Spineless servility of the staff officers has been the bane of the Indian military. The case of Adarsh Housing Society proves it amply. The land in question was under army’s possession. It was apparent to even laymen that the whole project was ill-conceived and murky. Yet, flats were obtained by three Chiefs and numerous senior commanders by all means, fair and unfair. Instead of cautioning them, compliant staff officers actively abetted the wrong-doing. True to their character, their sole aim was to keep their bosses happy.
It is rare to see a staff officer having nerve to speak the truth and risk his commander’s disapproval.
Most worrisome has been the cowardice displayed by the Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) at the Army Headquarters. The Military Secretary and the Adjutant General are top ranking staff officers with immense powers. Yet, when a parochial Chief wanted to tweak the process to favour his protégé, neither had the courage to oppose his decadent and wily machinisations. Their gutless conduct showed them to be unworthy of the high appointments they held.
Similarly, no PSO cautioned the current Chief against disbanding the Technical Services Division. Everyone knew that it was an act of vendetta. Yet, senior officers willingly joined the errant Chief in depriving the military of a functional intelligence gathering outfit. Can there be a more serious anti-national act? As was expected, all abettors have been duly rewarded.
Equally surprising was the haste with which discipline and vigilance ban on a senior commander was lifted by the current Chief within days of assuming charge. It made a mockery of the complete disciplinary review process. The same staff officers, who had advised the previous Chief to impose the ban, quickly did an about turn and recommended its removal. They lacked courage to give honest opinion to the Chiefs and did what the Chiefs desired blindly. As is commonly said –‘servility has no spine and no limits’.
Staff Officers and Personal Staff Officer
Unfortunately, over a period of time difference between a staff officer and a personal staff officer has got blurred. Whereas an Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to a Corps Commander is a personal staff officer, a Col GS of a division or a BGS of a corps is a staff officer of the formation headquarters.
A formation commander can pick any officer of his choosing to be his ADC, who is often referred to as a ‘confidential assistant’. His only responsibility is to ensure that the commander is not encumbered by mundane administrative needs and is kept free to discharge his command functions. As he needs to render no advice, he needs no qualifications for the job. Earlier, sons and prospective sons-in-law were appointed ADC.
They should never forget that they are staff officers of the organisation and owe their primary loyalty to it.
On the other hand, a staff officer is selected for an appointment based on certain specified qualifications and criteria to oversee staff work related to his responsibilities. He performs three functions. First, he renders professional advice to the commander. Through meticulous staff-work, based on accurate and timely inputs, he suggests various options to the commander for well-informed decision making.
Secondly, he manages flow of information between the commander and the environment (subordinate formations, neighbouring formations and higher headquarters).
Thirdly and more importantly, he ensures that all administrative, operational and logistical needs of the subordinate units and formations are duly met. Thus a staff officer owes as much to the troops of the formation as to the commander, if not more. For that matter, if the interests clash, his loyalty should be to the troops and not to a transgressing commander.
When a Divisional Commander (Div Cdr) and his Colonel GS (Col GS) expressed diametrically opposite viewpoints at a Corps training seminar, everyone felt that the Col GS had senselessly risked his career by disagreeing with his Div Cdr publically. When quizzed during the lunch break, the Div Cdr’s retort took everyone by surprise, “The Col GS has a mind of his own. A staff officer is an adviser and not a parrot. I will feel very insecure if the staff officers do not give me the benefit of their knowledge and experience by expressing their opinion frankly.”
…when a parochial Chief wanted to tweak the process to favour his protégé, neither had the courage to oppose his decadent and wily machinisations.
The most distressing aspect of the above episode was the fact that the environment expected a staff officer to toe the line of his commander blindly without application of his mind. Worse, such dogmatic following is construed to be a sign of unflinching loyalty expected of a staff officer.
Compare the above with the institution of the much-admired German General Staff. Helmuth von Moltke is generally considered to be its main architect. He considered an acquiescent and compliant staff officer to be a greater risk than an enemy. He mandated that professional competence without strength of character to render honest advice was of little use. He expected a German General Staff officer to report the matter to the higher headquarters when convinced that his field commander was acting in a detrimental manner.
Unfortunately, courage of conviction is a rare trait in the military staff in India. It is rare to see a staff officer having nerve to speak the truth and risk his commander’s disapproval. As realisation of aspirations for advancement in career depends on a favourable report from the commander, most staff officers prefer to play safe and be yes-men. Instead of cautioning a commander against wrong-doings and skewed decision-making, most staff officers prefer to act as obedient and unquestioning followers.
Staff officers must resist the temptation of acting as personal staff officers. They should never forget that they are staff officers of the organisation and owe their primary loyalty to it. Staff officers who behave like spineless adjuncts to a commander are an anathema and a disgrace.