not be viewed in isolation without considering societal reality.
The challenge faced today needs to be debated by the professionals from various fields who would put their brains together and reason out the reform measures. This is whose army after all? If we don’t bother then who will? Unfortunately, unlike the armies of the west where the citizen awareness and participation is far more, where soldiering is highly respected and honoured, something in our country, this is beyond the imagination. A young man who joins the Armed Forces comes from a society that is churning and stoking with the fire of hatred towards it’s corrupt administration and politicians. Our joint family system has finished which in earlier times gave a lot of mental peace and stability to a soldier’s family back home. Unlike the west where the state takes upon the responsibility to safe guard the interests of the soldier’s family, in our country the representatives of govt will not spare a chance to fleece the brave heart moment they get one. The neighbours and the relatives are always eying the property of a soldier who is away from home and who will not get an opportunity while in service to attend to his needs. All this leads to mental tensions coupled with the challenges of the service. In the present environment of internet and media which serves him the image of senior army officers involved in corruption and malpractices, such practices generally associated to the civil servants and the politicians, leave him utterly dismayed.
On part of the officers who generally come from the urban background and were raised by their parents in over protected environment, where the group activities like sports and cultural activities are virtually non-existent and attributed to those not academically focused. This leads to deficiency in development of an art in dealing and understand group dynamics. Urban life style, corporate culture, internet, media and cut throat competition shapes up our children who would later join as army officers. The art of man management which was earlier learnt while playing in parks, streets and vastly available grounds is now a thing of past.
The Armed forces have not been able to cope up with the changing times. The general outdoor culture is on a fast decline, the company and battalion level sports and physical activities that were organised almost on daily basis are nowhere to be seen any more. On the contrary the officers can easily be spotted sitting in their offices till late in the evenings. Any little time that an officer may have, he would like to invest in his professional studies if he wants to continue afloat in the competitive environment rather than wasting time in troop activities, thus slowly and gradually the officers have become virtually invisible to our men. The immense work load and stiff competition has led to short tempers and reduction of compassion towards juniors by their seniors.
The deliberate ignorance by the military leaders and steep rise in cases of corruption in the defence forces is another major reason that has led to trust deficit between the led and their leaders. The incidents in Ladakh and Pathankot may be the early signs of greater troubles in future if necessary steps are not taken. We have to curb and check scandals like the one involving NDA commandant, bribery case of Canteen Stores Department Bombay, fake killings at Siachen Glacier, Ketchup colonels, attempted bribery effort by a retired general seeking favours from the COAS, vast corruption in Assam Rifle, Jhorat’s recent case of extortion of money by intelligence officer, a brigade commander taking money for writing ACR of the COs in the North East, like this the list can go on. Such incidents raise doubts in the minds of our troops regarding the credibility of the officers and hypocrisy overshadows the genuine lot.
So where is the fault ? Well the fault is inherent to our character that resists change and refuses to evolve, on the contrary do not hesitate in subverting the system for vested interests The officer men gap continues to widen, the good things that we inherited form the British are gradually eroding and dying . In my view, camaraderie, honesty, integrity, service before self, personal example, moral and physical courage are the attributes that a soldier should possess to be a successful and effective military leader these are gradually being reduced to irrelevant subject like the moral science . Who is to be blamed ? the Army, well it may be partially correct, but if I may put it, the correct order should be our society, administration, the politics and then the army. Why the society keeps quiet, why the law makers not seek answers, why the judiciary keeps mum unlike the other issues of relevance. Why there is silence towards these inadequacies in the Army that make headlines off and on.
LoC: No Place for Kindness
The LoC was accepted as a military ‘control line’ by both India and Pakistan in January 1949. It demands unrelenting, 24×7, high-grade alertness. Shelling, opportunity ambushes, infiltration by Pakistan during adverse weather, spurts of murderous, aimed automatic fire are professional LoC challenges that simply cannot be rationalized
The unnatural death of a soldier on the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri Sector, Kashmir, compelled the Commander to share his disquiet with me. A newly-arrived GOC, I made a virtue out of necessity, arriving next morning at the Battalion Headquarters. I spent that hot summer day familiarising myself with the incident as also the Battalion defences all along their steep, wooded deployment area. Accompanied by the unit’s handpicked ghataks (commandos) displaying hair-trigger alertness to deter the other side from sensing an opportunity, I was amused to see the wary Pakistanis across the LoC demonstrating similar body-language. The ceasefire was still far away and the sudden opening of fire shattering the fragile peace was then a live, chilling, daily reality.
Finding myself needing more proof to establish that the soldier had shot himself in a bout of depression and wasn’t targeted from across the LoC, I chose to stay that night there. The CO predicted a “Diwali” night. I had barely settled down in my Spartan steel bunker when Pakistani shelling began, sporadically at first and then pretty intensely and uncomfortably close. Sudden shelling—aimed low and high calibre automatic weapon fire and opportunity ambushes were fairly common—phlegmatically accepted and prepared for. This Pakistani ‘welcome’, while presciently anticipated, was remindful to me of the lethality and sudden, life-threatening stresses on the LoC.
I bided my time, with my officers and men ferreting out exploitable weaknesses in enemy manning patterns, quality of leadership, alertness and our own vulnerabilities. The sub-text was non-negotiable…You had to be ‘on the ground’ to bond effectively with the men; absorb the operating realities; the terrain, weather and visibility constraints. Meticulous preparation was thus needed to figure out ‘out-of-the-box’ retaliation options…Options whose consequences had to be thought through and ‘cost-benefit’ analysed, using the classic triad of Ends (what was desired) Ways (options available), Means (resources available) and challenges/restrictions that needed resolution or acceptance.
It came to pass that, on one fine day, every thing fell into place. The ‘need-to-know’ commanders knew what needed doing and had thoroughly war-gamed the chosen option. What was finally, ruthlessly delivered was with compounded interest. It was so effective that no further Pakistani trans-LoC violations took place in Uri Sector till the negotiated ceasefire became effective. It was only years later that occasional violations by Pakistan to aid infiltration became the norm.
The LoC was accepted as a military ‘control line’ by both countries in January 1949. It demands unrelenting, 24×7, high-grade alertness. Shelling, opportunity ambushes, infiltration by Pakistan during adverse weather, spurts of murderous, aimed automatic fire are professional LoC challenges that simply cannot be rationalised. Certainly not by theorists who have never been fired at; never lived in defences where a direct hit often means mangled bodies; never faced brutality and blind anger resulting from losing a buddy. It is a leadership challenge that demands thought-through, not hasty, emotional responses. Commanders need staying power, cold courage, coolness, fortitude, mental acumen and investment in the empirical truth—The LoC is no place for kindness.
By Maj Gen (Retd) Raj Mehta
In my opinion we need to integrate our officers back into the great value system and traditions of the Armed Forces and simultaneously curb the menace of growing corruption in uniform. There also exists a strong reason for the government and the society to look after the soldier’s interest back home, may be by enacting laws and increasing public awareness.
Apart from corruption that has brought in degeneration to the overall ethos, this organisation unfortunately is also carrying a huge baggage of superseded Officers, JCOs and NCOs as well as medical category personal other than the Battle Casualties, which is equally responsible for the decay . This lot unfortunately gets de-motivated fast leading to wide spread discontentment which is not healthy for the organization. I am by no means trying to trivialise the sacrifices made by these officers and men, but our pyramidal system which has no alternate but to exist, leads to weaning away and picking the best, this is essential for ensuring the winning factor during war. In my opinion we need to graduate from a welfare organization into a through professional organization. By this I imply that we need to scratch the bottom of the pan regularly, those officers and men who are found NOT TO BE HAVING IT IN THEM should be given a golden hand shake or given management or technical training from prestigious institutions or absorbed laterally in civil police, Para Military, etc and gracefully eased out. There can be many other options but by this what the organization will gain is in terms of energy, positivity, morale, and motivation and the pay offs will be immense.
Within the organisation a few issues that need to be addressed like the importance and professional relevance of Honours and Awards, understanding the ills of awarding Unit citations and the effects, reviewing the selection process to Higher Courses, all of which make units and individuals do a few wrong to maintain an edge. Over the years there has been an increase in role of private contractors at unit and formation level, be it in the current system of Logistics and supply, Land and Works, OP Sadhbhawna projects, Army Commanders Special Powers Fund. We within the organisation are all aware of misuse of Military Intelligence funds and siphoning off various grants allocated to the units and formations in the name of organisation where the line often get blurred. In today’s age of information nothing is hidden from the troops and our young officers thus adding to the frustration, distrust and disgust amongst them.
Other aspects that has an adverse effect on the psyche of the troops is the five star culture that has crept in the officers class, sense of exclusivity that prevails when the use of resources on welfare is concerned, and to top it all our Sahayak System which reflects the feudal culture and is hated by the troops despite the fact that this is defended and preserved by the officers.
Having given an insight in to the areas of termite infestation in the solid plank, which I would still maintain is the most robust and sturdy when compared with other institution of our great nation. The decay however has set in and the responsibility lies in the hands of all us to ensure the cessation of this drift. After all this is our Army?
More than the police reforms, administrative and the Political reforms, the Armed Forces reforms is an urgent necessity. The citizens don’t come face to face with the Holy Cow hence are oblivious to the lurking danger which if not averted may let down the nation at a crucial juncture for which the history may not pardon. (Indian Defence Review)