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Military indiscipline: recast officer cadre

Of late, a number of units have experienced trouble between officers and their men. The disturbing aspect is that there have been scuffles between officers and men, which was quite unheard of in the Indian army. LT GEN HARWANT SINGH (retd) writes

chandigarh Updated: Oct 15, 2013 10:29 IST

Of late, a number of units have experienced trouble between officers and their men. The disturbing aspect is that there have been scuffles between officers and men, which was quite unheard of in the Indian army.

So, what has gone wrong? Some may cite the outcome of an overstressed army and yet some others may point to the changed environment, where men are educated, well-informed and observant and therefore, their handling requires an altogether different style and quality of leadership, which by implication is lacking.

It is a well-established dictum in the military that there are no bad units, only bad officers make them so. Therefore, has the quality of intake into the officer cadre deteriorated or are there more involved and compelling reasons for this fall in conduct of officers and their leadership skills? Are these incidents mere aberrations in a very large army and not of much consequence? Therefore, there is no need for serious introspection and initiation of corrective steps. Else, if not set right, it could become endemic.

Cutting edge
In the military, a unit, be it infantry, armour etc., is the cutting edge of the whole organisation. Its standard of discipline, training and camaraderie depend on the quality of leadership it has and the combination of all these attributes determines a unit’s potential to deliver, both during peace and war. Unfortunately, it’s in the units where trouble has surfaced.

The Indian army is the successor to the British Indian army and much of the customs, traditions and value system have been carried forward. Of the 200 years of record of the British Indian army, no incident of troops lifting their hand against an officer came to light, except during the 1857 mutiny: reasons for which were altogether different. So, how has this change come about?

During the British period, army officers enjoyed status, position and consequently respect that compared well with those in the government. They stood well in the eyes of their troops. After Independence, the political class being totally ignorant of matters military, and the bureaucracy deeply resentful of the military.

The downgrading of the latter was initiated in a sustained manner. Gradually and surely, the military’s status has been lowered, which in turn has led to a drop in intake standards. Even well after Independence, a brigadier ranked with the chief secretary of a state, and the deputy inspector general (DIG) of police between Lt Colonel and Colonel. These equations have been drastically disturbed and the downgradation has had a deleterious effect on the military system.

Least preferred
T he higher command, instead of standing up to the government for sabotaging of the very structure of military’s officer cadre and its consequent adverse impact on the organisation, accepted it without appropriate protests. It’s the very syndrome, “we will fight with whatever we have,” rather than fight to ensure that troops are adequately equipped, which has continued to this day.

This recasting has led to a state where Lt Colonels command companies etc. Besides this, a whole range of other disadvantages have come about, resulting in the army becoming the least preferred career option for the youth of the country. Consequently, intake standards for the officer cadre have fallen. The deficiencies are alarming.

Short service commission
Recasting the officer cadre is a compelling requirement. The possible structure of such a recast could be 40% regular officers and 60% short service commissioned officers, with the latter group given assured absorption for all into various central police organisations, civil services etc., with some percentage given to reserved seats on management and other professional courses with full pay during the period of training. Only then can the short service commission attract suitable material.

The officer cadre is the very soul of an army and mainspring of the whole mechanism. Troops are exceedingly an accurate judge of an officer’s worth and character. Therefore, there is a compelling reason to maintain intake standards. The regular cadre in the army has to be of a very high calibre and therefore, the need to pay particular attention to its intake standards.

Status of the military officers must be restored; once that happens, the whole rank structure will revert back to the earlier system. Command tenures at all levels, which are far too short at present and one of the main contributing factors to the existing malaise, will stretch to required periods of minimum of two years.

Finally, to quote from Anatomy of Courage by Lord Moran, “If we persuade intelligent youth to hold aloof from the army in peace, we ought not to complain if we are not properly led during war.” With more than 2,000 years of history, no country knows this better than India.

First Published: Oct 15, 2013 10:24 IST