(Editors note: This article was first written ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections and subsequently updated prior to the 2019 elections. The observations made still hold in good stead and are worth introspecting over.)
It is an established fact that the man behind the machine is the most important factor in any armed forces. In India today there are critical questions raised in respect of the ‘strength’ of the armed forces and a critical finger of suspicion points to the personnel manning the defence of the nation.
As such, the nation must take charge, assess the present status, remove weaknesses and build on its strengths. But the army cannot rise in isolation; it must be lifted to its heights as an integral part of a thriving nation. And even when the trends of the times do not inspire hope one must continue to act positively with hope that the answers will emerge.
The Indian Soldier
The history of the Indian Army is replete with proof of the high professionalism, competence and commitment displayed by its soldiers during numerous challenges confronted by it. This bears adequate testimony to support the claim that the Indian soldier is among the best in the world.
The fact that he is effectively manning lengthy international borders (approximately 15,000 km) in the most rugged and inhospitable regions of our country, having severe climatic and weather conditions, confronting the most brutal and hostile of enemies, speaks volumes for his loyalty, dedication, discipline and devotion to duty.
In recent times there has been a spate of deplorable incidents that have regrettably brought dishonour and disgrace to our Armed Forces. This lends credence to the belief that we are not any more that feared, professional and integrated fighting force that we probably were during the 1971 operations. Against this backdrop it is only pertinent to ask whether our Armed Forces are operationally fit and competent to effectively ward off the ever-looming threat from our traditional foes—China and Pakistan on – our live international borders.
It is also relevant to ask if we are prepared and capable to meet the present internal challenges in the form of prolonged proxy war, militancy, widespread Naxalism and also the so-called Maoist menace in its present manifestation.
Besides these challenges, are we geared to face the grave problems that would confront us, post the US Army’s withdrawal from ‘Taliban infested’ Afghanistan and the subsequent focus of the Taliban’s attention on the adjacent Pakistan-India border region? Added to this is the growing need for Indian troops in UN missions abroad coupled with the critical demand of optimum strength of officers and men for multifarious duties both in field and peace.
This brings to fore the dire necessity of sufficient ‘strength’ and requisite ‘quality’ military manpower to keep pace with the growing need and high wastage rate.
A serious introspection of our present operational effectiveness and detailed threat analysis of our international borders, coupled with the disturbed state of internal affairs, highlights the imminent need for an effective, integrated and highly motivated Armed Forces led by committed, dynamic and selfless military leaders — a ‘dream state’ of operational preparedness and efficacy.
How do we achieve this ‘dream state’ that would be a strong deterrent to any enemy that ventures into our area or meddles in any way in our internal matters?
Soldiering—A Chosen Profession
In the present 21st century, in most democratic countries, including India, soldiering is being considered as a ‘chosen profession’ and similar to any other means of earning a livelihood. Does this take away the inspirational aspect that is contained in the honourable profession of taking up arms? Does this imply that all these countries do not any more get the best talent or the most suitable young men for their armed forces? If so, what measures have they taken to address this problem?
We do not need a defence expert to tell us that the induction of inferior quality material in terms of manpower would invariably weaken the quality of its fighting soldiers and officer leadership of any country. India being no exception, it will be pertinent to ask if the Indian Armed Forces are getting the desirable quality of manpower for its’ military officer leadership’ and also for the ‘rank and file’.
It is also relevant to ask if ‘officer-men relations’ are in a healthy state, resulting in well-integrated fighting units with the backing of effective support elements and adequate logistics-cum-administrative backup.
‘Officer-Men Disconnect’ Calls for Vital Change in Mindset
If some of the recent incidents of face-offs between officers and jawans are any indication of the present state of officer-men relationship, it is indeed a matter of serious concern not only for the forces but also for the nation. The integrity in the fighting units needs some fostering. It should be appreciated that India has moved ahead and soldiering is no more ‘a way of life’. It is now a ‘chosen profession’. This reality should be welcomed as a healthy development and great boon for an evolving professional army.
The ‘status quo’ generals should realise that they can no longer hold on to the past, a legacy of the British era, and should move on. The jawans are only claiming a more professional and equal relationship with their officers and not the ‘lord and master’ feudal relationship of a bygone era. The evident anger between the young junior level officers and soldiers does not augur well for the organisation.
This evident disconnect between the officers and men cannot be swept under the carpet any more, as the biggest casualty is the ‘morale of the army’, which remains the prime mover of the all-important ‘man behind the gun’.
A serious introspection of the situation will reveal that the present generation of young officers and soldiers is very different from the ones that fought in the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars. It should be well understood that this new generation has been drawn from a society undergoing fast socio-economic transformation; this is creating a widening gap between their expectations and what they receive.
It should be realised that the officers are now coming from the lower middle class; this would mean that the socio-economic gap with their troops has now diminished considerably. This should be welcomed as a healthy development of a professional army.
The top hierarchy of the forces needs to engender a culture and ethos of professionalism, financial honesty and integrity where they should lead by personal example. The generals should seriously address the root causes to the problems and not only the symptoms. The ‘jawan’, the symbol of our fighting men, is only claiming his right for change, for a more equitable relationship with his officer leaders based on mutual respect and trust.
This should be granted to them as a directive from the top as an outcome of the harsh realities of soldiering of the present times. This would restore the confidence of the jawan, help revive the health of the officer-men relations and also restore the traditional rapport and bonhomie.
Indian Troops—A Great Asset
“The Indian soldiers are undoubtedly the best troops a leader can wish or hope to lead. They will follow you up the jagged peaks of snow-clad mountains, through the burning sands of unending deserts, across the marshy maze of thick jungles and into a haze of bullets and shrapnel, unmindful of their personal safety, uncaring of their personal comfort and devoid of remorse or fear and unrelenting in their resolve and determined to challenge the test of destiny.
All they will look up to you will be to see confidence in your eyes, trust in your voice, command in your demeanour, professional competence in your actions and above all the desire to lead them from the front.’’- These were the words of a reviewing officer, about seven years ago, at the passing-out parade at the prestigious Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.
These words aptly sum up the traits of our troops which are our greatest asset, nurtured, cultivated and groomed over decades and decades of army tradition, culture and ethos of numerous regiments of arms and services of our armed forces. It is our real strength and cutting edge over our adversary — the ‘quality man behind the gun’ and the most decisive factor in any kind of military operation.
It is thus imperative that we do not take this ‘asset’ for granted. We should rather give it great attention to derive optimum results. We should also train the men in the most professional manner, using the most scientific training methodology and latest equipment of present times.
Today, the troops are well educated and generally come from lower middle class families of rural and urban areas. With the rapid development of most rural areas even those from these so-called rural areas are not that backward as before. Further, with the narrowing of the social-economic-intellectual gap between officers and men, there is much scope for incentives and encouragement for rapid personal development, in terms of professional and educational qualifications, for selection of potential men as officer candidates for commission into the services.
With the high quality and depth of manpower of the troops that we now possess, especially in the Army, there is great scope to produce a large number of officers for multifarious general duties. This would greatly reduce the workload on the existing officers, presently overloaded with additional duties/tasks due to the large and prolonged shortage of officers. This exercise will certainly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In the challenge therefore lies the opportunity — in the disease lies the cure.
Quality Military Leadership
As stated recently by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, CAS & Chairman COSC, “The Indian Armed Forces is in the midst of a comprehensive modernisation phase. Quality military leadership at all levels is indeed the need of the hour’’. Besides paying special attention to the selection and training aspects of the leadership in the Armed Forces, the top brass of the forces would do well in associating themselves with some of the renowned and reputed military veterans in addressing this great concern. The wide experience and expertise of the veterans in their specialised fields will pay them rich dividends. But this can only go some distance and not further.
After all, the armed forces is only a component of the larger society and the leadership in the armed forces can at best influence the armed forces itself; what of the society from which the entire breed of soldiers and officers emerge? At the highest level, the nation must look up to inspiration from the political leaders of India. But where is the hope in it?
Weak Political Leadership
India is presently handicapped with an extremely weak and timid political leadership displaying a deplorable state of collective incompetence. In such a grim state, for a nation to find ‘inspiration’ to become one of ‘merit’ and ‘values’ is a far-fetched dream. If the leaders’ interface with our armed forces is an indicator to go by there cannot be an iota of hope.
An ill-equipped military with a crippling shortage of officers, deteriorating ‘officer-men relationship’, anguished, unhappy and disgusted ex-service/war veterans, all cumulatively do not ‘inspire’ or ‘motivate’ the men in uniform; they only de-motivate, depress and demoralise them — ominous signs for the country! Add to this the internal turmoil in the country in the form of Naxalism, Maoism and all their variants.
The inability of the Centre and State agencies to tackle this grave threat and menace in all their dimensions, well within our borders, raises serious questions of a ‘failed state’ in these areas, now being called ‘free zone’ or’ red-corridor’. With our traditional enemy, China’s expansionist designs, continued hostility of Pakistan and strained relations with even traditionally friendly Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar, all apparently indicate a weak, divided and disintegrated ‘state’.
Even after 73 years of a democratic system of governance in the country, the political rulers have failed to meet even the basic expectations of the majority of the people. Irrespective of their political parties and individual affiliations most of the leaders have displayed a callous and lackadaisical approach to the grave problems confronting the country.
Their reprehensible and shameful conduct during the Parliament sessions of both Houses says it all! In light of the above it is evident that the Indian ‘state’ has now reached its ‘nadir’ and on the road to a ‘failed democracy’. Under these most trying circumstances in our history ‘Victory India’ (a ‘concept’ and ‘symbol’ of hope of a formidable, successful and prosperous state) can only be but a dream, illusion or mirage!
A Dream ‘State’
In order to revive and restore the ‘state’ from further decline and decay, the entire political system needs a major shakeup with a great people’s revolutionary movement for the liberation of the country from 73 years of misrule, mismanagement, corruption and tyranny that it has suffered. This is already happening in different forms of movements, agitations, fasts, rallies and protests.
The charged, enthusiastic and enterprising youth of the country, with the support, expertise and guidance of capable, competent and selfless leaders, will soon improve the dismal state. In the forthcoming 2019 Parliamentary elections one surely feels that the youth brigade can turn the tide in our favour, usher in a new era of hope for the masses, help in fulfilling some of our aspirations and also finally realize ‘Victory India’ — a dream ‘state’! The Armed Forces may of course not have the liberty to directly participate in this except for voting sensibly like every other citizen.
Even as the nation waits in hope, at this moment, the Armed Forces of the country need to be given the utmost priority along with due importance and powers to the para-military and State police forces. Those in harness now, whatever their level of operation may be, must ensure that the Armed Forces continue to get the best men to fill its ranks.
The selection procedures and training must not be deficient in any way. The prevailing scenario raises this need to a high level of criticality. This and this alone would collectively ensure our security and safety from the enemy across our borders and also neutralise the enemy within and facilitate the country in moving forward in all ways to meet the minimum expectations of its people. Victory India!
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')