Despite many similarities between the IMA of yesterday and what it is today, the approach of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun, on how to groom and assess potential officers has changed over the past few decades. Today, the focus at the IMA, is on producing platoon commanders who can be thrown into battle immediately on commission. At independence, the focus was on producing gentlemen who could be groomed into good officers, in due course. It could be argued that the huge demand for young officers and the operational commitments of India’s army, has led the IMA to concentrate more on tactics and training, than on moulding it’s trainee Gentleman Cadets (GC) into yesterday’s ‘burra sahibs’, who maybe unfit for the modern day battlefields.
Perhaps. But the other side of the story is that many of today’s problems of man-management in the Indian army or worse, the un-officer like conduct of many officers — like Ketchup Colonel and the fabrication of evidence at Siachen to seek gallantry awards — have come about, because we have a faulty system of judging character at the IMA. For decades now, platoon and company commanders at the IMA have been instructed to grade a Gentleman Cadet (GC) on his officer like qualities (OLQ) — like leadership, honourable conduct, social finesse, etc — roughly on par with his overall performance at the IMA.
Only a 10 per cent variance is acceptable. Therefore, a GC who is good in physical activities, sports and in memorising the military tactics précis, could score above 80 per cent marks in his assessment. And even though he lacks the qualities expected from an officer and a gentleman, he will at worst get 70 per cent marks in OLQ. Whereas a GC who is an average performer in outdoor activities and unable to memorise military précis and crack his exams, thus scoring about 50 per cent marks in all his tests, can at best be given 60 per cent marks for his officer like qualities, even though he may have sterling qualities as a leader and a gentlemen. Gone are the days when the Commandant of the IMA had the courage to write in the dossier of a GC who stood 3rd in the order of merit, that “I do not know this Cadet.” Or, when a Company Commander could have the courage to predict — as they did, in the case of Manekshaw and some others — that, the GC could rise to the highest rank, if groomed well by his unit, on his commission. Today’s pen pictures are rarely so incisive.
In short, rarely do OLQ marks of a GC contradict the pattern of overall scores he attains, nor his ranking in the order of merit. And it is this merit list that defines who will get to the top, as long as he ticks all the right boxes in his career path, and provided his annual confidential reports are impressive. But sometimes our army is embarrassed by the doings of its officers, whom this objective system of OLQ assessment, has failed to weed out. Moreover, by the rule of seniority for promotion to the highest ranks, based again on the IMA order of merit, a potentially good military commander, who passes out low in the order of merit — because he wasn’t physically as robust and academically as conformist as the leaders in a pack at the IMA — remains low in the pecking order even if promoted to the highest ranks. Only rarely, does one beat this system. Perhaps if one is younger than the one’s course mates, at commission. And the date of birth does indeed play a decisive role between retirement and promotion.
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