Subservience, an Indian Culture: Implications on the Defence Forces

"Today we have a lobby which constantly blames democracy. The same democracy they enjoyed and boasted about a few years ago. What changed?"

Subservience, an Indian Culture: Implications on the Defence Forces

Ensured Reality

Haven’t we all read through and debated this earlier? India as a country has constantly lost out on reforms, development and progress. Simply put we have the resources, we have the skills, we have the brains, we have the workforce, what we don’t have is the spine and for some of us that have, we don’t have the chair that makes the difference.

Historical Past

Historically, not going back to the very distant past, but taking into account colonisation of India, after the rape by the Northern and Western invaders. We bowed down, collaborated, empathised, joined  forces and fought for the invaders against our own, be it the Dutch, Portuguese or the Britisher. We let them rule us, looting our national wealth, exploiting our population, even paying them tithe to survive and ensure peace in an area that was peaceful before they came.

Secular Foundation & Religion

We let religion be the harbinger of partition, the very country set up constitutionally on a secular foundation, with equal rights to all Indians no matter what the religion. Gave up a piece of its soul to religious fervour and agreed to Pakistan (a Islamic state, with majority of Muslims still choosing India as the nation of choice. Also making india the second largest Islam populated nation in the world after Indonesia). Then why Pakistan? When it didn’t meet its aim of the Muslim population of India finding a home.

The people that stayed back chose wisely, a nation with hope and freedom over religion based partisan values. What we lost out on was important strategic ground that would have made us an even greater power than Russia or China. The access to CAR nations, sea routes, domination of the complete IOR. Proximity to Europe, stationed at the mouth of the gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz. Geo strategic domination. The wealth of natural resources and the rich culture.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Whom to Blame?

Why does this happen? In my perception because we as Indians are weak when it comes to fortitude. We think too much of what will happen? How may it? Or what might? Our way of life has made us peaceful to an extent that we hate thinking and talking about war. A dead body is shunned, we have this emotion embedded in us that we are peacekeepers, that we should try all other means to avoid war.

We love the mother - son drama, look at our TV programmes or movies, full of emotional values, acceptance, even propagating saying sorry for things that one hasn’t done, just to appease and find peace. We have constantly taught in our schools the value of dharma and forgiveness, living in harmony and the chosen leader being all encompassing, elders to be revered whether they be right or wrong. The Buddha and the Mahavir increased the peaceful psyche, the Krishna and the why wars should be fought, forgotten or cast aside just to be portrayed in schools of training. Gandhi came up with ahimsa.

We psyched the Indian into being mentally weak, unable to take in stresses and strain, leave aside taking strong decisions, we even planted in him multiple thought processes which confused him about right and wrong. We can’t even decide whether the nation needs to communicate in the national language Hindi or the colonial English. Forget that, we don’t even know how to harness the immense cultural wealth we have, religions, languages, climates and regions. Who do we blame?

Indian Democracy

Today we have a lobby which constantly blames democracy. The same democracy they enjoyed and boasted about a few years ago. What changed? India didn’t become what it is overnight. This nation has seen wars, calamities, recessions, pandemics and grown through it all. But through all this, politicians and political parties came and went, the only constant were the administrative services, the foreign services, the Indian military and the government bodies like the railways etc.

Comparative progress in the 2000s has been slow, we can blame it on growing population and need, but that also gives the potential of emerging markets and buying capacity. Can be harnessed to produce more jobs and more literacy, but on the contrasting scale, the rich seem to be getting richer, the poor poorer, the middle class going nowhere. Why is this happening? Where is the India that was dreamt about during independence?

Pliable Indians

In my perception this is entirely because we as Indians are what most of us would be called ‘Mauka Terians’. We bend with the wind to stay standing. We move with the waves to be afloat. We have learnt the art of jee janab, yes sir, you are absolutely right sir, all is well sir and huzoor. The ones that chose to stand strong seldom find the wind or the wave.

Military Professionalism & Yes Men

In the military domain we have our yes men. But I won’t point that out specifically, not with the fear of the strong gust of wind or catching the wave, but just to be kind to many who would be filled with professional guilt after reading this. Before independence we bowed down to the Britishers for their favours, we owned titles that meant nothing except that you sold your conscience to the whites for acceptance and survival, his highness and maharaj and his excellency, even a British joker wore those titles in India.

Today we start young, the first two years of service you aren’t even considered worthy of a coherent and objective delivery. In many of the old regiments you, even though commissioned by the president of India as a Lieutenant are called mister, blame it on warped traditions. You are not to be seen or not to be heard. Contribute? You must be joking. You are the errand man, but the plus side is all your incompetence is blamed on the learning curve. You are indoctrinated to be the future requirement The brave yes men of the Indian military’.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

Personal Growth Vs Organisational Interest  

Young officers courses get relegated and dispensed with as high testosterone influxes and the constant apology of, he will do well later. Instructor courses make you the charlatan, the struggle for the ‘I’, the process brings out characteristics of a diplomat (where diplomacy is the rule, so as to not prick your instructor). You speak a language which is not your own, but what the environment wants to hear. The pinks are the only way towards a great grading and that becomes the belief. Then the staff college with a crazy analogy of distinguishing between the he has it in him, and he hasn’t .

No one even takes into account how much of government time an individual officer has been spared for by an active unit, just to ensure that he passes through an exam which distinctly puts him on a higher pedestal than his batchmates. Or no one even takes into account how many attempts the officer has cleared his exams in. In the process we have created many mediocre wannabes’ by giving them excessive unit time, believing that they will transform into potential command profiles, a pseudo analogy towards progressive growth. Here the growth is only individual.

This is distinct only to the Indian army, while the airforce and the navy have more realistic and time honoured methods. I have a strong belief that when you push personal growth as an organisation over organisational growth as an organisation, you raise many zombies of the non inspiring and lack lustre kinds. Forcing capability requirements in them that they don’t have, thereby forcing them to resort to means other than professionalism, yes giving rise to the yes men.

Insecurity, Favouritism & Vindictiveness

There is a trait called tolerance for ambiguity. But senior leaders somehow do not like or encourage a stronger junior potential leader. How will they, when you within your conscience are suspect of your own capabilities, therefore raising your own insecurities and giving rise to favouritism and vindictiveness. The environment becomes conscious of the fact and therefore plays safe, drawing lines of no crossing within their minds, thereby substituting fair play with jugaad and temporary relief.

Insecurity leads to the most adverse factor in professional growth that is favouritism. Once this happens to leadership then the non professional attributes peak, everyone relishes in the easy way to success, pleasing the boss and his wife. The analogy constantly being, survival. Bootlegging, ass licking and playing the ever praising bard becomes culture. You succumb, the young officers witness the rise, realise it’s an easy way and therefore the easy choice. What do we end up with, a large body of yes men.

Suggested Way Out

There is a huge dichotomy of interests, when you discuss or debate this topic in the public domain. Lots of us ask the question, can any officer keep a hand on his soul and claim that he hasn’t used the tools of subservience to get where he is. That’s an insecure analogy itself and it reeks of substandard thinking.

I tend  to disagree completely with this thinking process. I am sorry but leaders are not made in a herd or a flock, they are distinct even among the few chosen. A few of us who have worn the rank, seriously don’t have either the capability or the skill sets required to wear the rank. How many will stand by resolve in an adverse situation is to be seen. We have reached this far, yes if we love the mediocrity around. Then we too can join in and have an orgy of  sub standard intellect.

I have seen two stars and one star struggling after a little admonishment and floundering on the thought ki naukari gayi. I have seen the same passing the buck and the blame. I have witnessed self projection and negative competition. I have seen golf courses make brigadiers. So let’s just study the environment around us and at least have the guts to acknowledge our sins.


  1. The system needs to incorporate ethics, ethos and critical thinking as its focus in all schools of instruction at every level.
  2. In units we need to incorporate a young officers day every fortnight where a free and candid ideation is done, without fear of retribution or vindictiveness.
  3. Refer van Minden, Jack J.R. (2005) Alles over psychologische tests:

A scientific self analysis and integrity check needs to be done, a critical base on which promotions might be awarded, this process needs to be studied, analysed, validated and recommended. Today the Faculty of Studies at the Army War College has been nominated as a centre of excellence for leadership studies. They should be the flag bearers and recommend the way forward. There are many scientific based integrity checks.

  • Overt integrity tests are: London House Personnel Selection (PSI), the Reid Report, the Stanton Survey, and the Phase II Profile. The Reid Report evaluates social behavior, substance use, work background, optimism, persistence, influence, valuing of interpersonal relationships, self-restraint, willingness to help others with tasks. The Stanton Survey helps identify if a person will steal, misuse office time, break policy and give in to cheap popularity, therefore this test helps in identifying counterproductive behaviors.
  • Personality-oriented tests include items that assess personality characteristics that have been shown to relate to counterproductive work behavior.
  • The personnel reaction blank is based on California psychological inventory. It tests for sociability, dependability, conscientiousness, interval values, self-restraint, and acceptance of convention. employment inventory from personnel decisions Inc. was designed to measure  deviance. Specifically measure for trouble with authority, thrill seeking, hostility, irresponsibility, and socialization. The Hogan personality inventory evaluates hostility towards authority, thrill seeking, conscientiousness, confused vocational identity, and social insensitivity.

4.    If we incorporate science into the already existing profiling through ACRs and the paramount card we do at the MS library, we might atleast have a methodology where we commit ourselves to separating the wheat from the chaff. There is of course the abstract human value system, the fear is misuse of science for denying or gratification. There is no cure or answer to that, if we can’t get our brass polished then how do you expect the shine.

Titles available on Pentagon Press and Amazon

A Culture of Subservience

We Indians, at least the majority of us, are subservient. Look at how we bow to our political leaders. The servants of the people, voted to power by us, once they occupy the chair, they are the served, the people the servants. Same goes by in a military establishment. We expect fan fare, a captive crowd, we like to order around. How many of us actually go and get our own coffee. How many walk to the neighbouring office to hand over a file, how many actually make an attempt to reduce manpower attachments in HQs. We like being served, love the feeling of being important, after all we worked hard to earn these privileges.

Integrity to Organisation: The Imperative Need

How in this environment of mediocrity and yes men, do you identify and encourage integrity to the organisation, to the appointment and rank. How do we stay unbiased, put measures in place to ensure officers with acumen and the spine don’t become casualty to the insecure? How do we imbibe the qualities in our young officers to stay focused and capable through challenges of military leadership?

Questions that need to be discussed, promulgated in institutions and ensured that competence and capability is identified and rewarded over subservience and momentary success or happiness. Stop the jugaad men, warn the yes men, wean out the insecure. Strong and scientific steps need to be taken, lest you end up with an army of lions led by sheep, or a pack of wolves led by a rabbit, or even worse is an army of rabbits led by a rabbit.

About the Author

The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security issues. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India

For more defence related content, follow us on Twitter: @MVictoryIndia and Facebook: @MissionVictoryIndia

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