The average leader may risk a lot, but the military leader is a case apart, he directly leads his charges into situations that deal in life and death. To that extent civilian leadership is radically different from military leadership. How could a cadet possibly, starting off as an average civilian, achieve transformation in the course of his training, raise his thinking and stature so high that he may become fit to face any battlefield with courage and a clear mind?
The candidates for the armed forces academies today come from the same society that is wrestling with the materialistic culture, the global village, uncontrolled access to information, and frustration with corruption and disenchantment with the political process.
There is also increasing awareness of issues of soldiers relating to denial of honour, degrading status, lesser promotion opportunities, and corruption in government offices at their home turf, postings and pension issues. And the candidates who are mired in it need to eventually stand tall before their men leading them from the front taking on enemies with ferocity and without fear.
There is no doubt that the young minds in the military academies do dwell deeply on matters related to bravery and sacrifice; there is deep awareness that the demands of the call to arms is way out of the ordinary—even during times of peace. And their grooming in courage continues even after they are done with the academies—when they learn the ropes and join the traditions of valour that is characteristic of their respective units.
Now when the cadet is making that journey of transformation and elevation to the higher spheres, what is it that will dispel all doubts and ease him into the role he is destined to play?
Nationalism: Among the things that impel soldiers to action is the feeling of nationalism; nationalism has always been a force for provoking fierce loyalty. Nationhood has been variously forged based on factors like race, religion, language and royalty and on this basis, sovereigns have been able to tap on the loyalty of their soldiers in defence of their nationalities. Now if that must be the motivator that transforms Indian soldiers, then one must look for a nationality that represents the Indian spirit.
Now how does one define Indian nationality? The cultural identity of the subcontinent—or nationhood if one may—extends beyond the boundaries of India; the people across the border in almost all directions more or less share the same sub-continental ethos. But the constitution of India operates only on a part of this subcontinent that we call India. Therefore, the feeling of nationality does not exactly coincide with its geographical boundaries and this causes a dilution.
Besides, though the ancient Indian wisdom is considered the foundation of this civilisation, our constitution, in its pursuit of modernism, does not give that wisdom a central place in the affairs of the nation. This therefore weakens the case for Indian Nationality.
None the less, the Indian Nationality continues to protect the spirit of oneness in diversity inherent to the ancient thinking and Indian soldiers defend this inspiring principle. This essence of nationality depicting that togetherness is embodied in the various symbols including the flag, the emblem, the anthem, the constitution, common bureaucracy, a single armed force and so on and patriots uphold this nationalism in various spheres of life—including the profession of arms.
"So, then what should a mentor of the cadets in the academy teach the cadet? Why must the cadet be ready for battle? What should he imbibe which will set him as a credible example before the men he will command?"
Other Motives: Now does this call to Indian nationality completely explain the loyalty of the Indian soldier to his profession of arms?
The answer is an emphatic ‘no!’ In fact, it is not as straightforward as it appears; there is a great degree of subjectivity inherent in it because individuals think in different ways; there are many other reasons for which the soldiers fight; some examples being ‘pride of the regiment’, ‘the pride of being soldiers’, the defence of the nation and its systems, bread and butter, duty, humanity...
The traditions of loyalty to regiments were forged in British India. The officers of the colonial forces and their men are known to have taken excellent care of each other when they fought the common enemy, viz the enemies of the British state, namely the indigenous rebel, the invaders, the opposing princes...
The officers enjoyed a status in society only rivalled—and not surpassed—by the members of the Indian Civil Service. The soldiers also fought for order in society (rule of law) under the British crown and were handsomely paid. They enjoyed high status amongst their brethren, except of course when the Independence struggle reached crescendos—especially under Mahatma Gandhi, or when atrocities were committed against the indigenous population.
So, there was ‘glamour’ in being associated with the armed forces at that time. But then again, with much of that ‘glamour’ losing its sheen today, the question arises as to why should the soldiers fight any way?
Another known motivation is that people do fight when they stand up for high idealism. But again, the modern sources of inspiration do not account for much; the current crop of Indian leaders, in most fields, look westwards for inspiration; but the concept of an ‘advanced nation’, as inspired by western thought, is not that source of inspiration for a soldier for which he would like to stake everything.
Then again, he could be inspired by great Indian leaders. But persons like Dr. Abdul Kalam, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Mr. Jaiprakash Narayan or Mr. T.N. Seshan are rare. The soldiers do not really have inspirational figures amongst their present national leaders to look forward to.
Chiefs who can stand up before their political masters, for what they believe in, are also rare. Though of course average jawans do find leaders closer to them who stand out as inspirational leaders. The stories of personal valour of some of the awardees of the highest military honours would indicate that you could not ask more from Military leaders...
And yet, some people are convinced that the soldiers fight for their salaries and for food. To an extent it is ok, after all salaries are part of the compensation, but one would be considered a fool if just for the sake of food and salary he would want to put his life on the line.
Then there will always be a small flock of spoilers who would seek ‘lucrative’ (sic) wings like logistics, by choice, with an eye on corruption. And you would also find some others turned on by the power and pelf enjoyed by the officers in the armed forces, who therefore make it their ultimate destiny to become officers.
If this is the exhaustive accepted description of what motivates the soldier, then can we say that there is a feel of completeness in it? Without a doubt, the fact that we continue to have inspirational leaders in the junior ranks who lead their companies and units wearing their lives on their sleeves is a saving grace; that does bring a feel of completeness. But besides that, one could easily say that a certain ‘punch’ is missing in the intellectual assessment of what distinguishes the core motivation of military leadership.
This has its consequences. If that which motivates the military is not an object of national reverence, if the public eye cannot perceive motivation other than what we have listed above, is this nation heading where it must?
There is a void and in the intellectual sphere and one still needs to look at how the advice of Lord Krishna to Arjuna can help in motivating Indian soldiers. One needs to look at what the Sikh Gurus said to the intolerant rulers from Delhi or for that matter what Mohammed the Prophet said to those who stood up to fight persecution. This content must reach the Indian Soldiers.
So, then what should a mentor of the cadets in the academy teach the cadet? What is the answer to the question ‘why must the cadet be ready for battle?’ What thinking should the cadet imbibe which will set him up to be a credible example before the men he will command?
(Nixon Fernando is a postgraduate in physics, government, and business administration. He served as lecturer and counsellor at the NDA for 10 years from 1996 to 2007. A versatile sportsman and ballroom dance instructor, his services were appreciated and commended by the Commandant and Principal of NDA. Currently, he WAS a research assistant to TN Seshan, former CEC of India. He can be reached on Email: [email protected])