The army has been in the news recently as one of its talented sportsman, then Subedar, now Subedar Major Vijay Kumar, demanded a commission for winning a silver medal, in the recently held Olympics. The sheer audacity of the demand is shocking. It seems that the sportsman was only stating what he believed to be a just demand. Needless to say, every one saw a good story and had a field day. The news channels and the television studios went viral.
Are commissions earned and respected or are they meant to be demanded? If an organisation was to commission every one who did a spectacular act than the list would be very long. There are those who have climbed high mountain peaks, won the highest gallantry award and are still serving with a mission. The Army needs to take a hard look at its reward policy. Performance must be rewarded but this should depend upon the nature of the achievement and what the organisation is able to provide as a reward. An organisation can only reward that which brings out better performance.
A commissioned officer is one who draws his position of authority from the sovereign power. He is charged with responsibilities given specially to him by the president. A commission is a trust that the head of the state entrusts by awarding a parchment, personally to an officer in earlier days, currently signed by the president and delivered to an officer. The deserving candidate must fulfill mandatory education qualifications, pass tests, complete the required training, and take the oath to serve the nation even at peril to his life. The president is pleased to appoint a person as a commissioned officer and the same notified by a gazette of the government of India as well. Under the laws of war, the persons holding offices of responsibility within the organisation are deemed to be the officers, and the presence of these officers connotes a level of organisation sufficient to designate a group as being combatant. Thus only will the Geneva convention apply. There are therefore, many aspects to be considered before a commission is given as a reward. This practice is, thus, unjustified, and needs to be curtailed.
Another Olympian, Sergeant Vincent Hencock of the United States army has become the first shooter to win a gold medal each at both Beijing and London and feels proud to be a soldier in the Army. He is happy and wants to continue with his work and service to his nation. Then Major now Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has quietly continued his career and there are many other Olympians – the likes of Major Dhyan Chand and, of course, the legendary Milka Singh, who could not be commissioned and moved out of the Army. There is also the case of Commander Dilip Donde who circumnavigated the earth on a sail boat, a feat achieved by only 125 people. Rifleman, now Havildar, Sanjay Kumar is one of the gallant 21 who have won the highest award, the PVC, and continues serving modestly and inspiring the youth in the service of the nation. The list is endless.
The Indian army was initially officered by the British, till the first World War. At the end of the war, due to the promises made and political pressure applied, only eleven Viceroy Commissioned officers were granted the King’s Commission, thus starting the saga of the Indian officers of the Indian Army. As the commission is so valued and treasured, how come it has been so badly devalued?
The finger points in a lot of directions, namely; the lack of civil society understanding of the ethos of the army, the devalution of the army as also the army, in its attempt to court popularity, reaching out with the commission to youth icons.
This one act of granting honorary commission to youth icons has badly damaged the image of the army. If a gold medalist can be given a commission why not a silver medalist? He has a point as he is not a rank outsider but a soldier and every one aspires for two stars on the shoulders which are worth more than a thousand stars in the sky. The army can not hide behind the technicality of the honorary commission In the Territorial Army [TA]. However, full marks are due to to the likes of the latest entrant Sachin Pilot, and the earlier TA officers like KP Singh Deo, DY Sema, Sanjay Singh and a prolific defence writer like Manvendra Singh who went the the full distance. The army, as an organisation, has created an illusion, for what purposes is not known. It is it necessary to answer some questions. Is it necessary to grant honorary ranks? What has been achieved from the same in organisational interests needs to be ascertained. The only role model for a soldier is a soldier. This criteria is not met. Has it encouraged other youth to join the forces? The answer is no. What good does the grant of such commissions do? Why create a precedent?
There needs to be a system of justifiable rewards and a sense of righteous created. There will be many more sporting talents this is just the tip of the iceberg therefore, a policy that meets the hopes and expectations of all, and ensures such talent is retained is the need of the hour. These are our soldiers who are an asset to the organisation excellence breeds more excellence, there is a need to create the best but not at the cost of commission whose connotation is some thing else not a star on the shoulder, but a star of responsibility.
C S Thappa is a retired Brigadier.