A report in the Khaleej Times highlights the unattractive nature of a military career in India; not only for the young aspirants, but also for those who have already served for a significant period in uniform.
Officers and men are deserting the Indian armed forces — the second-largest in the world after China — in droves. Experts say the exodus has grave security implications in the long run. Equally worrying is the persistent failure of successive recruitment campaigns launched by the government.
According to Rajat Pandit, defence correspondent of The Times of India newspaper, the shortage persists despite the army diluting its ‘officer like qualities’ (OLQ) criteria to find new recruits.
“The situation will worsen if the armed forces don’t get a better deal from the 6th Central Pay Commission [reviewing salaries salaries and service conditions of federal government employees]”, warned Mr Pandit. [KT]
The four major reasons put forth in the report are – a booming private sector, counter-insurgency operations in J&K and the North East, declining prestige of a military career and increased irrelevance of the military (due to enhanced employment of military as a constabulary and by the state relegating the armed forces to the sidelines). These are all external factors but there are internal contradictions within the organisation that the report has glossed over. A military career is closely linked with the prevailing winds of society. The colonial traditions and the faux royal lifestyle, that was once the most attractive factor, has become the military’s biggest liability. The cultural moorings of the organisation are in a different social era and its disconnect with the modern Indian social, cultural and political ethos is an equal, if not bigger, dissuader than the externalities.
Is soldiering a profession? After centuries of soldiering, it remains an open question even today. A professional institution must address it at all times. Think of the difference between a marine and a mercenary. They have the same technical skills except one person uses skills for advancing ends that are particularly valued by society, and the other uses skills to address narrow personal interests. The inward looking extrapolations are as important as the externalities for today’s military.
The challenge the country faces is that the society has changed very quickly for the military. The imprint that gave rise to the armies of the 20th century, and the imprint around which they have become institutionalized, is no longer as aligned as it is once was to contemporary challenges. There is a need to have a good assessment and understanding of these new challenges and changes, but ultimately align these internal structures with this environment; and at the same time overlay it with the notion that in this country, there is a pressing need for a effective military.
In a recent interview, the just-retired COAS General JJ Singh acknowledged the primacy of a corporate career in an indirect manner.
At that time there wasn’t much in the corporate world in India. I thought the army was the best career for me.
Notwithstanding this tacit admission, Pragmatic has earlier explored the chasm between the aspirations of a soldier and offerings of the corporate world. Many a serving uniformed men and women (and their well-wishers) might be pinning their hopes on the Sixth Pay Commission. If this latest news report is anything to go by, they might be in for a big disappointment.
For over four million government employees, including military personnel, the Sixth Pay Commission may not usher in a dramatic new era where salaries are more in tune with skyrocketing wages in the private sector.
DNA has procured details of the draft salary structure that is now under discussion between the commission and the finance ministry. These indicate that even at the top-most level — the Union cabinet secretary — the fixed salary will be just about Rs80,000 per month, up from Rs30,000 earlier.
Did I hear someone utter something about rats and a sinking ship?[Afterthought - It was meant as a harmless take on the desertion theme articulated by the KT report. My apologies, if I have inadvertently hurt any feelings. Thanks for pointing it out, Girish.]
Update – An op-ed in the Hindu by a military officer’s wife laments
To expect a young man to join this profession and stick to it, you have to make it attractive and worthwhile. We all know there is no dearth of talent and brains in our country. But the top lot never opt for the defence services and even if they do, it turns out to be a very dissatisfying vocation for them. It might seem that I am flogging a dead horse here, but the truth is out there for all to see.
Many army officers I know, some of them close friends, have either put up their papers or are in the process of doing so. And let me tell you, among them are mostly the toppers of their respective courses, highly intelligent, self-motivated, and hardworking individuals. And why not? In spite of putting in their best, working undefined ungodly hours, in the worst of living conditions, separated from their families for half the year if not more, no guarantee of promotions and putting their life at risk, these are still among the low paid class A gazetted officers in this country.