Indian defence forces are currently going through a period of turmoil. Manifestations of the numerous malaise plaguing the services are, increase in the number of personnel applying for premature release from service, large number of senior officers declining to attend prestigious courses of instruction, lack of subscription in officer training academies, large No of cases of financial impropriety and moral turpitude especially amongst the top brass. Incidents of desertion, soldiers running amok, fratricide, suicides, not to mention the large number of cases of indiscipline etc are threatening to tear the very fabric that holds the forces together.
The rising discontent among the army’s folds, especially post the announcement of the recommendations of the SCPC is the least of the Army’s worries. Erosion of values, corruption, especially in higher ranks and the bulging, pot bellied midriff of the Army comprising primarily of superseded officers is not helping matters.
One of the major causes of discontent besides poor pay and perks and an unfavourable exit policy is the ‘Hanuman Syndrome’ which is taking a grip of the Army like never before. Let me explain what this syndrome is in the next few paragraphs.
An army during peace, is required to prepare for war, primarily through training and by equipping itself better, in tune with the changing times and technology. But increasingly over the last few years, Army is being called upon or many a times volunteering for internal security duties and aid to civil authorities. In fact the charter being given to the Army on such occasions goes much beyond aid to civil authorities, to include mundane tasks which should ideally be handled by the civil administration. The firebrand National Conference leader from Kashmir, in his speech in parliament (during the floor test of NDA govt) said that the Amarnath Yatra would go on irrespective, till even a single Muslim remained in Kashmir. “Show me one Kashmiri", he shouted, "who has threatened the Yatra”. The truth of the matter is that the Yatra has been threatened with terrorist attacks on numerous occasions every year. But for the laudatory efforts of the Army, this Yatra would not have been possible, not incident free in any event, for many years now. Not without the administrative and security arrangements made by the security forces every year. That is what Mr Abdullah conveniently forgot to mention. While Mr Abdullah spoke well and his speech was in fact praised by many, this factual mistake in his speech was not pointed out.
Is there any justification for the use of the Army in organising pilgrimage to a place of worship? Particularly in Kashmir, the Army is involved in almost all facets of civil administration be it the Amaranth Yatra, Muzaffarabad bus service, keeping the roads and highways open to traffic, building roads, schools, playground etc. The Army top brass has been volunteering to take on such responsibilities in the name of Project Sadbhavna or some other name, ostensibly in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the civil populace. Five decades of trying the same thing in the North East and two decades in Kashmir have not borne much fruit.
And this tendency of volunteering for tasks on behalf of the civil administration is not limited to the troubled areas alone. At the very sight of rains in the beginning of the monsoons, a senior army Generals, without even awaiting the customary requisition from the District authorities start asking their staff, when the flood relief columns should be deployed. If its a life in danger because the civil administration has left a manhole uncovered, and an unfortunate individual falls into it, or it is earthquake, floods riots, Tsunami, or any other disaster, natural or otherwise, its the Army which is required for resolution of the crisis. Elections in Kashmir are not possible without the support of the Army and so is the case in many other parts of the country. In fact disaster management by the civil authorities does not appear to be at all possible without the support of the Army.
In effect therefore the Army is so embroiled in matters non military, that it has no time or resources left at its disposal for carrying out any worthwhile training.
The unfortunate part, is that the Army's top brass has all but decided that Counter insurgency, aid to civil authorities, flood relief, disaster relief, election duties et al has become its primary responsibility. Senior officers of the Army are apparently beginning to enjoy it and are eager to plough the forces at their disposal in such duties, as these, give them a sense of importance, bring them closer to the civil administration who would otherwise shun them, and gives a sense of purpose to their lives, with no probability of a war in the near future. Like Hanuman, who dedicated his life in the service of people with whom he had no or little concern, going around the city of Lanka with his tail on fire, trying to save someone else's wife who had been abducted by a third party, the Indian Army has taken it upon itself to be the saviour of the country and the civil administration, rather than being an instrument of last resort. This is what I call the ‘Hanuman Syndrome.’
Almost three fourths of the Army is deployed in Kashmir which comprises three of the largest Corps' of the Army. And the entire lot in Kashmir is actively engaged in counter Insurgency or guarding the Line of Control(LC), with no time or resources to engage in any worthwhile training activity. On the one hand we have diplomatic initiative and confidence building measures to improve relations with Pakistan, and on the other we are sitting in bunkers along the LC, physically manning posts to guard the same.
The Indian army has been short of a large number of officers for many years now. The lucrative job market, given its thrust by the booming IT industry which continues to propel India into becoming an IT superpower, the burgeoning economy and rising aspirations of India’s youth are propelling bright young personnel away from taking up Armed Forces as a career. Capable youngsters obviously choose a life in the corporate sector which promises, money and relative comfort in metropolitan cities compared to the tough and demanding life in the Armed Forces, which is plagued by low pay scales, slow promotions and a host of other ills. The armed forces on their part are making matters worse for themselves by certain absurd policies. Officers in the service bracket between ten and twenty five years are looking to move on to a second career in the corporate sector and be a part of the country’s growth story.
Shortage of officers is nothing new, in fact the services have been plagued by it for the last at least about four decades. The situation however has never been as serious as it is now. The Armed Forces and the government have therefore decided to make it more difficult for officers to proceed on premature retirement from service. Even after serving in the Army for twenty years, officers are not being allowed voluntarily exit from service. One has to wonder whether we are living in a free country. What can be worse than living in a free country where one is not even free to choose where one wants to work. Unfortunately even the courts, that are supposed to be guardians of democracy, are not looking at such matters sympathetically on grounds of national interest. Thus compounding the discontent in the armed forces, leaving the officer cadre disenchanted. And if the leadership itself is not motivated and happy, what can be expected from the troops.
The issue of an Exit Policy from the three defence services, or rather the lack of it, typifies the callous and unprofessional nature of the HR policies pursued by the Indian defence organisations. The Indian constitution guarantees liberty as a fundamental right and this right, especially to pursue employment, is not curtailed under the Army, the Air Force or the Navy act, which are a straight copy of the British acts initiated in the early twentieth century for the British colonial forces in India.
India is also a modern, liberal democracy like the US where the freedom of the individual, including the soldier, has been guaranteed by the state. The defence services can not operate outside the dictum of the law or the state; however the Indian military has been provided this immunity against the founding principles of the Indian state by weak politicians and inept bureaucrats. The issue of an equitable exit policy, however, is the worst form of violation of fundamental rights possible in any democratic country.
Cases of corruption in the Army are coming under intense media and public scrutiny on a regular basis. Such cases have been coming out in the press with amazing regularity, so much so, that some of them cease to make news. The Army is thus fast losing its ‘Holy Cow’ image. It is losing the respect from society that it used to command in the past.
The pay commission has done little to assuage the numerous grievances of the forces pers. On the contrary it has precipitated an outpouring of emotionally charged outburst from the forces. That the service personnel have not given voice to their anguish is understandable, but the retired lot has created history by actually taking to the streets in protest.
Time is ripe therefore for the services, nay the nation, to carry out a sincere and thorough introspection into the state of affairs of the services and to come up with the necessary policy changes. And the Army top brass to shed its ‘Hanuman Syndrome’ before it is too late.
 National Interest Blog: http://pragmatic.nationalinterest.in/2008/08/02/stop-lossing-the-exit-policy/