By Maj Gen Ajay Das
Indian Army, this 15th January, like every year since 1949, will once again celebrate the Army Day with a series of formal ceremonies and events which have become too routine and even straight-jacketed. While the occasion legitimately should, as hitherto fore, be about celebrating past achievements and glories of the Indian Army, there is a necessity to transform the occasion into an annual stocktaking the exercise, to appraise Where We Are; Where We Ought to Be; and How to Get There. The existing mechanisms of the Army have become too focused on managing of day to day affairs, pursuing objectives which mostly have become outdated or sometimes even irrelevant owing to snail-paced processes and having been overtaken by dynamically evolving security paradigms as well as felt needs & aspirations of the environment. The occasion thus should be a time to sit back; seek comprehensive multi-disciplinary and multi-domain feedback from experts in the fields of geopolitics, military security, military technology, military logistics, human resource, the subordinate rank, and file as well as from veterans. Having collated comprehensive feedbacks, the senior Army leadership then, delve deeply into choosing initiatives to launch; initiatives to sustain, initiatives to modify and those to abandon.
This Army Day, the issues which stare a common observer in the face and which need addressing priority, exist in three domains: restructuring & military capability development; health of human capital; and socio-political interface.
In the domain of restructuring and capability development, the Army would need to appraise firstly, whether the recently initiated restructuring is aligned with eventually integrated force structures and joint operations. Secondly, if achieving of jointness is to be pursued whether there exists updated joint warfighting doctrines and joint operational concepts which would be essential and a pre-requisite for evolving joint organization designs & structures as well as institutionalizing of joint training & joint manpower management. Thirdly, and very important would be to appraise which military capability being pursued would enhance the overall capability of the joint force, which would amount to duplication and which may lead to friction due to technology or vintage mismatch.
Appraising the health of human capital would require a willingness of senior Army leadership to honestly seek and consider feedback from rank & file and consider them without prejudice or mindsets. Informal and intimate interactions over the past few years indicate that there has been a declining trust of senior leadership amongst subordinate ranks as also lowering of perception of self-worth. These have mostly been on account of prolonged inaction in addressing the grave anomalies of 6th CPC awards and consequent lowering of status vis-à-vis Civil Services but also with respects to the CPOs. This has been further aggravated by repeated public finger-pointing and insinuations of low morals and criminal conduct by 'All Ranks', especially in the context of denial of a hotel stay on duty; alleged misuse of sahayaks; denial of entitled rations in peace stations; alleged wrongful seeking of disability pensions; opening-up of cantonments for public traffic etc. The rank and file strongly perceive that their own senior leadership have painted them as immoral and unbecoming community before the Indian public. To add to these woes, the veteran community too is seriously aggrieved primarily, due to a largely dysfunctional health scheme (ECHS) owing to gross under-funding as also owing to some very intemperate statements made by senior Army functionaries against the veteran community at large. These all are indicative of a very poor state of health of human capital and demand immediate corrective measures before it begins to impinge negatively on the operational effectiveness of the Army as a whole.
As regards socio-political interface of the Army as an institution, with the public, there exists an apprehension, of the Army beginning to get "politicised". Many have publicly questioned perceived erosion in the apolitical ethos of the Indian Army. Irrespective that such perception may be far from the truth, the fact that such perception has gained ground in recent past, should be of concern to the Army's top brass. The perception has gained ground on account of govt's choice of senior Army functionaries bypassing few in the chain of seniority; political credit-seeking on professional military operations in the midst of electioneering by political parties and resultant slugfest; and to a large degree, also on account of making intemperate frequent public statements with political overtones by the senior leadership. While appointments of senior functionaries (Army Commanders; Chiefs of Service Staffs or the CDS) should legitimately be the prerogative of the apex political executive and hence cannot be questioned and similarly, one may be unrealistic in wishing away national security issues and resultant military operational issues being dragged into the political slugfest of electioneering, the senior Army leadership ought to be extremely circumspect in making public statements with even remote political overtones. They should only speak when they must. And when they do so, must be professionally cryptic and confining strictly to military professional matters. This would not be easy especially before an extremely intrusive media which would invariably turn a loose spoken word or off-the-cuff remark into a major controversy. Subsequent clarifications by spokespersons, in the prevailing cacophony of the media environment, make for little or no impact.
(The author is an Army Veteran and Geopolitics, Strategy, Security Expert & Independent Analyst. Views expressed are personal.)