Military & Aerospace

Image of the Armed Forces
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Issue Vol 22.4 Oct-Dec2007 | Date : 27 Jun , 2014

A significant constituent of India are her Armed Forces, to defeat aggression, wage war, and for ceremonial functions. Misemployment erodes their morale, efficiency, integrity, loyalty, sense of duty, honour code, discipline and finally fighting capability.

Uninterrupted misuse of Forces crumbles the edifice; corruption and greed germinate, gnawing at the vitals of the only organisation that permits society to pursue their faith and occupation in safety.

Commentators in India write and speak about degeneration of values in our Armed Forces without solutions. Some write without substantiation, others because of personal grouse, and few regrettably, with cussedness and venom.

What indicates a Poor Image?  Is it that young men do not join? Civilians have little regard for ‘faujis’? Politicians & bureaucrats disrespect officers? Industry does not willingly employ retired servicemen? Latest weapons are denied? Basic amenities are lacking? Lowered selection standards? Views differ based on one’s mind-set. Many proclaim that the image was better, “in their time”. To begin with, how come, sons of those who denigrate the fauj, are in Kansas, Kanpur, Kent or Kolkata, instead of Kargil?

If we faujis, both serving and retired, honour our dead, and more so the living, it is adequate. How many of us attend memorial services for policemen killed in action? Do we attend felicitation functions for environmentalists who spend a lifetime to improve civic facilities, which we servicemen enjoy?

What prevents sons of officers from joining their father’s service? Studies say that 10% officers send their sons back into the Services, because the ‘fathers’ believe, civilian options are safer, more lucrative, free, permit speedy upward mobility and so on. They besmirch present cadres as corrupt, cowardly, sycophants, and not of the ‘same stuff’, so cannot permit their beloved male heirs, to mix with such insufferable personalities.

One would imagine that these “fathers’” would abhor interacting with today’s officers. But the ‘fathers’ attend every military function and accept food and drink from the very people they consider intellectually and morally corrupt. These ‘fathers’ integrity stands exposed. When faujis write belittling stories about the Armed Forces, the media gives unwarranted publicity, and the writer basks in a false glory of having done it right. One must pity such officers.

Last Choice

Where are the Good Guys? One lament is that boys join the Forces when unable to get in elsewhere. Indeed many who come to the fauj after rejection by the IAS, IFS, Infosys, L&T, Mahindras, Microsoft and so on, yet there are many who choose the fauj as the first choice. What is the incongruity? Must every one volunteer first for the Forces and then drift to engineering, business, accountancy, medicine, civil services, because the Selection Board rejected them? Lets look at the issue of Last Choice today and First Choice yesterday. From the 50s to 70s, higher education and corporate options were few. Today, they flourish with enhanced financial capabilities in India and abroad. How can we complain that young men are choosing the Forces as a last choice?

When the options were 10, many selected the ‘fauj’. With options proliferating the ‘fauj’ becomes one of the hundred. Does this mean that lucre has defeated patriotism? Does it mean that today’s youngsters are disloyal? Does it mean that the image of the Forces is falling? Incorrect.

It is a question of arithmetic, more the avenues, greater the dispersion. The irony is that bureaucrats, business mangers, policemen, scientists, all complain that quality youngsters are not joining. Then where are the “ good guys”? Are there no good guys? That is a matter irrelevant to this article. Lowering Standards in Selection Centres.

Most certainly, shortage of officers exists, and notwithstanding all efforts, it persists. Is this not an adequate proof that Selection Boards (SSB) are not lowering standards to meet shortfalls? It is also true that many attend SSB with no intention of joining, but get selected, and use that as a testimonial, and it works. Look at it another way. If the selection criteria were lowered to meet shortfalls, most officers commissioned in the 80s and later would perform unsatisfactorily. Have these officers failed the system? Certainly not. Has their leadership, courage, responsibility, generosity, camaraderie, discipline, integrity, loyalty, been poor? False, otherwise military operations in India and abroad, would have failed.

Old timers believe they were better, but evolution proves that successive generations are more capable and the last 2000 years establishes this truth.

In comparison, did those commissioned from the 40s to the 60s perform better and was unbecoming conduct rare? In terms of percentages the good, the bad and the indifferent are invariably the same, but media exposure of the bad is immediate and repetitive, with innuendos regarding lowering of integrity levels due to poor recruitment. Can there be a more skewed conclusion?

Old timers believe they were better, but evolution proves that successive generations are more capable and the last 2000 years establishes this truth. If the skulduggeries of the 50s to 70s are revealed it may become common knowledge that those officers were worse. Let us consider more other causes for the supposed poor image of the Forces.

Greed, Hierarchy and Neglect of Sacrifice

The Greed for Money by Services. Since money makes the world go, why are better salaries for the Armed Forces distasteful? Will higher remunerations discourage faujis from fighting and dying? Utter balderdash. Earlier, options were limited, private enterprise was strangulated, the Indian Middle Class was yet to rise, profit was a dirty word, colleges were inadequate, private firms wanted graduates, Forces wanted matriculates. It was easier to get into the NDA/IMA/AFA than a college, the population was exploding, there was less to be shared by more.

Under the prevailing circumstances young men came to the Armed Forces since the odds were better. Danger, tough life, salaries, transfers, limited promotion, was irrelevant. Getting a job, and a government job, was paramount. Now, companies have pro-liferated, offering astronomical salaries, colleges have multiplied, opportunities abroad are increasing, menus for jobs run into pages; naturally, the numbers volunteering for the ‘fauj’ have declined. Over the years recruitment suffered, shortfalls became glaring affecting adminstration and operational capabilities.

Yet, the Armed Forces have ensured by their steadfastness, a stable secure republic in which political and administrative jiggery-pokery notwithstanding, the ordinary citizen lives without fear of external threat, and in full knowledge that the Armed Forces are available to restore normalcy in crises. Is this proof of a declining image or sustained image? It is deplorable that many ex-faujis grudge serving personnel their merited salaries, and call it ‘lust for lucre’. There is abundant evidence that enhanced pay scales have not atrophied our fighting calibre. It would not be overstating the fact that today’s officers are doing a better job.

The enemy is different, fashion of war has changed, political pressures are heavy, demands from society and family are intense, mistakes are expensive, media response is swift, unforgiving and persistent. To believe that officers of the 40s to 60s joined for the honour of India, and today it is for money, is a self-pitying thought. Are critics of higher salaries the same persons who want one rank one pension? How come seeking higher pension is honourable, but getting higher salary is disreputable?

The saying “God and soldiers are remembered only in crises” affects faujis across the globe. Does this mean that Indian Armed Forces are held in low esteem?

Status in Government Hierarchy. Pre 1947, the Commander-in-Chief of India was next in precedence to the Viceroy. After independence, ‘politicking’ overwhelmed administration, and with military coups all around India, the bureaucracy concluded that if the Pakistani elements of the British Indian Army could engineer a coup, why not the Indian segment? That India’s Armed Forces refuse to enter the political arena, and remain aloof even today, has not altered this thinking. Ironically it was under Indira Gandhi’s turbulent tenure that the Warrant of Precedence saw Defence officers slipping down the list.

Let us look at the trauma, if any, this has caused. Quite honestly, it makes little difference whether the Chiefs are above the Defence Secretary, below the High Court Judge, equal to the CAG, at par with the CEC, equivalent to DG BSF and so on. How often does a Chief have to stand ‘behind’ one of these persons when being introduced to the President of Ukraine?At the Republic Day parade Chiefs are exclusively visible, at investitures they have a special place, their cars have unique emblems, their homes are distinct. At district levels, there is protocol friction during VIP visits. But within military perimeters, there is no problem. The author has been the Chief Operations Officer at Palam, Delhi and our protocol is enforced in the IAF area.

We must appreciate that police and administrative authority have a critical role in VIP visits. Mistakes are unacceptable and media enlarges errors. Little wonders then, that the Collector and Superintendent Police personally supervise every moment. This we find abrasive. Would the upward move of the Chiefs have a cascading effect downwards?

And if that happened, will the direct involvement of the DIG, Collector, and Superintendent lessen? Has for example the re-designation of Air Commodores as Principal Directors, or the re-designation of many Lt Gens in Army HQ as Director Generals changed MODs attitude towards us? The one-upmanship within the civilian bureaucracy is shameful, we should stay away, the Warrant of Precedence has little impact on the fauji-civilian equation. Lets accept it and take care of our ‘izzat’ ourselves.

Neglect of Valour & Sacrifice by Faujis. The saying “God and soldiers are remembered only in crises” affects faujis across the globe. Does this mean that Indian Armed Forces are held in low esteem? Does it mean that India’s millions ignore the memory of those who fell in battle? Quite honestly, do we need outsiders to pay homage to our fallen comrades? And if they do not pay homage, whose fault is it? Observe how the isolation between the ‘fauji’ and civilian came about?

Till the late 70s we did not want to be contaminated by the ‘boxwalla’. Now the boxwalla controls the economy, why should he bend backwards for faujis who considered him below par? Civilians no longer consider it a privilege to visit our Messes. On the contrary it is we faujis who seek invitations from the boxwalla to hotels and clubs. The salaries of the “boxwalla” rose dramatically in the 80s; regrettably the fauji remained where he was.

The day India’s cantonments are merged with cities, a historical and cultural part of India will die, and along with it the relatively cleaner areas.

Even the stunning victory in 1971, did not galvanise the politician to raise remunerations.The misplaced belief within the Services that faujis joins for glory and patriotism, if his salary is increased many-fold, he will not make the supreme sacrifice. A more twisted belief could not have come from anyone except us. Given an opportunity, civilians will enthusiastically participate to honour those who have fallen for India. But if they perceive a selfish flavour to the event, they retreat, and advise colleagues accordingly. Besides, we cannot expect them to be passionate about memorials, raising days, welfare programmes and so on. Civilians in large numbers do monumental social and rehabilitation projects.

If we faujis, both serving and retired, honour our dead, and more so the living, it is adequate. How many of us attend memorial services for policemen killed in action? Do we attend felicitation functions for environmentalists who spend a lifetime to improve civic facilities, which we servicemen enjoy? Our ‘izzat’ is in our hands, do we need civilians to enhance it? The less we look for ‘izzat’ from the civilian, the less we will need it and miss it.

Sycophancy, Corruption, and Izzat

Sycophancy and Financial Corruption. Loose talk places sycophancy and financial corruption as rampant in the Armed Forces. Sycophants thrived in 3000 BC, and flourish today, they cannot be wished away. The Forces are not an island of virtuous ladies and gentlemen. They come from the same stock of traders, tycoons, bureaucrats, politicians, financier, farmers and so on. Like in other persuasions, slots at the top are few, aspirants many. The majority accept the levels they reach, but there are those wanting what they do not deserve.

One Tehelka does not destroy our ‘izzat’. A ‘Manorama devi’ does not demolish our integrity. One Promotion Board reversal does not mean the system is rotten.

The history of India’s Armed Forces has many tales of sycophancy. If there were three AVMs in the 60s with about 40 Wing Commanders, today there are 30 AVMs with 1000 Wg Cdrs. It looks enormous, but the ratio is constant. It is inappropriate to name earlier sycophants who held critical positions and showered ruin on the Armed Forces and the nation. If the media were to get hold of the shocking financial improprieties of yesteryears, it would pale today’s cases into oblivion. In many forums it is said that corruption is routine in the business world, and that transition for officers into the corporate world is awkward.

The fact is that our military ‘badmashes’ will put any corporate crook to shame. Values have changed in India. In the homes of faujis are children and grand children who scoff at traditions. Many are settled abroad, others have persuasions at variance with the culture of Armed Forces. For them visiting Messes is passe. Old faujis who complain about junior officers are silent about their own progeny on similar issues. Our young officers come from this group and their senior supervisors understand the changed environment.

If in 2014 you treat officers as we did in the 60’s, they will not perform as combatants of the 21st century. Just because cases of un-officer like conduct get blown up on TV, does not mean that financial corruption and sycophancy has increased in the Indian Armed Forces. The calamity is that similar deeds by civilians, does not get equal publicity. One look at the sycophancy in politics, bureaucracy, judiciary, business, medicine should convince anyone where the faujis stand in order of merit.

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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.

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One thought on “Image of the Armed Forces

  1. Every time war should not be required to know the importance of Armed forces. Flood relief is not required to know that our army is helpful and heroic.
    It should be understood in society and then in polity that a nation’s armed forces have a very special place.
    Their decisions and actions should be valued and respected. And if this would have been the case, surely the forces would not have had to fight for defense procurements, Pension.

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