Military & Aerospace

Indian Military Leadership needs a relook?
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This was gross injustice both to these officers and to the nation. The article of the Constitution promising “equal opportunities for all” was killed by Bewoor and his kind so far as the Army was concerned without the so-called custodians of our fundamental rights, the politicians, knowing anything about it. This was the start of professional parochialism in the Army.

In a talk Manekshaw once said: “You can import the very best of weaponry and equipment, but you cannot import leadership.” In the first 18 years or so of service, up to the rank of lieutenant colonel, an officer is required to undertake tenures away from regimental duties on staff and extra-regimental employment. This practice allows him to have a balanced experience of both regimental and staff duties, widens his outlook in tackling the problems of all arms and services much above the level of his normal spheres in units, and provides firsthand contact with officers outside his regiment.

This system is based on British Army practice and is on the whole better than the erstwhile German general staff system under which officers specialised in staff duties and, being brighter than the normal run of regimental officers, became pundits, an elite, but with a difference in that in the German Army the general staff shared in decision-making and as such also in the results of such decisions.

In the British Army, as also in our services, the staff helped the commanders in details, advised when asked, and issued orders for implementation of a commander’s plans and kept in touch with its execution. But the resultant output is entirely the responsibility of the commander. There are generally three graded staff appointments : Grade 3 for captains, Grade 2 for majors, and Grade 1 for lieutenant colonels.

These appointments embrace every branch of staff. For example, G Branch deals with intelligence, operations, training, weapons and equipment and staff duties, A branch deals with personnel problems, including welfare and discipline, Q Branch with quartering, supplies, movement of troops and equipment as also repair services. G Branch is considered superior as it comprises planners, while A and Q Branches implement their plans in matters relating to logistics administration and personnel.

It is customary to find the best brains for G and fit others in A and Q Branches in accordance with individual merit. The prize jobs in Grade 2 are brigade major, GSO 2 (Ops) of a division, and GSO 2 (Ops) in a corps or command headquaters, or in the Military Operations Directorate at Army Headquarters. This is so because at major’s rank an officer holding one of these appointments is able to handle problems firsthand at the level of a brigade, division, corps, command or army. This is a valuable experience, but the closer to troops the better. As such, the best staff job for a major would be that of brigade major. Little did Kaul realise that these officers were decorated as company or battalion commanders, and their level of competence ended there.

Similarly, in the rank of lieutenant colonel, the best staff appointment would be CSO 1 of a division. In various situations, a staff officer sees the impact of personalities and has an opportunity to observe varied styles of personal command. But once he has completed these staff tenures successfully, no senior has the right to say that such an officer has no concept of handling a brigade or a division in the field. He may not be able to do so in practice, but he cannot be said to lack knowledge of the concept.

Since these jobs are stepping stones to higher command, there should be a great degree of selectivity in this regard. The criterion for efficiency both in the present and future should be individual merit alone, without dragging in personal prejudice or arms discrimination. This has not been the case in our Army. There has been a deliberate attempt to tilt selection in favour of the infantry officer, thus restricting the entry to such promising appointments of officers belonging to other arms, especially in Grade 1.

So far as processing for higher command is concerned, this has led to “garbage in garbage out.” If low-grade officers fill criteria appointments it is inevitable that the higher command will necessarily belong to mediocrity. Here, unknown to the politician, the Army brass has harmed the interests of posterity for selfish motives.

Up to the rank of lieutenant colonel each officer reveals an individual style of leadership. In the Indian environment, this style is three-cornered. The first is popularity-oriented, in that the main concern is to win the goodwill of seniors, equals and subordinates, in that order. The second is mission-oriented, in that the successful execution of allotted tasks becomes the first concern and anything else comes later. The third is personal-interest-oriented, in that effort is directed to seeing that the maximum personal benefit is derived from the job in hand. In the Indian Army, which is essentially career-oriented, the style of leadership has gravitated towards personal interest and popularity rather than towards mission accomplishment.

There is a valid reason for this. In their selections, the powers that be have resorted to subjective than objective assessment in that the question selection boards commonly ask is: “Is there anything against him?” The Indian Army never excuses a mistake. Anybody with anything against him is professionally slaughtered, mercilessly, not caring that if anybody undertakes to do 20 things a couple of them are bound to go wrong. As for the one who does not attempt anything, how can he make a mistake? So long as mistakes are in genuine good faith and do not involve moral turpitude, credit should go to the person who tries rather than to the one who shies away from the problem in hand.

I remember three brigadiers who were of the same seniority. One was brilliant and upright, and as DWE Army Headquarters brought to the notice of Government, over the heads of his incompetent bosses, the need for an immediate look at long–term reequipping policy. The second was an honest but average worker who commanded his formation well and undertook difficult logistic tasks set by the administrative staff. The third took pains to leave problems pending and sought to meet the higher brass on the social plane rather than in the course of his work. Of the three the indecisive one became a divisional commander and the first and forward-looking officer was sent on premature retirement. The third was sacked when the Chinese struck in 1962. But wars do not come every day to find people out. Imagine a stream of such negative personalities finding places at the top.

The next crucial rank is brigadier, because generals are made out of brigadiers. A brigadier is supposed to handle formations of his or other arms in conjunction with a combination of units and formations of arms other than his own. An infantry brigade commander has to coordinate the employment of supporting arms like armour and artillery and administrative services to accomplish his mission. The armoured brigade commander has to do likewise with infantry and artillery. An artillery brigade commander, it may be safely said, cannot function unless he understands and coordinates his effort with infantry and armour. As for Signals and Engineers, they function hand in hand, although not to the same extent. In the British Army, when an officer was promoted full colonel or above he was brought on the general list and at the same time taken off his regimental list. He was not allowed to wear his regimental buttons, badges or lanyard. He wore the general service insignia instead. The aim was to bring home the fact that in the higher ranks an individual rises above parochial barriers and belongs to the Army as a whole. As such, his interests and actions should embrace the Army and not be confined to his parent regiment. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the Indian Army. Instead, petty regimentalism grew enormously, abetted or contrived by those in power. A vulgar display of regimental loyalties became the fashion among our general officers.

Even Gen Kaul, who had served in the Rajputana Rifles only a few months on commissioning, displayed his loyalty to his regiment blatantly. Then the various colonels of regiment, mostly general officers, started openly patronising their respective units. Since at the time of Indianisation most KCIOs, who inherited power, were either infantry or cavalry officers, they sowed the seed of divisive tendencies by creating infantry and armour lobbies for sharing power. Since in peace power lay in dispensing favours and promotions, a higher rank became something to be shared on the basis of groupism.

It is ironical that an armour officer could command infantry formations, but not so an artillery officer. Even officers who had been successful brigade majors of infantry units and GSO I of infantry divisions in war were denied the command of infantry formations in the first instance.

Since Artillery, Engineers and Signals had officers of comparatively lower seniority, these arms did not count, to the extent that Artillery and Signals had to appoint armour and infantry generals as their colonel commandants only to seek a share of their patronage. Divisive tendencies are part of our national character and, taking a cue from history, these flourish in the Indian Army down to regimental groups. Unfortunately, taking a cue from political trends, an undercurrent of prejudice relating to state and community affinities also developed. But more about this later.

When the time came to select commanders of formations, involving promotions from the rank of lieutenant colonel to brigadier, higher brass, dominated by infantry and armour, again favoured their own arms and insisted that artillery officers should command artillery brigades first before becoming eligible for infantry brigades. It is ironical that an armour officer could command infantry formations, but not so an artillery officer. Even officers who had been successful brigade majors of infantry units and GSO I of infantry divisions in war were denied the command of infantry formations in the first instance.

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One thought on “Indian Military Leadership needs a relook?

  1. “…It would be fun to confront some higher commanders in our services about opinion about them….”
    Are you for real, Major General???
    – So are you in this for some sort of impish fun (very unbecoming of your rank) or was this article written in genuine inquisitive and critical spirit??
    – As a senior officer, you will be well aware that the Armed Forces do not exactly function in the principles of a country club management that you seem to be so vociferously espousing.
    – Very disappointed with this article – definitely not worthy of being hosted in this otherwise distinguished forum.

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