The New Age WhatsApp Soldier
It all started with a BSF soldier complaining of poor quality of rations, food and equipment. He also categorically stated that government was doing everything but officers were responsible for the poor state of affairs and the soldiers were being denied their basic dues. The media was quick to take note and it was everywhere – whatsapp groups, face book, print and electronic media. The hierarchy of the organization took note so did the PMO and the Home Minister.
The quick march to fame is toxic and contagious. Soon a CRPF jawan was complaining about disparity between the Central Armed Police Force and the Armed Forces in pay and perks, allowances, facilities etc. It was a matter of time before some soldiers from the Army also started putting up their perceived grievances and more are sure to follow. Suddenly, it appears as if nothing is right in any of the uniformed services and if these videos supplemented by the energetic first past the post news deliverance electronic media were to be believed, the security forces were dusting themselves to din.
The cyber warriors of our adversaries must be rejoicing at the flurry of self degrading messages and also not wasting any time in grapping another handle to leverage in future. While one should not shoot the messenger, there is a need to address this issue in a poised and purposeful manner rather than manifesting a knee jerk reaction.
A couple of months back, one of the famous hosts of a comedy show had tweeted to the Prime Minister that he was paying 15 crore income tax for the last 5 years, yet he needed to pay 5 lacs bribe to BMC office for making his office, questioning the idea of Achhe Din.
He has a mass following and as expected created a flutter amongst the twitteraties as well in the government machinery. It was left to our Prime Minister to give a much nuanced reaction. He alluded that some opinion makers want answer from the PM for anything happening in a village panchayat, district council or in any state. While every citizen has a right to communicate with the PM bypassing all available structures, but therein lays the danger of these structures to feel and become redundant.
General Rawat, the new Chief of Army Staff, was quick to respond about the available mechanism for redressal of grievances in the Army. In addition, he has passed instructions to put in place a suggestion cum grievance box in Army HQ and lower formation HQs. The Chief also reiterated that the complaint should be addressed within the organization and NOT in the social media as it could prove detrimental as a two side weapon.
Officers. The officers of the Indian Army come through a much rigorous training curriculum, tougher than the recruit training even in physical terms with the sole purpose of making them understand the rigors of a soldiers’ life. Most of the units have this time tested tradition of putting the young officers in the soldiers’ barrack for two to three months before they are formally accepted as officers. No other institution can boast of such deep sense of regimentation and structured evolution of camaraderie.
The Misnomer about the Buddy System. From time to time the issue keeps on raising its head in various forums, making it appear like a draconian practice. It’s a time tested, proven system and an excellent manifestation of inter personal relation between the officers and the men. First and foremost, no buddy sticks around if he is not willing. He becomes an extension of the officer’s family. No buddy goes back home on leave without a gift for his family given by the officer or his spouse. The buddy also brings back something from home as a token of love from his family and try you may as much, he does not accept any payment for it. In a challenging war or insurgency environment, the buddy is the body guard to the officer in all the operations. Late Capt Vikram Batra, Param Veer Chakra in Kargil war had famously not let his buddy go in for the final bunker assault and led himself attaining martyrdom. There are stories abound of buddies saving injured officers in operations and vice versa. These are stories of compassion, mutual respect and loyalty. Yes there may be few cases which at best can be bracketed as exceptions and due mitigation mechanism are in place to ameliorate grievances if any.
The Hygiene Factor. It is common routine for any officer leading the men, to look after the hygiene factor. Any youngster, as a drill, enters his company lines through toilet and langar (company kitchen) to ensure the required standards of cleanliness and hygiene and quality of food. In field areas, he eats the same food, lives in the same complex and is under more duress than his men. He toils day and night to ensure the safety of his troops, the career progression of his men and his own, deliverance on operational front, not to forget trying to balance his family life located thousands of miles away like everybody else, he has his hands full. In harsh field conditions, problems faced are the same for everyone, may be more so for the officers. It’s a routine in all the units of Indian Army to have a suggestion box at company level, battalion level and the official Sainik Sammelans as a platform to address grievances.
Where is the Problem? There is no smoke without fire; hence, the Army has to seek answers. All the time tested drills of connecting officers with men are being compromised on two accounts. As it is expanding in size and structure, trying to meet the new security challenges, officers’ intake continues to remain dismal. With lowering of the age profile for the Commanding Officer and enhancing promotion avenues (which has largely benefitted the HQs), the strength of officers at unit level is critically low especially in peace areas and with merging threats blurring the line between hinter land and border areas, officers are finding themselves busier in peace stations, a place they are supposed to bond with the troops. As the famous old adage goes, ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’ Sweating, you are, in peace but not together, owing to multifarious engagements. Second, officers and men alike are moving with the excess baggage of communication through social media leading to information overload, arising aspirations beyond one’s reach at times therefore causing disillusionment. Today there are more officers in the HQs than the units, losing the unique organizational structure in terms of profile and numbers the Army had so well developed over the years. An organization structured in the proportion of three is to one as a bottom up approach (three battalions to a brigade, three brigades to a Division etc) now has probably three officers instructing one- a routine at cross purpose with the organization structure itself. It’s time Army had a relook at its staffing the units and the formations. Induction of Short Service officers for 10 to 14 years service with a mechanism for lateral induction is one of the suggested ways to boost the required qualitative numbers at the unit level. It’s also time HQs shouldered more responsibilities, especially in station activities and articulation of military papers in peace stations.
Commensurate Improvement in a Soldiers’ Life. Ever since the economy opened up in early 90s, there is a qualitative improvement in everyone’s life. It reflects in the Army too. While there is a huge improvement in offices, mess and the Quarter Guards, there stands scope for commensurate improvement in the standard of barracks, kitchen, family quarters of soldiers and soldiers’ habitation in field areas.
Social Media. Last but not the least, the social media, the prying electronic and print media is here to stay and cannot be abhorred. The Army, like any government agency, has to take note of such publication or telecast. But reacting to every such news may result in getting trapped into externalization of organizational issues questioning its own competence. At the same time the grievance mechanism has to be strengthened to weed out mal-intentioned propaganda from the genuine ones and visible and early mitigation provided to the latter.
It’s all about Leadership. The leadership quotient in the Army goes much beyond rules, regulations and Dos and Dont’s. It’s the emotional chord between the leader and the led, developed over a period of time with the dictum of “Follow Me” for the Naam, Namak and Nishan that has stood the test of time and has won us almost all the wars and still keeps our nation secure. The number of gallantry awards won by officers and the number of officers attaining martyrdom in the line of duty bears testimony to the highest standards of leadership. It is credit to the organization’s fair and equitable handling of its men and their families, that today, more and more children of the soldiers and Junior Commissioned Officers are joining the armed forces as officers and doing well even in the non military domain.
The strength of the Indian Army is its organic structure which is being run on the backbone of the harmonious relation between the officers and the men. Let no factor- external or internal disturb it, lest it proves costly to the nation, leave aside the Army itself.