Cohesiveness of the armed forces

The armed forces work on cohesiveness and this is based on the fact that the organisation's interest is supreme and the Chetwode credo aptly sums this up. The interests of individuals are sacrificed at the altar of the institution's interests and thus officers are allotted various arms and assigned services although they go through the same process of training and selection. Suddenly one hears a lot of remarks in the press based on arms and service, “is a perception battle taking place on avoidable issues”? Let us just say, the very fact that the government is issuing statements means it on the defensive and it knows it has done something which is 'different', thus it needs to justify itself. The Chief of Army Staff has conventionally been appointed based on seniority and supersession like the current one is rare and made headlines. 

The government of the day is within its right to select the Chief, but when unnecessary half-baked remarks are made questioning the antecedents of selected officers, there needs to be some soul-searching on our part. The army has a well-oiled system for selection and the pyramidal structure is very steep at the top. Only 10 per cent officers become Brigadiers, 2 per cent become Major Generals, Lt Gen less than 1 per cent, and Chief, just one officer in three years. Thus, all those who have reached these ranks have the necessary experience, expertise, and can manage whatever responsibility the nation entrusts to them.  It has happened seamlessly till date and will continue to happen if the cohesive structure and morale of the soldier is not destroyed by inept political handling.

Once an officer becomes a General cadre officer, he can command all troops. The best case is that of the German General Staff, they thought of the Army first and laid down a strong set of traditions for others to follow. The case being presented shows expertise in a certain area, whereas, any officer who reaches that rank is professionally competent, that is what the general staff is all about.

Expertise in J&K is a good asset but to tout it as a national asset implies loss of strategic culture. The three forces together form the combined might of the nation and just to lay emphasis on one small geographical area shows that the bigger picture has been short-circuited. It shows a certain amount of firefighting and strategic naivety while presenting the government case. The strength of the Indian army lies in its conventional superiority and most of this is South of the Chenab. A lot of tax payers’ money and effort have been spent on creating and training these forces. It also shows that the main area of concern, China - where tanks have recently been inducted is being politically neglected, or is it firefighting at its best?

The Indian Army has prided itself on being apolitical. One of the key factors in this is that when it comes to officers’ promotions and postings, the system has appeared to be fair. Outside influence has been kept at bay or minimal because of policy of isolation.  A large number of stories and jokes are already doing the rounds on social media regarding political interference and the results thereof. One of the key issues of this is what impact this will have on the morale where seniority is the core issue of the Army, “will it destroy the cohesiveness of the forces”? A spin-off may be that Inter-arm rivalry will rise. An American General once remarked, “it’s all right to have rivalry between the Army and the Marines on the football field but it hurts when the same is carried to the battle field”. In the last full-blown war with Pakistan 106 tankmen made the supreme sacrifice. Of this 12 were officers, it implies one officer made the sacrifice to 9 men who lost their lives. This is a very proud record whereas, for other armies its much higher. In this case, both the superseded officers are from the mechanised forces and this will impact the already strained relationship between these two fighting arms. In fact, a lot of avoidable literature is coming on religion and the one review from Nepal says how the Gorkha regiment is proud. Where does one draw the line?

In a structure like the Army, supersessions are the order of the day. At the age of 36 to 38 around 1000 to 1200 are written off or superseded every year. Not a single tear is shed for them. Except for the affected officers’ families and friends, very few are affected. Why has the nation gone crazy about these two? The answer is simple because these supersessions are important they signal a change in selection of senior army officers, because now political loyalty will matter, “is that a signal this is sending?” 

The seeds of this case were also sown when extra vacancies had come the way of the forces. The Services and the supporting arms felt aggrieved at not getting their due. The matter has been finally resolved but this supersession is raising that issue once more, stating that “majoritism breeds mediocracy”.  On two occasions, the Army's promotion policy has been found violating Article 14 of the Constitution, all these factors do not augur well for the cohesiveness of the Army. The Indian Army is a proud well-tested battle hardened organisation. It does not augur well to question the credentials of its soldiers. 

Who so ever may be the Chief he has the loyalty of all, and has the professional competence to do well for the nation that is the bottom line? It is an institution that is respected and revered by all. Let us not for any reason question judgment but keep the cohesiveness together. A point, of course, remains if appointment of CDS will also result in such an outrage. Time will tell us shortly.

(The author is a retired Brigadier. Views expressed are strictly personal.)
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