By Anang Pal Malik
It is estimated that at its peak, the total strength of soldiers present in Delhi during the 1857 War of Independence reached about 60,000. But they were all soldiers, with no officers to lead them. As against this, the Delhi Field Force of the East India Company, that took back Delhi from these soldiers, was only 6500 strong. But it was fully officered.
The whole history of countries all over the world is the collection of life stories of few individuals. Nations are created by some heroic individuals, and they survive only so long as they continue to produce great individuals to lead them. It may seem counterintuitive, but only handful of individuals matter to a society, individuals who are in leadership positions. What becomes of a society depends only on the beliefs, thoughts, integrity, and calibre of these individuals. They may rally the masses to create great Nations, or they may lead the masses to doom.
Nowhere this is more evident than in military. Of course, few centuries ago the Generals (that is, the leaders of military, as the designation itself is not very old) used to personally lead the battles, but even now, when the military top brass no longer go to battle field but plan and execute manoeuvres from the command centres located far from actual battle locations, the Generals make the difference between victory and defeat. Though all fighting is done by the soldiers. And of course the General is sum total of his Officer Corps. And this is where Indian military, that is all three of its wings- Army, Air Force, and Navy -is facing its most serious problem.
Indian soldier has always been the best fighting man in the world. But there are endless stories of how the kings in the past lost battles they were about to win, because the king himself or his senapati got killed, leaving the army leaderless, which quickly got overrun as a result.
The British created the modern chain of command in case of Indian military, and the problem of the “senapati” getting killed, and thus the army losing the battle, was finally over.
But alas, after Independence, the venal ruling elite, that is, the politico-bureaucracy combine, too busy in looting the country; has allowed slow deterioration of the strength of Officer Corps of Indian military, and thus weakened the spine and the brain of the Indian military.
The total vacancies in the three wings are about 12,000. The Army alone has about 10,000 vacancies in a sanctioned strength of about 47,000. That is, almost 20% posts in the Officer Corps are vacant in the Army.
But even this figure of 20% is actually deceptive. Because the vacancies are concentrated in the lower ranks, the officers who actually go in the battle, who actually stand shoulder to shoulder with their men, the soldiers, as bullets and shells fly around them. So real vacancies are higher than 20%.
How has this come about? This most perilous situation? After all, a country is nothing but its military. Countries exist only so long as they maintain a military that is capable of keeping them safe. So how have we decimated this ultimate guarantee of our existence, especially when we note that we are one of the most threatened countries in the world?
Indian society has had a very strong martial tradition since its existence. For the Indian man, soldiering has not been just the obligation of citizenship, but a dream. An essential rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. So if we have vacancies in our military, that should deeply alarm us all. Because that means there is something very wrong somewhere.
In the ancient times, standing armies used to be small, with men being called upon from their homes as and when wars loomed. But for last many centuries, military has been one job guaranteeing a regular monthly pay. Soldiers began to be permanent employees as they needed to continuously train to handle the equipment that grew ever more complex. And therefore, all countries now maintain standing militaries with men joining them as a life long career. Of course, because the soldiering is the ultimate arduous job, therefore the militaries do not keep men engaged after they are no longer fit to go to actual combat, except those who get promoted to positions which are essentially commands operating from off-field locations. To take care of men who give the best years of their lives to the militaries, after they have retired but still have many decades of life and family responsibilities left, all militaries pay pensions.
Of course as the governments degrade currency over the years to fund their freebies by inflating the money supply, soldiers see value of their pension money degrading. To solve this problem, they are demanding One Rank One Pension(OROP). OROP is fully justified as soldiers retire much before they have discharged their responsibilities to their families, and have to fund the education of their children, and education itself now stretches much longer than before.
But OROP will not solve the problem of vacancies in our military. It will be a great relief to the men who have retired or are serving, but by itself it will not attract our youngmen to join military. Because when youngmen choose their career, retirement benefits are not on their minds. What is on their minds are the pay and the perks they would immediately get as they start their career in a line that is most demanding and difficult.
Militaries have a well defined pyramid of command, and men who do not advance on the pyramid are retired. So the bulk actually retires around the age of forty, with only pension to fund the education of their children who are still very young. Contrast this with the civilian bureaucracy, where it is considered to be a fundamental right for every recruit to advance to the top layer. If posts do not exist to accommodate the full batches, they are created out of thin air, with no relation with the need of that many officers by the organisations. So we have had situations in which a state with twelve districts had thirteen Director Generals of Police. Practice is same across all civilians services. Either posts are created to promote whole batches, or at the very minimum, men are allowed to serve in the posts they are stuck in till they attain the age of sixty, that is the age of retirement for the civilians.
No such luck for the soldiers and officers in the military. They either advance to command posts, or they retire. So, the men who actually do the most difficult, demanding, and essential job for the country, are also the most disadvantaged. This situation has been allowed to develop because the civilians control all levers of power, and instead of doing with this power what is good for the country, do what is good for them personally and individually. Political leadership is too dumb and venal to know what is happening. So our beloved soldiers & officers suffer in silence. But silence has a sound of its own.
The sound of this silence in the ranks of military is being heard loud and clear by the youngmen who are opting not to opt for the career in military. Even as man loves his country, he also asks why not all men love the same country in equal measure. And so the Indian military is facing shortage of man power. Of course shortage as of now is only in the Officer Corps, because lack of industrialisation in the core sectors, but growth in the high end sectors like IT and Finance, mean that whereas skilled and educated have demand in the market, the unskilled and low educated still do not get employment in the Corporate sector. But as discussed initially, shortage of men in Officer Corps is just as crippling, if not more.
Civilians services do not face shortages. In fact, they always have surplus man power vis a vis sanctioned strength, and of course men are all underemployed more often than not. That is, the work they do does not warrant the kind of pay they get, particularly in non-officer ranks. Of course as far as civilian officers are concerned, pay for them is less than their counterparts in the Corporate sector, but this they more than make up through money they earn in bribes. In fact in case of leading civilian services like IAS, IPS, Customs, and Income Tax, etc., bribes are the real remuneration, pay being the insignificant fraction of amounts they earn in bribes.
No such luck for the officers in military. Of course most of them are men of integrity, that is why they are able to lead men in battle and are able to make supreme sacrifice. But even if some get infected by the virus of corruption, there are hardly any opportunities to compete with their civilian counterparts in earnings of bribe money. But the officers in military have to compete with these thugs and venal and the corrupts of civil services in the marriage market, in the admissions for their children, in the lifestyle, in finding life partners for their children, in society in general.
So even if OROP is finally put in place, as it must be, it is not likely to solve the problem of vacancies in our military.
So what are the solutions to the problem of vacancies in the military?
When military conveyed the problem to the Defence Ministry, the civilians lording over there came up with a committee as usual, which came up with the foolish solution of promoting NCOs to Officer Corps, little realising that not only they are aged, they are NCOs because they could not become officers at the first entry. So even as they make the best NCOs in the world, they do not become qualified to be officers by this fact. So, even as the military rejected the recommendation, the Defence Ministry filed the problem as solved and forgot about it.
And therefore here we are, with over 20% vacancies in the Officer Corps of our great military.
Maintaining a military is the first and core duty of a government. Everything else is secondary, and in fact is made possible only if the government maintains the military that keeps the citizens safe from violence. Absence of violence is the basic requirement of a civilised society, and the military is the ultimate guarantor of absence of violence on the citizens. Therefore, the government can not just raise its hands. It has to do what is necessary to reach zero vacancy level in our military.
And therefore the government must:
1. Start raising the pay and the perks of the officers, till a career in the Officer Corps of the military becomes so attractive that no vacancies are left in the military. One may say that patriotism should be the criterion, not the pay and perks, to join the military. But with that logic, patriotism must be the criterion for everybody joining a government job, and therefore all should get the same pay as the Group D employees of the government. So, the Cabinet Secretary must also show the same patriotism as soldiers, and should draw pay equal to his peon. The DGs of police must also show the same patriotism as the soldiers, and should draw same pay as their constables.
The fact is that even for a man full of patriotism, money remains just as central in life as for everybody else. The sooner we get real, better it would be for our military.
2. To solve the problem of loss of job through early retirement because of age for the soldiers and command pyramid for the officers, create clear paths for career switch to civilian services after retirement from the military. So stop direct recruitment in all police forces of the states and centre at constable level, and fill the vacancies with soldiers retiring from the military. That will also hugely ease the burden of pension from the exchequer. Likewise, stop direct recruitment to the Central Services like IAS, IPS, and allied Services, and also State Services like PCS and PPS; and fill the vacancies with the officers retiring from military. Let those who are so enthused to serve the country as IAS, first serve the same country as military officers. Direct recruitment to civilian services may be done only to meet the reservation obligations.
3. Abolish Defence Ministry. That is clean it of all civilians. Post retired military personnels to its various posts to function as the Secretariat for the minister. For the concept of civilian control on military, we do not need a whole crowd of civilians lording over our military. The Defence minister embodies the civilian control. He can be very ably assisted by ex-military men manning his secretariat which is Defence Ministry. That would solve, in one stroke, all the problems of civilian dumbs of Defence Ministry harassing the military in the matters of procurement, modernisation, and personnel matters.
The wars of future will be more and more wars of technology. So we would need the level of education in the men in military at which persons would like to join only as officers. Therefore, the size of Officer Corps would in fact grow at the expense of other ranks. So the government must drop everything else it is doing, and must do whatever it takes to reduce to zero the vacancies in the military. Failure to do so would not be just an administrative failure, or failure of the government to fulfil its most basic obligation of maintaining an effective military, but would be an act of treason. High treason against the country and the Nation.
God smiled on us in 1947. To keep this gift that is India safe, we have to always keep a military that is too dangerous to bother. Because, if we lose it this time, we would most certainly not get another chance. The enemies at our gates are not known to leave peoples they conquer capable of rising up again.