In the previous issue of SALUTE magazine, we published an article by Maj Harpal Virk, wherein the officer took it upon himself to fight for his honour and for justice. Maj Virk joined the NDA as part of the 54 NDA Course and was commissioned in June 1979. After 17 years of service, personal commitments forced him to apply for premature retire- ment which was granted. The matter would have rested there, but 21 years after hanging up his uniform, he went to the Zila Sainik Office to get an Ex-Serviceman certificate, which was required to be submitted to a gov- ernment department. There he received a shock when told that as per the latest orders, he did not qualify as an Ex-Serviceman.
Maj Virk thereafter began a long and lonely fight for justice and finally after six years, that justice was delivered by the Armed Forces Tribunal. But the larger moot point is that during the hearing in the court, the ADG PS along with his subordi- nate officers and a Colonel from the JAG department gave a bizarre defence in justi- fication of denial of Ex-Serviceman status, stating that the Army has been very consis- tent with the definition of Ex-Serviceman. This was laughable, as the said definition had been randomly changed by the MoD a number of times. And this brings me to the crux of the question: Are the military offi- cers in responsible positions in the Army HQ and the officers of the JAG Branch who render legal advice, mere rubber stamps to what has been ordered by the MoD? Why cannot they question orders which are patently unfair instead of meekly acquiesc- ing to what has been ordered by a babu, who perhaps has limited knowledge of the functioning of the forces and absolutely no idea of its ethos, values and esprit de corps. If the hierarchy cannot speak up for its own, then who will? Being a disciplined organisation does not mean that the Forces cannot speak out against unjust orders. But what if these unjust orders emanate from the military itself? We have had over the years bizarre orders being passed by senior officers in their respective commands. While such cases are not common, they certainly belittle the great organisation that is the Armed Forces of India. In most cases the issues were petty—vehicles were jacked up if there was an accident in a unit or rum bottles purchased from the canteen had their seals broken to prevent misuse. Such orders are stupid in the extreme and are passed by commanders with little worth of self. But at the institutional level, such mindless orders can create great disso- nance within the Armed Forces. Taxing the disability pension of officers who have suf- fered injury in battle or who have contract- ed certain disabilities due to service condi- tions, which was earlier exempt from income tax, is an apt example. The expla- nation trotted out by Army HQ is that cer- tain officers were misusing the facility, so they felt the requirement to do away with it all together! How lame can such reasoning be. The military leadership seriously needs to introspect and look at issues more holis- tically, rather than throw out the baby with the bath water.
There is now, more than ever before, a need for ethical leadership. For that, we need to create an ethical culture, centred on val- ues and not in having a laminated “values card” in the front pocket or a purely compli- ance approach to ethics. Such a culture can only be created through live conversation about ethics and values, where people hold each other responsible and accountable to living the values. We need to create such a culture, to avoid the pitfalls we continuously seem to be stepping into.