s there a crisis looming in the Indian Army? Many feel the army is already in the midst of a crisis. I cannot, with any authority, comment on the Navy or the Air Force and, therefore, shall restrict my views to the army. Whether there is an impending crisis or not, there are some factors that have obviously changed and the authorities need to take cognizance of these, analyse their possible consequences and, if required, take corrective measures before they reach a point of criticality. In many ways, this line of thought may well be past its expiry date. As mentioned earlier, the army may already be in the middle of such a crisis, even if it isn’t clearly evident yet. The signs of a deeper malaise are unmistakable, seen from within and without.
A ‘toe the line’ army which rewards sycophantic obedience over good honest argument, even at the discussion stage, is an unhealthy army. Many officers have also fallen prey to temptations and the carrots dangled by the civilian babus – and led to the demeaning of the entire uniformed fraternity. Some of the contributing factors, which are at times also a symptom of the malaise :
Disruption of the chain of command There is a short circuiting of and complete centralization in the chain of command particularly at the unit level.
The NCO level in particular has been seriously marginalized. The reasons are:
The ubiquitous no–error syndrome where an officer is asked to supervise the preparation and conduct of every event – and he is also micro-managed.
The senior NCO is treated like any jawan and has no powers. How many Section Commanders/ Platoon Havaldars/ Troop Dafadars/ Gun Nos 1 have any say at all in the deployment and employment of the men under their command even in peace-time? Truthfully, none at all – and yet, in war tomorrow, he will be expected to exercise authority over them. All post disaster studies will continue to berate the junior leader problem – no senior leader problem?
Very often these days, the detailed employment of men, for even the most frivolous routine tasks, is done at the unit level, leaving no leeway at the subunit and below level. Tomorrow’s battles are going to be more and more biased towards the small unit. Our command procedures are emphasizing the opposite.
The “Young Officer” deficit is serious and ACRsThere is another factor that is contributing to this overly centralized system. The shortage of officers at the junior level has led to a situation where a young officer is de-facto a sub-unit commander at a very early stage in his service, sometimes within the first year. While, ostensibly, this should assist in his professional development, the reverse is more often the case. The reasons are :-
He does not spend enough time in going through the nitty-grittys at each level. Specifically, he needs to go through the trials, tribulations and joys of everyday life in a military unit for sufficient time with the men to appreciate the dynamics of unit functioning, a necessary aspect if he is to employ it effectively in operations. In addition, such interaction develops a lasting bond that will be a crucial factor in war. So, a well-intentioned youngster with stars in his eyes quickly becomes a cynical old man. Very often, this young officer spends much time engaged in a proliferation of a varied range of activities, unrelated to anything remotely professional but apparently contributing towards a ‘well rounded personality’, as he is told, especially in peace stations. Many end up convinced that organizing a party is much more important than commanding a troop of tanks well. Some out of naiveté and others, because of an unhealthy abundance of worldly wisdom.
He needs a friendly and wise hand. Apart from the senior officers, a sensible lot of senior JCOs are the ones best suited to advise the young officer pitch-forked into positions of responsibility. Our emerging system does not encourage this. The few JCOs who may try this soon give up as they find that in general they are likely to be the ones ‘fixed’ in their ACRs. Sometime back, mention of an ‘ACR’ at the officer level was bad form and at the JCO and men level, unheard of and meaningless. It now seems to be the raison d’etre at every level.
What then is the solution ? There is obviously no easy answer but something needs to be done. The chain of command must be restored – even to the point of overelaboration. This must be done honestly and keeping in mind the spirit of the issue. It would perhaps be futile to expect any change in the ubiquitous ‘no-error’ syndrome. However, to those overly disposed towards such a tendency, may I recommend they attempt telling their subordinates what they want done and not how they want it done – to the last ‘T’. And then not suffocate their boys by standing over their heads while they are trying to do what they have, in any case, been told in great detail. They may be pleasantly surprised. The over-arching importance of the ACR has to be reduced considerably. Only then will voices that dissent or moderate for the larger good be heard more clearly.
‘Stamping’, Morals and Ethics The other trend is that of ‘stamping’ i.e. trying to get the correct stamps on one’s record. This, some years back, led to a situation where there was a rush for field postings. This would have been very laudable if it was for altruistic and organisational reasons. Obviously, it was not. In any event, as far as the organisation is concerned, this should not matter as the organization should benefit – it does not – the rush was more towards the ’safe’ quasi-field postings – with a known to be ‘generous’ “Reporting Officer”, if possible. As regards morals and ethics, judging by the amount of correspondence on the issue, the seminars being held and the emphasis on inclusion of the subject in every course, there is obviously a recognized problem here. But, are we actually addressing it ? Or are we taking the superficially safe route here too by listing the problems including the ubiquitous ‘junior leader failure’ while as an organisation, continuing to promote a system that rewards quite the contrary?
Here especially, there is a particularly difficult problem as it involves honest soul-searching and particularly at the senior level.
Awards on staff including personal staffThere is another disquieting activity that seems to have become wellentrenched and quite insidiously – or was it always like this? This is the system of awards. I am referring to the spate of awards (because they contribute towards promotions etc) that are awarded for routine activity, especially at the staff level. How can a military person on staff be awarded for something beyond the call of duty? For pushing a file extra efficiently ? Yet, a large percentage of awards are dished out on staff including an inordinately high number at Army Headquarters. What are these for? For good staff work? There is the other advanced version of the same thing – a commander’s personal staff. There is a variety of an officer who attaches himself to a rising senior officer, gets posted around with him and, inevitably, gets at least one award. And becomes a senior officer ! The cycle continues.
If the better half also contributes, better the chances of success. The ‘better half’ aspect is a subject in itself. Maybe some other time. This is another part of the ‘points’ racking up system that assists him in his promotion prospects. Surely, such clearly undeserved awards are detrimental to an organization. I recommend :
Ban all awards other than gallantry awards. And naively hope, people won’t dishonour their dignity by manipulating even them. Specifically, ban the ‘seva’ awards including the AVSM and PVSM awards. Medals should be only for gallantry, ‘seva’ is too vague. Ban all awards on staff including personal staff other than for gallantry.
Command Tenures and a Personality Based ArmyThe truncated command tenures at every level, whatever the need be from a management viewpoint, is harming the army by affecting the entire value system and encouraging the unscrupulous.
Let me elaborate. A command tenure of, approximately two years, give or take a few months, had matured as a good balance between too short and too long a tenure, each with its attendant pluses and minuses. The present greatly truncated tenure, means that a commander has little time to ‘project’ himself. Thus, ‘events’ have emerged as the chosen method of ‘projection’. Most try to fit in as many ‘events’ as possible in the short tenure they have, all targeted at the person(s) writing their report. The superior is equally at fault for allowing or even encouraging such a system. Maybe, he did it too and is doing the same upwards. Whatever the compulsions, a long-term perspective is becoming redundant. This can only have negative repercussions for the army.
We need to recognize the serious drawbacks of this system, whatever its short term gains, and correct it. And while we are at it, let us mature as a people and as an army and have a long-term perspective for major issues at every level, not one that changes with each gung-ho commander. Let each commander believe that, while he is a competent and well-intentioned professional, the one(s) before him and the ones after him were and will be equally, if not more, so. If the harvest is good, someone sowed good in the past. Our system was to do one’s duty with pride and integrity and then fade away.
What Next ? Many would claim that there is no crisis. Perhaps not, but there are far too many disquieting signs to be blasé about the whole matter. The army continues to suffer at the hands of a surprisingly antagonistic bureaucracy and seems to be unable to assert itself on the national stage even in routine matters like ensuring mere rightful equivalence in pay. Is this a sign that the bureaucracy, along with their political masters, are ensuring that only pliant officers are making it to senior ranks ?
The number of senior officers, including ex service chiefs, whose names are surfacing for reasons that are the opposite of ‘naam, namak, nishan’ doesn’t exactly fill the young officer or jawan with pride. The apparently increasing incidents of clashes between officers and men is a sign of a deeper malaise. I believe the army’s health is not SHAPE – 1. I believe treatment is required now, before it gets worse. There is a need to go back to the basic military ethos of duty, honour, integrity. Sycophancy and superficial grandiosity must be put down. Sadly, I am not optimistic about the near future. All I can exhort those who see my point is – do it within your sphere of influence though you will probably have to pay a price for it. Maybe our adversaries will do us a favour and force a war upon us. For all its horrors, it will do the army’s soul a lot of good. The author Col Puneet Tewari recently retired from the Army.