A nationalist Indian Army truly came into being with the dawn of freedom on 15 August 1947. Some older regiments trace their history to three hundred years of their raising, but in those days these regiments were officered by the British who ruled India. The first Commander in Chief (C-in-C), Indian Army on the eve of independence was also a British, Sir Robert McGregor Macdonald Lockhart. General (later Field Marshal) KM Cariappa, OBE became the first Indian C in C on 16 January 1949.
As citizens of India we should be proud of our army as it has acquitted itself very well in operations since WW-I & WW-II in far off places like Turin, Flanders, Gaza, Taku Fort, etc. Post Independence the army has fought four major wars viz:- 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971 and an occupation on our soil in 1999 (Kargil). It has also been involved in controlling innumerable insurgencies in Nagaland, Assam & J&K.
An extended operation in Sri Lanka and contributed manpower for peace keeping missions to the United Nations (UN). Today it is the third largest professional army in the world with 1.3 million men donning the army uniform voluntarily.
Let us as honest citizens analyze where we stand today and what can be done to improve the prevailing conditions and events that have overtaken our army, the groups that have a stake are:
- Ordinary Citizens.
- Informed Intelligentsia.
- Academic Institutions.
- Army Training Academies.
- Army as an Organization.
- Post Retirement avenues/Corporate’s.
Earlier bulk of our troops were drawn from the hardy peasantry. They came from rural joint families, were semi educated, were unflinchingly obedient and loyal to the paltan/unit (regiment), today they come from semi urban areas, from nuclear families, are educated with hopes, aspirations and dreams like any other young man, but their patriotism and fighting ability is never in doubt. Ordinary citizens today lead a life of informed choice which needs to be factored into our training.
The informed intelligentsia and the media which shapes opinion needs to be more supportive of the Army, by raising the level of debate regarding modernization of equipment, conditions of living, pay, perks and salaries of the soldier and speaking with one voice whenever the need arises.
Nation deploys the army for operations. Regular visit to forward areas to sensitize the public regarding the harsh conditions of living, vagaries of weather and emotional disconnect from families should become a regular feature. More uplifting human stories will connect the army better to the citizenry.
The Government in many cases at least in the present scenario has been perceived not only in the army circles but even otherwise as an insensitive tool of governance which has forsaken its army. From the issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP) to the seventh pay commission the battle of perception has been lost by the high and mighty in the Government.
We live in the toughest neighbourhood in the world, the army needs to be made to feel special in terms of pay, perks and allowances. A saving of a few hundred crores may come to haunt many in the decision making apparatus as being ”penny wise & pound foolish” at a later date.
Academic Institutions across the country are by and large blissfully unaware of the vacancies that exist in the Officer cadre, the options available for joining the army and the dates of various entrance examinations. Manning the frontiers and leading troops is a national effort with each Institution contributing the best leadership material for selection & training to join the Army.
Let me admit, our Officers training academies viz: NDA, IMA & OTA are in urgent need of a massive overhaul in terms of syllabus, training methodology, moral grounding and leadership training. Aberrations of moral turpitude, lack of financial integrity, and undermining of established authority by men are on the rise. All of this can be traced to an old and creaky selection & training system.
Even the army as an organization needs to change to meet present & future challenges. The educational background of troops is different, they have different sets of hopes, aspirations & dreams, come from nuclear families, live in suburbs /small towns, have access to electronic media 24/7, are comparatively more educated, access internet, whats app, etc. SMS and messaging has changed the way they communicate and burdened with multiple choices in a consumer market. Are things the same? The Army cannot remain in a state of denial with the existing reality.
A serving soldier of today is a retiree of tomorrow. Can this be denied? What happens when a young man between 35- 40 years of age has to leave a secure job and come out of the army to fend for himself and look after his family after having given the prime of his youth to the Nation? It is here the Corporate’s must step in to absorb well trained, disciplined manpower to increase productivity and give a chance for renewed contribution to Nation building.
It is our army; we need to send the best youth to man our frontiers, the most motivated to lead it as officers, have processes of selection & training that are world class with prevailing ethos of professionalism that send shivers down the pants of our enemies.
The present grim situation confronting our country and world must be assessed. China thinks and plans long term,any kind of standoff or diplomatic parley is a front only, they will go in for some minor escalation in some sector to teach a lesson, to keep India on the back foot seeing the near Civil War situation in the USA.
Any hint of India assuming Leadership position in the world is unacceptable to China.
Supportive Response by Cdr Mukund Yeolekar (Retd)
Indeed a good article by Col Mehrishi. My comments are as follows:
(a) The history of Indian Army and it’s achievements have been brought out very well in brief. Most people are not aware of these aspects. Those politicians who are aware are indifferent.
(b) The socio-economic changes in Indian society and the present background of the soldiers has been correctly highlighted. Changes in society and the prevalent psyche are bound to have an impact on the country’s Army.
(c) The role of the media and its responsibility have been emphasised. There is a need to educate the media on the importance of conveying the correct message to the public and maintaining high morale. They can be a force-multiplier and an effective tool for publicity and propaganda.
(d) The insensitive attitude of the Govt towards the Armed Forces has been mentioned. The challenge is “Who will bell the cat”? Presently there appears to be a trace of paranoia in the Govt about the Armed Forces which have always defended this country and held it together. Considering that the present Govt has been in office for six years, they must formulate and shape a pragmatic and all encompassing defence policy.
This needs high caliber leadership, vision and statesmanship. The Chiefs at the helm should assert and allay any fears about the Armed Forces and advise the political leaders about the need to maintain a high stature of the men in uniform.
(e) Improvement of selection and training methodology alone will not suffice. We have to improve the trainer first, morally and ethically. This improvement has to be at different levels not only for the staff at academies but also for the entire officer corps. The task may be daunting but has to be done with consensus and after a careful, realistic study.