Military & Aerospace

New Breed of Babus in the Indian Army
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 01 May , 2014

The army in India was not a mere replica of the British army at home, in terms of higher organisation, staff and command arrangements. It was led by the C-in-C in India, who was, in turn, directly responsible to the government of India, the governor general and ultimately, the secretary of state for India in London. Given the size of the army in India and later its role in the First world war, little attention was paid to the development of the general staff in the subcontinent. Lord kitchener’s efforts to improve the Indian staff system during the early 1900s eventually culminated in the formation of general staff in India in April 1910.

The British did not expose Indian officers to critical staff appointments like operations and intelligence. It was not surprising that when independence came, there were only three Indian officers…

The standard of training of staff officers at army headquarters and the organisation and staff immediately concerned the new C-in-C in India. In 1902. It was ill-prepared for hostility. The staff in India did not enjoy a reputation for efficiency.

In 1903, the Government of India submitted its proposal, with the strong endorsement of Viceroy Lord Curzon, for an Indian staff College. It met strong opposition from the army council. Lord kitchener won the agreement of the secretary of state, after accepting that it would have the same entrance examination, curriculum and syllabus as Camberley. The Indian staff College opened in temporary accommodation at Deolali, and soon after, at its permanent location at Quetta in Baluchistan in April 1907. after independence, the Defence services staff College (DSSC) was established at wellington.

The British did not expose Indian officers to critical staff appointments like operations and intelligence. It was not surprising that when independence came, there were only three Indian officers – GSO 1 (Ops), GSO 2 (Ops) and GSO 3 (Ops) in the Military Operations Directorate in army HQ – Lieutenant Colonel SHFJ Manekshaw (later Field Marshal), Major yahya khan (later General and President) and Captain SK Sinha (later Lieutenant General).

The present Indian army is following the then-British army’s staff system since independence and there has not been much of a change. In 2005, staff appointments at all level of headquarters have been upgraded or increased to accommodate the aspirations of officers, post the AV Singh Committee Report. The CR based promotions and nomination to career courses was replaced by the Quantification system in 2007, giving adequate extra weight-age for courses there gradings, field tenures, operational reports and gallantry awards amongst others.  This change resulted in selection of officers for higher defence management courses with a wholesome profile, reasonably balancing between the academic and the operational attributes. These officers with a balanced profile were to attain higher staff appointments in higher defence headquarters meeting the requirements of the stipulations in an operational environment of the 21st century army, but not anymore.

We don’t pay enough attention to…the whole essence of making decisions on how staff is going to be structured, physically laid down on the ground, interact with each other, the processes/procedures they need to go through, the technical systems they’ll need to support them-that needs to be structured in a way to be conducive to rapid, effective, relevant decision- making.

— General AC Zinni, USMC (Retd), Former CINC CENTCOM (US)

 This implies that an officer should be a well rounded personality having high academic credentials supported by a strong operational profile.

Thus the staff officers in these modern times must be capable of framing and resourcing operations to provide subordinate units the greatest freedom of action in simultaneous and rapidly changing operations. Bureaucratic staff organisation is no longer relevant under modern field conditions.

Indian Army, the country’s most trusted and respected institution is at cross roads. Today, even though the requirement of the Staff officers in complete decision making process of the commanders, has to be of an interactive and a flexible interface, who holds a complete grip over the nuances of operations both at the planning and execution stages. This implies that an officer should be a well rounded personality having high academic credentials supported by a strong operational profile. Unfortunately every COAS has virtually ensured that the policy of promotion and selection to higher defence management courses never crystallizes and they should be blamed for tinkering with the stipulations to suit an agenda. Ambiguity and regular shifting of goal post has resulted in nervousness amongst the middle and senior echelons of the officer cadre in the Indian army.

Yet again there has been a change and now from January 2014 onwards the operational service of the officers is not going to be rewarded anymore, like in the erstwhile quantification system. The officers with better academic profile and sprinkling of staff tenures will now be moving up on the ladder as it has been decided to do away the allowance granted for field service or gallantry awards in nomination for the career course( Higher Command /Higher Defense Management Course).

These exclusions creates an impression that organisation desires to provide impetus to academics over operations. Impetus towards better course profile and better staff assignments at the cost of field profiles and gallantry awards creates a mirage that our present commanders have no concern for operational service in difficult areas. This would result in a shift the way an officer plans his career. For him précis and pamphlets would be in higher order of precedence in relation to operations, since the incentive for the latter is gone. The emphasis would be to acquire greater academic excellence rather than carry out patrolling and ambushes. As the later will provide no benefit in climbing the ladder of promotion, the generations thereon are likely to get inclined to seek comfortable options when substantial incentives for field service are not available. The repercussions would be quiet damaging to the organization in times to come.

The culture of rewarding the service chiefs by lucrative post retirement appointments has had a cascading affect in the rank and file of the organization.

These policy change by military secretary branch is also mired in controversy as exclusion of marks for Gallantry Awards was carried out on 27 January 14 coinciding with screening process for Higher Command /Higher Defense Management Course and the informed sources within reveal that these changes were carried out to include some favorites in the list.

These policy changes are also not resultant to any change in ground realities which would have forced the organization to consider their inclusion / exclusion in career progression. Ground reality in border areas remains grim as ever. The infantry was night blind in past; it is in same status today due to non-provisioning of desired equipment and will remain so as our procurement policies do not facilitate rapid procurement. Infrastructure in forward areas is also awfully inadequate, resulting in even lowering of life span of the equipment and enhancing risks for all ranks operating. In contrast the MS Branch, a self-seeking military babu organization has withdrawn these operational compensations to ensure better prospects for some selected few, probably to facilitate those favoured.

Military had always distinguished between managers and leaders. The culture of having well rounded leaders like SFHJ Manekshaw who had proved themselves as able commanders right from leading a platoon in Burma during the WWII to the iconic victory of Indian Army in 1971 war as its chief. The culture of rewarding the service chiefs by lucrative post retirement appointments has had a cascading affect in the rank and file of the organization. Those officers who have served the General or fit into his template of parochialism are generally rewarded by promotion and career courses even if it meant changing existing policy to suit the chosen candidate. This has been the trend which has been more profound since December 2002 and continues till date.

After this change the present day’s managers will be our future senior leaders as the organization now ensures accelerated promotion for those who possess excellent skills in organising peacetime activities, acquiring better academic grade over the operational profile. All these issues are shaking the faith of common soldier and create a dichotomy over the real soldiering viz-a-viz virtual soldiering. The concluding remarks by Maj Gen Mrinal Suman, would be very apt, “Health of any vibrant organisation can be gauged by the degree of confidence that its members have in its fairness. At present, the services score poorly on this count. Unless remedial measures are taken on a war footing, the situation may drift beyond easy redemption”.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Danvir Singh

Associate Editor, Indian Defence Review, former Commanding Officer, 9 Sikh LI and author of  book "Kashmir's Death Trap: Tales of Perfidy and Valour".

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18 thoughts on “New Breed of Babus in the Indian Army

  1. After 1971 success in the Eastern Sector and dominating position in the western sector with 90000 prisoners before the cease fire the country mood was changed in favour of forces. A big worry for the bubus and politicians as was visible when chief retire he was not given any more appointment. The roll of MoD to create general as paper tiger by changing QR for the general cader…..also yes man always worried about promotion and re-employment. We have number of chief as life example gone against the interest of the own forces… OROP, rank pay, delay in seperate pay commission for forces, procurement of new weapon system etc. No dum in strongly taking up the cases with MoD , PM and Supreme Cdr by putting up resignation or protesting the decision of bubus. It is now the present generals cader officers to take a lead to stand up once to restore the honour lost due to poor performance of our chiefs. This will be in their favour as by now they must have relise politician are no one baby and bubus are chore and crook.

  2. Beaurocratic tinkling/ interference results in poor and compliant defence leadership neither accepted nor respected by troops, it may serve political/ beaurocratic leadership but not country,

  3. A very short sighted step indeed – a good regimental soldier who commands the respect of his men will be short charged. In the front when FOLLOW ME is required and left out in the promotion chain – I know of a Brig who had never seen action posted to command a RR Sector was sacked within six months. We seem to be heading in that direction and the cost will be heavy NO very heavy.

  4. Every organisation has its own rules and regulations and so does army. The pyramidical structure of Army by default claims casualities along the way. But the army has its time tested methods and there is no reason tobelieve that it is not fair or just. In fact army provides adequate opportunities to all for career advancement and growth on an equal platform. To question the credibility of the system is to question the very ethos of the army. We should desist from such rumor mongering and stick to the facts.

  5. Indian Army is best equipped to handle its own matters and i am sanguine that there is enough jurisprudence in the higher echelons to provide a level playing field to all the officers without malice or bias. Why do disgruntled officers want to push the buttons only once they have hung up their uniforms. If at all there is any substance in his ramblings then why did he not raise his voice when he was in service ?

  6. The point raised by the author are relevant but there are certain hard realities of life which i believe he has missed out. there is a distinctio between the requirement of officers at staff appointment & command appointments. Where as supreme leadership qualities are required at command levels the emphasis on managerial skills is emphasised in staff. it is not a battle of brains Vs brawns but operational necessity being of paramount importance. If we see from the organisational pt of view , given a common level of dedicationto the nation i will definitely like the best brains to be involved in planning & the best tactically/strategically sound persons to lead the men in field

  7. “You became a Colonel, were you also favoured by the same system, Bcos I think even you are not a Gallantry award winner”….See Col Danvir its very easy to blame the system, The present system is a well oiled machine working fine… Amendments/ changes happen to ensure it suit to present day requirements…. One advice “Jis thali mein Khate hain usme nahi thook the”

  8. Every system has its merits and demerits. The systems in our organisation have evolved over a extensive period of time and have been well thought over the time. As the saying goes ” The only thing permanent is change itself”, every aspect has to keep evolving to suit the environment.
    The system of selection for higher courses and assignments has been a clean system and only the deserving are rightly selected. It is the few disgruntled who missed because of their own inadequacies cry fowl.

  9. Deriding the system when not selected for career courses and not empanelled for promotion seems to be a growing trend these days. No system is perfect. Imperfections and drawbacks when noticed needs to be corrected and a learning organisation is one that introspects and improves based on past experiences.
    The Army too needs to change with the times, be it assessment HR policies or equipment.
    Reluctance to change with the times can cost us dearly . Deriding change and the higher hierarchy for effecting change idoes not help any one.

  10. The selection process as it is flawed. The IO have no knowledge of human psychology to understand an individual, the different type of behaviour patterns and the type of leaders. If they have no basic knowledge the only way they can access an individual is on whim and fancies. To add to it you don’t want to see operation capability of a person but his theoretical knowledge. Thus we are going the way of the Indian education that as long as you score good marks you are good rest are duffers. Military was supposed to more on practical knowledge as no two situations are same or nothing can go in a copy book style. In fact all military courses turn even the thinkers to conditioned soldiers who stop thinking out of the box because they have been told in these courses only to follow what they preach. In fact generals of erstwhile where much better who had no books or course material to refer when they had to go for war. Today officers are busier remembering the copy book style verbatim to show they seniors how well taped up they are, all they do is stand in affirmation to their seniors because even they know nothing beyond these books. The whole process needs a look from a new angle, though definitely a balance is required, it should never be Biased to one side. Better would be to outsource the assessment of officers to professional in this field. It will be initially a setup back and embarrassment for the organisation but eventually we will replace capable leaders to lead these organisation who will not only stand for what is right for the nation but also look into the true welfare of the soldiers.
    But the famous question remains who is going to bell the cat definitely not someone within the organisation because to accept that something is grossly wrong itself is wrong, so who is it going to be whose words will be valued enough to bring about a change.
    Hopefully the wait should not be long or else will we need a war to cleanse the whole rotten system.

  11. An incisive insight by Col Danvir Singh. Even though I superannuated in 1996, and a number of changes may have taken place in the functional ethos of the Army since then, it is indeed, a retrograde step to discount the field profile of an officer, as also, his gallantry awards in selecting an officer for higher defence courses. In fact, there is a need to give greater weight age to field service and gallantry awards for nominating officers for higher courses. It has often been seen in the recent past that many careerist officers ensure that they are placed in a comfortable environment, by hook or by crook, where the possibility of anything going wrong is minimum. Such officers, undoubtedly, benefit from their jugglery, but at the cost and peril of the Army. There is, undeniably, a need for officers selected for higher defence courses, and indeed, for higher appointments, to have a well rounded personality which has been shaped through diverse experience. It may, indeed, be proper to cite the political phenomena articulated by Shri Narendra Modi, who has, in Army terms, risen from the ranks to achieve the greatest height in the political arena of the country. He has benefited from his ground level experience. Therefore, there is no short cut to success, but through hard work, which includes a healthy field profile and risk taking ability of the officers.

  12. Anyone who really care’s about the nations defence, should be critically concerned
    on how most officers on all the services are appointed by corrupt politician in power that eventually leads to inept or third rate officers in critical departments of the Army, Airforce, Navy & intelligence.A very good example of this is the MIG 21.
    The famous (FLYING COFFIN) or the latest aircraft carrier,procured by the government with full approval of these tainted politician on a govt. to govt. basis with Russia.Every time there was a crash ( where hundreds of young men perished) paid officials (99% of the time) blamed it on human error,(bribe the families to shut up) and no open real independent investigation ever takes place, using security concern as an excuse.Can anyone imagine a deal with Russia a country that does not have a check & balance system,a country famous for its own corrupt system, with deals signed of with approval of any corrupt political MOB in the country,will ever have a chance of proper checks coming out in the open.No F—ing way.Vikramaditya a Billion $ that turned into 3 Billion $ Plus.Could there be hidden Commissions paid in foreign bank accounts? what are the chances of the truth coming out of Russia? Fat chance.Why is it that commander in chiefs of the three services that are appointed have a life or two years left in their new positions, is it because of the possibility getting close to the dangling apple of retirement and pension as long as they toe the political masters views in their remaining time.Will the real competent officers who had been pushed by the wayside or pushed back illegitimately ever step up and fight the real battle politically or just end up no more than just pen pushers in publications that hardly reach the battle ground.(the People).Anyone that thinks that the Flying Coffins(MIG 21) 23,27 & JAGUARS that are now ELEPHANTS for lack of power & excess weight could defend the nation
    are dreaming.200 plus Su 30 is just not enough.

  13. An excellent exposition that requires introspection by the Army, that would hopefully occur. In this business of giving exposure to maximum, we have surrendered what is vital for the troops and at ground level. Just as an example, the tenure of the Siachen Brigade Commander has been reduced to 18 months. With five battalions up on Glaciar, SSW and SSH (forget other units and sub-units), there is no way he can even visit all front-line posts. But I suppose the priorities have changed altogether.

  14. The Indian Army is grossly enamoured by the alumni of the DSSC. However the quality and calibre is mediocre; it’s just the stamp of DSSC that carries the Officer through. Ground soldiering is not the forte of the DSSC class of officers it’s basically career management that they indulge in after they have overcome the hurdle of the DSSC. Pushing paper and reinventing the wheel is the order of the day in the Army. As someone mentioned ‘you don’t have to be professional at your job you have to be Army wise smart to go up’. ‘Know your senior officer before you know the enemy’ is also one of the watch words one often hears. Professionally the Army is coming to naught. The Army is not strategically sound because the Generals are basically careerist’s just seeking to further their personal goals. The cant sees beyond their nose; they end up fighting platoon battles in Corps games. A lot ails the Army because of careerist approach. Our babu-dom is no better than the IAS. In Indian Army professional soldiers go home and careerist’s rule the roost. It’s a buggers muddle that needs to be solved.

  15. So finally we will become an army of PAPER TIGERS, brilliant this is what the Indian army and the sister services will stand for now, very sad state of affairs indeed, but a boon for the anti national elements, as now there will be no one leading the antiterrorist operations and wars if there is one, all officers will be trying to play board games and theorizing on how to defeat the enemy and the terrorists on paper, such a thing can happen only in our country, God Bless the MS Branch and all the Officers in it who have forgotten the words of Field Marshal Chetwode which every Officer of the INDIAN ARMY can speak without thinking,”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.”.

    This rule of the MS Branch just reverses the order of the words spoken by the Late FM Chetwode..

    God Bless India and the Indian Army

    Jai Durge

  16. The term ‘paper tiger’ was coined by someone long time ago. This system will result in young officers simply studying and indulging in sycophancy. I wonder who will do the operational duties. Are we going to leave everything to the JCO’s like the CRPF & BSF and suffer similar consequences as they do in anti naxal ops, while officers sit in HQs and study.
    Death knell for the army. This tinkering of the policies by every COAS needs to stop. No change should be allowed for atleast five years and then it should be reviewed in the later half of the fifth year. Amend or continue after due process.

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