Military & Aerospace

The Army - What's gone wrong?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 17 Oct , 2013

The Indian Army, besides being the world’s third largest, enjoys a unique status of professional excellence. There is no other army in the world that is as battle hardened as the Indian Army that has fought and won in as treacherous terrain and climate as the world’s highest glacial battlefield. Only the Indian troops are shifted across operational theatres as diverse as the sultry forests of the North East, torrid sands of Thar desert, reed infested riverine borderline of Punjab, mountainous J&K and the entire expanse of icy Himalayas from Siachen in north Kashmir to Along in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Besides the LoC/LAC on both fronts – Pakistan and China respectively – being incessantly active, the Indian Army has been fighting terrorists and insurgents to keep the country together.

Each incident raises painful questions. What has gone wrong with the Army that was so adored by public for its high traditions of discipline, chivalry, sacrifice and selfless devotion to the Nation?

Also, the Army’s role in relief operations during natural calamities or other emergencies has been universally lauded all through. All this speaks very high of our officers and men at action level.

Sadly, however, the Indian Army has been in the news for wrong reasons in the recent past. The Chinese Army brazenly intruded 19 km deep into the Indian territory, pitched tents and stayed on for days under the nose of the Indian Army even as the world watched us doing no more than complaining as we did in the post Mumbai 26/11 terror strike by Pakistan.  Again, the Chinese Army dared to cross into Arunachal Pradesh and physically wrestled and pushed the Indian troops out of their positions on ground. On the western front too, a repeatedly beaten Pakistan Army dared to intrude, behead and kill Indian troops in two different actions. These incidents have shamed us as a Nation.

With the veneer so damaged, the inner decay showed up damaging the high credentials of India’s military might. Chiefs of Army/Navy/Air Force have been reported/indicted for their unseemly role in scams. A growing number of Major Generals/Lt Generals have been found involved in scams and other acts of unspeakable misdemeanour. The rising number and frequency of such cases can no longer be brushed aside as ‘odd aberrations.’ As if that was not humiliating enough, there has been a spurt in unsavoury incidents involving officers and menat unit levels. In the profession of arms, leaders lead by personal example to inspire and motivate subordinates. The wrong examples have truly but horribly inspired subordinates – at least so it seems. Each incident raises painful questions. What has gone wrong with the Army that was so adored by public for its high traditions of discipline, chivalry, sacrifice and selfless devotion to the Nation? Here are some answers and more questions.

The Officer Shortage

The net shortage of officers in the Army is said to be about 12000 at present. Surprisingly, all the shortage is at the ‘teeth’ level –the units required to fight and perform. There is no shortage at any Headquarters (from Brigade to Army Headquarters) or Establishments reputed for risk-free career advancing ‘graded’ tenures in peace locations.  Infantry units – the ubiquitous performing arm of the Indian Army – are managing with 8-10 officers posted against an authorised scale of 21, which obviously means that the workload on officers is more than twice their legitimate share. As a contrast, the higher headquarters not only have their full scale posted but also commandeer and ‘attach’ officers from the already over-stretched units. One should not be surprised if the number of such ‘attached’ officers at the Army Headquarters is over a hundred today.

The youngster these days steps directly into the boots of his boss and flounders like an excited toddler in his father’s shoes flaunting his large acquisition.

Quick-fix Solutions

Conscious of these crucial deficiencies but unable to convince the Government on crucial military needs, the authorities have devised a quick-fix solution to ‘solve’ the problem of ‘officer shortage’  –post young officers on cross-attachment from the Services like ASC, AOC and so on to the infantry units deployed in field. Resultantly, it is common in units to find raw, untrained and unqualified lieutenants/captains officiating as Company Commanders. Often, more than one company/squadron are placed under command of a youngster even before he is mature and qualified enough to lead a platoon effectively in action.

Grooming Institutions demolished

Not too long ago in this very Army, we had systems to groom young officers under the care of seasoned field officers who would assign responsibilities, guide and educate youngsters to occupy their positions in due course. The luxury of having two officers – a company commander and his company officer – is no longer available to the commanding officers of today. The institution of Senior Subaltern also stands demolished. The youngster these days steps directly into the boots of his boss and flounders like an excited toddler in his father’s shoes flaunting his large acquisition. Who would refute the imminent fall in such a situation?

Officer-men Inter-action gone haywire

Overburdened officers always under pressure to meet deadlines in onerous tasking find little time to train, play or entertain with troops on a regular basis. Such a routine distances officers from the men. Being more educated, aware and conscious of his privileges, the modern jawan is quick to find/create alternative channels in such circumstances to seek remedies to his problems directly from the Commanding Officer who, in most cases, readily obliges – often ignoring/overruling recommendations of the subordinate commanders thereby proving the sub-unit commanders ineffective and unnecessary in the eyes of JCOs and men in the unit. Unwittingly, this practice has evolved into a dangerous trend – hunger for cheap popularity –even as objectivity and sincerity is diminishing in today’s Army. Crisis to crisis they move on, compromise and accomplish somehow.

Need to bridge the Cultural Divide

Unlike the Army of yester years, our jawans and their wives are all educated today, most of them having graduate and post-graduate degrees. Call it ‘ego’ if you must, but the modern jawan is imbued with a strong sense of ‘self-respect’.  Of course, he is entitled to preserve this core value of his character – a facet that will only make him a better inspired, motivated and committed soldier willing to be led by superior competence. Times have changed and altered societal equations and individual perceptions. No self-respecting soldier would volunteer for menial work in someone else’s home in today’s environments. It is nice that the Army is already taking steps to remedy this ticklish problem by replacing combatants with non-combatant sahayaks.

…there is a need for deeper introspection by officers to review their outlook and be more approachable in off-parade/office hours shedding their officious aura.

Another issue is the disparity in the entitlement of rations. There is no plausible logic to have any variation in this regard especially when officers and men come from the same stock of society and have similar eating habits.

Also, there is a need for deeper introspection by officers to review their outlook and be more approachable in off-parade/office hours shedding their officious aura. Officers wives can help a great deal by readjusting their equations with the equally or more educated wives of other ranks. Any harm if the ‘Mem Sahib’ tag is replaced with ‘Madam’, ‘Didi’ or ‘Mrs…….’?

‘Play-safe’ Attitude and Careerism

Most seniors would not like it; yet I feel this should be Point Number One because this flows straight from the top. Watch any cluster of senior officers at a party, seminar, meeting or even in travel and you will find them discussing nothing other than ACRs, postings, citation for awards, nomination for NDC, HC or their next best obsession– golf, cock-tails, single-malts, sponsored jaunts and sojourns and so on. Serious issues dampen their spirits. Even when they happen to touch upon something serious, they cautiously punctuate their revelation by the cliché clause, “Don’t quote me, but let me tell you……..”.

Two of the most serious problems faced by the Military Secretary’s Branch at the Army Headquarters are inflated ACRs and representations against supersession and postings, the former being the cause of the latter. Going by the prevalent ACR grading trend, it would appear that the Army never had a more competent lot of so many officers in the top bracket of ‘above average’ and outstanding officers. In the same breath, however, every senior officer also whines, “Army no longer attracts the top cream of the Indian youth.”It is not because the ACR initiating/reviewing officers (IOs/ROs) are more generous.  In the days of moral degradation, guilt drives the senior to timidly submit to the aspirations of his junior because the latter is either privy to or a direct source/conduit of his senior’s exploits. Sadly, greed and ambitions are the bane of all that is wrong with the Army today.

Within the Army, there is a need to make all selection boards fully transparent allowing officers free access to their personal records, master data sheets and proceedings of the board.

Transparency enhances Credibility

In times of see-though communication technology, it is neither feasible nor desirable to hide every military routine under the cover of ‘military security’.  Tons of military knowledge and information guarded by the Indian Army as ‘classified’ – secret and confidential– is openly and freely available on the Internet today. Spreading awareness among the masses about military capabilities, limitations and requirements will only buttress the Army’s case and force the reluctant Netas and Babus, who callously ignore serious issues despite judicial directions from the Armed Forces Tribunal and the Supreme Court, to sit up and take note.

Within the Army, there is a need to make all selection boards fully transparent allowing officers free access to their personal records, master data sheets and proceedings of the board. All information about postings and promotions should also be instantly posted on the MS Branch Intra-Net Website. Notings and recommendations on complaints and representations will be eventually brought within the purview of RTI. Therefore, there is a need to review the traditional military idea of defining and keeping ‘secrets’.

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The unsavoury incidents of officer-jawan duels are not ‘odd cases of indiscipline’; they are ripples on the surface warning us of a bigger storm building up somewhere deeper. It would be, therefore, fallacious to assume that the problem would be solved through a case-to-case approach like standard procedures of Courts of Inquiry and courts martial.  The need of the hour is an overhaul of officers’ traditional mind-set so as to adapt themselves to a realistic modern environment that cannot be wished away. Only the last cynical will wait for a Tsunami to wake him up.

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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

Karan Kharb

The author is a retired Army Officer, author of two international best sellers.

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9 thoughts on “The Army – What’s gone wrong?

  1. You cannot “buy” an army with money and perks. You need to nurture the culture of the country and the dignity of the fighting man. The finest infantry used to be pahadis because of their honesty, simplicity and sense of self esteem. India has been stripped of all three.

  2. Tip of the ice berg. There is now a move, yet again, foisted in the Supreme Court, to create “secular” mixed regiments! Nehru and Krishna Menon turned tail when they found that “mixed” regiments break the back of the fighting team. Regiments do not fight for abstract notions like “Nation”. They fight as a family through village through tribal unit. When they fix bayonets they take comfort that if they die they will in the arms of their uncles, cousins and nephews and that their tales of derring-do will return home. Imagine Gurkhas being recruited into the Army Medical Corps or the Army Supply Corps or Garhwalis queuing up for Mulliga Tawny at the Madras Regiment Lungar! In the Navy and Air Force combat is not hand-to-hand on the ground and killing is done long distance with technology. Every act of “Social Engineering” since 1947 has misfired. So will “mixed” regiments. Regimental formation of front line fighting land forces have been salutary since times immemorial. While the officer class have not necessarily been of feudal descent, they have always been trained to carry themselves so, and being educated, have been able to adopt the customs and traditions of their troops while trusting to a uniform goo at their messes. The lungar story is different and representative of the wide diversity of culture. Napoleon never spoke a truer word than when he said, “An Army marches on its stomach”. Non regimental armies are singularly weak and non-salutary in “boots on the ground” combat.e.g. The United States that, despite all their technological advance, cannot accomplish what the Indian Infantry can with unfit-for-purpose equipment, arms, and outfits. The Indian Infantry, which is a dwindling percentage of an army that is increasingly more tail than teeth is viewed awe (and affection) by Commonwealth Armies as far afield as Britain, Kenya, South Africa and Australia. I have heard Kargil mourned by Senior Generals from these armies. The finest killed by inept command.

  3. It has been said by many a scholars that In our country no one lacks opinion on anything. We have time to comment on everybody’s job without knowing A B C D of own job. So, many end up unhappy and disillusioned.
    If everyone did what he was getting paid for, our society, Services and the country would be a better place.
    They say that there are no law abiding citizens, there are only law enforcing agencies, which I feel is completely true.
    Thus If we have to be law enforcing, then we only can do it by implementing laws in our small little domains.
    Question is who will bell the cat. the answer is ‘everybody’. and that is the only solution.
    with regards to all our retired personnel.

  4. I think The time has come to shed our colonial legacies and not wait for some one else to do our jobs of cleaning up a System.
    The problems are known.
    Whoever understands them, please start solving them.
    It has to be done by the serving and not the retired ones.
    I wish the officers who are so vocal about the problems of Army or the services had done something of consequence while serving. It has to be a collective effort or else a few morally straight officers would burn out and get swallowed by the system.

  5. 1. It is very easy to say that ACRs are inflated. You accept that units are operating at 50% of their authorised offr str. Is it fair to judge the performance of an offr by giving him double the responsibility and maintaining the same parameters. A staff officer in a HQ does only his job and gets graded higher why?
    2. Why does the Army want to hold on to Assam Rifs and RR? The officers should be back in their units. The Generals have to think out of a strategy to hold on to the vacancies.
    3. Abolish the appointments of ADC and staff officers to Gens. The youngsters need to be in the units.
    4. The offr authorisation of units need a revisit. Take the case of an Arty unit, appointments like orderly officer, battery subaltern etc, are being performed by JCOs. Start a JCO academy and recruit young candidates directly as JCOs.
    5. A sincere effort has to be made by the Generals to stop ostentatious functions and this has to start right from the top.
    6. Ladies should take a back seat. Senior officers ladies have started to behave as queens and that is not acceptable to junior offrs, their wives and the men.

  6. Sir,

    Same old analyses without any conclusive remarks.
    The article is more like studying of symptoms and less of providing a solution.Same old fashioned blaming of “shortage of officer” which is not at the problem, please try to understand. The Indian army is oversubscribed of officers. The army needs to understand what an “officer ” is ..The system needs low level supervisors and they are being termed today as officers. Ask any serving officer and he will tell you what he feels of himself. Accommodating 2-3 officers in a single room with 12-13 years of service is a common thing and you still say there is ” Shortage”.
    Please understand the fault is not at the lower level.

  7. Alas, history does indeed repeat itself!! Since we draw our officers and personnel from the same civilian society, cultural change (including value-systems) do tend to contaminate the Services. This need not be accepted with fatalistic resignation. A solution could be to create (or recreate) our own culture and value systems to facilitate behaviours necessary for effective discharge of duty. Anyone who cannot conform (at whatsoever level) must be ruthlessly weeded out. Our officers seem to have become ‘officer-sahibs’ – as an ascribed rather than achieved status. The recent brawls reported in the press are a sad reflection of failure of leadership and populism at higher levels clearly demonstrating the lack of will, courage (or both) to take harsh steps where necessary. There is no place for shoddy officer material which must be sent back to the gutters of civilian society. The Services require a ruthless purge at ALL levels. If we do not act in time, the Sword would have blunted, and the Shield corroded. Time is indeed short…and it is running out!

  8. The Indian army also draws men from the same Indian society,culture,traditions as the Bureaucracy,police & Politicians etc. The Deterioration of Character & lack of integrity & values has permeated the indian society..Unfortunately,the Training of Officers & Jawans in army discipline,ethos & traditions has deteriorated-Right at the Academy level, officer Cadets are less interested in the “real Army ” ie the ARMS-The Infantry, Armoured corps etc than in joining the Services [ASC,AOC ] to make money..This often results in 2nd rate Commanding officers of the Infantry & other arms.. Favouritism & Sycophancy in giving outstanding grades in ACR’s by Seniors & in Postings & Promotions by the Mily.Secy branch, plus Political & Bureaucratic interference combined with neglect & disdain for the Armed forces further cpmpound the problem..Late F.M. Sam Maneckshaw in the 60’s had commented that the ” KAUL BOYS ” have taken over the Indian army,just before the 1962 war with China…Had he been alive today,he might well have commented that the ” CALL BOYS ” are taking over the Indian army !!

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