Millennium Post

Crisis in the chain of command

There have been two incidents, more or less identical, in a short time, both at unit level involving troops and commanding officers’ respectively. The first was at Nyoma in Leh and the second was in Samba, the former in an artillery regiment while the latter was in a regiment which was equally an excellent time-tested unit. The manner and sequence of events was more or less the same as if running to a similar script and both required the intervention of the chain of command to defuse the situation. Earlier when such incidents occurred, troops normally followed a soft approach, like sitting in the temple and not coming out till their demands were met. Now a disturbing trend is that in both cases troops acted violently, thus disrespecting the immediate chain of command. The second issue that is disturbing is that while the troops violated the immediate chain of command, they dealt with the higher-ups in the chain of command. This dealing with the higher-ups is disturbing as it sets precedence for violating the chain and leaves very little scope for the army to manipulate, as after the corps commander, the leeway left is only that of army commander. This situation does not call for complacency and an inquiry at unit level or a deeper introspection on the part of the military leadership, not only at unit level but across the full spectrum, is necessary. This is because these events reflect a crisis at all levels.

The finest institution of the army is the unit and the same is run by the commanding officer. These two incidents have challenged the authority of the commanding officer, thus also blemishing the name of the unit, something which soldiers die for. A formation commander influences the leadership quotient and builds a climate for all leaders to operate independently. Military leadership is extremely accountable, thus a leader constantly evaluates his command and creates the climate for other leaders to operate. This could be intellectual, if work on doctrines has to be written, or physical in case he feels so. There is enough scope in the chain of command to exercise its own value system. Thus, accountability at the unit level is enshrined. In both the incidents the bed rock of faith between a CO and his command has been seriously challenged. Just as it was said that in a democracy a prime minister can do any thing except make a man a woman and vice versa, so also is the case of a CO, who has sweeping powers backed by legal summary powers. Thus, the old saying goes ‘Man dies but regiment lives forever’. The
of the unit, is fiercely built up and guarded. Are these two incidents one off each or a part of a greater problem which is slowly setting in, ‘redefining certain aspects of leadership’?

Military leadership is primarily focused at the unit level and the other levels build up on this bed rock. The military leader is one amongst us and the leader is intimate, personal, at ease with his men and there is constant communication between the leader and led. The leader is accessible with deep moral binding ready to take the rough and tumble of life,  a CO always thinks unit first own safety later, as per the Chetwode credo. The moment this faith is lost, events start to get out of hand. Does the current climate in the army build such an ethos?

The culture in the army over the years is turning from a deeply professional one to a careerist army.  When one got  commissioned just after the 1971 war the average CO was as young as what the army is now achieving but those COs had a very mature out look as it was a professional army and not a careerist army. The average officer now is in a hurry to do the required appointments and the mandatory courses. Regimental soldiering is looked upon with disdain and staff appointments are now honored. For an army where the bottom line is ‘What has this man done in organisational interest’ this is a matter of great shame. The individual should be working for the organisational interest and this question should not arise as ‘the safety honour and welfare of the nation comes first almost and everytime’.

Military leadership is about totality of leadership and the role changes dynamically from teacher, trainer, and administrator to counselor. The actions and traits of a CO directly affect the morale, discipline, proficiency and esprit-de-corps of the unit, and, in turn, affects unit cohesion. A unit does not live in isolation but it lives as part of the environment. However, it is singled out for performance by its ability to deliver. The men are asking a basic question with all the television debates taking place, ‘What is in it for us’, while corruption cases are  eating at the very roots of the moral fiber of the army. The officer class is seen as fallible, from the former moral high. There is also the case the rising hopes and expectations of the command. The rural stock that was the base from which the men came is gradually giving way to urban dwellers that have a different frame of mind.

It may be easy to pass the buck and order respective inquiries at unit level. That may be fire fighting at best. An inquiry is an attempt to sweep under the table the harsh truth and wait for time to heal the wounds. The problem is a part of the larger redefining process that is the need of the hour and may require a system change. Though leadership may say back to the basics, as that is the way in crisis, but there is a need to look beyond the book at de nouveau solutions involving ethics, morals and values. A solution that is looking at the next 50 years must be devised and not one that covers up the situation today. The rules of business for creating a healthy environment wherein, cut throat promotion policies and confidential reports are not the key is important. Leaders must have high valves, as the bottom line is straight – ‘he is a good leader with moral  values and ethics’ and not a good leader with out the same. 

C S Thapa is a retired Brigadier
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