Writings and discussions on theToD scheme has flooded the print and digital media, with most veterans and professionals decrying its feasibility, in the context of its introduction into the Armed Forces to achieve the twin aims of balancing a skewed Defense Budget and using it as a means to infuse sub set skills, discipline and patriotism in the country's youth. Both aims are very laudable but the latter is festered with organic malignancy born of a very poor understanding of what keeps an organisation healthy.
The spirit of the warrior has been marginalised in the equation and which is a dangerous thing to do in any military. When certainty and trust, both quadrant II imperatives are traded for other considerations then we are missing the woods for the trees. In this three part article I have belaboured the point with absolute candidness and would call this scheme ToD disaster waiting to happen, both within and without.
The Devil is in the Details
The Tour of Duty (TOD) scheme has been the flavour of the past few years and has gained greater traction in the print and social media, as the day and time of its launch nears the formal promulgation by the MoD and the Army. Some informed persons are second guessing that, like the announcement of the appointment of the CDS by the honourable Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 Aug , this too maybe heralded similarly.
In politics optics counts and the PM doesn't miss an opportunity to use it to his Government's and the Party's advantage and which I don't grudge him for. Be that as it may, there is much which has been gleaned from the bits and pieces of information, which has come out in the print and digital media.While the broad configurations of the ToD scheme is known to the public from that, which is available in the public domain, the actual nuts and bolts and nitty-gritty of the same is still in the pen umbra zone of knowledge in the absence of any formal press release attributed to the MoD/Army.
Therefore, how exactly will the scheme actually unfold and embed itself on the ground is still on the margins of mere conjecture or else assumptions premised upon the domain knowledge of professionals. The figure of deficiency in the ranks and files of the Army below officer rank, which is being bandied about is 97,177 . This does not include the deficiency of 7,476 officers. In the context of several writings on the ToD scheme by Army luminaries, particularly Maj Gens Madhok and Raj Mehta and Lt Gens KJ Singh Shankar and Menon, they all have very articulately and analytically read into it conceptually and rejected the proposal.
Their ground is the poor understanding of "what goes into the making of a combat soldier"; by those who have attempted to bite the bullet and espoused an egregious solution to achieve the twin objectives of fiscal prudence and churning out seasonal patriots from the assembly line of the Military. It doesn't happen this way and one size doesn't fit all, is their laboured argument to plead the futility of such a scheme when National Security is at stake.
'Volunteer Conscripts' is an oxymoron that is best not used in this context, only because it takes away from the fire and brimstone, which combat will expose these seasonal patriots to. In the absence of career certainty, which will adversely impact the trust factor, an essential ingredient of war fighting and team work; the hyperbole of Agniveer will not hold ground and will collapse under the fatuous burden of mere hope and change belying experienced counsel in the matter. We are playing with something dangerous and for which the Armed Forces must not be used as a laboratory for experimenting on matters of critical National Security.
While, the subject has been dealt with at the conceptual level by those who have written about it, none has gone beyond into the actual unfolding of the scheme on the ground. How will it play out ?? The devil is in the details and of which not much is known. I am quite sure and certain that, the concerned staff officers entrusted with the responsibility to delineate the actuals of the scheme must have formulated the algorithm to implement it; but it is my considered view that it will be riddled with imponderables emanating from the complicated complexities of human intangibles.
This will manifest itself much later and will have a telling effect on the professional homogeneity and organic competence of units and sub units. While the tangibles will be managed by the infrastructure and logistics available to the Army but would we be able to hone the spirit of the soldier, a vital component of the art and science of soldiering. It will be an unseemly challenge for those who will command these Agniveers only because human minds cannot be kept captive to a cause, which does not factor the interest of the individual in a macabre, gruesome and morbid reality, that soldiering is all about.
I do not wish to make any prognostications into the future outcome of this ToD scheme, but have only this to say that we are not being prudent by unnecessarily fiddling with the hornets nest when other choices are available. We have in this, tried to Situate the Appreciation than Appreciate the Situation.
Patriotism Is Defending The Military Against The Government
Apropos my 'The Devil is in the Details'. I yet again iterate that, the writings of the several Army luminaries who have pontificated on the vanity of the ToD scheme , my writing goes beyond the subtle to espouse the very same apprehensions, only to make a point with the whack of a sledge hammer. Its better to avoid being clever and couch one's views in a language replete with profound semantics and instead express an opinion as forthrightly as one can , by being upfront and say it as it is.
It is the very nature of the issue, which demands this modality of dissent only because the subject is of grave consequences to the very architecture and years old traditions of the Armed Forces and the Army in particular. The Government is walking on a precipice, in pushing this scheme down the throat of the Forces.
To expect some senior officers in the Military Hierarchy to walk the talk and take a resolute stand against the implementation of the ToD scheme in its present construct; could well be hoping to cherry pick from a tree which is barren. Therefore, the ToD scheme, could as well draw a comparative equivalence with the recent Demonetisation scheme and will continue to be argued bothways to applaud and decry it. To most discerning students of the military, the ToD scheme doesn't find favour with them in its present form and therefore is being gutted on the premise of pragmatic analysis born of experience, service and knowledge.
The strength of the chain is in its weakest link and therefore to presage as to how these entrants will show up in real time life threatening and adverse field/operational/combat situations can only be juxtaposed when the rubber touches the road. It is a complicated speculation only because it is pedestalised on intangibles of morale, team spirit, sacrifice, esprit de corps, camaraderie and courage. We are dealing with human beings and not robots, who can be programmed for doing that, which the military demands of them.
Complicated is highly predictable; complex is the complete opposite. Robots are complicated. Human beings are complex. Understanding the distinction between the two is necessary. While complicated is only the far end of the river bank and can be learnt by training and application, complex is unpredictable only because of the interplay of the myriad thoughts obtaining in the human mind, and which is further underscored by considerations of varying levels of motivation, genetics, cultural peculiarities, intellect, situations and the human response to these. We are getting it wrong by understanding complex as complicated. It is a very tricky and loaded opinion, which can only be given and put to test in a real time scenario.
As, I had mentioned earlier this must not be understood as a money saving hack/initiative and a job provider in concert with MNREGA, only because it is far far more serious a matter concerning National Security and which is non negotiable. Also, the ToD must guard itself from becoming some kind of a militant nursery, for infusing and nurturing a radical ethnic mindset in those, who will be the 75% constituents released after a cycle of four years. Such youth could well be exploited for political purposes by political parties who believe in muscling an electoral win by unscrupulous means.
Their military training will stand them in good stead in the civvy streets of a burgeoning Demographic Dividend , which has the possibility to make them into a mild turncoat , to serve the motives of political parties and politicians. We are barking up the wrong tree by launching such an ill thought out scheme to balance the skewed Capital to Revenue spreadsheet of the Defense Budget.
The PMO and the Bureaucracy is egging on our military think tanks to give this scheme a chance, which has very serious consequences in the immediate and short term security scenario obtaining in the sub continent. The PM and the Def Minister and ambitious General Officers invited the 1962 debacle upon the Army and the IB Chief and bureaucrats had the last laugh to enervate the Military and appropriate the annus horribilis to us.
We may as well be walking into a similar trap though engendered by a completely different thinking and at variance with the 1962 embarrassment. The Military top brass who will be heralding this phenomenon will most likely not be there to suffer the consequences of the adverse fall out of the ToD and will be over and across the fence like us veterans ; but they must exercise utmost prudence and caution to sing along with the MoD/ PMO in operationalising this bogus idea, sold by some of our own. This scheme must be dumped and shown the door in its existing format. Period.
Why Is The Government Hell Bent Upon Destroying The Culture & Traditions Of The Armed Forces ?
I am convinced in my mind that, the serving officers who are at the apex of the Military's Hierarchy, are too over awed by the political charisma, unbridled authority and savoir faire of the Country's Prime Minister and will never pick up the courage to be his sounding board with some sane professional advice. When this happens, then the First Executive is surrounded by those who are Yes Men and are too scared to proffer good counsel on their core competency. In an earlier incident in 2019, the very same PM had in a populous public announcement in a congregation held in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand declared that, the State will henceforth have Five Dhams instead of the existing Four. The Fifth will be known as Sainya Dham. This, was a political stratagem which reverberated well with the soldiers and ex servicemen ( ESM ) of Uttarakhand, who comprise about 12 % of the State's Voters.
The State Government, which was woefully short of any genuine electioneering issue with which to go to the people in the just concluded State Elections, latched onto this pronouncement with the servitude of a hand maiden. It was to our chagrin that we witnessed many 'Sainya Samman Yatras' to collect soil from the forecourt of Killed in Action (KIA) soldiers and consecrate the proposed site of the Sainya Dham with it, by mixing it with the endemic soil of Purukul Village, where the monument is to be constructed. This divergence from the Military Traditions of the Indian Armed Forces, which builds War Memorials in the memory of the valour and sacrifices of its soldiers, who lay down their Iives in battle and in service of the Nation was brazenly disregarded and the Sainya Dham is a project in waiting in Uttarakhand.
This stupidity and variance from military traditions by the State Government was protested by me at the levels of the Supreme Commander , the late CDS, The Chief Justices of the Supreme and High Court in the form of a letter which was to requested to be treated as a Public Interest Litigation ( PIL ) and the Uttarakhand Governor, a veteran Army Officer, but to no avail. With over 120 War Memorials in the country and constructed through Notifications by the Central and State Government, there is No instance of a Sainya Dham (which by its very meaning connotes a place of worship than honouring and remembering the bravehearts) which exists anywhere else.
But such is the political subservience of BJP ruled States to the desire of the PM that, they would rather tom-tom it with great gusto and fanfare than use commonsense to contest any playing around with our Military customs and traditions. Traditions have been made limp by the PM and we can only suffer the outcome. Now, in the case of the ToD a similar scenario is playing itself out and the three services are playing ball.
It seems that, for the soldier his patriotism is redefined as saving the Military from the Government. It is rarely that, I put my foot in my mouth by predicting the outcome of a futuristic intent/action, but in the case of the ToD I yet again iterate that it is a blunder waiting to happen. Those who will have to carry the Cross of the scheme will be the Unit and Sub Unit Commanders and it is these very persons who have been completely disregarded in fleshing out this bizzare model, aimed at cutting costs by producing seasonal patriots and generating fiscal surplus for Military Transformation. Its a self goal by us. PRC and Islamic Republic of Pakistan stop licking your lips. We will still smack you down. We proved it in Kargil and Galwan.
The very premise of the ToD scheme is warped and this has been comprehensively debated upon, in the writings of several military luminaries, who have offered their views on the proposal. However, the Government of the day has exercised its executive authority and privilege to go ahead with it and it is most likely to roll out from the assembly line of the Recruitment Organisations of the MoD, sometime in July/Aug 2022.
However, one more thing which seems rather faulty with the scheme, is the emphasis and focus which shall be given to the development of certain subset skills aimed at preparing the hyperbole 'Agniveers', for their post contract service employment in the outside civvy world. Now, here we have a situation wherein the contract soldier has to acquire further military skills and hone these to find his place in his team/squad/section/platoon/tps/bty/sqn etc to become an effective and efficient team player and concurrently he will be receiving Diploma level training for post contract employment.
This is going from the ridiculous to the absurd. The Agniveer will be neither here or there. He is not a paragon of virtues who can burn the candle at both ends and survive in a combat environment . Unless these Agniveers are going to be employed in peacetime duties and be used as mannequins to tom tom the success of the ToD scheme.
About The Author
Brig. Sarvesh Dangwal, VSM (Retd) is a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran & a former AIPT Comdt & DDGPT. He is an ardent advocate of APTC reform & is a prolific writer. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial views of Mission Victory India (MVI)