- Inter-Service harmony, co-operation and understanding has been ‘circumstantial’ at best of times, continues to be so and is unlikely to change for the ‘better’ in foreseeable future. Undeniable and incontestable proof is the lack of any authority that the Service Chief holding the ‘Office and Appointment’ of CHIEF OF STAFF COMMITTEE enjoys. In a recent article a former Service Chief has written that there are rare occasions when the phrase “All three Service Chiefs agree………” can be used. The Chief, who has written these words, should know, for he was the CoSC. Can and should there be a more severe indictment of Service Chiefs by one of their own kind?
- Cardinal failure of Military Leadership over the years has been their deliberate insistence on promoting their ‘Service’ related issue even when these were either irrelevant or not so relevant. Even today each Service talks about primacy of its role/capability rather than preaching “Mutual Inter-Dependence”. Colour of the uniform, always and every time, has taken precedence over the realistic military needs and continues to be so, sometimes even at the cost of Sister Service. Current situation is so pathetic that some major weapon induction plans are not necessarily based on ‘operational requirements’ instead the rational put forward is that a particular task cannot be met/is not being met by sister Service having such capability, hence the need for duplicity. Professional profligacy has touched a new low.
- NDA bonhomie stays alive no doubt, but on personal front only. On operational issue it is alive, at best in lower ranks. The moment we reach decision/policy making appointments, the NDA bonhomie takes a back seat due to intense/undesirable/negative “In Service” indoctrination received in huge quantities over the years. Words like “Primacy” and “Supremacy” over the other Service forces most of us to take a ‘jaundiced’ view in most cases. Misplaced sense of loyalty to the ‘Colour’ of uniform we wear becomes the predominant factor, hence clouds our judgement.
- Kargil skirmish with Pakistan, though celebrated as ‘victory’, primarily to remember our valiant soldiers who laid down their lives, was in fact an unqualified ‘disaster’, almost entirely due to lack of information sharing and non-cooperation between the Army and IAF, in particular, as well as civilian intelligence set up during peace time. Military leadership of the time forgot/ignored, almost deliberately, the fundamental principle of ‘Active Surveillance during Peace Time’ and the nation ended up paying the price. Even after the picture was absolutely clear about how serious the Pak incursions were, Army and Air Chief chose to go public on their ‘self righteous’ stands rather than fight the war. Statement by the then Raksha Mantri, perhaps after being briefed by the then Army Chief, when he told the nation that “Pakis shall be thrown out in 24 hours” or words to that effect is a glaring, perhaps frightening testimony of the ‘vision and assessment’ at the highest level. The same acrimony continued even after Kargil operations were over and continues till this day.
- Appointment of Chief of Defence Staff hangs in the limbo. Notwithstanding the fact that views of IAF leadership are not in consonance with that of the Army and the Navy, the harsh truth is that no (R) no Service Chief would like to relinquish the office of Service Chief and assume the charge of Chief of Defence Staff. A procedural hurdle by way of same retirement age for Service Chief as well as the CDS does not allow any Chief to complete the maximum stipulated tenure of ‘THREE’ years as Chief and then take over as CDS. Myopic Military leadership ought to have realised this elementary need at the time decision was taken for the appointment of CDS to be created. There is no record, at least in public domain, of any such reservations expressed by any of the Service Chiefs. If indeed the reservation was expressed, why did the Military leadership accept what ( it should have known) could not be put into practice and should have publicly announced non-acceptance of CDS with same retirement age as the Service Chief?
- The appointment of Director General Defence Planning Staff (DGDPS) was created in mid-80s. DGDPS functioned for two decades, yet was unable (perhaps not encouraged/allowed) to ‘pen’ the Joint Doctrine, almost entirely due to collective apathy of all three Service HQs. If it was not so, would someone in authority attempt to defend the indefensible and tell the nation as to why do we still not have a JOINT DOCTRINE, which is agreeable to all three Services?
- Defence Procurement is in a ‘Mess’. While it is agreed that MoD bureaucrats, the Raksha Mantri as well as CCS are also individually and collectively accountable/responsible for the ‘Mess’, Military Leadership cannot absolve itself from the issue by merely blaming the bureaucrats for all that ails Indian Military. Current state is alarming: Due to such apathy and lack of foresight none of the Services have an indigenous ‘Strike Element’ as on date and are unlikely to have it in foreseeable future. Over the past ten years Military Leadership has consistently failed to ensure that allotted defence budget for ‘Capital Acquisition’ is used for acquisition rather than “SURRENDER” it with more regularity than Indian Monsoons. Why is the “DEFENCE PROCUREMENT BOARD” not headed by the Service Chief? Did any Service Chief make any noise on this account when DPP-2006 was being formulated? If not, why not?
- Experience (rather trauma) of the IAF in 1996 at the time of Vth CPC has obviously been forgotten, not only by the IAF but also the other Services. If indeed the subsequent Military leadership had remembered it, they would not have “THEMSELVES” recommended differential rates of MILITARY SERVICE PAY (MSP) for Officers and other ranks. Such belief at the highest level in the Military is not only indicative of their myopic understanding of the issue but also suggestive of their deliberate desire to practice ‘Apartheid’, when it came to pay and perks of Military Personnel below Officer Rank (PBOR). MSP, as the name suggests, is the right of every Service Personnel by virtue of being part of the Military. Why should it be different for Officers and Other Ranks? I sincerely hope and pray that the decision makers in the Government would either approve same rates for officers and other ranks, or scrap it altogether. Let the recommendations of ‘Officer-Centric’ Military leadership not create a ‘Chasm’ between our loyal soldiers and officers. May I caution the Government as well, that differential MSP would be detrimental to the morale of our men. On numerous occasions Government decision has not been in consonance with Military recommendation. This is one such issue on which the Government must not agree with the ‘nearly insane’ recommendation of Military leadership.
- As if the myopic idea of differential MSP was not enough, the ongoing tirade, led mostly by senior retired officers and self-proclaimed military leaders against the recommendations of VIth CPC in the form of ‘Dharnas’ is the ultimate “low”, military officers have reached. No military officer or other ranks have any business to take to the streets like the trade unionists. It would have been more appropriate to take the matter through the office of serving chiefs. Or is it that we have stopped trusting our Chiefs ability and concern for the overall welfare of defence personnel? The bureaucrats, with whom we seek parity, have also reacted unfavourably to some of the recommendations of VIth CPC but they have not taken to street. In fact DOPT has taken a serving IPS officer to task for voicing his opinion in a national daily.
- Indian Military Leadership has been obsessed with “PARITY” with bureaucracy and continues to be so till date. Upgradation of ranks is their only agenda without ever realizing that the ‘Status’ of Military Officer Takes a beating with every upgradation without any substantial financial benefits.
- The parity with ‘Civilians’ should be sought to provide Military Personnel same retirement benefits as are applicable to every civilian, who retires at the age of 60 years, unlike in the Military, where a Jawan could, and does retire at the age of 40 years, at times earlier. Military Leadership has not considered it fit to take the case of personnel, who retire early by design and not by choice, for granting them ‘Compensatory Pension’ for the number of years before attaining the age of 60 years. Many in the Military hierarchy would not even understand the meaning of above recommendation.
- Military Leadership has failed even to convince the Government of “one rank-one pension” concept agreed to in principle years back. Whether the current leadership would succeed is yet to be seen.
- Caste and Religion free citadel of the Indian Military was seriously breached after Operation Blue Star but was well contained. However the likes of ‘Bainsalas’ have shattered the fundamental ethics of the Military and have joined the ranks of most irresponsible persons in the country by promoting the ultimate evil that this country is suffering from “THE RESERVATIONS” on caste basis.
- Successive Military Leadership over decades has failed, almost voluntarily, to set up a viable Military Administrative Tribunal. Thousands of cases in various courts of the country, most of which are related to promotions and postings, is a sad reflection of loyalty of Military Personnel, Officers in particular, to the organization and respect for the hierarchy. In principle, as a loyal soldier should the officers not accept the verdict on promotion given by a group of senior most officers of that service? Even after reaching “star ranks” military officer is not ashamed to go to the court on missing the cut for next rank and freely resorts to condemning the organization and his/her immediate superiors as well as other officer involved in the assessment chain in public by heading for the courts. Indeed one must make himself/herself heard but that limit, in my view, is restricted to Service Chief. If the representation in the form of statutory complaint, for which the provision already exists, to Service Chief also results in endorsing the view of the promotion board, the individual has no rationale, at least morally, to go to the courts. Moral values are obviously on the decline. Approaching civil courts to resolve the issues of promotion/posting is the most appalling and disloyal act on part of Military Officers. There is no doubt that on quite a few occasions Military Leadership at the highest level has been biased and an excellent officer has been denied promotion because of whim and fancy of a few at the helm of affairs at that point in time. We as officers and leaders must not forget that “individual aspirations, always and every time are subordinate to organizational requirement/needs/ goals”. Sadly our ‘self’ takes over control of our senses the moment decision on issues like promotions is not in conformity with our imaginary and unrealistic expectations. Nonexistence of a simple Military Administrative Tribunal, not the one conceived and in the process of being put into system shortly, has been the most monumental failure of successive Military Leadership. No Military Personnel must be allowed to go to the courts crying for justice on account of non-promotion/so called repetitive posting to inhospitable areas. If need be the Government must consider including such restriction in the Article 19 of the constitution. Military Tribunal headed by a civilian judge from any court, for which the approval has been given recently, is not the solution. No civilian judge, irrespective of his/her experience in the chair, can assimilate, absorb, understand, appreciate the reasons and arrive at a rational judgement when considering cases related to promotions/postings. For the military leadership to accept such tribunal is an admission of their “Incapability and Incompetence” to handle such cases in a fair manner. I would like to believe that a military tribunal would comprise of last five retired Service Chiefs (minimum one Chief from each Service) headed by the senior most amongst them and their decision would be final and binding on all. Military leadership is incapable of finding simple solution to complex issues.
- On the emotional front too, the Military Leadership has failed by not even thinking of having an ‘Unknown Soldier’s Memorial’ constructed. 71 war is four decades behind us but the post 1971 Military Leadership either did not consider it fit to approach the Government or failed to obtain the approval and construct a memorial. Of course there shall be many, who would claim to have moved the mountains but did not succeed in convincing the powers that be. Such logic does not cut ice.
What has been stated above can only be contested by the true believer in the art of “Defending the Indefensible”. Military Leadership’s obsession with seeking parity with Civil Services (Bureaucrats) has fogged and distorted their vision to nearly irreparable state. Ironic it is, but the fact is that ‘Parity with Bureaucrats’ syndrome has afflicted the junior ranks as well. Myopic Military Officers term the contents of Article 19 of the constitution as severe restraint on Military Personnel. We have refused to look at it in any other way because of our narrow-minded approach over the years. Why should the Military not look at Article 19 as a ‘recognition’ of having been granted special status, but with few restrictions, on account of larger national interests? No (R) no other category of persons, bureaucrats inclusive, find a mention in the Indian Constitution. Why then should we in the Military compare ourselves with anyone? A simple fact that Military leadership of past as well as present, has failed to see and capitalize on. We have, by seeking parity with bureaucrats, actually lowered our status and self esteem. Military must ask for what it needs for national security and not what a bureaucrat or anyone else gets. But our myopic approach has been to ‘fight within’ on irrelevant issues like pay/allowances admissible to a particular branch or group of a particular Service.
The acts of omission stated above establishes beyond doubt the malaise that afflicts the military leadership. It is for us in the military to accept recognize and take remedial measures, which may improve and broaden the horizons to ‘spherical vision’ from the existing ‘conical vision’. In my view primary reasons for such distorted approach at the highest level is probably due to, firstly, no attempt to obtain higher education during the service career, secondly, the belief that senseless upgradations enhance the Service image and lastly, lack of continuity of tenures in two/three star ranks. The world has moved on but our military leadership has been unable to keep pace. Existing educational levels of military officers, their tenures in two and three star ranks and aberrations in existing rank structure shall be examined now.
Firstly the educational status; Most military officers, particularly most of those who rise to exalted two and three star status, commonly addressed as Commanders, are essentially undergraduates. During their illustrious career they indeed go through exceedingly well structured service courses e.g. Staff College , Higher Command, National Defence College etc but none of them ever venture out to university education in any discipline. It is not as if the Government has not provided for such contingency. Every officer is entitled for two year Study Leave. Of course in one particular service the Study Leave is never/rarely granted, while in another Service two years of study leave is used for settling down, children education etc etc. A look at past twenty year record of the officers from any Service would open the proverbial pandoras box. Except for technical officers, who go for their M Tech to IIT,s during the study leave, no ‘Commander’ ever joins a university for post graduation or an IIM etc. For they apparently believe that they are ‘Know-all’. In fact if the quality of ‘DEGREES’ obtained by the officers during the paid study leave period is examined, it would be appalling.
BSc degree offered by JNU to NDA cadets was a small step towards producing better educated military officers. Even in NDA failure rate on academic grounds is miniscule. A cadet is nearly certain to pass out of NDA if he does well in outdoors and just manages to go over the ‘bar’ in academics. A look at suspension rate from NDA on academic ground shall complete the story. In any case there is virtually no effort/encouragement/desire on part of the officers to do a post graduate course, even as a ‘correspondance’ course. On the contrary men in the IAF and Navy are extremely conscious about upgrading their educational qualifications. Sad commentary indeed for officer cadre!
Hardly any officer ever, particularly the ‘commander’ material from any service has obtained a post graduate university degree as a full time student while on study leave. Peripheral institutes like the NIIT etc, where the course certificates can be purchased at a price, are the most sought after institutions. Unless the military leadership recognizes, accepts and becomes alive to the need of ‘education outside service domain’, military leadership would continue to live in their imaginary dream house. Without thinking the military leadership will defend the indefensible by saying that shortages in lower ranks do not permit officers to be spared for ‘educating’ themselves. ‘Shortages’ in officer cadre in lower ranks as an excuse has become the most handy tool for military commanders. But none of them dare talk about the ‘excesses’ in higher ranks due to senseless upgradations over the past 20 years or so.
A case in point. The IAF reached near its authorized establishment figures for officers ( approx 10,000) around the time of first cadre review in late 70,s. Pre- first cadre review, the IAF had an authorized establishment of 760 for the rank of Wing Commander. During the first cadre review IAF was granted additional 280 vacancies in the rank of Wing Commander increasing the numbers to 1040. During the second cadre review in mid 80,s additional 794 (677+117) vacancies were released for the rank of Wing Commander. Thus the Wing Commander strength in the IAF in mid 80,s rose to around 1834 Wing Commanders. All these upgradations were done without altering the IAF establishment of around 10,000 0fficers (excl medical and dental officers, which number about 650). Hence with each upgradation strength of Squadron Leaders and below continued to deplete. Situation in other Services is same/similar. Military is due for further upgradation (read downgradation of status), when KAVS committee report Part II is implemented creating over hundred ‘star ranks’. We continue to seek ‘upgradations’, little realizing that with such senseless restructuring of ranks, we not only relegate our status in the civvy street but also relegate the status of our field commanders. Pre-first cadre review the strength of ‘Select Rank Officers’ (Wing Commanders and above) was about 7% of the total establishment. Upgradations sought during first cadre review were based on organizational needs and requirements. Second cadre review and subsequent upgradations have largely been addressed towards meeting ‘individual’ aspirations increasing the ‘select rank cadre’ to over 30%. Provision for ‘Time Scale’ Group Captain (Colonel in Army, Captain in Navy) rank and having a Lieutenant General serve under an officer of same rank is the ultimate ‘low’ that Military leadership has embraced willingly.
University education in any discipline is absolutely essential for the broadening of the horizons and move beyond ‘frog in the well’ syndrome. Military leadership is no longer confined to leading the men from the front during hostilities, it has far greater demands during peace time. A survey of the officers, who reached the position of AOC-in-C equivalent over the past 30 years would be revealing. Not one of these officers possessed a university degree in any discipline earned while doing a full time course at any university in India/abroad. Degrees handed out by the military institutions are cosmetic and ‘military’ in nature and have a very limited scope. In any case the degrees earned at staff college (M Sc, Defence Studies, Madras University ), Army War College (M Phil, Devi Ahilya Vishwa Vidyalaya) rarely have any failures because these degrees are earned by officers while undergoing a ‘military’ content course. Comparison of educational status of three star officers of Indian Military with western armed forces shall be revealing, USA and UK in particular.
The harsh truth is that a ‘matriculate or 10+2’ educated officer can and does prove to be an excellent leader and functions with commendable ease at ‘activity’ and ‘functional’ levels but fails equally commendably at ‘directional’ and definitely at ‘conceptual’ level. Over the years military leadership has failed to realize this gap almost voluntarily.
An example shall highlight the apathy of military leadership towards upgrading their knowledge as well as that of their subordinates. United Services Institution at Delhi provides unimaginable exposure in diverse areas encompassing Strategic Affairs, International Relations, Economics, and virtually every area that a military officer must be acquainted with. Eminent personalities speak at the USI almost every Wednesday. Serving military officers are conspicuous by their absence. Should more be said about our desire/resolve to educate ourselves? Indeed there shall be very pressing reasons that not even one percent of the nearly 3000 serving military officers posted at Delhi can spare three hours, once a week.
Proposal for setting up a dedicated Defence University is moving at a snail’s pace. It ought to be top priority for defence leadership. Merely offering reasons for delay is irrelevant. Hopefully it shall not become yet another ‘Military’ institution.
Now the tenures in two/three star ranks; One of the most startling fact about the military leadership at the highest level is near total absence, in most cases, of continuity and duration of tenure in two and three star ranks. Tenures in these ranks demand stability and continuity in these appointments. To visualize the needs of the Indian Military an individual in two/three star rank must stay in the ‘chair’ for at least three years but definitely not less than two years. This is the minimum time frame required to conceive, examine the pros and cons of the proposal, implement and allow it to fructify and perhaps do a mid course correction. None of this is possible in the ‘musical chair’ manner in which transfers are done. In fact by an unwritten convention each service has identified even the highest post of the AOC-in-C equivalent in some kind of a nearly definite protocol of seniority. For instance the IAF leadership believes that the post of AOC-in-C, Southern Command at Trivandrum is ‘least important’ amongst the five operational Commands and is usually occupied by the junior most C-in-C and Western Air Command at Delhi is the most important and is usually occupied by the senior most C-in-C (usually one who has commanded another Command). This results in C-in-C,s moving around, at least initially, without even completing a year in the ‘chair’ at times. Two points emerge; firstly is it possible for any individual to assimilate, conceive, implement long lasting conceptual decisions in a few months or a year? Secondly and more importantly, if an officer has been found fit to reach that exalted position, should he not be fit to occupy the seat of C-in-C of any Command? Perhaps the military leadership thinks that even in the appointment of C-in-C, the Air Marshal requires to move up the ladder. Such thinking itself is flawed and is a direct manifestation of myopic vision. C-in-C’s must command only one ‘Command’ and move from the post either on retirement or for taking up the post of Vice Chief/ Chief. In the interest of military and larger national interest ‘musical chair’ tenure in the rank of C-in-C must stop with immediate effect. It is rare that a three star officer has more than three or four years left to retire when he occupies C-in-C’s chair, hence he should continue in the same command. Situation is similar in other Services. Only recently a three star C-in-C rank officer challenged his transfer from one operational command to the other because of perceived importance of one command over the other. Better educated three star ranked officers would look at such issues in more pragmatic manner.
Military leadership must take steps to upgrade its knowledge in spheres other than military to cope with challenges that lie ahead of them. Merely criticizing bureaucrats for everything does no good either to their status or to the Services. Military hierarchy must look beyond senseless upgradation of rank structure as their only passion and achievement of their tenure. Following is recommended:-
Firstly, at least five percent officers in the service bracket of eight to fifteen years should be spared and granted study leave to join a post graduate full time course in a recognized and reputed university in any discipline of their choosing. Educating an officer after 20 years of service shall do no good to Service. Let us stop quoting ‘shortages’ in lower ranks ad-nauseum as the reason for not sparing the officer. If we stop the senseless upgradations, shortages would automatically reduce in lower ranks.
Secondly, tenure of C-in-C,s must be not less than two years in the same command. A C-in-C should move from one command to another only if he can occupy the next post for two years. An officer with less than 24 months to retire should not be considered for C-in-C’s appointment. ‘Musical Chair’ pattern of posting, currently in vogue, must be discontinued. More importantly, this decision must come from within the military establishment.
Lastly, Military leadership must stop asking for further upgradation in ranks and for creation of new Commands etc for the next ten years. Accepting difference of opinion gracefully, leave aside the harsh criticism, is not the strength of the Indian Military Institution. Constructive disagreement, most of the time, is viewed with the same contempt as disobedience and perhaps worse disloyalty. Higher levels of education shall over the years provide the highly desirable cushion and enable the senior military commanders to have better vision and pragmatic approach than at present. Aim of this paper is to look inwards and move in the direction needed in the 21st century. Continued insistence on ‘defending the indefensible’ shall get us nowhere. The time to act is now. All the recommendations made can be implemented ‘in-house’ without seeking any approvals from the Government. Are we ready to accept the flaws?
The need in foreseeable future is that of a ‘Scholar- Soldier’, a term used by a former Naval Chief. How apt was his vision? Ironically even a Chief could not influence the military officer’s thinking towards obtaining better education. Professional maturity is a direct off-shoot of better education and enables the decision maker to view an issue multi-dimensionally. Our professional maturity at the highest level, at best of times, is questionable. As a rule we in the military do not encourage our youngsters to ‘pen’ their opinions, particularly if they are not in conformity with the ‘company’ policy. No wonder then, that we continue to reinvent the wheel. Our focus must shift from creating more commands, seeking repeated upgradations and continuous bickering about ‘bureaucratic apathy’ to more mundane and simple things like better education for younger officers, who shall decidedly be better leaders of tomorrow.
Military as an institution must take a hard close look at ‘itself’, ask some harsh and awkward questions to ‘itself’ and find practical and realistic answers. Why is it that there have been no leaders of national stature from the military stable? Is it because of voluntary exile from the society? We must not forget the truth that Military is part of the society and not the other way round. What has been recommended may not transform the fortunes of Indian Military overnight, but what is undeniable is the fact that existing dispensation is not serving the interests of the Military. Views expressed must be seen as constructive criticism and implementable suggestions, so very essential for growth of any organization. Are we willing to change or continue to stagnate as we have been for over four decades?
Indian Military officers of 2025 A.D. and beyond would be required to possess clear and unambiguous understanding of international affairs, strategic initiatives required to maintain global influence of India externally and contribute in maintaining internal security situation. Higher education outside military domain shall be absolutely essential for attaining these.