Meritocracy: A Bane or Boon, An Incentive or a Threat?

Is there a need to even look into the time tested and proven structure? Or is it that MoD has no work to do, hence planning to find frivolous and unwarranted work to make their existence valid? Any change for the sake of change is a retrograde step, always and every time.

Meritocracy: A Bane or Boon, An Incentive or a Threat?

(Editor's Note: This article is an open letter to Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh)

Sam Bahadur, one of the most eminent soldier said; “A yes man is a dangerous man. He is a menace. He will go very far. He can become a  minister, a secretary or a field marshal but he can never become a leader nor, ever be respected. He will be used by his superiors, disliked by his colleagues, despised by his  subordinates. So discard the ‘yes man’.

A prominent national daily newspaper carried a headline “MoD Mulling Merit Based Selection for  C-in-Cs” or words to that effect. No sane and/or rational person will ever disagree that merit must be recognized in all spheres for overall national development and/or security. The moot point, however, is “is the concept of meritocracy applicable only to the military”? Few examples are;

  • An illiterate can become a Chief Minister? No merit required. That is democracy. Nearly 20% law makers of the country (MPs/MLAs/MLCs) have criminal cases against them for harassing a common man yet they represent the masses. This is applicable to  all political parties without exception.
  • Loyalty and Integrity of politicians to political outfit remains as long as FREEBIES/IMPORTANT ASSIGNMENTS/PORTFOLIOS are conferred on them. Politicians change their colours faster than a chameleon. That is national duty.
  • Four Supreme Court Judges openly revolted against the sitting CJI by holding a televised press conference. One of them is later rewarded with appointment of CJI and a few  months after retirement becomes Rajya Sabha MP of a prominent political outfit. In the military, collective insubordination will be deemed to be mutiny, punishable with dismissal from service, may be more.
  • A serving senior IAS officer literally shows TWO FINGERS to the CENTRAL  GOVERNMENT, gets away with it and is rewarded by Chief Minister of a state. That, I  guess, will be termed as federal governance norms.
  • An IPS officer submits resignation to contest state assembly election, loses, rejoins IPS and is rewarded with appointment of DGP of a state for his exemplary act of moral cowardice.
  • In bureaucracy the entire batch is promoted to JAG/SAG on the same day, irrespective of  the fact that whether a vacancy for that grade existed or not.
  • From above unquestionable examples, it is evident that attributes of INTEGRITY, MATURITY and COMPETENCE do not find any place in deciding promotability and/or  appointment in case of politicians, judiciary and bureaucracy.
  • Quality of Leadership trait does not even find a mention in each of the above examples. Medical Fitness too is an unheard of provision in all above cases.
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In any of the above instances does merit find any place? Military as an institution practices merit from the word go. Even as a trainee cadet extremely  stringent and firm QRs exist even to become a cadet appointment.

On joining an operational/administrative outfit each soldier/JCO/commissioned officer is put through a highly  structured training programme. Her/his performance during such capsules determines her/his future employment.

Switching over to officers promotability/employability issues; An officer, irrespective of Arms/Service to which he/she belongs, is constantly monitored for  performance, quality of output and most importantly quality of leadership demonstrated. Indeed in the initial stages the promotions are time based.

However there is no doubt that even the military has diluted the promotions by making these time based up to Colonels equivalent. A highly retrograde step taken by military leadership over the years. But that is not the issue being  discussed.

For promotion to STAR RANKS every officer must meet certain minimum years of service, medical fitness and employability criteria. Only then a very small fraction of officers empanelled  find their names in the promotion list. Pyramidal structure of the military demands that only MOST COMPETENT OF OTHERWISE COMPETENT OFFICERS are promoted due to very few vacancies.

By the time an officer is empanelled for promotion to THREE STAR STATUS, he/she has  already undergone filtering thrice. As a norm (although not practiced rigidly) the military follows 1:4  policy for promotion. For instance, from an initial batch of 100 officers, normally only 25 will be promoted at first filter.

Of these 25 only SIX will be promoted in the second filter. Only ONE, may be  TWO out of these SIX will be promoted in the third filter. Hence out of a batch of 100 officers only  TWO reach THREE STAR STATUS‟. Therefore as RATIONAL POLICY NORM Cs-in-C are appointed based on SENIORITY as long as they have certain minimum years of service left. The present government wants to place another filter for selection of Cs-in-C. Mr Minister, you will  have to get candidates for empanelment from MARS to have a proper panel.

Is there a need to even look into the time tested and proven structure? Or is it that MoD has no work to do, hence planning to find frivolous and unwarranted work to make their existence valid? Any change for the sake of change is a retrograde step, always and every time.

What  factors, if any, necessitated this undesirable issue to emerge? Was it the suggestion by CDS or  by Service Chiefs? Since a committee of three Vice Chiefs has already been  formed, it is imperative that an ordinary Indian is also apprised of compelling reasons to examine a non existing issue.

Is the government using meritocracy philosophy as an incentive or as a threat? Current NDA government has been consistently pursuing the unwarranted, undesirable and irrational policy of  supersession in appointments of Service Chiefs. Facts are;

  • Bipin Rawat was appointed CoAS ahead of two extremely competent officers. Bipin  Rawat‟s competence as CDS will be mentioned in the following text.
  • AK Singh was appointed CNS ahead of Bimal Verma.
  • RK Bhadauria‟s appointment as CAS was also not exactly a rational decision. ∙
  • As a norm, the next Service Chief‟s name is declared about eight weeks in advance.
  • As on 15th August the name of incoming CAS has not been announced. Bhadauria is due to  retire on 30th September. Why?
  • Name of Manoj Narwane as the next CoAS was announced barely a fortnight before Bipin Rawat‟s retirement.
  • Chief designate requires to spend considerable time with his predecessor to understand  the affairs and cannot be done in two weeks.
  • An incoming Service Chief is not akin to a union minister, who can move as Minister for Sports overnight, having been MoS, Finance earlier. Because the ministry is run by  bureaucrats. Military is not run by bureaucrats. In the past seven years the NDA government has performed admirably well in all spheres except military. For instance;
  • Improper and intemperate handling of OROP issue has resulted in soldiers going on Dharna, an unwarranted and undesirable act.
  • No substantive attempts have been made by the government to resolve the issue once for all.
  • Supreme Court is also dragging its feet by resorting to TAREEKH PE TAREEKH. Can we not decide it and bring it to a finality? Are there ego issues?
  • Supersession in appointing Service Chiefs has become a norm, a highly detrimental practice for maintaining morale of the military.
  • Mr. Minister, I am not privy to what your military advisors are telling you about adverse effects on the morale of young officers due to repeated supersession but let me tell you something; young military officers today are discussing only one issue - who will be the next to be superseded? It did not happen earlier because seniority was the governing  factor.
  • Your government's actions/decisions to alter the structure of the military because of ill-informed advisors is the worst decision, which will have far reaching implications in the war fighting capability of the Indian Military in future.
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As is often said; Proof of pudding is in eating. Indeed true. Look at the pathetic performance of  Bipin Rawat as the first CDS, a product of meritocracy. Few highlights are;

  • Tore the secular credentials of the Military to shreds by attending a religious function in  Gorakhpur in uniform. He learnt nothing from the US Army Chief's public acknowledgement and apology for having erred by attending a function with President Trump in a church.
  • His total lack of knowledge of human resource management was evident when he told the media that by increasing the Colonel equivalent retirement age from 54 to 57 years, the government will save money. He was wrong. Proposal would have involved higher  expenses as well as older military.
  • On national TV he called IAF to be a support Service thereby confirming his extremely poor and convoluted conceptual thinking.
  • The Indian Navy does not require Aircraft Carriers.
  • Not a word against non-performing ordnance factories.
  • As CoAS failed to assess the developing Chinese threat in spite of the 12th September, 2019 fiasco along Pyongyang Tso (when he was CoAS) and failed to mobilize additional troops  and equip the Army to face the developing Chinese threat.

If this is what is the outcome of meritocracy philosophy practiced by the NDA government, we Indians must be prepared for turbulent times. The Indian Military, as I saw for nearly 40 years (incl  training) was completely apolitical. Seeds of politicization were sown in a pre-election NDA rally with VK Singh, former CoAS, standing behind Sri Modi on the dais promising OROP to the military as approved by Koshiyari committee. Rest is history.

By resorting to gimmicks viz merit even for selection of Cs-in-C and Service Chiefs, your government will only accomplish promotion of YES MAN and CONFORMAL top military leaders. As Raksha Mantri you may like to consider the following as primary tasks of MoD rather than tampering with time tested and proven process of promotion;

  • To monitor performance of defence PSUs viz HAL, DRDO and Ordnance Factories.
  • To ensure that they deliver required/promised equipment to Services on schedule.
  • To ensure that MoD bureaucrats headed by the Defence Secretary procure necessary platforms and weapons for Services on or before schedule.
  • To ensure that ATMA NIRBHAR BHARAT and MAKE IN INDIA do not merely remain as a slogan.

About the Author

Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'. He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'.

He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]

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