A few years back, a retiring C-in-C of the Western Naval Command openly bemoaned, in his farewell speech, the scourge of “cronyism” that had started to plague the Indian Navy. One could do nothing right unless one was in the good books of some flag officer or the other; conversely, if one happened to be the favourite of a senior officer, one could never do anything wrong. It reminded me of an industrialist facilitating a young employee in a public function, “Today, we have gathered here to facilitate young Rajkumar on his achievements in the company. Two years back he joined our company as an Assistant Manager. A few months later because of his hardwork he was promoted to become Deputy Manager. His dedication soon saw him become a Manager. He continued to do well and within a year of his joining the company, he became a General Manager. Today, ladies and gentlemen, with his sterling qualities, Rajkumar has become a Vice President. Now what do you have to say, young man?” Rajkumar takes the mike and simply says, “Thank you, papa”.
In the Indian Navy, the phenomenon is not just to do with promotions; it is also to do with appointments including ships to command and foreign deputations, one’s pecking order in social functions, success of one’s ventures such as refits or exercises, command tenure, perks and dealing with support organisations. There was a time when individuals ran the Navy; now, it is similar to any organisation with parochial pulls and pushes, say, Hockey India or BCCI. In such a setup, should you want to stand as an individual you cannot succeed. You would be declared a pariah. You cannot get anything done against the general flow; no one would hold your hand. You are most likely to be labelled as the person who is “negative” and cannot get along well with anyone.
Sadly, this has come about at a time when the Navy went through the Transformation process. Two of its goals were to empower people at various levels and promote out-of-box thinking. Both traits are those of upright individuals and not of brown nosing men with a desire to belong to one camp or the other. I am not suggesting that every individual has to be maverick; but, at this juncture the cloning of people is so complete that it is frightening. I am sure a few years later the Navy will certainly realise that it permitted cronyism to become a scourge and that did more damage to the Navy than any other evil. But, until then, parichialism in one form or the other remains alive and kicking.
Cronyism is not to be confused with the healthy trait of camaraderie, which is dying down. I have seen senior officers who were great friends and swore by each other fall apart the moment they are to be considered for promotion and only some of them would make it. I have seen people retiring after decades of service and they are forgotten the moment they leave. I retired after thirty-seven years of service including training time and there was not a single officer who called us for a farewell dinner or get-together. I must be a bad example because of my stress on individality; but, I came across, in a social gathering, a couple who were very popular when in service. However, during that gathering since they had retired they sat alone. In the Navy, your goodwill ceases as soon as your perceived ‘power’ and ‘influence’ goes. That’s the way it must be elsewhere too, say, on the civvie street; but, a uniformed service should be proudly promoting camaraderie and esprit-de-corps. Alas, both are victims of what is described as “cut-throat competition” and the flaming desire to somehow get ahead of others.
As India takes rapid strides to become a major global player there is greater awareness of maritime challenges and opportunities than ever before. Indian Navy would be the enabling force to squarely meet these. It is a fine service but for sometime it has allowed personnel policies to deteriorate and start resembling personal policies. Ascendancy of cronyism and decline of camaraderie have been the fallouts. We need to bring the ship on even keel before we sail ahead with confidence.
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