…how the Indian elite is not paying the burden and cost of its status
There are linkages between the larger society and its military subsystem. The military is always in a dilemma – how much to converge so as to absorb the social and political values and pathologies of the civil society and how far to diverge to resist the civilian beliefs and noesis from corrupting the military way. This interplay and a lack of coherent societal or military code on either horn of the dilemma has its own ramifications. The minacious signs are apparent in the Indian society nowadays.
The ‘betters’ – intellectually superior, culturally refined and economically prosperous – in the current Indian society are shunning the military; it is infra dig for them to join the noble profession of yore. It points to a disjuncture between the society and the military, reflected by a near-total absence of the elite in uniform.
The ‘betters’ have a revealing justification, articulated by a Harvard student to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war, for the disparate levels of sacrifice required of the lower social strata. The contention is that the intellectual potential of the ‘betters’ is so high that if anyone must die in a war, then let those die whose potential is manifestly as low as their status. It might be uncommon to hear such argument nowadays for it violates the sanctimony of political correctness, but many among the India’s privileged elite certainly identify with the mortifying thought.
The ‘betters’ indeed end up as doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats, professors, corporate honchos and politicians who operate the system. Incidentally, the European aristocrats (most notably the German and British), for centuries, paid the military price for their privileged status [Germans even maintained a record of their nobility in the military till as late as the Second World War]. The Indian elite, both under colonial rule and during its immediate hangover, was manifestly following the European trend. In contrast, the contemporary way for the Indian elite, drawn heavily from the American model, is to avert the incumbrance and cost of its privileged status.
The modern day Indian society has created a context in which the ‘betters’ want the rewards of being intellectually/ culturally/ financially superior without any of the constraints of their superordinate status. An exalted status is not only about the benefits that you claim. It’s also about what you renounce. One of the roles of an evolved society is to make clear to the ‘betters’ not only the privileges they get but also the responsibilities that they have; it should then create the necessary governance systems – nonlegal but socially and culturally sanctified – to ensure that those responsibilities are fulfilled by the ‘betters’ for the larger benefit of the society.
Societies, after all, are hierarchical and motivated by their upper orders as exemplars. While social privilege seems unavoidable in any society, exemplars are equally needed and no more so than in the military. The nation and the society must never forget what Roman General Flavius Vegetius Renatus counseled over 1,600 years ago, “If you want peace, prepare for war”. And centuries before that, Sun Tzu and Kautilya offered essentially the same advice in our part of the world.
A caveat – the ‘better’ is not an exemplar in the military by default; the attitude of deference and respect shown by the soldier to his social and military superior has to be merited by the unambiguous willingness of his ‘better’ to assume the burden and cost of status.
Obviously, as the officer quality declines due to this balking by ‘betters’ (and is fallaciously substituted by a greater number of poor quality officers), its detrimental effect on the military is soon visible. In principle, the idea of denying the military a fair share of ‘betters’ among its officer cadre is inherently dangerous because the transmission belt of social values from higher and creative groups to lower and less creative and less value-sustaining strata is broken. The ‘betters’ can not only make a difference to the organisation by their intellectual acumen, but also by drawing attention to military’s problems and soliciting prompt solutions from their fellow ‘betters’ in the corridors of power.
The ‘betters’ In India are not interested for a more practical reason – what the Indian military offers today to its officers are military ‘McJobs’. Incidentally, the idea of ‘McJobs’- low paying positions with little chance of advancement – bothered the CEO of McDonald’s so much that, when Merriam Webster included the term in its dictionary in 2003, he wrote a public letter of protest.The Indian military nowadays is much like McDonald’s; it may not be offering the most lucrative jobs in town, but chances are its pay, perks and status are more than the barbeque joint (aka the small-time private employer) down the road. In an ‘up or out’ pyramidical organisation like the Indian military where more than half the officers are ‘out of the race’ by the age of 40, it is understandable for the ‘outward movers’ to use the military ‘McJobs’ background as a stepping stone. In effect, the military is creating low entry level jobs from where the people can move on to better places leveraging their military experience and association with the ‘Military’ brand. This may entice the upward mobility seekers from the lower strata, but it dissuades the ‘betters’. The ‘betters’ are, understandably, targeting better avenues for their debuts. Can there be an enforced solution to this pons asinorum in a liberalised, free-market economy?
Time to finish the ‘McJobs’ story. The McDonald CEO’s plea went unheeded. ‘McJobs’ stayed. Merriam-Webster said that it strove to record and define the words that people use, not pass judgment on them.