ARMED FORCES AND THE INDIAN SOCIETY

Indian Armed Forces comprise the military services: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, supported by what is called as para-military forces: Assam Rifles and Special Frontier Force. As of 2010, the Indian Armed Forces have a combined strength of 1.32 million active personnel and 1.15 million reserve personnel. In addition there are 2.28 million paramilitary personnel making it one of the world’s largest military forces in the world in terms of personnel.

pic courtesy: sankalpindia.com

Except for sporadic incidents, like the spat the soldiers recently had with their superiors in Leh; or General VK Singh, the 24th Chief of the Army Staff, trying to sort out the civil-military relationship balance through the curious instrument of his dates of birth, by and large, the Indian public holds its armed forces in great esteem. Many of our countrymen privately fantasize about the armed forces taking over the governance of the country and instill some discipline and accountability in our civic life.

However, sadly, Indian society has lately emerged as the most self-serving and devoid-of-values societies in the world. The reason is that we are too many of us (Read India – Too Many People) and there are limited resources and opportunities, after all. We, therefore, push, fret, scream, take short-cuts and be rude in order to somehow get ahead of others (Read ‘We Are Like That Only). This sort of culture is anathema to the armed forces who largely follow the Chetwode code about one’s own needs, safety and comfort being the last priority in comparison to those of the nation and the service to which the armed forces personnel belong.
But, why is the Indian society in this deplorable condition? On the Republic Day, last year, I wrote an article: How Proud Should We Be of Indian Republic at 62? The article was very well received. Amongst other data concerning how the average Indian is deprived of a good and safe life, itthe article brought out that the rich, on the other hand, kept on becoming richer. The average Indian, therefore feels, with some justification, that all this has been at his or her expense.

Lets look at the well known figures: The richest ten Indians (with declared assets) enjoy 10 percent of the GDP of the country. The richest 50 Indians divide 30 percent of the GDP between themselves. Lets, for a minute, detach ourselves from the effect of this inequity on majority of Indians; and look at its effect on the armed forces. What is the fundamental duty of the armed forces? It is to uphold the Constitution, ie, as the preamble says, to secure Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for we, the people of India. Whilst performing this fundamental duty,  doesn’t he have a right to ask whose Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity is he really securing. In the Navy, for example, one of the tasks that he is asked to do is to secure the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) so that it would result in fulfilling these aims of the Constitution. But, doesn’t the Navy, in securing these SLOCs, willy-nilly end up serving the best interests of the rich and powerful only since the benefits don’t percolate down to the average Indian?

Don’t they deserve Justice, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity?

With this irrefutable (if I may say so) background, lets see the difference between the armed forces and mercenaries; a mercenary is a person who takes part in an armed conflict, who is not a national or a party to the conflict, and is “motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party”.

In short, the one who is not fighting for the country but for the interests of a few powerful people. Well, the armed forces of India, indirectly, are doing exactly what a mercenary does. However, they don’t get paid like mercenaries. So, to start with, if there is a chasm between the Indian society and the armed forces due to different mores, this chasm is increased by the armed forces serving only the rich and the influential and not being paid like others who serve the interests of the rich and the powerful. As an example, we just finished with the Indian Premiere League’s fifth jamboree. Do you think that an armed forces team would get as much as say the Kolkata Knight Riders (after winning the IPL final); in flushing out terrorists holed up in a house in Kashmir; an operation in which some of the team members would inevitably lose their lives?
Hence, if you are being used as a mercenary, why not get paid like one? The Indian Police is already paid like one; most of it underhand and most of it the rich and powerful don’t mind paying.

At this stage, I am not getting into the raging issue of deteriorating civil-military relations. However, lets consider just one thing, which is that because of the civil governments’ lack or inadequacy of good governance and foresight, the armed forces are increasingly being called upon to do what the civil governments and the police should have been doing. At the same time, the civil government has a Nehruvian mindset to keep the armed forces as far away as possible from matters of governance. The two stands just don’t sound compatible.

The armed forces used to be shining examples of a righteous few in a society seeped in corruption. However, recently, there has been a number of incidents painting the armed forces too in the same colours. (For example, Adarsh Society, CWG, Corruption in Armed Forces and Public Morality). In an article titled ‘A Few Good Men Can Win the Battle of Morality’ in Tehelka, on 20 Nov 10, the very respected Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar, whom the government honoured with a Padma Vibhushan, brought out that the army has to get rid of the five-star culture that has resulted in the decline of moral values; “where lavish hospitality and expensive gifts are proffered to, and accepted with some alacrity by, senior officers and even their wives.”  My own observation, when I was in the navy, brings out that an average navy officer, up to the rank of Commodore, has just a few mementos collected from his visits to Kashmir, North East and abroad. However, as soon as this officer is promoted to the rank of a flag officer, his life-style suddenly undergoes a dramatic taste. He and his wife develop expensive tastes, have in their houses rich curtains, paintings, air-conditioners, furniture and other display items. Most often that not, all parties held at home, are either fully paid for by the Mess or highly subsidized. Also, all visits to the club by him and family are on the house. People below their ranks jump to provide them with all luxuries and comforts of life in the hope that they, themselves, would also reach those exalted heights. This five-star culture fuels the desire to have more and better and at least match the luxurious living style of the civilians, say, district collectors, ministers, industrialists and bureaucrats.

We have it now from a serving Army chief that there is a culture of cronyism in the army, especially at high levels. We also know it from him that a retired Army Lieutenant General offered to give him a bribe of Rupees Fourteen Crores for accepting sub-standard Tatra vehicles. What do these incidents tell you? You can’t be faulted with forming an impression that such things are not rare and isolated in the army; for, if these are rare, a very senior Lieutenant General won’t be so bold as to offer such a bribe. This indirectly means that earlier Army chiefs and senior officers have, perhaps, been accepting such bribes as matters of routine.

Armed forces in a democracy are both a part of society and also a bit isolated. Some of the charges brought out by Gen VK Singh have more or less confirmed that for at least some of the people in the army, the requirement to stand tall and righteous in comparison to the rot in the civil society, has not been given a high priority; and that, after years of disciplined service, they are vulnerable to similar greed and temptations as their civilian counterparts.

Therefore, the foremost requirement is not to hide behind a mistaken sense of loyalty and holier-than-thou virtue that some of the serving and especially retired armed forces officers have been doing (eg, “we in the armed forces are paragons of virtue and ethics. It is the civilians who need to be taken to task.” and “Gen VK Singh was fighting for correcting the civil-military relationship imbalance” and “Here was a General who was finally doing to politicians and bureaucrats what we as young officers had always dreamt to do but didn’t have the courage; and still we find fault with him” and “it is really idiotic to air dirty linen in public by people who don’t know anything”.

I think setting right the imbalance in civil-military relations and acknowledging armed forces’ contributions to well being and safety of Indian society would require a more focused approach than Gen Singh’s “I am honest and I have two dates of birth.”

Firstly, the armed forces have to decide whether they still want to be respected for being different and virtuous than the average civilian or not? In case the answer is ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, then, they don’t have any right to feel hurt when civilians treat them at par with rest of corrupt Indians.

Then, the government has to do some serious thinking about whether they require the armed forces or not as also under what circumstances and situations? Armed forces can’t be continually made to feel small in comparison to police, bureaucracy etc. They, finally, have to live in the same society.

Thirdly, since we have been using the armed forces as mercenaries, thought should be given to strengthening the hand of the average Indian so that whilst doing a thankless job, the armed forces would feel proud of safeguarding Indian interests and not the interests of a few, which indirectly, and without even realising it, they are doing now.

Fourthly, we have to make our society far more disciplined and upright than what it is now so that the armed forces are not isolated examples of virtue and inefficiency in a sea pool of corruption and indiscipline.

Rampant indiscipline in Indian society (pic courtesy: blogs.bettor.com)

Fifthly, it is high time we think in terms of police reforms, bureaucratic and  governmental reforms and ridding theses institutions of unabated corruption and inefficiency. In this way, the gap between the armed forces and their counterparts in police, bureaucracy and government would be reduced.

Centuries back, from amongst the Athenians, only those could become Hoplites or soldiers who would be rich enough to buy uniform, armour and arms. We have come a long way since then. People nowadays don’t join armed forces merely for the love of the country and pride in being a fauji. They are, nowadays, seriously questioning as to whether the government and the country values them or not. If they do, recent incidents have brought out that it isn’t apparent if anyone cares. A sad reflection on our society indeed.

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This entry was posted in Navy - No One Asked Me But..., Opinions by Ravinder Ravi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ravinder Ravi

I have done a long stint in the Indian Navy that lasted for nearly thirty seven years; I rose as far as my somewhat rebellious and irreverent nature allowed me to. On retirement, in Feb 2010, the first thing that occurred to me, and those around me, was that I Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (you will find an article with this title in this blog) and hadn't lost all my noodles and hence thought of a blog titled 'This 'n That'. I later realised that every third blog is called 'This 'n That' and changed the name to 'Sunbyanyname'. I detest treading the beaten track. This blog offers me to air 'another way' of looking at things. The idea is not just to entertain but also to bring about a change. Should you feel differently, you are free to leave your comments. You can leave comments even when you agree and want to share your own experience about the topic of the blog post. Impudent or otherwise, I have never been insousciant and I am always concerned about the betterment of community, nation and the world. I hope the visitors of this blog would be able to discern it.

4 thoughts on “ARMED FORCES AND THE INDIAN SOCIETY

  1. This is a very informative, well-analyzed, well-communicated post. I did not think in this way before–now I will pause and consider my reactions!

  2. Hi Sir,
    Good Day,

    Firstly I like your style of shooting straight from the Hip. Secondly only a person who has experienced first hand from the flight over the Cuckoo’s nest can do that. Thirdly and most importantly It is confirmed that You have not lost your NOODLES!! That I can personally vouch for.Lastly the common good being served in calling a spade a spade is really an indicator of high moral value that you have intact.It was a pleasure reading your article and let me share that my views on this whole humbug of ‘Devotion and duty first’ was shattered soon after I landed in the portals of Navy after passing out of the NDA.

    • Thank you Kamal. I would never be afraid of speaking my mind. Thank you for your encouragement and comprehending that there is a world beyond pure brown-nosing, the bane of our society.

Your comments add value to the posts; so go ahead, tell me what you feel.