Homeland Security

Public standing of the Indian military
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Issue Vol 23.3 Jul-Sep2008 | Date : 18 Sep , 2015

In the wake of the controversy raised by the Sixth Central Pay Commission, a retired senior service officer wondered if the bureaucracy was aware that by slighting the military it was demoralising soldiers, thereby gladdening the hearts of India’s enemies. Most service officers lament the fact that the bureaucrats do not empathise with them due to their ignorance of trials and tribulations of military life, as they hardly have any close relative or progeny in the services.

The Media

Both print and electronic media have seen unprecedented growth and proliferation over the last few years. The pace of propagation has been too fast for comfort, especially for the coverage of security matters. There are very few writers, reporters, anchors and correspondents who know much about military affairs. Due to their incapability to carry out any worthwhile coverage of serious issues, they resort to sensationalism of the poorest genre. For them, military matters mean problems faced by a few women officers, some enquiries about rations and some sound bytes about shortage of officers.

An observor was of the opinion that the services officers by their professional knowledge, smart dress, polished demeanour and impeccable manners make bureaucrats feel under-equipped and deficient.

Media must remain objective and provide balanced coverage. Criticising the military for sensationalism is highly unfair. It lowers military’s public image unwarrantedly.

For example, the media is quick to highlight that 15 officers or so have been court-martialled and punished for various acts of misdemeanour. Tone and tenor of the report faults the military for the falling standards and paints a negative picture. The media fails to recognise the fact that in a 1.3 million strong organisation, there are bound to be minuscule aberrations. It should, in fact, praise the military for being the only institution to take prompt disciplinary action against defaulters, whereas all others carry on regardless.

A woman officer committed suicide in Jammu last year. A major TV channel organised a discussion the same evening on ‘working conditions in the Army that force women to commit suicide’. It went on to flay the Army brass for gender-bias and ill-treatment of women officers. Apparently, the said channel did not ascertain facts and wanted to be the first to highlight the allegedly sorry plight of women in the services. Had it waited for the police investigations to be over, it would have realised that the suicide was due to matrimonial dissentions and the husband has since been arrested for abetting it. The working environment had nothing to do with it, yet the Army was subjected to public condemnation.

Despite having a plethora of TV news channels, not a single in-depth programme either on security concerns or on the tribulations of a soldier’s life has ever been telecast. For them, coverage of a film star’s visit to a military unit and dancing with the troops is adequate. Incongruity of media’s priorities can be gauged from the fact that twenty fifth anniversary of India’s world cup win was played up as an unprecedented achievement whereas victories in 1971 and the Kargil War are remembered in a perfunctory manner. But then cricket crazy India has little time for national security concerns. See box.


Despite repeated representations, India still does not have a war memorial in the capital to honour independent India’s dead soldiers. India wants to ape the West in all sundry aspects but not in matters that affect the well-being and morale of the armed forces. The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington in Washington, Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Cenotaph in London are admired by all Indian visitors. Yet, the absence of a suitable war memorial in New Delhi does not appear odd to them.

For most in the media military matters mean problms faced by a few women officers, some enquiries about rations and some sound bytes about shortage of officers.

All countries honour their war heroes by erecting their statues at prominent places like Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square. No statues of political leaders are seen in the developed countries. On the contrary, millions are spent every year in India on erecting statues of politicians as they are an essential part of vote-bank agenda of most political parties. It is not considered necessary to honour war heroes, martyrs and gallantry award winners as they do not fetch votes. One is reminded of those poignant lines of A Lawrence Vaincourt’s classic poem:-

“When politicians leave this earth, their bodies lie in state,

While thousands note their passing and proclaim that they were great.

Papers tell their whole life stories, from the time that they were young,

But the passing of a soldier goes unnoticed and unsung.

Is the greatest contribution to the welfare of our land,

A guy who breaks his promises and cons his fellow man?

Or the ordinary fellow who, in times of war and strife,

Goes off to serve his Country and offers up his life?”

As seen above, the falling stature of the military is due to both historical and cultural factors. To a considerable extent military commanders are responsible for the same. Their conduct has certainly raised questions regarding the quality of leadership that the military is throwing up. It is a cause for concern. Additionally, the political leadership and the bureaucracy must realise the irretrievable damage they are doing to the morale and the fighting potential of the military. India survives today because, as General Sir John Hackett said, “A soldier places his body between those of the citizens of his country and those who are attempting to destroy them.” The media must also realise that most soldiers are posted at remote border posts or are battling insurgency against heavy odds and at great personal risk. Denigrating and lowering the image of the military can prove extremely dear to the country in the long run.

Finally, India will do well to remember the advice offered by Kautilya to Chandragupta on the treatment of soldiers. He said, “Pataliputra reposes each night in peaceful comfort secure in the belief that the distant borders of Magadha are inviolate and the interiors are safe and secure, thanks only to the Mauryan Army standing vigil with naked swords and eyes peeled for action, day and night, in weather fair and foul, all eight praharas (round the clock), quite unmindful of personal discomfort and hardship, all through the year, year after year. While the citizenry of the State contributes to see that the State prospers and flourishes, the soldier guarantees it continues to exist as a State! The day when the soldier has to demand his dues or, worse, plead for them, will also bode ill for the State. For then, on that day, you, My Lord, will have lost all moral sanction to be the King! It will also be the beginning of the end of the Mauryan Empire!”

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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

Maj Gen Mrinal Suman

is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII.

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3 thoughts on “Public standing of the Indian military

  1. As the current OROP protests by veterans have amply demonstrated, you have to fight tooth and nail to get your just dues in India. The British were superb in the understanding the military psyche, both of their own soldiers as well as those of other countries, whom they conquered and ruled. This was primarily achieved by keeping a proper balance between the Civil services and the Military. The Military was essential to guard the physical boundaries of their territories which essentially meant that the soldier had to be ready to die in the line of duty. Therefore, the Military was kept well insulated from the bureaucracy and there was zero intrusion from them in the affairs of the military. They were only responsible to the Government, which meant the Viceroys or any other specified functionary.

    The Indian system of governance is a hotch potch of confusion and muddled thinking. Firstly our Politicians are generally inept, unprofessional and ignorant. They sublet their essential functions of governance to the bureaucracy. This has resulted in the Bureaucracy getting the atrociously wrong idea that they are the Government. The second problem is to mix the military and the bureaucracy. All modern states require close working relationship between bureaucrats and the military leaders but it is at a level of equals and not superior and inferior. The bureaucracy’s idea of being an over bearing boss is not only against the spirit of governance but also poor management practices. Unfortunately, the political leadership, which is expected to monitor and do course correction if this situation develops, is itself most ignorant of the issues involved. Their inherent fear of Military which is an off shoot of early days Nehruvian thinking is without any basis or reason.

    Today the Civil-Military relations are at its lowest since Independence and unless the situation is corrected at the earliest, may lead to some most unfortunate consequences.

    • Yogi Nayar.
      Except in 1962 Indian Govt. has not neglected the defence force. Army officers are trying to give a wrong impression to the public. If the Govt, had neglected the defense forces, we could not have become a military power. Our position is 4th in the world. Europeans were able to defeat majority of Indian Kings because they used guns and ammunition. Indian army officers are trying to do the same mistakes. Our Army officers are still thinking about assault rifles, field guns and foot soldiers instead of missiles, laser guns and Armoured personnel carriers
      Marthanda Varma was the only Indian King to beat the European armed force at the 1741 Battle of Colachel against the Dutch.[1] Dutch commander Eustachius de Lannoy surrenders to Marthanda Varma after the Battle of Colachel.. Later on Marthanda Varma used the Dutch commander to develop guns and ammunitions in his kingdom. That may be the reason British did not attack Travancore. ” If the British were superb in the understanding the military psyche, both of their own soldiers as well as those of other countries” If so how was INDIAN NAVAL MUTINY OF 1946 AGAINST BRITAIN took place. So without knowing the history do not try to glorify British. Civilians have better knowledge than the army.

  2. Let us not compare India with other countries. Except India all the countries are thinking that joining the military service is a supreme sacrifice. Indians believe in Nishkam Karma (sanskrit IAST : niṣkāmakarma), self-less or desireless action, is an action performed without any expectation of fruits or results, and the central tenet of Karma Yoga path to Liberation. For us the freedom fighters and the the soldiers in Indian National Army (INA), had done the self-less action. Indians are altogether a different level than the westerners. Superiority complex and ego is maximum among the Army officers. They only know to control the soldiers. There is no hesitation for the Army officers to use slang words particularly when they become angry. They are weak in general administration. The ” Sound Of Music” film is a good example. In any administration the finance departmental officers are seldom visit to other officers chamber. The users departmental officers have to go and discuss for getting financial concurrence. After the death of Smt Indira Gandhi Indian Army could not procure any major weapons. But Navy could procure whatever they want starting from Air craft carrier to submarines. If the bureaucrats are bad how they managed. Navy had some difficult only during Antony’s time. Navy kept could relation with DRDO and PSU’s. Indian Army officer did not give any importance to indigenous development . The other day I read a news “Now Arjun Mark II is weight is more. ”
    Weight is not a valid reason to reject the main Battle tank. This an excuse to put pressure on Govt. to purchase foreign . Battle tank. Some of the Indian Railway wagons can carry up to 88 tons. If the weight is more they may have to impose some speed restriction. Moreover Israeli’s Main Battle tank weighs 65 tons. If they can mange why is Indian Army refusing to accept. Arjun Mark II. Weight of the tanks are going to increase in future if we want better fire power and Anti mines devices. If some of the bridges and culverts are not able to carry this load they should strengthen by giving extra support. The extra money going to spend on imported Tanks should be used for modifying the bridges and culverts in Punjab. This will create employment.
    Another person wrote a comment
    Any engineer knows that it is ground pressure which matters in operating a tank than its weight. Ground pressure of Arjun is 0.86 kg per sq. cm and that of T90 is .90 kg per sq. cm. This have been proven in desert trials where Arjun ran as Ferrai and T90 like Maruti 800.
    3. Any informed person knows that designing Tank takes 10 years or more. But going by the contents of RFI, Army wants a design which can serve as BMW and Tata Nano based. Without the help and support of users departments no equipment can be developed locally..

    We are fortunate that DRDO have developed various types missiles for the Army. and we are a super power in the missile technology and its avionic.All the super powers are switching over to missiles. Why is Army tying to make specification But Indian army is still hankering for field guns. Why are you not asking DRDO to develop laser guns to replace assault rifles? You may read the following articles.

    “Pentagon should rethink how it develops laser guns, study says”
    “Police Eager to Begin Using “Eye Blinding” Gun Against American Citizens”

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